Chapter Thirty-Two: Brigham Young’s Presidency:The Final Decade

“Chapter Thirty-Two: Brigham Young’s Presidency:The Final Decade,” Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (2003), 406–21

“Chapter Thirty-Two,” Church History in the Fulness of Times, 406–21

Chapter Thirty-Two

Brigham Young’s Presidency: The Final Decade

Since arriving in the Great Basin in 1847, the Saints had organized sundry, often short-lived, groups for theological, scientific, and literary study. During the last decade of Brigham Young’s life, under the inspiration of God, he established religious auxiliaries that would help meet the needs of Church members for the next century. He also worked to expand Zion and to increase the spirituality of Church members, as exemplified by the colonization of northern Arizona, the reorganization of the priesthood leadership of the Church, the building and dedication of the St. George Utah Temple, and the establishment of the Brigham Young Academy.

Portrait of Brigham Young by Seal Van Sickle

Portrait of Brigham Young by Seal Van Sickle. Painting portrays Brigham with his right hand on a book titled Law of the Lord. On the table are the Book of Mormon and the Bible.

Courtesy of Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Salt Lake City, Utah

Development of the Auxiliaries

As mentioned, the first of the Church auxiliaries to receive renewed impetus and consolidation from general Church leadership was the Relief Society. Since arriving in Deseret, Latter-day Saint sisters had exemplified the ideals of work and compassionate service they had learned from the Prophet Joseph Smith in their Relief Society meetings in Nauvoo. By 1858 there were organizations of the society functioning in ten Salt Lake City wards and in Ogden, Provo, Spanish Fork, and Nephi. But the move south that same year, as a result of the coming of Johnston’s Army, interrupted Relief Society work.

In December 1867, President Brigham Young authorized Eliza R. Snow to reestablish Relief Societies in Salt Lake City. During the next two years the prophet gave official endorsement to the program and directed every bishop to cooperate with Sister Snow and her counselors, Zina Diantha Huntington Young and Elizabeth Ann Whitney, as they travelled throughout the territory setting up branch organizations of the society. Women in each settlement would travel miles—sometimes in carriages and wagons or sometimes on a horse or mule or simply on foot—to attend the semi-monthly Relief Society meetings. One meeting each month was devoted to sewing and caring for the needs of the poor. The second meeting featured discussions on elevating educational and spiritual themes and the bearing of testimonies.

Brigham Young gave the Relief Society several special “missions” during the last years of his life. In 1873 he instructed every Relief Society president to appoint three young women to study hygiene and nursing. In 1875 he called Zina Young to establish sericulture (the cultivation of silkworms and the production of silk) among the women of all the settlements. The “gospel of silk” was a major activity of sisters in the Church for many years as they were striving to produce enough silk for their own clothing and for temples and meetinghouses of the Church. In 1876 the prophet called Emmeline B. Wells to head a grain-saving movement among women. They were to store and save wheat against a time of need. President Young also continually encouraged that the sisters support and participate in all the home industries spawned by the Church’s cooperative and United Order movements.

Mary Isabella Horne (1818–1906)

Mary Isabella Horne (1818–1906), who was converted by Parley P. Pratt in Canada in July 1836, experienced many of the trials and tribulations of the Saints. She was driven from her home in Far West, Missouri, and later gave up her home in Nauvoo to cross the plains into the Salt Lake Valley.

Mary was an original member of the Relief Society, which was organized in 1842. She was the stake Relief Society president in the Salt Lake Stake for thirty years. In 1880 she was called to the central board of the Relief Society, which later became the general board. Here she served until her death. Sister Horne was the mother of fifteen children.

A group of sisters closely associated with the Relief Society also promoted a women’s newspaper. The enterprising semimonthly newspaper, the Woman’s Exponent, started in 1872 with Louisa Lula Greene Richards as its first editor. “The aim of this journal will be to discuss every subject interesting and valuable to women. It will contain a brief and graphic summary of current news local and general, household hints, educational matters, articles on health and dress, correspondence, editorials on leading topics of interest suitable to its columns and miscellaneous reading.”1 The Woman’s Exponent helped unite the sisters throughout all the settlements in numerous causes.2

As a final organizational development, just one month before his death in July 1877, President Young, accompanied by Eliza R. Snow, traveled to Ogden and organized the first stake Relief Society. He called Jane S. Richards, wife of Elder Franklin D. Richards, to serve as its president. The Saints, both men and women, were pleasantly surprised on this occasion at the unexpected creation of a stake Relief Society organization. The Woman’s Exponent described the day as one of rejoicing.3

The initial Relief Society meetings were often held in private homes, but with the help of the brethren in the settlements, the sisters had Relief Society halls of their own constructed. Relief Society cooperative stores often occupied the ground floor of these halls.

