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Cover image via History.ChurchofJesusChrist.org.
Over the years, many articles have been written by historians describing how the pioneer Saints may not have known, at first, exactly where they were to settle, once they left Nauvoo and began their trek west. Church leaders at the time inquired about Texas, California, etc. But the Prophet Joseph Smith learned early on, by revelation, that the Saints were destined to settle in the Salt Lake Valley.
“Though it was Brigham Young who led the Latter-day Saints in their westward flight to safety from mob persecution in Illinois, he was carrying out the vision of the Prophet Joseph Smith, who declared, ‘My people shall become a mighty host in the vastness of the Rocky Mountains.’” (R. Scott Lloyd, “’Eyes Westward’ Tells Prophetic Vision,” Deseret News, July 26, 2008.)
Here are some of the Prophet Joseph Smith’s prophetic statements about the Saints being inspired to settle in the Salt Lake Valley:
In 1832, while in Jackson County, Missouri, the Prophet Joseph gathered a group of children together in the Lyman and Harriet Wight home and blessed them. Paulina Eliza Phelps, who was five at the time, later recalled, “In blessing me he said that I should live to go to the Rocky Mountains. I did not know at the time what the term ‘Rocky Mountains’ meant, but I supposed it to be something connected with the Indians. This frightened me for the reason that I dreaded the very sight of an Indian.” (Signed affidavit by Paulina Elizabeth Phelps Lyman, witnessed on 31 July 1903 by James Jack, notary.)
On April 26, 1834, the Prophet Joseph held a meeting in a small schoolhouse on the property of Isaac and Lucy Morley in Kirtland, Ohio. Wilford Woodruff described what took place, and recorded a prophecy Joseph Smith made regarding the Saints settling in the Rocky Mountains:
“On Sunday night (April 26, 1834) the Prophet called on all who held the Priesthood to gather into the little log school house they had there. It was a small house, perhaps 14 feet square. But it held the whole of the Priesthood of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints who were then in the town of Kirtland, and who had gathered together to go off in Zion’s camp. That was the first time I ever saw Oliver Cowdery, or heard him speak; the first time I ever saw Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, and the two Pratts [Orson and Parley], and Orson Hyde and many others. There were no Apostles in the Church then except Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery. When we got together the Prophet called upon the Elders of Israel with him to bear testimony of this work. Those that I have named spoke, and a good many that I have not named, bore their testimonies.
“When they got through the Prophet said, ‘Brethren I have been very much edified and instructed in your testimonies here tonight, but I want to say to you before the Lord, that you know no more concerning the destinies of this Church and kingdom than a babe upon its mother’s lap. You don’t comprehend it.’ I was rather surprised. He said ‘it is only a little handful of Priesthood you see here tonight, but this Church will fill North and South America—it will fill the world.’
“Among other things he said, ‘it will fill the Rocky Mountains. There will be tens of thousands of Latter-day Saints who will be gathered in the Rocky Mountains, and there they will open the door for the establishing of the Gospel among the Lamanites, who will receive the Gospel and their endowments and the blessings of God. This people will go into the Rocky Mountains; they will there build temples to the Most High. They will raise up a posterity there, and the Latter-day Saints who dwell in these mountains will stand in the flesh until the coming of the Son of Man. The Son of Man will come to them while in the Rocky Mountains.” (Conference Report, April 1898, p. 57.)
Eight years later, on August 6, 1842, Joseph Smith recorded another prophecy that the Saints would be driven to the Rocky Mountains:
“Saturday, Aug. 6, 1842.—Passed over the river to Montrose, Iowa, in company with General Adams, Colonel Brewer, and others, and witnessed the installation of the officers of the Rising Sun Lodge Ancient York Masons, at Montrose by General James Adams, Deputy Grand-Master of Illinois. While the Deputy Grand-Master was engaged in giving the requisite instructions to the Master-elect, I had a conversation with a number of brethren in the shade of the building on the subject of our persecutions in Missouri and the constant annoyance which has followed us since we were driven from that state. I prophesied that the Saints would continue to suffer much affliction and would be driven to the Rocky Mountains, many would apostatize, others would be put to death by our persecutors or lose their lives in consequence of exposure to disease, and some of you will live to go and assist in making settlements and build cities and see the Saints become a mighty people in the midst of the Rocky Mountains.” (Joseph Smith Papers, History, 1838-1856, Vol. D-1, p. 1362; Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith, 1938, 255.)
Anson Call, who was there, recorded more details in his journal about what the Prophet said. (Anson reports a different date, but is describing the same occasion). He wrote:
“With quite a number of his brethren, he [Joseph Smith] crossed the Mississippi River to the town of Montrose to be present at the installment of the Masonic lodge of the ‘rising sun.’ A block schoolhouse had been prepared with shade in front, under which a barrel of ice water [was set]. …[Hyrum Smith, John C. Bennett, and others], including Joseph Smith, remained under the bowery. [As Joseph] was tasting of the cold water,…with the tumbler still in his hand he prophesied that the Saints would yet go to the Rocky Mountains; …Said he, ‘this water tastes much like that of the crystal streams that are running from the snow capped mountains.’
