Lesson 26 Class Preparation Material: The Church in the West

Hide Footnotes


“Lesson 26 Class Preparation Material: The Church in the West,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Material (2019)

“Lesson 26 Class Preparation Material,” Foundations of the Restoration Teacher Material

Lesson 26 Class Preparation Material

The Church in the West

Steel engraving. "Great Salt Lake City." Facing pg. 109.

Engraving of Salt Lake City in 1853, by Frederick Piercy

The Saints who gathered to the valley of the Great Salt Lake and surrounding regions experienced several challenges after their arrival. These included harsh weather, crop-eating crickets, drought, and hunger. However, Brigham Young “was less concerned with raising crops and money than he was with helping his people to become a holy nation. He knew from experience that they would grow from working hard and accepting responsibility. ‘This is a good place to make Saints,’ he told a congregation of members in Salt Lake City in 1856 (DNW [Deseret News Weekly], 10 Sept. 1856, 5)” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young [1997], 9). Most of the Saints demonstrated great faith in the Lord during these early years, despite these trials. Sadly, this period of Church history also includes the tragedy of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, which can teach us important lessons we can apply in our day.

Section 1

What can I learn from the early pioneer Saints about serving the Lord and building His kingdom today?

During the trying winter of 1848–49 when the weather was cold and food was scarce, some Saints wanted to move on to California and mine gold. President Brigham Young prophesied:

“Some have asked me about going [to California]. I have told them that God has appointed this place [the Great Basin] for the gathering of his Saints, and you will do better right here than you will by going to the gold mines. … God has shown me that this is the spot to locate His people, and here is where they will prosper; … God will temper the climate and we shall build a city and a temple to the Most High God in this place. We will extend our settlements to the east and west, to the north and to the south, and we will build towns and cities by the hundreds, and thousands of the Saints will gather in from the nations of the earth.” (In James S. Brown, Life of a Pioneer: Being the Autobiography of James S. Brown [1900], 121–22)

By the time of Brigham Young’s death in 1877, Latter-day Saints had seen the miraculous fulfillment of this prophecy. Their faith in the Lord and His prophet inspired 60,000 to 70,000 pioneer Saints to immigrate to the Salt Lake Valley, where they founded between 350 and 400 communities in Utah, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, and Wyoming.

The Perpetual Emigration Fund that was established to assist poor Latter-day Saint immigrants helped fund the travel of 30,000 Saints from the British Isles, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Germany, and the Netherlands. Missionaries preached the gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world. The Saints consecrated their time to build temples in Salt Lake City, Logan, and St. George. Most important, the Saints left a legacy of faith, sacrifice, and unyielding devotion to the cause of Jesus Christ and His restored gospel. (See “Brigham Young,” Newsroom Topics,

Choose one of the following accounts of faithful Saints who gathered to Utah in the early days of the Church. Read the account and come to class prepared to share lessons or principles you learn from it about serving the Lord and building His kingdom today.

Lucy Meserve Smith

Read about the compassion of Lucy Meserve Smith and other Latter-day Saint women who provided relief to the handcart pioneers, in Daughters in My Kingdom: The History and Work of Relief Society [2011], 36–37. Start with the paragraph that begins “Lucy Meserve Smith, for example, led a group … ,” and read until the end of the chapter.

John Moyle

Read the inspiring story of John Moyle, who journeyed to Salt Lake to work on the temple each week despite losing his leg in an accident, in Dieter F. Uchtdorf’s talk “Lift Where You Stand” (Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2008, 55–56). Read the section titled “The Example of John Rowe Moyle.”

Or watch the video “Only a Stonecutter” (15:00).

Joseph Millett

Read about Joseph Millett’s willingness to give flour to a man who was directed to him by the Lord: Boyd K. Packer, “A Tribute to the Rank and File of the Church,” Ensign, May 1980, 63. Start with the paragraph that begins “Let me quote from the diary of Joseph Millett … ,” and conclude with the paragraph beginning “The Lord knew Joseph Millett.”

Or watch the video “The Joseph Millett Story” (6:14).

Charles Walker and Charles Rich

Read about the faith of two men and their families who answered the call to establish new settlements for the gathering Saints, in Our Heritage: A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (1996), 88–89. Read from page 88, starting with the paragraph that begins “At general conference meetings, President Young … ,” and concluding with the paragraph on page 89 that begins “There have been many hardships …”

Section 2

What led to the Mountain Meadows Massacre?

During the 1850s, disagreements and miscommunication resulted in growing tension between the Latter-day Saints and officials of the United States government. Falsely believing the Saints to be in rebellion, United States President James Buchanan sent 1,500 troops to Salt Lake City to put down the alleged rebellion.

