“Remarks at Pioneer Day Commemoration Concert,” Ensign, Oct. 2001, 70–72
Remarks at Pioneer Day Commemoration Concert
22 July 2001
My beloved brethren and sisters, what a pleasure it is to meet with you this summer Sabbath evening.
We have heard and will continue to hear the music of this wonderful choir which was first organized in pioneer times, and also of the orchestra, recently organized and which already is doing so very, very well.
I proposed that we hold a meeting of this kind to emphasize the spiritual elements of the coming of the pioneers. We invite all of our friends of other faiths to join with us. We are met in this great new and magnificent Conference Center, a building unique in all the world which will be spoken of with honor and respect more and more as the years pass. It has been constructed under the inspiration of the Almighty in the spirit of those pioneers who built other structures in a manner both bold and beautiful.
This city and state have now become the home of many people of great diversity in their backgrounds, beliefs, and religious persuasions. I plead with our people to welcome them, to befriend them, to mingle with them, to associate with them in the promulgation of good causes.
We are all sons and daughters of God. We state in our articles of faith that “we claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may” (A of F 1:11).
I repeat the words which Brigham Young (1801–77) spoke in 1866, 135 years ago. He said: “To be adverse to Gentiles [as the word was then used], because they are Gentiles, or Jews, because they are Jews, is in direct opposition to the genius of our religion. It matters not what a man’s creed is, whether it be Catholic, or Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Quaker, or Jew, he will receive kindness and friendship from us” (quoted in Preston Nibley, Brigham Young: The Man and His Work , 416).
I echo those sentiments. As I have said before, we must not be clannish. We must never adopt a holier-than-thou attitude. We must not be self-righteous. We must be magnanimous and open and friendly. We can keep our faith. We can practice our religion. We can cherish our method of worship without being offensive to others. I take this occasion to plead for a spirit of tolerance and neighborliness, of friendship and love toward those of other faiths. In the furtherance of this attitude as the years pass, there will likely be an increasing tendency to emphasize this diversity in the 24th of July parade and associated festivities.
But I have felt that we must never permit ourselves to lose sight of the great and singular achievements of those who first came to this valley in 1847. They came not for riches or gold, but rather to find a place where they could worship God under the revelations which are the foundation of this work. They were outcasts, driven and hounded, persecuted and peeled. Their reliance was on the God of heaven. When they reached this place, they stopped in spite of entreaties to go on to California or the Northwest. As I have said before, they knew nothing really of the climate of the area, of the conditions of the soil, of the crickets or the grasshoppers with which they soon became acquainted. They had learned all they could concerning the Great Basin, but that was precious little. No one before them had ever grown a potato or an ear of corn or moved a plow to break this sunbaked soil.
I absolutely marvel at the boldness of Brigham Young. In 1868 he said, speaking of their coming here: “We made and broke the road from Nauvoo to this place. … Some of the time we followed Indian trails; some of the time we ran by the compass. When we left the Missouri River we followed the Platte. And we killed rattlesnakes by the cord in some places; and made roads and built bridges till our backs ached. Where we could not build bridges across rivers we ferried our people across, until we arrived here, where we found a few naked Indians, a few wolves and rabbits, and any amount of crickets; but as for any green tree or a fruit tree, or any green fields, we found nothing of the kind, with the exception of a few cottonwoods and willows on the edge of City Creek. For some 1,200 or 1,300 miles we carried every particle of provisions we had when we arrived here.”
He went on to say: “We prayed over the land, and dedicated it, and the water, air and everything pertaining to them unto the Lord, and the smiles of heaven rested on the land and it became productive, and today yields us the best of grain, fruits and vegetables” (quoted in Nibley, Brigham Young, 441–42).
We must never allow recognition of their trials, of their sacrifices, of their tenacity, of their faith and their prayers in establishing this great community to lapse or be forgotten.
Even after they had made their first beginnings, the temptation to move to California was powerful. Gold had been discovered there in January of 1848. Their own brethren of the Mormon Battalion had participated in that discovery.
Many were discouraged here, and some said they would go there and get rich and then return. In these circumstances President Young stood before the people and said: “Some have asked me about going. I have told them that God has appointed this place for the gathering of his Saints, and you will do better right here than you will by going to the gold mines. Some have thought they would go there and get fitted out and come back, but I told them to stop here and get fitted out. Those who stop here and are faithful to God and his people will make more money and get richer than you that run after the [god] of this world; and I promise you in the name of the Lord that many of you that go thinking you will get rich and come back, will wish you had never gone away from here, and will long to come back, but will not be able to do so. Some of you will come back, but your friends who remain here will have to help you; and the rest of you who are spared to return will not make as much money as your brethren do who stay here and help build up the Church and Kingdom of God; they will prosper and be able to buy you twice over. Here is the place God has appointed for his people.
“We have been kicked out of the frying pan into the fire, and out of the fire into the middle of the floor, and here we are and here we will stay. God has shown me that this is the spot to locate his people and here is where they will prosper; he will temper the elements for the good of his Saints; he will rebuke the frost and the sterility of the soil, and the land shall become fruitful. Brethren, go to, now, and plant out your fruit seeds. …
“… We shall build a city and a temple to the Most High God in this place. … This will become the great highway of the nation. Kings and Emperors and the noble and wise of the earth will visit us here, while the wicked and ungodly will envy us our comfortable homes and possessions” (quoted in Nibley, Brigham Young, 127–28).
Think of those prophetic words in terms of what we see today and, in a particular sense, in terms of what will occur next February when the Winter Olympics are staged here and people in great numbers will come from across the earth. It is nothing short of marvelous. It was nothing short of the power of God resting upon this man when he spoke those prophetic words.
We all need reminding, and this is the purpose of this service tonight, that our people came here and settled these valleys so that they might worship God according to their desires. They came and stopped here because of the faith they had in their prophet-leader. And he came and stopped here because of his faith in the living God. I have not the slightest doubt that Joseph had seen this place in vision. I have not the slightest doubt that Brigham Young saw this place in vision. There is no other explanation for what occurred.
I am only the third generation of my people in this valley to which my grandfather came 151 years ago, a widower who had buried his young wife along that forlorn trail.
I am old enough to have known a little of what those pioneers went through. My own remembrances go back to the time of candles and kerosene lamps, of horse-drawn buggies and wagons, scythes and sickles, hand-milked cows, and irrigation turns through the summer nights. These were all a part of their temporal living, all to the end that they might have freedom of worship.
Now, we have instituted these services as a feature of our Pioneer Day celebration, lest we lose sight of the hand of God in establishing our people in these valleys of the mountains. It was their faith that brought them here. Others came after them, and they were made welcome and will continue to be made welcome. But it was to find a place where those first pioneers and their posterity could continue in the exercise of their worship that they came to this valley. It was their labor, consecrated labor, in causing the desert to blossom as the rose, as Isaiah had predicted (see Isa. 35:1). On the anvil of adversity they were hammered and shaped and tempered. It was the conviction they carried in their hearts, strong and secure and immovable, that God had restored His work in these latter days and that from this place where the house of the Lord should be established in the tops of the mountains, the work of God would roll forth to the nations of the earth. This gathering tonight is an expression of remembrance and appreciation and thanksgiving.
In all of our celebrations of the 24th of July, let us never forget it. Let us remember with gratitude and reverent respect those who have gone before us, who paid so dear a price in laying the foundation for that which we enjoy this day, is my humble prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.