Weber Stake Relief Society building

Weber Stake Relief Society building, located in Ogden, Utah. The building was erected in 1902. In 1926 the building was deeded to the Daughters of the Utah Pioneers and became known as the Weber County Pioneer Hall. It is now used as a museum to house pioneer artifacts.

Jane Snyder Richards was called to be the first Weber Stake Relief Society president in 1877 by Brigham Young, and she served in this position for thirty-one years. When the Weber Stake Relief Society building was dedicated on 19 July 1902, Sister Richards conducted the dedicatory services.

Courtesy of Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Ogden, Utah

The second auxiliary to take more permanent shape was the Sunday School. The Sunday School concept began with Protestants in the British Isles in 1780 and came to the United States as early as 1790. In 1824 an American Sunday School Union was formed. Sunday Schools generally preceded or accompanied public education and taught reading and Bible subjects to youthful “scholars.” Latter-day Saints had sporadically introduced Sunday Schools, like the Protestant ones that many members of the Church had participated in, at Kirtland, Nauvoo, Winter Quarters, and in Britain before arriving in the Great Basin.

With permission from his bishop, Richard Ballantyne organized the first Sunday School in the Salt Lake Valley during the winter of 1849. Fifty children ranging from eight to fourteen years of age met in an especially built addition to the Ballantyne home. Later they met in the Fourteenth Ward meetinghouse. Sunday Schools were set up in a few other wards, but the approach of Johnston’s Army in 1857 and the move south the following year caused their disbandment.

Richard Ballantyne (1817–98)

Richard Ballantyne (1817–98) was born and reared in Scotland, where as a young man he was a Sunday School teacher in the Presbyterian Church. At age twenty-five he was baptized a member of the Church. He went to Nauvoo with his mother in 1843.

When asked why he was so involved in the Sunday School he replied: “I was early called to this work by the voice of the spirit, and I have felt many times that I have been ordained to this work before I was born, for even before I joined the Church, I was moved upon to work for the young.”4 In 1852 he was called on a mission to India, which lasted about three years.

In 1864, when Elder George Q. Cannon returned from serving in the presidency of the European Mission, he saw the need for teaching the gospel in Zion. He later said, “When I reflected upon the numbers of our children at home, I felt a burning desire to spend all the time I could in trying to teach them the principles of the Gospel.”5 He reorganized a Sunday School program in the Fourteenth Ward, and soon his example was followed in other Salt Lake City wards.

In early 1866 Elder Cannon launched the Juvenile Instructor as a personal project. On its pages, children’s conferences, weekly Sunday meetings, scriptural reading, and religious instructions were highlighted. Elder Cannon realized that a journal devoted to the needs of the Sunday Schools would be of great value, particularly since there was so little curriculum available. The Juvenile Instructor “was a means of strengthening the hands of those who had the Sunday School cause at heart.”6 This biweekly periodical, though dedicated entirely to the Sunday School cause, remained under the private direction of Elder Cannon until 1900, when it came under direct auspices of the Church.

Juvenile Instructor

As the Church and its auxiliary organization grew, so did the need for communication. In 1866 the Juvenile Instructor was edited and published privately by George Q. Cannon for the Sunday School. Later the magazine was published by the Deseret Sunday School Union. The magazine was called the Juvenile Instructor from 1866 to 1929 and the Instructor from 1930 to 1970.

In November 1867 steps were taken toward establishing a permanent Sunday School organization. President Brigham Young spoke to numerous local leaders concerning his desires for the education of the youth of Zion. Elder George Q. Cannon was selected as president of the fledgling general organization to unite the already existing local Sunday Schools and to promote the establishment of new ones throughout the Church. In 1872, the name Deseret Sunday School Union was formally adopted and “union meetings” of Sunday School workers were held the first Monday in each month. Year by year the union increased in numbers of youthful students. (There were no adult courses at that time.) Uniformity was reached in the methods of teaching and the mode of conducting the schools. Punctuality, memorization of gospel facts, and robust singing of hymns were highly prized in these early years of the Sunday School in the Church.

In the summer of 1874, the Deseret Sunday School Union organized and promoted a great jubilee throughout the territory. In Provo, on 15 June, five thousand persons, three-fourths children, assembled for a day of instruction from President Young and his counselors. There was also singing, recitations, and comic speeches, all by area children. The jubilee held in Salt Lake City netted twelve hundred dollars, which was used to purchase songbooks and other materials for Sunday Schools.

