Lesson 24: Leaving Nauvoo and the Trek West

“Lesson 24: Leaving Nauvoo and the Trek West,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Manual (2015)

“Lesson 24,” Teacher Manual

Lesson 24

Leaving Nauvoo and the Trek West


Under the inspired leadership of Brigham Young, the Saints finished building the Nauvoo Temple, where they made sacred covenants before they started their arduous journey to their new home in the Rocky Mountains. These temple covenants provided the Saints with strength and inspiration as they faced hardships along the way. As inheritors of the legacy of these faithful Saints, we can learn from their examples and prepare the way for others to enjoy the blessings of the gospel.

Background Reading

Suggestions for Teaching

Completion of the Nauvoo Temple

Nauvoo Temple
Nauvoo Illinois Temple

Display a picture of the original Nauvoo Temple, or use a picture of the new Nauvoo Illinois Temple (see Gospel Art Book [2009], no. 118). Tell students that after the Latter-day Saints left Nauvoo, the temple they had built was gutted by fire in 1848 and then almost completely leveled by a tornado in 1850. Some 150 years later, a new temple was built that looked very similar to the original and was dedicated in June 2002.

Explain that after the martyrdom of Joseph Smith, the Saints worked under the direction of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to complete the original Nauvoo Temple as quickly as possible. Display the following statements and invite a student to read them aloud. Invite the class to note the sacrifices the Saints made to build the Nauvoo Temple:

“More than 1,000 men donated every tenth day in labor. Louisa Decker, a young girl, was impressed that her mother sold her china dishes and a fine bed quilt as her temple contribution. Other Latter-day Saints gave horses, wagons, cows, pork, and grain to aid in the temple’s construction. The women of Nauvoo were asked to contribute their dimes and pennies for the temple fund” (Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [1996], 59).

Elizabeth Terry Kirby Heward gave the only possession she had to give—the watch owned by her husband, who had recently died. “I gave it to help the Nauvoo Temple and everything else that I could possibly spare and the last few dollars that I had in the world, which altogether amounted to nearly $50” (quoted in Carol Cornwall Madsen, In Their Own Words: Women and the Story of Nauvoo [1994], 180).

Explain that because of increasing persecution of the Saints and threats from the Church’s enemies, Church leaders announced on September 24, 1845, that the Saints would leave Nauvoo the following spring. Ask students:

  • How do you think the decision to leave Nauvoo might have affected the Saints’ efforts to complete the temple?

Explain to students that even though the Saints knew they would have to leave Illinois, they increased their efforts to complete the temple before they left. Rooms in the temple were dedicated as they were completed so that ordinances could be performed as early as possible. Before his death, the Prophet Joseph Smith had administered the temple endowment ceremony to a small group of men and women. On December 10, 1845, these men and women began administering temple ordinances to other members in the dedicated temple rooms. Invite a student to read aloud the following two paragraphs, which describe the efforts of the Saints and their leaders to ensure that as many people as possible received temple ordinances before leaving Nauvoo:

From 1844 to 1846, President Brigham Young and the Twelve Apostles made completion of the Nauvoo Temple an urgent priority. Endowments and sealings were performed there even before construction ended. Brigham Young (1801–77) recorded: “Such has been the anxiety manifested by the saints to receive the ordinances [of the Temple], and such the anxiety on our part to administer to them, that I have given myself up entirely to the work of the Lord in the Temple night and day, not taking more than four hours sleep, upon an average, per day, and going home but once a week” (in History of the Church, 7:567).

In addition to the men who worked in the temple, “thirty-six women became ordinance workers in the Nauvoo Temple, working round the clock during the winter of 1845–46 to administer the ordinances to as many as possible before the exodus. ‘I worked in the Temple every day without cessation until it was closed,’ recalled Elizabeth Ann Whitney, one of the thirty-six. ‘I gave myself, my time and attention to that mission.’ Dozens of other women washed the clothing and prepared the food that physically sustained that remarkable undertaking” (Carol Cornwall Madsen, “Faith and Community: Women of Nauvoo,” in Joseph Smith: The Prophet, The Man, ed. Susan Easton Black and Charles D. Tate Jr. [1993], 233–34).

Explain that between December 10, 1845 and February 7, 1846—the date when the Saints began to depart for their journey west—approximately 5,615 Saints received the ordinance of the endowment in the Nauvoo Temple and numerous families were sealed there.

  • What can we learn from the Saints’ sacrifices to complete the temple, even when they knew they would soon be leaving Nauvoo? (Students may identify a variety of principles, such as the following: Receiving temple ordinances is worth all of our righteous effort and sacrifice. Consider writing this on the board for emphasis.)

  • In what ways do you think receiving temple ordinances might have prepared those leaving Nauvoo for their journey of over a thousand miles to find refuge in the western United States?

To help answer this question, display the following statements from Sister Sarah Rich and Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and ask a student to read them aloud:

Sarah Rich

“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” (Sarah Rich, quoted in Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society [2011], 30).

