“Endowed with Power,” chapter 46 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 1, The Standard of Truth, 1815–1846 (2018)
Chapter 46: “Endowed with Power”
In the fall of 1844, the Quorum of the Twelve sent an epistle to all Saints everywhere. “The temple,” they announced, “necessarily claims our first and most strict attention.” They encouraged the Saints to send money, supplies, and laborers to speed the work along. An endowment of power awaited them. All they needed was a place to receive it.1
The Saints shared the apostles’ urgency. In late September, Peter Maughan wrote Willard Richards about the Saints’ new coal mine a hundred miles up the Mississippi River. Peter and Mary had recently sold their home in Nauvoo, used the money to purchase the mine for the church, and moved their family to a rough cabin near the work site. But already Peter longed to be back in Nauvoo cutting stone for the house of the Lord.
“The only thing that rests on my mind,” he told Willard, “is that the temple is being built right up and I am cut off from the privilege of helping.”2
With the temple walls climbing higher, Brigham was determined to continue the work Joseph had begun. Following the prophet’s example, he prayed often with the endowed Saints and asked the Lord to preserve and unify the church. Baptisms for the dead, which had stopped after Joseph’s death, began again in the basement of the temple. Elders and seventies returned to the mission field in greater numbers.3
But challenges were never far away. In September, Brigham and the Twelve learned that Sidney Rigdon was conspiring against them and denouncing Joseph as a fallen prophet. They charged him with apostasy, and Bishop Whitney and the high council excommunicated him. Sidney left Nauvoo soon after, predicting that the Saints would never complete the temple.4
Still concerned about her family’s well-being, Emma Smith also refused to give her full support to the apostles. She cooperated with the trustees-in-trust they had appointed to sort out Joseph’s estate, but disputes over Joseph’s papers and other property rankled her. It also troubled her that the apostles continued to teach and practice plural marriage privately.5
The women who had been sealed to Joseph as plural wives made no claim to his estate. After his death, some of them returned to their families. Others married members of the Twelve, who covenanted to care and provide for them in Joseph’s absence. Quietly, the apostles continued to introduce plural marriage to more Saints, married new plural wives, and started families with them.6
At the start of 1845, the Saints’ greatest challenges came from outside the church. Thomas Sharp and eight other men had been charged with murdering Joseph and Hyrum, but none of the Saints expected them to be convicted. State legislators, meanwhile, sought to weaken church members’ political power by repealing the Nauvoo city charter. Governor Ford supported their efforts, and by the end of January 1845, the legislature stripped the Saints living in Nauvoo of their right to make and enforce laws and disbanded the Nauvoo Legion as well as the local police force.7
Without these protections, Brigham feared, the Saints would be vulnerable to attacks from their enemies. Yet the temple was far from finished, and if the Saints fled the city, they could hardly expect to receive their endowment. They needed time to complete the work the Lord had given them. But staying in Nauvoo, if only for another year, could put everyone’s lives at risk.
Brigham went to his knees and prayed to know what the Saints should do. The Lord responded with a simple answer: stay and finish the temple.8
On the morning of March 1, thirty-eight-year-old Lewis Dana became the first American Indian to join the Council of Fifty. After Joseph’s death, council meetings had stopped, but once the Nauvoo charter was repealed and the Saints realized their days in Nauvoo were numbered, the Twelve had called the council together to help govern the city and plan its evacuation.
A member of the Oneida nation, Lewis had been baptized with his family in 1840. He had served several missions, including one to the Indian territory west of the United States, and had ventured as far away as the Rocky Mountains. Knowing Lewis had friends and relatives among Indian nations to the west, Brigham invited him to join the council and share what he knew about the people and lands there.
“In the name of the Lord,” Lewis told the council, “I am willing to do all I can.”9
Over the years, the Saints had grown deeply resentful of their nation’s leaders for refusing to help them. Church leaders were now resolved to leave the country and carry out Joseph’s plan to establish a new gathering place where they could raise an ensign to the nations, as the prophet Isaiah foretold, and live the laws of God in peace. Like Joseph, Brigham wanted the new gathering place to be in the West, among the Indians, whom he hoped to gather together as a branch of scattered Israel.