An organization for the young women of the Church came into being as part of the plans of President Young to protect the Saints against the gentile world at the coming of the railroad. On 28 November 1869, Brigham Young called his daughters together and addressed them on the responsibilities of the women of Zion and organized them into a “Retrenchment Society.” The girls pledged themselves to avoid all extravagant practices, to retrench (cut back their excesses) in regard to dress, eating, and speech. The society was also to receive instruction in the principles of the gospel like that which the young men were receiving in their priesthood activities.7

By the end of 1870 the Retrenchment Association was operating on a firm basis in nearly every ward in Salt Lake City. Eliza R. Snow and Mary Isabella Horne then went from settlement to settlement establishing groups that soon were participating in all kinds of practical economic and cultural activities. After the Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Associations were organized, President Young expressed the desire that the name of the Retrenchment Association should be the Young Ladies Mutual Improvement Association (or YLMIA), but the name was not permanently changed until 1878.

Although a few literary and debating societies for young men had existed in Utah, Brigham Young expressed a desire in 1875 that a unified organization for young men be established in the Church. The prophet wanted the boys to develop intellectually and spiritually and to have needed recreation under proper supervision. Accordingly he called twenty-one-year-old Junius F. Wells, son of his counselor Daniel H. Wells, to establish Young Men’s Mutual Improvement Associations, first in Salt Lake City and then throughout the territory. The first meeting was held in the Thirteenth Ward meetinghouse, where Henry A. Woolley, son of Bishop Edwin D. Woolley, was chosen as president. He selected B. Morris Young, son of President Young, as first counselor and Heber J. Grant, son of Jedediah M. Grant, as the second counselor. Within the following months more than a hundred young men’s organizations were functioning.8

Junius F. Wells (1854–1930)

Junius F. Wells (1854–1930) was born in Salt Lake City. Besides being involved with the organization of the YMMIA and being the editor of the Contributor for thirteen years, he also served two missions for the Church—one from 1872–74 to Great Britain and one in 1875–76 to the eastern United States. In 1921 he was sustained as an assistant Church historian.

A general board for the YMMIA was formed in 1876 and directed a unified recreational program and course of study. The YMMIA had a powerful impact on the lives of thousands of the Church’s young men. The association began its own periodical, the Contributor, in 1879. As the name suggests, several articles in each issue came from the young men themselves.

In 1877, Bishop John W. Hess of the Farmington Ward called the mothers in his ward together and discussed the responsibility of their children being trained properly. He felt that “the responsibility of guiding their young minds” rested “almost entirely upon the mothers.”9

Aurelia Spencer Rogers, a devout, thoughtful Latter-day Saint, took the bishop’s charge seriously. After much prayer, she heard a voice say “that there was an auxiliary organization for all ages except the children, where members learned to do things and use their time wisely.” Bishop Hess, when approached by Sister Rogers, was excited by the idea of an organization for the children. He explained that he would carry Sister Rogers’s thoughts and inspiration to the First Presidency to see what should be done. The First Presidency directed Eliza R. Snow to discuss the matter with Sister Rogers when she attended auxiliary conferences in Farmington.10

Aurelia Spencer Rogers (1834–1922)

Aurelia Spencer Rogers (1834–1922). When Aurelia was twelve years old, her mother, Catherine, died at Sugar Creek Camp in Iowa. A few months later at Winter Quarters, where they had established a temporary home, her father, Orson, was called to serve as the European Mission president. Along with her five brothers and sisters, she crossed the plains two years later and settled in Salt Lake City, where her father joined them in September 1849.

At the age of seventeen Aurelia married Thomas Rogers and moved to Farmington, Utah. There she raised ten children and led an active life. She was the founder of the Primary, and she served on the general board of the Primary Association from 1893 until her death. She was a delegate to the Woman’s Suffrage Convention in Georgia and the National Council of Women in Washington, D.C., both in 1895.

During the summer of 1878, Aurelia spoke with Eliza R. Snow, who had been charged by President Brigham Young with the responsibility of overseeing the Church’s women’s auxiliaries and had come to Farmington for Relief Society and young women conferences. Sister Rogers “expressed a desire that something more could be effectuated for the cultivation and improvement of the children morally and spiritually.”11

After returning to Salt Lake City, Eliza R. Snow met with President John Taylor and secured his blessing for a children’s organization to be held one day a week other than Sunday. Sister Snow then wrote to Bishop Hess and indicated President Taylor’s approval for Sister Rogers to organize and preside over a Primary in Farmington, Utah.

