by Orson F. Whitney, History of Utah Vol.4

SNOW, Erastus

The pioneer who shared with the distinction of being the first among their famous band to enter Salt Lake valley was a prominent Elder and soon became an Apostle of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Of all the distinguished characters surrounding Brigham Young at that or at any subsequent period of his life, perhaps no other resembled him in so many respects as did this man, whose record as a colonizer and a statesman is second only to that of the pioneer chieftain himself. He was to Southern Utah and farther south what President Young was to the whole intermountain region—its leading explorer and principal founder of settlements. Abroad he was the father of the Scandinavian Mission, than which few fields have been more prolific of converts to the Mormon faith or have done more to people and build up the Rocky Mountain country. At home he was no less a father, a friend, a wise counselor to the people, and an ever watchful guardian over their interests.

Erastus Snow was a native of St. Johnsbury, Caledonia county, Vermont; born November 9, 1818. He was a descendant of Richard Snow, who settled in Massachusetts in 1635, and a son of Levi and Lucina Streeter Snow, whose seven sons and four daughters were named as follows: Levi Mason, Lucina, William, Zerubbabel, Willard, Mary M., Shipley W., Erastus, Charles V., Lydia M., and Melissa D.; all born in St. Johnsbury. The father made no profession of Christianity, but the mother was a member of the Wesleyan Methodist church. Erastus received a common school education. At the age of nine his mind was exercised over religion to some extent, and he experienced joy and satisfaction as the result; but later he “became entangled in the vanities of the world.”

He was but a lad of fourteen, when, in the spring of 1832, Elders Orson Pratt and Luke S. Johnson came to St. Johnsbury preaching the religion of the Latter-day Saints. He believed the message, and two of his elder brothers, William and Zerubbabel, who were of age, accepted it and were baptized. Subsequently all the family were converted; Erastus being baptized by his brother William at Charleston, Vermont, on the 3rd day of February, 1833. The next year, on the 28th of June, he was ordained a Teacher by Elder John F. Boynton, and on the 13th of November, a Priest, under the hands of his brother, William Snow. Up to this time he had labored upon his father’s farm, but he now felt an irresistible desire to preach the Gospel. On the 22nd of November he started upon his first mission, visiting the surrounding settlements, in company with his cousin, James Snow. On the 16th of August, 1835, he was ordained an Elder by Luke S. Johnson, then one of the Twelve Apostles.

December of that year found him a resident of Kirtland, Ohio, where he first met the Prophet Joseph Smith, and lived for several weeks in his family. During the winter he attended the Elders’ School established by the Prophet, and the following spring, having been ordained into the second quorum of Seventy, he started upon a mission to the State of Pennsylvania. In his absence of eight months he baptized eight persons. The year 1837 and the first half of the year 1838 were also spent upon missions, in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and other States. He baptized a goodly number, and returned to Kirtland to find that most of the Saints were moving or preparing to move to Missouri.

With that State as his destination, he himself left Kirtland on the 25th of June, 1838, arriving at Far West on the 18th of July, and there rejoining his parents, who had come directly from Vermont. In the troubles that ensued Erastus Snow shouldered a musket and helped to defend his people against mob violence. He was at Far West when the town surrendered to the State forces, and was present at the court of inquiry when the ease of the Mormon leaders was considered at Richmond, prior to their imprisonment in . During the following winter he taught school at Far West, where, on December 13, 1838, he married Miss Artimesia Bemau, sister of Elder Alvah Beman, whose acquaintance he had formed at Kirtland.

In February, 1839, he and others were sent as messengers to the Prophet and his fellow prisoners in Liberty jail. The visitors were permitted to enter the cell. When supper was served, the captives, aided by their friends, attempted to escape, but the attempt failed, and all were locked in together. In the trial that followed, Erastus Snow, at the advice of the Prophet, pleaded his own case and was discharged from custody, the rest being held to bail. He had a legal mind, like his brother Zerubbabel—noted in Utah history as Judge Snow—and this may or may not have been the first opportunity for its exercise. After his release he went to Jefferson City and tried to got the case of his imprisoned brethren before the judges of the Supreme Court. This effort was fruitless, but after, through the influence of the Secretary of State, he secured for them a change of venue, on the strength of which the prisoners were started for Boone county, when they succeeded in making their escape.

October, 1839, found him at Montrose, Iowa, across the Mississippi from Nauvoo, acting as a member of the High Council at that place. Experiences of sickness and extreme poverty followed; and then a mission to the States of Virginia, New York, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, from which he returned to Nauvoo October 21, 1840.

During the next three years he labored as a missionary in the Eastern States, his wife and child being with him. They resided at Salem, Massachusetts. He had brought his family back to Nauvoo and was on another mission and at a conference in Salem, when he learned of the murder of the Prophet and the Patriarch. He immediately returned home, and was at the memorable meeting on August 8, 1844, when the Twelve Apostles, with President Brigham Young at their head, were acknowledged by the body of the Church as the highest existing authority therein. A mission to Wisconsin and Northern Illinois was then undertaken, but an accident to his horse compelled him to return, and he was thus enabled to be present at the trial of the murderers of Joseph and Hyrum Smith, at Carthage, Illinois, in May, 1845. He rightly regarded it as a mere mockery of justice. His next public service was a mission, about February 1, 1846, to the city of Quincy, to lay in supplies for the pioneer company, which it was proposed, even at that early date, to send across the groat plains to explore the Rocky Mountains.