Addressing the council, Brigham proposed sending Lewis and several other members of the council west on an expedition to meet with Indians from several nations and explain the Saints’ purpose for moving west. They would also identify possible sites for gathering.10
Heber Kimball agreed with the plan. “While these men are finding this location,” he said, “the temple will be finished and the Saints get their endowment.”11
The council approved the expedition, and Lewis agreed to lead it. For the rest of March and April, he attended council meetings and advised fellow councilmen on how best to outfit the expedition and achieve its goals.12 By the end of April, the council had appointed four men to join Lewis on the journey, including Brigham’s brother Phineas and a recent convert named Solomon Tindall, a Mohegan Indian who had been adopted by the Delaware.13
The expedition left Nauvoo soon after, traveling southwest through Missouri to the territory beyond.14
On the island of Tubuai in the South Pacific, Addison Pratt calculated that it had been almost two years since he left his wife and children in Nauvoo. Although Louisa had doubtlessly written him, just as he had written home at every opportunity, he had received no mail from his family.
Still, he was grateful to the people of Tubuai, who had made him feel at home. The small island had about two hundred inhabitants, and Addison had worked hard, learned their language, and made many friends. After a year on the island, he had baptized sixty people, including Repa, the oldest daughter of the local king. He also baptized a couple named Nabota and Telii, who had shared all they had with him and treated him like family. For Addison, it was a spiritual feast to hear Nabota and Telii pray for the Saints in Nauvoo and thank the Lord for sending Addison on a mission.15
Although thinking about Louisa and his daughters made Addison long for home, it also gave him a chance to reflect on the reason for their sacrifice. He was on Tubuai because of his love for Jesus Christ and his desire for the salvation of God’s children. As he crisscrossed the island to visit the Tubuaian Saints, Addison often felt a warmth and love that brought him and those around him to tears.
“I have friends here that nothing but the bonds of the everlasting gospel could have created,” he noted in his journal.16
Three months later, in July 1845, Addison learned of Joseph’s and Hyrum’s deaths in a letter from Noah Rogers, his fellow missionary, who was then serving farther away in Tahiti. As Addison read about the murders, the blood in his veins seemed to chill.17
About a week later Noah wrote Addison again. Missionary labors in Tahiti and the surrounding islands had been less successful than Addison’s on Tubuai, and the news from Nauvoo unsettled Noah. He had a wife and nine children back home and was concerned for their safety. They had suffered much during the conflict in Missouri, and he did not want them to endure more trials without him. He planned to take the next ship home.18
Addison had every reason to follow Noah. With Joseph gone, he too feared for his family and the church. “What the results will be,” he wrote in his journal, “the Lord only knows.”19
Noah sailed away a few days later, but Addison chose to stay with the Tubuaian Saints. The following Sunday, he preached three sermons in the local dialect and one in English.20
In Illinois, Louisa Pratt visited her friends Erastus and Ruhamah Derby in Bear Creek, a small settlement south of Nauvoo.21 While she was there, mobs set fire to a neighboring settlement of Saints. Erastus left immediately to defend the settlement, leaving the two women to guard the house should mobs attack Bear Creek as well.
That night, Ruhamah was too scared to sleep and insisted on standing guard while Louisa slept. When she awoke in the morning, Louisa found her friend exhausted but still on the alert. A tense day passed without incident, and when night came again, Louisa tried to convince Ruhamah to let her stand watch that night. At first, Ruhamah seemed too afraid to trust her, but Louisa finally coaxed her to sleep.