Sister Rogers organized the first Primary. On 11 August 1878, she gathered the parents together to explain the importance of the new organization. On Sunday, 25 August, Sister Rogers commenced Primary work in her Farmington Ward. She organized the children into their age-groups, with the oldest child in each group serving as a monitor. Sister Rogers then told the children to be obedient to their parents and teachers and to be kind to one another.

This mural depicting the first Primary

This mural depicting the first Primary was painted by Lynn Faucett and dedicated by Charles A. Callis of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles on 24 November 1941. The mural is located in the Rock Chapel in Farmington, Utah.

As the Primary movement spread into the various settlements, Eliza R. Snow attended the organizational meetings and spoke to the young children in the area, impressing upon them the vital part that each of them played in the great movement begun by the Prophet Joseph Smith. She displayed the Prophet’s watch and then let each child hold it, subsequently admonishing them never to forget that they had held the Prophet’s watch.12

Meeting Educational Needs

The conflict between the Gentiles and the Saints in Utah13 contributed to a crisis in education that led to a reevaluation of the Church’s role in educating its youth. In the early days of settlement the Saints had made every effort to establish elementary schools in each ward. These were private schools in which teachers’ salaries were generally paid for by tuition. As the influx of Gentiles increased in the state as a result of the railroad reaching Utah, conflicts developed between Church and government officials over the administration of the “district schools.” The Gentiles objected to the teaching of Mormon values in the schools and demanded that all schools become tax-supported and freed from Church domination.

Another aspect of this debate climaxed in the 1870s. Like schools in many other areas of the country, Utah schools used the Bible as a reader. Federal office holders insisted that neither the Bible nor any other religious subjects be taught in public schools. President Young emphatically stated that the Mormons would not remove the Bible from their schools, even if the rest of the Christian world did so. The Church position received support when other religious leaders in Utah also opposed the elimination of the Bible, which they considered the cornerstone of all character building, in the schools.

Recognizing that secular forces were at work in the nation, Church leaders rejuvenated the University of Deseret and considered establishing branches in other communities. The Dusenberry brothers, Warren and Wilson, operated a school in Provo which they organized in 1869. In 1870 Church and territorial educational officials recommended to them that the Provo school be made a branch of the university. In April the Dusenberry school was established as the Timpanogos Branch of the Deseret University, and students began receiving both secular and religious training.

Martha Jane Knowlton Coray (1821–81)

When Brigham Young established the academies, he required that each one have at least one woman on its board of trustees. Martha Jane Knowlton Coray (1821–81) was the first woman to serve on the board of trustees of the Brigham Young Academy, which is now called Brigham Young University.

Martha Coray was a mother of twelve children, assayer, herbalist, Church worker, prolific writer, and schoolteacher. Her scholarly interests included geology, geography, politics, chemistry, and biblical studies.

Because of his devotion to education, Salt Lake Mayor Abraham O. Smoot was assigned by Brigham Young to move to Provo, where he served as stake president, community leader, and supporter of the Provo branch of the university. In spite of President Smoot’s support, the school failed financially. Subsequently, in 1875, President Young appointed President Smoot and five other prominent Utah County men and one woman, Martha Jane Knowlton Coray—an author and teacher—as trustees of the school. A deed was drawn up and put into force. The new school was called the Brigham Young Academy. To ensure that there would be religious instruction at the school, “Brigham Young specifically stipulated that the ‘Old and New Testaments, the Book of Mormon and the Book of Doctrine and Covenants shall be read and their doctrines inculcated in the Academy.’” A few weeks later Warren N. Dusenberry was appointed the school’s first principal.14

In 1876 skilled German educator Karl G. Maeser took over the principalship of the Brigham Young Academy and began a stellar career in Church education, which later included serving as superintendent of Church schools. By the twentieth century this small institution had grown to become Brigham Young University.

Karl G. Maeser (1828–1901)

Karl G. Maeser (1828–1901), one of the leading educators of the Church, was born, reared, and educated in Germany. While teaching there he met the missionaries and was baptized in 1855 in the Elbe River by Franklin D. Richards. Following the baptism the two men engaged in a conversation through the gifts of tongues and interpretation of tongues.

Brother Maeser came to America in 1857 but did not arrive in Utah until 1860. He became the private tutor of Brigham Young’s family in 1864. In 1888 he was called by the First Presidency to be the first superintendent of all Church schools.

