“On the Trail in July,” Ensign, July 1997, 30
Faith in Every Footstep 1847–1997
On the Trail in July
The following representation of events is provided as part of the sesquicentennial celebration of the arrival of Latter-day Saint pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847.
Monday, 12 July 1847
The advance, exploratory company led by President Brigham Young reached Echo Canyon in Utah. Here President Young became ill. Yet, obviously very confident about their ultimate destination, President Young asked Elder Orson Pratt to take 25 wagons and 42 men ahead into Salt Lake Valley. This vanguard group cleared the route as they searched for the trail left by the Donner-Reed Party, who had passed through the area the previous year.1
Wednesday, 21 July 1847
The advance, exploratory company had now split into three groups: Elder Pratt’s vanguard group, the larger main group, and the rear guard of ill brethren. On this afternoon Erastus Snow of the rear guard caught up with Elder Pratt of the vanguard group, giving him a message from President Young, who had not seen the Salt Lake Valley except in vision. President Young told them, “Bear to the northward and stop at the first convenient place for putting in your seeds.”2 The reason for haste was that summer was advanced and every moment counted in growing their seed.
Elder Pratt and Erastus Snow became the first of the pioneers to enter the valley, riding together on one horse. Temporarily distracted by what looked like a field of waving grain to the south, they first journeyed south, only to find that the presumed grain was a cluster of canes growing near the banks of today’s Mill Creek. They retraced their path and went north. When near the mouth of Emigration Canyon, Erastus Snow discovered he had lost his coat, which had been resting on the saddle. He went back on foot to find it, while Elder Pratt continued north to what is now downtown Salt Lake City.3 That night they returned to the vanguard group camped at the mouth of Emigration Canyon.
Recounting this day at a 24 July 1867 celebration, Elder Pratt said, “Twenty years ago [21 July] I stood solitary and alone on this great city plot … on the bank of City Creek. I gazed on the surrounding scenery with peculiar feelings in my heart. I felt as though it was the place for which we had so long sought.”4
Thursday, 22 July 1847
Elder Pratt left most of the 42-man vanguard group as they cleared the thick timber and underbrush from the mouth of the canyon in preparation for the main company. Then he and about 8 others from both the vanguard group and the nearby main group rode toward the Great Salt Lake, looking for farmland. They at first found soil “of excellent quality,” but as they came closer to the lake, the soil had “a more sterile appearance.”5
Back in the mountains, during the morning hours the main company caught up with the vanguard group working at the canyon’s mouth. William Clayton climbed a hill and noted “an extensive, beautiful, level looking valley from here to the lake.” Surmising because of “numerous deep green patches [the valley] must be fertile and rich,” he noted there was “little timber” but said, “We have not expected to find a timbered country.”6
Thomas Bullock said, “A very extensive valley burst upon our view, dotted in three or four places with some timber.” He shouted, “Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah, here’s my home at last.”7
The wagons in the combined companies made a rapid descent down the foothills and camped beside a small stream (Parley’s Creek near present-day 1700 South and 500 East).8 Later that evening, Elder Pratt and his explorers joined the main company, having selected their location for planting—the spot about two miles northward where Elder Pratt had been the previous day.
Friday, 23 July 1847
Leaving their marshy campsite, the combined group backtracked eastward about one mile and moved northwesterly to their permanent site on the south branch of City Creek between present-day Main and State Streets and between 300 and 400 South.9 They sent John Pack and Joseph Mathews to tell President Young that the two groups were safely in the valley. Led by Elders Orson Pratt, George A. Smith, and Willard Richards, the valley group then assembled at 9:30 A.M., and Elder Pratt offered a “prayer to Almighty God, returning thanks for the preservation of the camp, their prosperity in the journey, [and their] safe arrival in this place,” wrote Thomas Bullock. They “consecrated and dedicated the land to the Lord.” At noon the plowing began. At 2:00 P.M. the group “commenced building a dam and cutting branches to convey the water, to irrigate the land.”10 Apparently they did not channel water through the ditches until the 24th.
Saturday, 24 July 1847
In 1888 President Wilford Woodruff recounted the historic moment when President Young arrived at the mouth of Emigration Canyon: “When we came upon the bench, I turned the side of the vehicle to the west so that he could obtain a fair view of the valley. President Young arose from his bed and took a survey of the country before him for several minutes. He then said to me, ‘Drive on down into the valley, this is our abiding place. I have seen it before in vision. In this valley will be built the City of the Saints and the Temple of our God.’”11
After descending the bench, President Young said later that, “[George A.] Smith came about 3 miles from [the City Creek] came to meet me [when I entered the valley]. … I then pointed to a peak on the north and said, ‘I want to go up on that peak, for I feel fully satisfied that that was the point shown me in the vision, where the colors fell, and near which I was told to locate and build a city.’”12
President Young arrived in the encampment at about noon and sometime during the day told men of the camp that “this was the place he had seen long since in vision; it was here he had seen the tent settling down from heaven and resting, and a voice said unto him: ‘Here is the place where my people Israel shall pitch their tents.’”13
Sunday, 25 July 1847
“It was a pleasant day, and at ten o’clock the pioneers met in worship in the circle of their encampment. Elders George A. Smith, Heber C. Kimball and Ezra T. Benson were the speakers. They expressed gratitude for the blessings of the Lord during their travels to this promised land. Not a soul had died on the toilsome journey. In the afternoon another service was held and the sacrament was administered. Elders Wilford Woodruff, Orson Pratt and Willard Richards were the speakers at this service. The principal address was given by Elder Pratt who took for his text, Isaiah 52:7–8 [Isa. 52:7–8]: ‘How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace.’ He stated that the predictions of the prophets were now being fulfilled,”14 inasmuch as they had arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake in the midst of the mountains.