By the time Erastus returned a few days later, the two women were worn out but unharmed. Erastus told them that Saints at the neighboring settlement were living in tents and wagons, exposed to the rain and the night air.22 When the news reached Brigham, he called the Saints living outside Nauvoo to gather to the safety of the city. Hoping to curb mob aggression and gain more time to fulfill the Lord’s commandment to finish the temple, he promised Governor Ford that the Saints would leave the area by spring.23
When Louisa learned this, she did not know what to do. With Addison on the other side of the globe, she did not feel she had the ability or resources to move her family on her own. The more she thought about abandoning Nauvoo, the more anxious she grew.24
After a week of rain, the skies above Nauvoo cleared in time for the church’s October 1845 conference. The day was unusually warm as Saints from every part of the city climbed the hill to the temple and found a seat in its newly built first-floor assembly hall. While the rest of its interior was still largely unfinished, the building’s outer walls and roof were completed and the domed bell tower stood gleaming in the sunlight.25
As Brigham watched the Saints file into the assembly hall, he felt torn. He did not want to abandon the temple or Nauvoo, but the recent mob attacks were only a taste of what would happen if the Saints stayed in the city much longer.26 That spring, the men accused of murdering Joseph and Hyrum had also been acquitted, giving the Saints further proof that their rights and liberties would not be honored in Illinois.27
Reports from Lewis Dana on the expedition to the Indians were good, and over the past few weeks, the apostles and the Council of Fifty had been debating possible sites for the new gathering place. Church leaders had taken interest in the valley of the Great Salt Lake, on the far side of the Rocky Mountains. Descriptions of the Salt Lake Valley were promising, and Brigham believed the Saints could settle near there, eventually spreading out and settling along the Pacific Coast.28
But the valley lay fourteen hundred miles away across a vast, unfamiliar wilderness with few roads and almost no stores where they could purchase food and supplies. The Saints already knew they had to leave Nauvoo, but could they undertake such a long and potentially dangerous journey?
With the Lord’s help, Brigham was confident they could, and he planned to use the conference to bolster and reassure church members. Parley Pratt spoke first in the afternoon session, alluding to the church’s plans to move west. “The Lord designs to lead us to a wider field of action, where there will be more room for the Saints to grow and increase,” he declared, “and where we can enjoy the pure principles of liberty and equal rights.”
George A. Smith stood at the pulpit next and spoke of the persecution the Saints had faced in Missouri. Threatened by an extermination order, they had evacuated the state together, covenanting to leave no one behind. George wanted the Saints to do the same now, to give their all to help those who could not make the journey on their own.
When George finished, Brigham proposed that they covenant with each other and with the Lord to leave no one behind who wished to go west. Heber Kimball called for a sustaining vote, and the Saints raised their hands as a sign of their willingness to carry out their pledge.
“If you will be faithful to your covenant,” Brigham promised, “I will now prophesy that the great God will shower down means upon this people to accomplish it to the very letter.”29
In the months following the conference, the Saints made use of every saw, hammer, anvil, and sewing needle to build and outfit wagons for the westward trek. Workers also redoubled their efforts on the temple so they could complete enough of it to allow the Saints to receive the ordinances there before they left the city.30
As the workers prepared the attic of the temple for the endowment and sealings, baptisms for the dead continued in the basement. Under the Lord’s direction, Brigham instructed that men should no longer be baptized for women nor women for men.31
“Joseph in his lifetime did not receive everything connected with the doctrine of redemption,” Brigham had taught the Saints earlier that year, “but he has left the key with those who understand how to obtain and teach to this great people all that is necessary for their salvation and exaltation in the celestial kingdom of our God.”