In 1877 a second academy, Brigham Young College, was opened in Logan and continued until 1926. The buildings of the college were then turned over to the city of Logan. Plans also went forward to establish a third academy, called Salt Lake Stake Academy, in Salt Lake City. This academy did not begin actual operations until 1886. It went by several names and eventually came to be known as Latter-day Saints’ College. The college officially closed in 1931 during the Depression. Faculty members then organized a business college on their own, which was later acquired by the Church and named LDS Business College.

These three academies exemplified Brigham Young’s educational ideals, emphasizing a broad, liberal arts education, high moral principles, and religious training from the scriptures. Teacher training (normal) schools were also established at these institutions. These academies were forerunners of over twenty academies in various communities that would characterize Church education during the rest of the century and the early part of the twentieth.

Looking Outward

During the last decade of his life, Brigham Young continued to extend the borders of the Latter-day Saint commonwealth by colonization and to oversee further expansion in missionary work and immigration. By the end of his life, Mormon colonies had been established in Arizona, and missionary work extended into the Republic of Mexico.

Because missionaries continued to bring in converts who then immigrated to Utah Territory, Church leaders regularly sought new areas to colonize. As early as the 1850s, Church explorers had penetrated Arizona, but the aridity of the deserts, the lack of information on the territory south of the massive Colorado River, and the raiding Indians made it difficult to attempt any colonizing during the 1850s and 1860s. In 1870 the government pacified the Navajos, who had been raiding settlements in southern Utah since 1865. This led the way for a string of settlements to be established from Kanab, Utah, to Lee’s Ferry on the Colorado River in Arizona as a springboard for further colonization.

As the winter of 1872–73 began, Brigham Young invited longtime friend of the Saints Thomas L. Kane and his wife, Elizabeth, to accompany him to St. George. During this trip President Young laid plans for a gathering place for the Saints in Sonora Valley, Mexico. Proposed settlements in Arizona were to form a connecting link between Utah and Mexico.

Establishing colonies in Arizona continued to be exceedingly difficult. In the early spring of 1873, President Young dispatched another set of explorers, the Arizona Exploring Company, which consisted of fourteen men, to visit the Little Colorado River area, the Rio Verde country, and the San Francisco mountain region, all south of the Colorado River. These explorers also became discouraged because the arid, broken countryside was difficult to traverse. Nevertheless, the determination of Brigham Young to colonize Arizona was not to be denied, and in 1874–75 he sent additional scouting parties to study the area.

Early in 1876 the First Presidency called two hundred “missionaries” to be part of four companies under Lot Smith, Jessie O. Ballenger, George Lake, and William C. Allen. By year’s end four struggling colonies were established in the lower valley of the Little Colorado. For many years these citizens in Arizona struggled to harness the water of the river through dams. By 1880 other colonizing parties settled along Silver Creek, a major tributary of the Little Colorado, further upstream, and near Mesa, in central Arizona. One successful village was Snowflake, named after Elder Erastus Snow of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, who encouraged the colony, and their leader, William J. Flake.

Because Arizona settlements were struggling to survive, there was not an immediate push further south into Mexico. Brigham Young, however, desired that missionaries be sent to Mexico. In 1875 the prophet called Daniel Webster Jones, who had served in Mexico during the Mexican-American War, to head a mission and translate the Book of Mormon into Spanish. Elder Jones was soon unexpectedly joined in this project by Meliton G. Trejo, a native of Spain, who had recently joined the Church, stating that he had been inspired to seek out the Lord’s people in the Rocky Mountains. By the end of the year Elders Jones and Trejo and four others departed for Mexico. They crossed the border in January 1876. Although they encountered much opposition from the various clergy, the missionaries held some public meetings and also mailed out five hundred copies of “Selected Passages of the Book of Mormon” to leaders of more than one hundred communities throughout Mexico.

The missionaries also located an area in the state of Chihuahua that they felt would be suitable for a future Church colonization. In the fall of 1876, Elder Trejo and Elder Helaman Pratt proselyted in the state of Sonora. In 1879, Elder Moses Thatcher of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles headed a delegation of missionaries into Mexico City and succeeded in laying a solid foundation for the Church in that land.15

map, Utah to Mexico

This map shows the route of the first Mormon exploration and proselyting party to northern Mexico in 1875–76. Eight colonies were established in Mexico during the nineteenth century. Note that most of the struggling settlements in Arizona did not survive.

Throughout the 1870s the greatest number of converts to the Church continued to come from the British Isles and Scandinavia. Each year this long-established pattern was followed: the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company chartered transportation to gather the European Saints to Zion. In 1869 the Church began using steamships rather than sailing ships to cross the ocean. At about the same time, completion of the transcontinental railroad enabled the Saints to quickly cross the United States to Utah. Instead of approximately five months, the emigrating Saints now took less than three weeks to make the long trip. The cost of passage remained approximately the same.

