Invite a child to give the opening prayer.
Play the following pioneer game with the children:
Ask a child to leave the room (or close his or her eyes) while you hide a thimble, rock, or other small object somewhere in the room. Then have the child return (or open his or her eyes) and look for the object. Have the other children help by saying “hot” when the child is near the object or moving toward it and “cold” when the child is far from the object or moving away from it.
When the child has found the object, tell the children that this lesson is about the faith of the pioneers. Write
Faith on the chalkboard.
Explain that to have faith is to believe and trust that something is real and true even though we have not seen it with our own eyes. Point out that the child who was looking for the hidden object had faith that it was in the room, even though he or she could not see it.
Display the picture of Jesus Christ. Help the children review the
fourth article of faith. Point out that this article of faith says that faith in Jesus Christ is the first principle of the gospel.
Explain that we must believe that Jesus Christ is our Redeemer in order to believe that we can repent of our sins and live with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ again.
Point out that when we are willing to keep the commandments, even if it is hard for us, we are showing faith in Jesus Christ. Obeying the commandments also helps us increase our faith. Help the children understand that when they attend Church meetings and make other right choices, they show that they are developing faith in Jesus Christ.
Teach the children about the pioneers’ faith, as illustrated by the following historical accounts. Relate as many accounts as you have time for, and ask the corresponding questions from the “Discussion and Application Questions” section. Help the children see how faith in Jesus Christ affected the choices of the people in each account. Show the pictures at appropriate times.
After the first pioneer company arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young began making preparations to help the rest of the Saints make the journey across the plains. Within a few months additional companies of Saints began arriving. For many years (1847 to 1869), companies of Saints traveled across the plains to the Salt Lake Valley in wagons or handcarts. Some came across the ocean from other lands before crossing the plains. It was a difficult journey for all the pioneers. Many people died along the way; others suffered great hardships. The pioneers left their homes and traveled west because of their faith in Jesus Christ and in the truthfulness of his restored gospel. This faith helped them through the difficult times.
Mary Fielding Smith’s Cattle Are Stolen
Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were martyred, Hyrum’s wife, Mary Fielding Smith, left Nauvoo and traveled to Winter Quarters with her children and several other people she and Hyrum had taken into their home.
While at Winter Quarters, Mary and some of her family traveled south into Missouri to get supplies for the journey west. Bad weather made it difficult to travel, and the oxen had difficulty pulling the full, heavy wagons. The journey to Missouri took one week, but the journey back to Winter Quarters took much longer.
On the way back, Mary and her family camped near the Missouri River. Camping nearby were some men who were driving a herd of cattle to market. Mary’s son, Joseph F., and his uncle usually unyoked their oxen at night so the oxen could eat and rest more easily, but because they were so close to the other herd of cattle they left the yokes on the oxen. That way the oxen would be easy to find if they got mixed in with the other animals.
The next morning some of the oxen were missing. Joseph F. and his uncle spent all morning looking for them, but they could not find them. As Joseph F. returned to the camp, tired and discouraged, he saw his mother kneeling in prayer. He heard her asking the Lord to help them find the lost oxen so they could continue their journey in safety.
When Mary finished her prayer, she had a smile on her face. Although her brother said the cattle were surely gone for good, Mary said she would go out and look for a while. Her brother tried to convince her that he and Joseph F. had searched everywhere and it was useless for her to search also, but she went anyway.
As Mary walked away from her camp, one of the men taking the cattle to market called out, “Madam, I saw your oxen over in that direction this morning about daybreak.” Although the man was pointing in the opposite direction, Mary continued walking toward the river. Joseph F. was watching her, and he came running when she beckoned to him. When he came near her, he saw their oxen tied to a clump of willows. Someone had hidden them, probably with the intention of stealing them. With their oxen found, Mary Fielding Smith and her family were able to continue their journey. (See Don Cecil Corbett,
Mary Fielding Smith: Daughter of Britain, pp. 209–13.)
Mary Fielding Smith and Her Family Cross the Plains
When the time came for Mary Fielding Smith and her group to go west, many of her animals had died from severe winter weather. Mary prepared for the journey as best she could; however, she had to attach two wagons together because she did not have enough oxen and drivers, and instead of sturdy ox teams for each wagon, she had wild steers, cows, and young oxen pulling her wagons. These animals had not been trained to work together and were difficult to control.