The change to the ordinance showed how the Lord continued to reveal His will to His people. “The Lord has led this people all the while in this way,” Brigham declared, “by giving them here a little and there a little. Thus He increases their wisdom, and he that receives a little and is thankful for that shall receive more and more and more.”32
By December the temple’s attic was finished, and the apostles prepared it for the endowment. With the help of other Saints, they hung heavy curtains to divide the large hall into several rooms decorated with plants and murals. At the east end of the attic, they partitioned off a large space for the celestial room, the most sacred place in the temple, and adorned it with mirrors, paintings, maps, and a magnificent marble clock.33
The apostles then invited the Saints to enter the temple to receive their blessings. Men and women who had previously been endowed now took turns performing the various roles in the ceremony. Guiding the Saints through the rooms of the temple, they taught them more about God’s plan for His children and placed them under additional covenants to live the gospel and consecrate themselves to building His kingdom.34
Vilate Kimball and Ann Whitney administered the washing and anointing ordinances to the women. Eliza Snow then ushered the women through the rest of the ordinances, aided by other previously endowed women. Brigham called Mercy Thompson to move into the temple full-time to assist in the work there.35
After the start of the new year, the apostles began sealing couples together for time and eternity. Soon, more than a thousand couples received the new and everlasting covenant of marriage. Among them were Sally and William Phelps, Lucy and Isaac Morley, Ann and Philo Dibble, Caroline and Jonathan Crosby, Lydia and Newel Knight, Drusilla and James Hendricks, and other women and men who had followed the church from place to place, consecrating their lives to Zion.
The apostles also sealed children to parents and men and women to spouses who had passed away. Joseph Knight Sr., who had rejoiced with Joseph on the morning he brought the gold plates home, was sealed vicariously to his wife, Polly, the first Saint buried in Jackson County, Missouri. Some Saints also participated in special adoption sealings that joined them to the eternal families of close friends.36
With each ordinance, the Lord’s plan of a welded chain of Saints and their families, bound to Him and to each other by the priesthood, became a reality.37
That winter, enemies of the church were restless, doubtful the Saints would keep their promise to leave in the spring. Brigham and other apostles were falsely charged with crimes, which forced them to keep out of sight and sometimes even hide in the temple.38 Rumors circulated that the U.S. government questioned the Saints’ loyalty and wanted to send troops to keep them from leaving the country and aligning with the foreign powers that controlled the western lands.39
Feeling intense pressure to leave, the apostles decided that church leaders, their families, and others who were targets of persecution should go as soon as possible. They believed crossing the Mississippi River into Iowa might hold off their enemies a while longer and prevent further violence.
In early January 1846, the apostles finalized their plans for the exodus with the Council of Fifty. Before leaving, they appointed agents to manage the property they were leaving and sell what they could to help the poor make the journey. They also wanted some men to stay behind to finish and dedicate the temple.
Brigham and the Twelve were now determined to gather the Saints to the valleys beyond the Rocky Mountains. After fasting and praying daily in the temple, Brigham had seen a vision of Joseph pointing to a mountaintop with a flag flying atop it as an ensign. Joseph had told him to build a city under the shadow of that mountain.
Brigham believed few people would covet the region, which was less fertile than the plains east of the mountains. He hoped the mountains would also protect them against enemies and provide a moderate climate. Once they settled themselves in the valleys, he hoped, they could establish ports on the Pacific Coast to receive emigrants from England and the eastern United States.40
The council reconvened two days later, and Brigham again reflected on Joseph’s desire to fulfill Isaiah’s prophecy and raise an ensign to the nations. “The saying of the prophets would never be verified,” Brigham told the council, “unless the house of the Lord should be reared in the tops of the mountains and the proud banner of liberty wave over the valleys that are within the mountains.”
“I know where the spot is,” he declared, “and I know how to make the flag.”41
On February 2, after thousands of Saints had received temple ordinances, the apostles announced that they would halt the work in the temple and instead prepare boats to ferry wagons across the icy Mississippi River. Brigham sent messengers to the captains of wagon companies, instructing them to be ready to leave within four hours. He then continued to administer the endowment to the Saints until late in the evening, keeping the temple recorders there until every ordinance had been properly recorded.42
When Brigham arose the next day, a crowd of Saints met him outside the temple, eager for their endowment. Brigham told them it was unwise to delay their departure. If they stayed to do more endowments, their way out of the city could be impeded or cut off. He promised they would build more temples and have more opportunities to receive their blessings out west.