In 1872–73, George A. Smith, First Counselor in the First Presidency, led a delegation of Church leaders to Europe and Palestine to see what opportunities there might be for preaching the gospel and to rededicate the Holy Land preparatory to the return of the Jews. Orson Hyde had conducted a similar mission in 1840–41 but had been forced to go alone. Now the Brethren felt it was time to reassert the great interest the Church had in a regathering of the Jews to Palestine while the Saints were gathering to a new Zion in the West. The party visited several locations in Europe, and on 2 March 1873 both President Smith and Elder Lorenzo Snow of the Twelve offered prayers of dedication on the Mount of Olives.16

The St. George Utah Temple

Throughout the last years of his life, President Brigham Young persisted in working toward his desire to erect temples in the Saints’ “mountain home.” The Endowment House on Temple Square in Salt Lake City had served as a temporary holy place since 1855, and many Latter-day Saints had received their temple ordinances there, but still there was no permanent structure. Although Brigham Young had identified the site of the Salt Lake Temple in 1847, actual construction did not begin until 1853. The project was seriously delayed by the approach of the United States army and the move south in 1857–58. Progress was gradual on the construction of the Salt Lake Temple in the 1860s and 1870s. On Temple Square, over a hundred stonecutters were cutting blocks from granite, which was being delivered from Little Cottonwood Canyon.

The first temple to be completed in the West, however, was in St. George, which became a second headquarters of the Church as President Young spent most of his last several winters there. He dedicated the location for the sacred structure in November 1871. With the encouragement of the prophet, local Saints, helped by workmen called from the north, hastened the construction. Sandstone quarries were opened, and some timber was hauled from Pine Valley in southern Utah and the Kaibab Forest in northern Arizona, but most of the lumber came from Mount Trumbull in Arizona, eighty miles away. Many Saints donated food and clothing for the workers, and others donated one day in ten as “tithing labor.”

The temple and its interior were constructed almost entirely from native materials, reflecting President Young’s concern for the development of local industry. For example, the Provo Woolen Factory made carpet for the temple, and the fringe for the altars and pulpits was made from silk produced by the Relief Society organizations. The structure was completed in 1877, and individual rooms of the temple were dedicated in January. It was decided to hold the annual general conference in St. George; as part of the proceedings, the whole of the temple was dedicated on 6 April 1877. Daniel H. Wells read the dedicatory prayer.17

The St. George Utah Temple

The St. George Utah Temple holds a special place in Church history because it was here on 11 January 1877 that the first endowments for the dead were performed. Prior to this time, endowments for the living had been performed in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City, but President Young had explained that work for the dead required a temple. Therefore, in his advanced age and failing health he was most anxious for the Saints to complete the St. George Utah Temple.

Brigham Young personally directed the work for his own kindred dead and the development of a “perfect form of the endowments,” which was taught to the temple workers. By the end of March 1877, 3,208 endowments for the dead had been given. This view of the temple prior to completion shows the lower half of the sandstone being prepared for a whitewash coating, symbolizing purity and light. The main tower was later damaged by lightning and replaced with a taller one.

President Young was involved with other important aspects in connection with temple work in 1877. Together with other Church leaders, the prophet supervised the writing down of the endowment of the holy priesthood in correct form so that the work for the dead could be carried out more effectively. In a dramatic address given in the temple, President Young exclaimed, “What do you suppose the fathers would say if they could speak from the dead? Would they not say, ‘We have lain here thousands of years, here in this prison house, waiting for this dispensation to come? Here we are, bound and fettered, in the association of those who are filthy?’ What would they whisper in our ears? Why, if they had the power the very thunders of heaven would be in our ears.”18

President Young called Wilford Woodruff of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to be the temple president in St. George and directed him to begin in earnest the ordinance work for the dead. It was in this temple that the first endowments for the dead were performed. Furthermore, that same year President Young dedicated sites for two more temples to be built in Utah—Logan and Manti.

Elder Woodruff went immediately to his task. “His whole soul was wrapped up in the temple work for both the living and the dead.”19 He conducted several people through the ordinances for deceased persons, many of whom were his own relatives. In Salt Lake City, in September 1877, when he reported on his labors, Elder Woodruff said, “For the last eighteen hundred years, the people that have lived and passed away never heard the voice of an inspired man, never heard a Gospel sermon, until they entered the spirit-world. Somebody has got to redeem them, by performing such ordinances for them in the flesh as they cannot attend to themselves in the spirit.” He declared, “The Lord has stirred up our minds, and many things have been revealed to us concerning the dead. … The dead will be after you, they will seek after you as they have after us in St. George. They called upon us, knowing that we held the keys and power to redeem them.”