“I had before seen him in a vision and now saw while he was talking his countenance changed to white: not the deadly white of a bloodless face, but a living brilliant white. He seemed absorbed in gazing at something at a great distance and said, ‘I am gazing upon the valleys of those mountains’. This was followed by a vivid description of the scenery of these mountains as I have since become acquainted with [them]. Pointing to Shadrach Roundy and others, he said, ‘There are some men here who shall do a great work in that land.’ Pointing to me he said, ‘There is Anson, he shall go and shall assist in building cities from one end of that country to the other, and you’ rather extending the idea to all those he had spoken of, ‘shall perform as great a work as has been done by man, so that the nation of the earth shall be astonished and many of them will be gathered in that land and assist in building cities and temples, and Israel shall he made to rejoiced’.
“It is impossible to represent in words this scene which is still vivid in my mind, of the grandeur of Joseph’s appearance, his beautiful descriptions of this land and his wonderful prophetic utterances as they emanated from the glorious inspirations that overshadowed him. There was a force and power in his exclamations of which the following is but a faint echo: ‘Oh the beauty of those snow capped mountains. The cool refreshing streams that are running down through those mountains’ gorges.’
“Then gazing in another direction, as if there was a change and locality; ‘Oh the scenes that this people will pass through’ The dead that will lay between here and there.’ Then turning in another direction as if the scene had again changed: ‘Oh the apostasy that will take place before my brethren reach that land’. But he continued, ‘the Priesthood shall prevail over all it’s enemies, triumph over the devil and be established upon the earth never more to be thrown down.’ He then charged us with great force and power, to be faithful in these things…” (Life Sketch of Anson Call, 1810-1890, Pioneer in Building the West.)
Oliver B. Huntington recalled that in 1840, Joseph Smith’s father visited the Huntington home and said that the Lord had informed the Prophet Joseph that the Mormons would stay in Nauvoo only seven years, after which time they would go to the Rocky Mountains:
“My father was living in a good hewed log house in 1840 when one morning as the family all sat at breakfast old Father Joseph Smith, the first Patriarch of the Church and father of the Prophet Joseph, came in and sat down by the fire place, after declining to take breakfast with us, and there he sat some little time in silence looking steadily in the fire. At length he observed that we had been driven from Missouri to this place; with some passing comments, he then asked this question: ‘And how long, Brother Huntington, do you think we will stay here?’ As he asked this question I noticed a strange, good-natured expression creep over his whole being—an air of mysterious joy.
“Father answered, after just a moment’s hesitation, ‘Well, Father Smith, I can’t begin to imagine.’
“’We will just stay here seven years,’ he answered. ‘The Lord has told Joseph so—just seven years,’ he repeated. ‘Now this is not to be made public; I would not like to have this word go any further,’ said the Patriarch, who leaned and relied upon his son Joseph in all spiritual matters as much as boys generally do upon their parents for temporalities. There were then two or three minutes of perfect silence. The old gentleman with more apparent secret joy and caution in his countenance said, ‘And where do you think we will go to when we leave here, Brother Huntington?’ Father did not pretend to guess; unless we went back to Jackson County.
“’No,’ said the old Patriarch, his whole being seeming to be alive with animation. ‘The Lord has told Joseph that when we leave here we will go into the Rocky Mountains; right into the midst of the Lamanites.’
“This information filled our hearts with unspeakable joy, for we knew that the Book of Mormon and this gospel had been brought to light more for the remnants of Jacob upon this continent than for the Gentiles.
“Father Smith again enjoined upon us profound secrecy in this matter and I don’t think it was ever uttered by one of Father Huntington’s family. The history of Nauvoo shows that we located in Nauvoo in 1839 and left it in 1846.
“The Church did move to the Rocky Mountains into the midst of the Indians or Lamanites—or more properly speaking the Jews—and here expect to live until we move to the spirit land or the Lord moves us somewhere else.”
(Oliver B. Huntington, “Prophecy,” Young Woman’s Journal 2, no. 7 [April 1891], pp. 314–15; also in Remembering Joseph, 2003, pp. 138-139.)
Later in Salt Lake City, Oliver B. Huntington related another experience in his journal: “Monday [Sept.] 27th … I met [this] day, at the Hall of Relicks, Hopkins G. Pendar, an old Nauvoo Mormon, and from him learned that Joseph Smith just before he was killed, made a sketch of the future home of the saints in the Rocky Mountains, and their route or road to that country as he had seen in vision; a map or drawing of it. Levi W. Hancock drew a copy of that map, which copy H. C. Pender [sic] had seen. He said that Levi W. Hancock told him that there was 4 copies of that map taken, one of which Brigham Young kept, one was carried by the Mormon Battalion, by which they knew where to find the church, or Salt Lake Valley.” (“History of the Life of Oliver B. Huntington, Written by Himself 1878–1900,” BYU Special Collections, typescript, p. 50.)