President Young was too weak to make extended remarks, but near the close of the services he gave some advice regarding keeping the Sabbath day holy and being industrious in developing homes and farmland. When [he] finished his discourse, he led his people in the sacred shout of ‘Hosanna, Hosanna, Hosanna to God and the Lamb. Amen, Amen, and Amen!’”15 Of that event, one man wrote: “Then the valleys rang with the exultant themes of the Hebrew prophets, and the ‘Everlasting Hills’ reverberated the hosannas of the Saints.”16
Howard Egan wrote of a 1:00 P.M. meeting when Elder Heber C. Kimball addressed a small group: We “shall go tomorrow, if Brigham is well enough, in search of a better location [to build the city] if, indeed, such can be found. If not, we shall remain here … inasmuch as we have reached ‘the promised land.’”17
Monday, 26 July 1847
About 10:00 A.M. President Young and Elders Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, George A. Smith, Ezra T. Benson, and Willard Richards, together with Albert Carrington and William Clayton, went northward about a mile and climbed the low mountain peak that President Young had said on Saturday he wanted to ascend. While there, President Young said it would be “a good place to lift up an ensign, referring to Isaiah’s prophecy; so they named it ‘Ensign Peak.’”18 Isaiah’s prophecy reads: “And he shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel” (Isa. 11:12).
Five years later, President Young bore witness to thousands of Saints at the laying of cornerstones for the Salt Lake Temple of another event that Monday morning: “We were on this ground, looking for locations, sending our scouting parties through the country, to the right and to the left, to the north and to the south, to the east and the west; before we had any returns from them, I knew, just as well as I know now, that this was the ground on which to erect a temple—it was before me.”19 President Wilford Woodruff recounted in the Pioneer Day celebration of 1888: “On a day or two following our arrival, a remarkable incident occurred. While President Young was walking with several of the Apostles on the higher ground northwest of our encampment, he suddenly stepped out, stuck his cane into the barren ground and sagebrush, and exclaimed, ‘Right here will stand the Temple of our God.’ We had a peg driven down and it was nearly in the middle of the Temple as it stands today.”20
Subsequent to these events, a number of exploring companies were sent out, two of which crossed the river they called the Western Jordan, and ascended the mountains on the west of the valley. It was later, on Sunday, 22 August, when the Brethren formally sustained the proposals that their city be called “The Great Salt Lake City” and “the river running west of this place” be called “The Western Jordan.”21 For some of the Brethren, the parallel geography of the Salt Lake Valley and the Holy Land, each with salt and freshwater lakes joined by a river, was additional silent witness that this was the reserved place for the Lord’s latter-day Saints, just as the Holy Land was the promised land for the Lord’s people anciently.
Tuesday, 27 July 1847
“On the 27th of July, [the group that] explored the Tooele Valley … returned satisfied that the spot where the pioneers had camped was the best on which their city could be built.”22
Wednesday, 28 July 1847
As other exploring parties returned, they “were more satisfied than ever that they were already encamped upon the spot where their contemplated city should be built.”23
Elder Wilford Woodruff wrote of this day: “After our return to the camp, President Young called a council of the quorum of the Twelve. There were present: Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, Orson Pratt, Wilford Woodruff, Geo. A. Smith, Amasa M. Lyman, and Ezra T. Benson.
“We walked from the north camp to about the centre between the two creeks, when President Young waved his hand and said: ‘Here is the forty acres for the Temple. The city can be laid out perfectly square, north and south, east and west.’ It was then moved and carried that the Temple Lot contain forty acres on the ground where we stood. …
“At 8 o’clock the whole camp came together on the Temple ground and passed the votes unanimously, and, when the business part of the meeting was closed, President Young arose and addressed the assembly upon a variety of subjects. In his remarks he said … we had come here according to the direction and counsel of Brother Joseph, before his death.”24
“I knew this spot as soon as I saw it,” said President Young. “The word of the Lord was, ‘go to that valley and the best place you can find in it is the spot.’ Well, I prayed that he would lead us directly to the best spot, which he has done, for after searching we can find no better.”25 “The brethren then voted to lay out the city in ten acre blocks, with eight-rod streets, running at right angles, beginning at Temple Square. This new city of Zion was to follow the general pattern that the Prophet Joseph Smith had received by revelation for the New Jerusalem, which is yet to be built.”26
Saturday, 31 July 1847
The pioneers finished an open air bowery located on the southeast corner of Temple Square. This bowery, 40 feet long and 28 feet wide, was used for worship and amusements until winter.27