Wilford Woodruff then announced that the signers of the Declaration of Independence had appeared to him for two days and nights, inquiring why no ordinance work had been done for them, even though they had established the United States government and remained true to God. Elder Woodruff immediately was baptized by J. D. T. McAllister for these men and for fifty other prominent individuals, including John Wesley and Christopher Columbus. He then baptized Brother McAllister “for every President of the United States, except three [Martin Van Buren, James Buchanan, and Ulysses S. Grant]; and when their cause is just, somebody will do the work for them.”20 Under the administration of President Heber J. Grant the work for these three men was finally done.

record from the St. George Utah Temple

One of the precious documents of the Church is this record from the St. George Utah Temple detailing the work for the deceased presidents of the United States and the signers of the Declaration of Independence, as well as for several other noted figures in history.

Priesthood Reorganization

Realizing that his advancing age was cutting back on his ability to labor and knowing that he would not live much longer, Brigham Young made a number of important priesthood leadership and organizational changes during his last years. In 1873 he resigned from several Church business posts, including trustee-in-trust, and appointed a dozen others under the direction of his first counselor, President George A. Smith, to handle these affairs. He also called five additional counselors—Lorenzo Snow; Brigham Young, Jr.; Albert Carrington; John W. Young; and George Q. Cannon—to labor with him in the First Presidency.

Seniority in the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was also corrected by President Young. Wilford Woodruff, who had been sustained for a number of years ahead of John Taylor because he was older, was sustained after John Taylor at the October general conference of 1861. President Young determined that seniority among the Twelve was based on date of ordination; thus, John Taylor, who was ordained first, was senior to Wilford Woodruff in the Quorum. Further refinement came at the April 1875 general conference when John Taylor and Wilford Woodruff were placed before Orson Hyde and Orson Pratt. Both Orson Hyde and Orson Pratt had been dropped from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles at one time because of disobedience. During the time of their disaffection from the Church, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, and George Albert Smith (who was serving in the First Presidency in 1875 and thus not sustained as a member of the Twelve at the time) were ordained to the apostleship. When Orson Hyde and Orson Pratt were reinstated they were given their original place in the Quorum. President Young corrected this, explaining that continuous service also determined seniority.21

In 1876 President Young clarified the interrelationship of the stakes of Zion. He announced that the Salt Lake Stake held no primacy over the others as a “center stake,” that all stakes were equal and autonomous in relation to each other. In 1877, over half of the Apostles had been serving as stake presidents. They were relieved of these responsibilities so they could reassume more general leadership roles.22

Brigham Young directed a major priesthood reorganization and reform throughout the stakes in 1877. New stake presidencies were called in nearly every stake, and the number of stakes was increased from thirteen to twenty.23 To clarify leadership responsibilities on the local level, the “Circular of the First Presidency, July 11, 1877” and later messages instructed that all bishoprics were to be composed of three high priests, and that the bishops were to be the presiding high priests in their respective wards in addition to being responsible for taking care of temporal needs. Bishops were to begin handling temple donations, and their responsibility to preside over the Aaronic Priesthood quorums was reemphasized.

More young men were to be called into Aaronic Priesthood quorums and trained. Elders quorums were to be organized with ninety-six elders in each, even if it meant that the men came from several wards to form a quorum. Seventies were to meet only for missionary purposes. High priests were a stake quorum and were not to meet on a ward basis. Stake presidents were to hold quarterly conferences and monthly priesthood meetings. The priesthood leaders were to see that Sabbath meetings, Sunday Schools, YMMIA, and YWMIA were held in each ward.24 The priesthood reorganization movement is a monument to Brigham Young. This action has been viewed as his last major achievement as the Lord’s prophet on this earth.

Lasting Contributions of Brigham Young

Brigham Young kept in close contact25 with Church affairs to the end. As always, he met with a steady stream of visitors. On 23 August 1877, the seventy-seven-year-old prophet instructed a group of bishops gathered in the Council House. Following the meeting, he fell ill with violent cramps and vomiting. Despite the efforts of four physicians and the fasting and prayers of the Saints throughout the Church, he died on 29 August 1877. According to his daughter Zina, his final words were “‘Joseph! Joseph! Joseph!’ and the divine look in his face seemed to indicate that he was communicating with his beloved friend, Joseph Smith, the Prophet.”26

statue of Brigham Young

The United States government invited each state to furnish statues of one or two of its most illustrious citizens to be displayed in the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C. In 1950 Utah donated this statue of Brigham Young sculpted by Mahonri M. Young. President George Albert Smith was present and offered a dedicatory prayer. It now resides in the nation’s capitol.