The captain of the company told Mary it would be foolish for her to go west because she was not prepared. He said she would never make it to the Salt Lake Valley and would be a burden on the rest of the company. He told her to return to Winter Quarters and wait to come to the Salt Lake Valley until she could get more help. Mary calmly told the captain that she did not need his help. Furthermore, she said, she would enter the valley before he did!
Friends provided several more oxen, which were a great blessing to Mary and her family, and as they progressed across the plains, the untrained oxen learned to work together well. All the children helped on the journey. Martha, the youngest, gathered wood and brush for fires and helped herd the loose cattle (the cattle that were not pulling wagons). Joseph F., who was nine years old, drove a team of oxen, as did his older brother, John. Jerusha and Sarah helped with the daily chores and cared for the loose cattle. All the children walked barefoot most of the way.
As the company was crossing Wyoming one day, one of Mary’s oxen suddenly lay down as if poisoned. It appeared the ox would die, and Mary had no spare ox with which to replace him. As the ox began to stiffen, the company captain exclaimed, “He is dead, there is no use working with him, we’ll have to fix up some way to take the Widow [Mary] along. I told her she would be a burden on the company.”
Mary said nothing, but she took a bottle of consecrated oil from her wagon and asked her brother, Joseph Fielding, and another man to administer to her ox. “It was a solemn moment there under the open sky. A hush fell over the scene. The men removed their hats. All bowed their heads as Joseph Fielding … laid his hands on the head of the [dying] ox, and prayed over it. The great beast lay stretched out and very still. Its glassy eyes looked nowhere. A moment after the administration the animal stirred. Its huge, hind legs commenced to gather under it.
Its haunches started to rise. The forelegs strengthened. The ox stood and, without urging, started off as if nothing had happened.” Soon another ox fell ill and was administered to, and it also recovered.
The day before the company was to enter the Salt Lake Valley, several of Mary’s oxen were missing again. She knelt in prayer, asking Heavenly Father’s help in finding them. She was certain that Heavenly Father would help her.
The captain and the rest of the company started off while Mary and her family were still searching for their oxen. Suddenly a storm cloud appeared, thunder rolled, lightning flashed, and rain poured down. Everyone was forced to wait. Sixteen-year-old John was able to find the lost animals during the storm and had them hitched up ready to go as the storm cleared. Mary’s family left while the others were still gathering up their teams. They entered the valley hours before the captain and the rest of the company. (See Corbett, pp. 223–49.)
Margaret McNeil Helps Her Family Cross the Plains
Margaret McNeil and her family joined the Church in Scotland. They immigrated to Utah when Margaret was ten years old. Margaret walked all the way across the plains, often with her four-year-old brother James on her back. Margaret’s mother was sick on the journey, so Margaret helped her as much as she could.
Margaret made breakfast and dinner for the family each day, and she also cared for the family cow. The cow had to be well fed so she could provide enough milk for the family. Every morning Margaret would take the cow out ahead of the rest of the company and let the cow eat grass until the wagons had all passed by. Then Margaret and the cow would hurry to catch up with the rest of the company again. When they came to a river, Margaret wrapped the cow’s long tail around her hand and she and the cow swam across.
The food the McNeils had brought with them ran out on the journey, so the family ate milk and wild rose berries. They finally arrived in Utah and were very grateful to Heavenly Father for helping them arrive safely. (See Margaret McNeil Ballard, “I Walked Every Step of the Way,” pp. 10–11; see also Susan Arrington Madsen,
I Walked to Zion, pp. 125–26.)
Jedediah M. Grant Is Comforted
Jedediah M. Grant was a member of the First Council of the Seventy and captain of one of the pioneer companies. He was also the father of Heber J. Grant, who became the seventh President of the Church. While the Grant family was crossing the plains, Jedediah’s wife and infant daughter became sick with cholera, a disease many people caught on the way to the Salt Lake Valley. As she was dying, Jedediah’s wife asked that she and the baby be buried in the Salt Lake Valley. However, the baby died first and had to be buried in a shallow grave in Wyoming. Jedediah’s wife died near the end of the journey and was buried in the Salt Lake Valley. On a later trip back to Wyoming, Jedediah visited the baby’s grave, only to find that wolves had dug the grave up.