In sermons to the Saints, President Young and other Church leaders described the coming troops as enemies. They feared that the troops might drive the Saints from Utah Territory, as they had previously been driven from Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. President Young instructed the Saints to save grain so they would have food to eat if they needed to flee from the troops. As governor of the Utah Territory, he also directed the militia to prepare to defend the territory. To avoid bloodshed, the rest of the Saints were prepared to evacuate their homes and lands and destroy them if needed.

During this time, an emigrant wagon train traveling west from Arkansas to California entered Utah. Some members of the wagon train became frustrated because they had a difficult time purchasing much-needed grain from the Saints.

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Study Guide for Home-Study Seminary Students

Tensions escalated in Cedar City, the last settlement in Utah on the route to California. Confrontations occurred, and some members of the wagon train threatened to join the coming government troops against the Saints. After the wagon company left town, some of the settlers and leaders in Cedar City wanted to pursue and punish the men who had threatened and offended them.

Isaac Haight, the Cedar City mayor, militia major, and stake president, requested permission from William Dame, militia commander in nearby Parowan, to call out the militia and confront the offenders from the wagon train. However, Dame denied their request and instructed them not to notice the emigrants’ threats.

Instead of following this instruction, Isaac Haight and other Cedar City leaders planned to persuade local Paiute Indians to attack the wagon train, steal cattle, and kill some or all of the men. Haight asked John D. Lee, a local Church member and militia major, to lead the Paiutes in this attack. They conspired to blame the Paiutes for the deed.

Isaac Haight presented his plan to a council of local Church, community, and militia leaders. Some council members strongly disagreed with Haight’s plan and asked if he had consulted with President Brigham Young. Saying he had not, Haight agreed to send a messenger to Salt Lake City with a letter explaining the situation and asking what should be done. It would require about a week for the messenger to reach Salt Lake City and return with President Young’s instructions.

But shortly before the messenger was dispatched, John D. Lee and a group of Indians prematurely attacked the emigrant camp at a place called Mountain Meadows. Lee attempted to make it appear as if only local Piutes were involved. Some of the emigrants were killed or wounded, and the remainder fought off their attackers, forcing Lee and the Piutes to retreat. The emigrants quickly pulled their wagons into a tight circle for protection.

At one point, Cedar City militiamen were seen by two emigrant men. The militiamen fired on them, killing one. The other man escaped.

In an attempt to prevent news from spreading that Church members were involved in the attacks, Isaac Haight, John D. Lee, and other local Church and militia leaders developed a plan to kill all the remaining emigrants, except for small children. “Again they sought Dame’s permission to call out the militia, and again Dame held a … council, which decided that men should be sent to help the beleaguered emigrants continue on their way in peace. Haight later lamented, ‘I would give a world if I had it, if we had abided by the deci[s]ion of the council’” (Richard E. Turley Jr., “The Mountain Meadows Massacre,” Ensign, Sept. 2007, 18).

After the council meeting, Isaac Haight succeeded in convincing Dame to rethink the council’s decision, and Haight left believing he had permission to use the militia to carry out their plan. John D. Lee approached the emigrants under a white flag of truce and said the militia would protect them from further attacks by guiding them safely back to Cedar City.

As the emigrants were walking toward Cedar City, the militiamen turned and fired on them. Some Indians recruited by the settlers rushed from hiding places to join the attack. Of approximately 140 emigrants who were part of the wagon train, only 17 small children were spared.

Two days after the massacre, President Young’s reply arrived, with the instruction to allow the wagon train to go in peace. “When Haight read Young’s words, he sobbed like a child and could manage only the words, ‘Too late, too late’” (Richard E. Turley Jr., “The Mountain Meadows Massacre,” Ensign, Sept. 2007, 20).

The choices of some Church leaders and settlers in southern Utah Territory led to the tragic Mountain Meadows Massacre. In contrast, Church and territory leaders in Salt Lake City resolved the conflict with the United States government through peace talks and negotiation in 1858. During this conflict—later called the Utah War—the United States troops and Utah militiamen engaged in acts of aggression but never in battle.

Mountain Meadows Massacre, Rock Cairn

Speaking at the Mountain Meadows Massacre memorial site on September 11, 2007, President Henry B. Eyring of the First Presidency said:

Henry B. Eyring Official Portrait 2018

The gospel of Jesus Christ that we espouse abhors the cold-blooded killing of men, women, and children. Indeed, it advocates peace and forgiveness. What was done here long ago by members of our Church represents a terrible and inexcusable departure from Christian teaching and conduct. … We express profound regret for the massacre carried out in this valley … and for the undue and untold suffering experienced by the victims then and by their relatives to the present time. (Henry B. Eyring, “150th Anniversary of Mountain Meadows Massacre,”


Ponder in Preparation for Class

What are some of the lessons we can learn from the terrible choices that led to the Mountain Meadows Massacre? Read Proverbs 28:13 and 3 Nephi 12:24–25, 43–44, and identify principles that if followed could have prevented this tragedy. Consider how living these principles could prevent unnecessary heartache or tragedy in your own life.