Elder Robert D. Hales

“Our pioneer ancestors were sealed together as families in Nauvoo. Their covenants with the Lord in the Nauvoo Temple were a protection for them during their journey westward, as it is for each of us today and throughout our lives. …

“For these early Saints, their participation in the ordinances of the temple was essential to their testimonies as they faced the hardships, the angry mobs, being driven from comfortable homes in Nauvoo, and the long and difficult journey ahead. They had been endowed with power in the holy temple. Husband and wife were sealed to each other. Children were sealed to their parents. Many lost family members to death along the way, but they knew that wasn’t the end for them. They had been sealed in the temple for all eternity” (Robert D. Hales, “Temple Blessings,” New Era, Feb. 2014, 4).

Ask students:

  • What effect did receiving temple ordinances have on the early Latter-day Saints who were forced to make the long journey westward? (As students share their answers, help them to understand the following principle: Temple ordinances can provide us with protection and strength when we face times of hardship and adversity.)

  • How has temple worship protected and strengthened you or those you know during times of trial?

Encourage students to ponder what they might do to find greater spiritual protection and strength through worship in the house of the Lord.

Doctrine and Covenants 136

The Lord’s instructions to those who journeyed west

map, Westmard Movement of the Church

Invite students to turn to Church History Maps, no. 6, “The Westward Movement of the Church,” and ask them to locate Nauvoo and Winter Quarters. Explain that because of excessive rain and insufficient supplies, the Saints who left Nauvoo in February 1846 spent four months making the 300-mile journey across Iowa. During this time, more than 500 Latter-day Saint men—who became known as the Mormon Battalion—heeded the call of President Brigham Young to enlist in the United States Army to serve during the United States’ war with Mexico. Some of the men were joined by their wives and children. Their service would earn money to help poor Church members make the journey west, but many families were left without husbands and fathers for part of their westward journey. For these reasons, Church leaders determined not to continue west to the Rocky Mountains until the spring of 1847. The Saints settled at a place they called Winter Quarters. It was there that Brigham Young received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 136.

Invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from Doctrine and Covenants 136:1–5. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord instructed the Saints to do to prepare to continue their journey west.

  • How were the companies to be organized? How do you think this organization would have helped the Saints on their journey?

  • How is this organization similar to the way the Church is organized today? (After students respond, you may want to write the following truth on the board: The Lord organizes His Saints into groups so that each person can be guided and cared for.)

  • What does verse 4 suggest about how the Saints would receive strength in their efforts to accomplish the Lord’s will?

Assign students to silently study Doctrine and Covenants 136:6–11, looking for ways the Saints were to organize to care for one another’s needs and assist the poor and needy during the westward journey. After sufficient time, consider asking the following questions to lead the discussion:

  • What words or phrases in verses 6–11 indicate how the Saints were to care for one another and for those in need? (You might emphasize the word “prepare” in verses 6, 7, and 9. This will draw attention to the scripture study skill of learning to recognize repetition.)

  • According to verse 11, what are the Lord’s promises to those who seek to help others and prepare the way for them? (As students respond, write the following principle on the board: The Lord will bless us when we help others and prepare the way for them.)

  • Who has prepared the way for you to enjoy the blessings of the gospel? What did they do to prepare the way for you?

You may want to explain that the word pioneer can be defined as one who goes before to prepare or open up the way for others to follow, meaning that all of us can be pioneers in some ways. Give students a moment to ponder what they could do to help others and prepare the way for them to enjoy the blessings of the gospel. Invite a few students to share their thoughts. Bear testimony that the Lord desires us to strive throughout our lives to help prepare the way for each of His children to receive the gospel and return to live with Him.

Explain that the Saints obeyed the Lord’s commands by helping one another and preparing the way for those coming after them. The first group of pioneers left Winter Quarters on April 5, 1847. They traveled more than 1,000 miles and arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in late July 1847. On July 24, 1847, President Brigham Young entered the valley and received confirmation that the Saints had found their new home.

Display the following statement from Elder William R. Walker, a former member of the Seventy, and ask a student to read it aloud:

Elder William R. Walker

“Whether or not you are a descendant of pioneers, the Mormon pioneer heritage of faith and sacrifice is your heritage. It is the noble heritage of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (“Live True to the Faith,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2014, 97).

  • Why do you think it is important for each member of the Church to understand that the “Mormon pioneer heritage of faith and sacrifice” is their heritage, no matter what their ancestry?

  • In what ways can learning about the journey of the Mormon pioneers inspire Church members today in their efforts to serve others and help them in their journey back to Heavenly Father?

Display the following statement from President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008), and ask a student to read it aloud:

President Gordon B. Hinckley

“We stand today as the recipients of [the pioneers’] great effort. I hope we are thankful. I hope we carry in our hearts a deep sense of gratitude for all that they have done for us. …

“My beloved brethren and sisters, how blessed we are! What a wonderful inheritance we have! It involved sacrifice, suffering, death, vision, faith, and knowledge and a testimony of God the Eternal Father and His Son, the risen Lord Jesus Christ. …

“We honor best those who have gone before when we serve well in the cause of truth” (“True to the Faith,” Ensign, May 1997, 66–67).

Remind students that every member of the Church has been blessed by others who prepared the way for them to enjoy the blessings of the gospel. Encourage students to consider what they might do to prepare others, including their posterity, to live in faith and obedience to Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ.

Student Readings