It must have been difficult for Brother Grant to lose his wife and child, but he continued to follow the Church leaders. Several years later he was permitted to see a vision of the spirit world. He saw his wife with their little daughter in her arms. She showed the child to Brother Grant and said, “Here is little Margaret.” Brother Grant saw that although the child had died on the plains and the grave had been disturbed by wolves, his daughter was safe in the spirit world with her mother. (See
Church History in the Fulness of Times, pp. 337–38.)
Lydia Knight Helps Others Cross the Plains
After the martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the Newel and Lydia Knight family began moving west with the rest of the Saints. One winter night, however, Newel became very ill and died. Lydia was left with seven children and another soon to be born. She had no one to help or protect her. She moved back to Winter Quarters, where President Brigham Young advised her not to start on the difficult journey to the Salt Lake Valley with a new baby. He did ask, however, if she could lend her oxen and wagons to help someone else make the journey. Without hesitation, Lydia gave them. Two years later Lydia was able to gather more equipment and make the journey to the Salt Lake Valley with her children. (See Susa Young Gates,
Lydia Knight’s History, pp. 64–76, 84–89.)
Louisa Wells Drives an Ox Team across the Plains
When twenty-two-year-old Louisa Wells crossed the plains with her family, she was given the job of driving one of her father’s teams of oxen as well as caring for her younger brother and sister.
After packing their possessions in the wagon, Louisa bravely started on her way. She had a large sunbonnet on her head and a parasol (sunshade) in one hand. In her other hand she carried an ox whip to help her control the animals. Things went well for a short time, considering Louisa had never driven a team of oxen before, but soon it began to rain. Her parasol and sunbonnet quickly became soaked and useless, and before night she was muddy and soaking wet all over.
Despite this discouraging start, Louisa faithfully kept going. When the company arrived at the Sweetwater River, Louisa’s best yoke of oxen died from drinking bad water, so she had to use two cows in their place. The cows were not accustomed to pulling wagons, so Louisa had to pull and coax them along for the rest of the journey. A woman in the company became ill, and Louisa was assigned to help care for her. For three weeks she walked at the side of her wagon all day and nursed the sick woman during the night. Fortunately Louisa was able to stay healthy and safely guide her team and wagon into the valley with the rest of the company.
After wearing out three pairs of shoes on the journey, Louisa sewed rags around her feet to protect them, but the rags would wear out in a few hours. Often Louisa’s cut feet left bloody tracks on the trail. (See Edward W. Tullidge,
The Women of Mormondom, pp. 336–37.)
Jane Allgood Is Given Encouragement
Fifteen-year-old Jane Allgood and her parents came from England in 1864 and crossed the plains to the Salt Lake Valley. Jane later told her granddaughter how tiring the journey was. The young people in the company had to walk the entire way. Their only food was flour, beans, and dried peaches. One day Jane and her friend Emma were so tired from walking that they sat down to rest. They watched the wagons go on without them, but their feet were so sore that they did not care about being left behind. They felt they just could not go any farther. Jane said, “While sitting there so tired, a young man came to us on a horse. We didn’t see where he came from nor after talking to us, where he went. But he talked to us very nice and encouraged us to go on. He promised us if we would try we would make it alright, and would not be harmed.” Jane said they were so tired at that point that “we didn’t care whether we died or lived,” but the man was kind and encouraged them to continue the journey. The two
girls began to feel better and stronger, and they got up and went on. It was after dark when they caught up with the wagon train. (See Julie A. Dockstader, “Children Entered Valley with ‘Hearts All Aglow,’” pp. 8–9.)
Modern-Day Pioneers Build the Church
Remind the children that a pioneer is someone who prepares the way for others who will follow. Explain that many members of the Church are modern-day pioneers. Tell the children a story from your family history or a story of a modern-day pioneer who was the first of his or her family or area to join the Church. Emphasize the need for new members to show faith in Jesus Christ as they join the Church.