Mosiah Hancock described an experience when Joseph Smith visited his family in their home in Nauvoo, just prior to the Prophet’s martyrdom. Mosiah wrote: “The Prophet came to our home and stopped in our carpenter shop and stood by the turning lathe. I went and got my map for him. ‘Now,’ said he, ‘I will show you the travels of this people.’ He then showed our travels thru Iowa, and said, ‘Here you will make a place for the winter; and here you will travel west until you come to the valley of the Great Salt Lake! You will build cities to the North and to the South, and to the East and to the West; and you will become a great and wealthy people in that land.'” (Mosiah Lyman Hancock, Autobiography, 1834-1865, comp. Amy E. Baird, Victoria H. Jackson, and Laura L. Wassell [daughters of Mosiah Hancock], BYU Special Collections, typescript.)
Just five days before he was martyred (on 22 June 1844), the Prophet Joseph Smith learned by revelation that if he and his brother Hyrum were taken to Carthage, they would be murdered. Said he, “I told Stephen Markham that if I and Hyrum were ever taken again we should be massacred, or I was not a prophet of God” (History of the Church, 6:546). That same day, the Prophet received a prompting about what to do to spare their lives: “The way is open,” he told Hyrum. “It is clear to my mind what do…We will cross the river tonight, and go away to the West” (History of the Church, 6:545-546). To the Saints in Nauvoo, Joseph said, “All they want is Hyrum and myself.…They will come here and search for us. Let them search; they will not harm you in person or property, and not even a hair of your head. We will cross the river tonight, and go away to the West” (History of the Church, 6:545-546). Later that same evening, Hyrum spoke to Reynolds Cahoon: “A company of men are seeking to kill my brother Joseph, and the Lord has warned him to flee to the Rocky Mountains to save his life” (History of the Church 6:547).
That night the Prophet, Hyrum, Reynolds Cahoon and Orrin Porter Rockwell rowed across the Mississippi River to an island for safety. While there, letters arrived accusing Joseph of abandoning the Saints who didn’t believe his promise they would be safe. Heartbroken, and knowing the fate that awaited them, Joseph and Hyrum returned to Nauvoo, were then arrested, and taken to Carthage. John Murdock, who watched them row back across the river, later confirmed that Joseph knew by revelation where he could find safety. He said, “The light he had was toward the mountains” (Southern Star 1, 11 March 1899, 117).
Three years later in 1847, and while leading the first company of pioneers to the west, Apostle George A. Smith described a vision President Brigham Young had one night when the Prophet Joseph Smith appeared to him and accrued him in vision to Ensign Peak, which lies on the north end of the Salt Lake Valley:
“After the death of Joseph Smith, when it seemed as if every trouble and calamity had come upon the Saints, Brigham Young . . . sought the Lord to know what they should do, and where they should lead the people for safety, and while they were fasting and praying daily on this subject. President Young had a vision of Joseph Smith, who showed him the mountain that we now call Ensign Peak, immediately north of Salt Lake City, and there . . . an ensign [flag] fell upon that peak, and Joseph said, ‘Build under the point where the colors fall and you will prosper and have peace.’” (Journal of Discourses, 20 June 1869, 13:85-86.)
As the vanguard company neared the Salt Lake Valley, Rocky Mountain fever hit (an illness spread by ticks and brings chills, coughs, severe headaches and pains throughout the body). President Brigham Young was smitten and became ill. A small, advance group, was sent ahead to look over the valley. When they returned to report, President Young said, “This is the right spot. I know it is the spot and we have come here according to the suggestion and direction of Joseph Smith who was martyred. The word of the Lord was to go to that valley and the best place you can find in it is the spot. I prayed that he would lead us directly to the best spot, which he has done, for after searching we can find no better.” (Norton Jacobs Diary, 28 July 1847, Archives of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.)
So, in July 2047, when we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Pioneers arriving in the Salt Lake Valley (on July 24, 1847), it would be nice to recall that the Lord gave the Prophet Joseph Smith prophetic visions that the Saints would settle in the Rocky Mountains. Church Headquarters, Temple Square, the Conference Center, and the Salt Lake Temple, all nestled in the Salt Lake Valley today, testify that God truly rules in the affairs of His children through prophets, “and has a guiding hand over the destiny of His people, His church, and His kingdom.” (Flyleaf, in Paul Thomas Smith’s, Prophetic Destiny—The Saints in the Rocky Mountains, 1996.)