Leaving Nauvoo the Beautiful
July 2005

“Leaving Nauvoo the Beautiful,” Ensign, July 2005, 40–45

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History

Leaving Nauvoo the Beautiful

The last Saints were driven from Nauvoo, Illinois, in the fall of 1846. Among them were young Joseph F. Smith and his mother, Mary. Joseph wrote: “My mother and her family were compelled to take all that they could move out of the house—their bedding, their clothing, the little food they possessed, leaving the furniture and everything else standing in the house, and fled across the river, where we camped without tent or shelter until the war was over. The city was conquered” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [1939], 500).

Soon after this final exodus, Colonel Thomas L. Kane visited Nauvoo and described the abandoned city: “The town lay as in a dream, under some deadening spell of loneliness, from which I almost feared to wake it. For plainly it had not slept long. There was not grass growing up in the paved ways. Rains had not entirely washed away the prints of dusty footsteps. … The spinner’s wheel was idle; the carpenter had gone from his work-bench and shavings … as if he had just gone off for a holiday. No work people anywhere looked to know my errand. If I went into the gardens, clinking the wicket-latch loudly after me … and draw a drink with the water sodden well-bucket and its noisy chain … no one called out to me from any open window, or dog sprang forward to bark an alarm. I could have supposed the people hidden in the houses, but the doors were unfastened; and when at last I timidly entered them, I found dead ashes white upon the hearths, and had to tread a tiptoe, as if walking down the aisle of a country church, to avoid rousing irreverent echoes from the naked floors” (The Mormons: A Discourse Delivered before the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, March 26, 1850 [1850], 4–5).

“Thanks be to God for the holy ordinances of His house,” wrote Eliza R. Snow, “and how cheerfully grateful we ought to be that we are the happy participants of these great blessings” (quoted in Sisters in Spirit: Mormon Women in Historical and Cultural Perspective, ed. Maureen Ursenbach Beecher and Lavina Fielding Anderson [1987], 90).

Eliza R. Snow wrote this poem in her diary at the time of the February 1846 exodus:

Let us go—let us go to the wilds for a home

Where the wolf and the roe and the buffalo roam

. … . … . … . … .

Where beneath our own vines, we may … enjoy,

The rich fruits of our labors, with none to annoy.

(Diary of Eliza R. Snow, Feb. 1846, LDS Church Archives)

Photography by Don Thorpe, except as noted

“The quiet … was such that I heard the flies buzz,” wrote Thomas L. Kane of Nauvoo and its empty buildings, such as the Times and Seasons Building (left) and the Nauvoo House (below left), and its silent fields (below right) after the Saints left (The Mormons, 4).

From blueprints (right center) to the carved details of sunstones (far right; photograph by Matthew Reier), work continued on the Nauvoo Temple. “Every man [seemed] determined to do all he [could] to roll on the work of the Temple as fast as possible” (History of the Church, 7:431).

Nancy Naomi Tracy said that watching the masons at work and hearing “the click of their hammers (below) … was grand to see” (quoted in Carol Cornwall Madsen, In Their Own Words: Women and the Story of Nauvoo [1994], 252). (Joseph Smith at the Nauvoo Temple, by Gary E. Smith, may not be copied.)

Sarah Rich, wife of Charles C. Rich, wrote: “Mr. Rich and myself … were to be there at 7 in the morning and remain until work was done at 10 or 12 o’clock at night, if necessary. … Many were the blessings we had received in the House of the Lord” (Reminiscences of Sarah Pea Rich, 1885–93, holograph, LDS Church Archives, 65; spelling standardized). (Photograph of Nauvoo Temple by John Luke.)

Helen Mar Whitney wrote that it was only “through the united faith and prayers of the faithful few” that the Saints “were permitted to remain there long enough to finish that Temple” (“Scenes in Nauvoo after the Martyrdom of the Prophet and Patriarch,” Woman’s Exponent, Apr. 15, 1883, 170). (Photograph of Nauvoo Temple detail by Welden C. Andersen.)

“Our houses, our farms, this Temple and all we leave will be a monument to those who may visit the place of our industry, diligence and virtue,” wrote Elder Parley P. Pratt. “There is no sacrifice required at the hands of the people of God but shall be rewarded to them an hundred fold, in time or eternity” (in James R. Clark, comp., Messages of the First Presidency, 6 vols. [1965–75], 1:283). (Seventies Hall, by Al Rounds, may not be copied.)

After the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were taken to Carthage Jail (photo, left), then shot and killed on June 27, 1844 (above; Death of a Prophet, by Gary E. Smith, may not be copied), Vilate Kimball wrote to her husband, Heber C. Kimball, “Every heart is filled with sorrow, and the very streets of Nauvoo seem to mourn” (Vilate Kimball to Heber C. Kimball, June 30, 1844, photocopy of original letter, Vilate Kimball Papers, LDS Church Archives).

Young Joseph F. Smith, who fled Nauvoo in September 1846, witnessed the first exodus in February: “The [Mississippi] river froze within a day or two, … which enabled them to cross as they did, and thus the first real marvel and manifestation of the mercy and the power of God was manifest” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. [1939], 499). (Farewell Nauvoo: The Exodus Begins, by Frank Thomas.)

Sarah Rich expressed the feelings of nearly all the recently endowed Saints when she wrote: “If it had not been for the faith and knowledge that was bestowed upon us in that temple by the influence and help of the Spirit of the Lord our journey would have been like one taking a leap in the dark” (Reminiscences). (Photograph by Welden C. Andersen.)