Courtesy of Utah State Historical Society

Brigham Young’s body was placed in state in the Tabernacle, where an estimated twenty-five thousand people passed by. Speakers at his funeral included John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, Daniel H. Wells, and George Q. Cannon. These words, offered by President Cannon, aptly summarize the contributions of this mighty prophet of the Lord:

“He has been the brain, the eye, the ear, the mouth and hand for the entire people of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. From the greatest problems connected with the organization of this Church down to the smallest minutiae connected with the work, he has left upon it the impress of his great mind. From the organization of the Church and the construction of Temples, the building of Tabernacles; from the creation of a Provisional State government and a Territorial government, down to the small matter of directing the shape of these seats upon which we sit this day; upon all these things, as well as upon all the settlements of the Territory, the impress of his genius is apparent. Nothing was too small for his mind; nothing was too large.”27

Brigham Young served longer as the President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints than has any other President of the Church. His contributions were numerous and many faceted. So much of what is cherished, revered, or even taken for granted in the Church today has roots in the contributions and leadership of President Young. Brigham Young felt he was only following the lead of his mentor and friend, the Prophet Joseph Smith. He exclaimed, “I feel like shouting hallelujah, all the time, when I think that I ever knew Joseph Smith, the Prophet whom the Lord raised up and ordained, and to whom He gave keys and power to build up the kingdom of God on earth and sustain it.”28 On another occasion he stated, “What I have received from the Lord, I have received by Joseph Smith: he was the instrument made use of. If I drop him, I must drop these principles: they have not been revealed, declared, or explained by any other man since the days of the Apostles.”29

One of Brigham Young’s greatest legacies was his leadership in keeping the Church relatively self-sufficient from the gentile world—in recreation, business, government, and education. Historians recognize the massive kingdom of the Saints built up in the Rocky Mountains as a tribute to this man. This was achieved against great odds—the interference of federal troops and government officers, a desert climate and rough terrain, “outside” businessmen, the fashions of “Babylon,” the coming of the transcontinental railroad, and the discovery of precious metals in Utah.

Brigham Young led his people in one cooperative venture after another. As a leading member of the Twelve in 1838–39, he organized the persecuted Saints in their exodus from Missouri and in their establishment of a refuge in Illinois. Later, Brigham led the Saints from Nauvoo, across the Iowa plains to Winter Quarters, and on to the Great Salt Lake. Between 1848 and 1852, he directed the gathering of thousands from the camps in Iowa to the emerging stronghold in the West. Then, directing his attention to the tens of thousands of new converts in Britain and Europe, he founded the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company, which established the best system of regulated immigration in American history. He organized colonization parties to lay out agricultural villages in some three hundred and fifty locations in Utah and in parts of Idaho, Wyoming, Nevada, Arizona, and Colorado.

President Young taught the people the importance of cooperation in conquering the difficult frontier. That same spirit continues in abundance in the Church throughout the world today. He directed the disseminating of the gospel to many nations of the earth and the erecting of temples unto the Most High God. He was inspired to set up cooperative economic enterprises and institute the united order among his people. Brigham Young gave the Latter-day Saints all manner of doctrinal and practical instruction. His more than eight hundred recorded sermons ranged widely in diverse subjects. He spoke on the nature of God, the power of evil, the necessity of “working” out one’s salvation, the principles of the priesthood, behavior in the family and marriage, women’s fashions, and keeping one’s earthly possessions clean and orderly. In the twentieth century, John A. Widtsoe compiled some of Brigham Young’s teachings into the classic volume, Discourses of Brigham Young. Brigham Young urged the secular and spiritual education of the members of the Church and left an educational legacy that continues to bless the Saints.

Brigham Young left an enduring stamp on all members of the Church since his time. He was both kindhearted to the meek and humble and fierce with the haughty, bigoted, and proud. He cried when he saw the suffering of helpless people and took many downtrodden people under his wing. He was patient with violators of Church standards, was a good listener, had a sense of humor, and enjoyed theatrical performances and dances. As a political leader, he was astute. He was a person of strong determination, resolute and unwavering. His spirituality was exhibited by his prayers, temple work, and healing of the sick. Throughout his long and colorful career, he exercised all manner of leadership to do what the Lord had sent him to do.