Then Brigham walked away, expecting the Saints to disperse, but instead they climbed the steps to the temple and filled its halls. Turning around, Brigham followed them inside. He saw their anxious faces, and he changed his mind. They knew they needed the endowment of power to endure the hardships ahead, overcome the sting of death, and return to the presence of God.
For the rest of that day, temple workers administered the ordinances to hundreds of Saints.43 The next day, February 4, 1846, an additional five hundred Saints received their endowment as the first wagons rolled out of Nauvoo.
Finally, on February 8, Brigham and the apostles met on the temple’s upper floor. They knelt around the altar and prayed, asking God’s blessing upon the people heading west and upon those staying in Nauvoo to finish the temple and dedicate it to Him.44
Over the coming days and weeks, companies of Saints loaded their wagons and oxen onto flatboats and ferried them across the river, joining others who had already made the crossing. As they climbed a high bluff a few miles west of the river, many Saints looked back on Nauvoo to bid an emotional farewell to the temple.45
Day by day, Louisa Pratt watched her friends and neighbors leave the city. She still dreaded the thought of going west without Addison’s help and companionship. Everyone expected the journey to be full of unforeseen dangers, yet so far no one had asked her if she was prepared to make it. And none of the men who had called Addison on a mission had offered to help her move.
“Sister Pratt,” a friend said one day after she voiced her feelings, “they expect you to be smart enough to go yourself without help, and even to assist others.”
Louisa thought about that for a moment. “Well,” she said, “I will show them what I can do.”46
With snow swirling around her, Emily Partridge shivered as she sat on a fallen tree along the western bank of the Mississippi. Her mother and sisters had crossed the river six days earlier and had camped nearby, but Emily did not know where. Like many Saints who had left Nauvoo, she was tired, hungry, and anxious about the journey ahead. This was the fourth time she had been driven from her home because of her faith.47
For almost as long as she could remember, she had been a Latter-day Saint. As a young girl, she had watched her father and mother suffer persecution and poverty to serve Jesus Christ and establish Zion. By sixteen, when mobs forced her family out of Missouri, Emily had already spent much of her life searching for a place of refuge and peace.
Almost twenty-two now, she was starting another journey. After Joseph’s death, she had married Brigham Young as a plural wife. The previous October, they had a son, Edward Partridge Young, named for her father. Two months later, Emily entered the temple and received her endowment.
If her baby survived the journey, he would grow up in the mountains, safe from the mobs of his mother’s youth. Yet he would never know, as Emily had, what it was like to live in Jackson County or Nauvoo. He would never meet Joseph Smith or hear him preach to the Saints on a Sunday afternoon.
Before crossing the river, Emily had called at the Nauvoo Mansion to see Joseph and Emma’s infant son, David Hyrum, born five months after the prophet’s death. The hard feelings that had once existed between Emma and Emily were gone, and Emma invited her into her home and treated her kindly.
Emma and the children were not going west. Her struggle to accept plural marriage, as well as ongoing disputes over property, continued to complicate her relationship with the church and the Twelve. She still believed in the Book of Mormon and had a powerful testimony of her husband’s prophetic call. But rather than follow the apostles, she had chosen to stay in Nauvoo with other members of the Smith family.48
Sitting along the Mississippi, Emily grew colder as large snowflakes collected on her clothes. Brigham was still in Nauvoo, overseeing the exodus, so she rose and carried her baby from one campfire to another, searching for warmth and a familiar face. Before long, she reunited with her sister Eliza and joined her in an encampment of Saints at a place called Sugar Creek. There she saw families huddled in tents and wagons, clinging together for warmth and comfort against the cold and an unknown future.49
No one in the camp knew what the morning would bring. Yet they were not leaping blindly into the dark. They had made covenants with God in the temple, strengthening their faith in His power to guide and sustain them on their journey. Each trusted that somewhere to the west, across the summits of the Rocky Mountains, they would find a place to gather together, build another temple, and establish the kingdom of God on earth.50