In the exodus that followed, Erastus Snow and his family left Nauvoo, crossing the Mississippi river in a boat, which capsized in mid-stream, part of his goods being thus destroyed and his eldest child, a daughter five years old, nearly drowned. He left most of his property, valued at about two thousand dollars, to be disposed of by a committee appointed for that purpose hi behalf of the exiles. He journeyed westward in President Brigham Young’s company, Captain A. P. Rockwood having immediate command of the subdivision in which he traveled. From Garden Grove he returned to Nauvoo for additional supplies, and rejoined his family and the main camp of the Saints at Cutler’s Park on the Missouri river.

Having been selected as one of the Pioneers, on April 6, 1847, he blessed and bade goodbye to his wives and children, and a few days later began the immortal journey to the Rocky Mountains. Erastus Snow was one of the company who fell sick with mountain fever, which attacked the camp in the vicinity of South Pass. He soon recovered, and it so chanced that while President Young and others were still suffering from that malady, he was dispatched as a messenger from the main camp to Orson Pratt’s vanguard, which was looking out a road over the mountains into Salt Lake valley. He overtook the vanguard in Emigration canyon, and on the morning of July 21st he, with Orson Pratt, entered and partly explored the valloy. In the subsequent work of exploration, and in laying out the pioneer city, he took a prominent part, and returned as one of President Young’s party to the Missouri river, arriving there on the 31st of October. He was six weeks without tasting bread, buffalo meat forming the staple of subsistence during that period. He found his family well, though one child, a son, had died during his absence; making two that had perished in the wilderness.

At the special conference held in December of that year on the Missouri river, Erastus Snow was called to accompany Ezra T. Benson to the Eastern States, to solicit from the Saints residing there, and from all who wished to contribute, means to enable the poor at Winter Quarters to emigrate to Salt Lake valley. They visited Boston, New York and other eastern cities, and returned in April, 1848, to Winter Quarters. Having assisted in organizing the emigration on the Elk Horn, Erastus Snow with his family left that point on the 5th of June, traveling in President Young’s company, and arriving in Salt Lake valley on the 20th of September.

His first appointment after his arrival here was as second counselor to Elder Charles C. Rich, who had succeeded Father John Smith (the Patriarch of the Church) as President of the Salt Lake Stake of Zion. Next came his call to the Apostleship, February 12, 1849, when ho was ordained as a member of the Quorum of the Twelve under the hands of Presidents Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards; Apostles Parley P. Pratt and John Taylor assisting in the ordination. He was active in the organization of the Provisional Government of Deseret, and was a member of the first legislative council. In the militia organization of that period ho officiated as a chaplain. When not occupied with public duties, he was engaged in building houses, improving his farm, and otherwise providing for his family.

At the General Conference of the Church in October, 1849, the Apostle was called upon his first foreign mission; it was to the kingdom of . Taking leave of his family and his widowed mother, he set out on the 19th of October, in company with thirty-four other missionaries bound for various nations. The main incident of tho journey across the plains was an attack made upon the little party by about two hundred Indians, Cheyennes, during a noon-day halt on the Platte river, forty miles above Fort Laramie. The Indians, who were mounted, charged furiously upon the camp, but tho missionaries, who were on the alert, staunchly stood their ground and defeated the purpose of the marauders, which was evidently to frighten the campers, plunder their wagons and run off their stock.

Sailing from Boston on the 3rd day of April, Apostle Snow arrived at Liverpool on the fifth of that month, and after visiting the Saints in England, Scotland and Wales, and receiving contributions in aid of his mission, be set sail for Copenhagen in company with Elders George P. Dykes and John E. Forsgren. Elder P. 0. Hansen, a native of Copenhagen, had preceded the party from England. About two months later, on the 12th day of August, 1850, Apostle Snow baptized fifteen persons in the river Oresund, near the Danish capital. Ho and his assistants continued to labor energetically, and during the next eighteen months nearly six hundred members were added to the Church in Denmark; also a few in Norway and Sweden. Thus was founded the Scandinavian Mission. Its founder returned to Utah in the summer of 1852.

In October of the ensuing year Apostle Snow was called, with Apostle George A. Smith, to take fifty families and strengthen the settlements in Iron county. He performed this duty, and was sent the next year to take charge of the Church at St. Louis and in the Western States. He organized on November!, 1854, a Stake of Zion in St. Louis, and began the same month the publication of the St. Louis “Luminary.” He also superintended the Church emigration. He returned from this mission in September, 1855. In 1856 and again in 1860 lie filled brief missions to the States. The latter was taken in company with Apostle Orson Pratt; Governor Alfred Gumming and his wife being their fellow travelers across the plains.

The year 1861 witnessed a renewal of our Apostle’s labors in Southern Utah—virtually the beginning of his long and useful career as a colonizer in that and adjacent parts. Again he accompanied George A. Smith and a special expedition. They went this time with a view to locating and founding settlements on the Rio Virgin and Santa Clara rivers, and incidentally to raise cotton in that region, to offset the prevailing scarcity of the article occasioned by the outbreak of the Civil War. They camped on the 3rd day of December near the site of the present city of St. George, so named in honor of the leader, George A. Smith. Other settlements were located the same year.

Erastus Snow settled at St. George, and for many years devoted a great deal of his time to the building up of that place and the surrounding country, over which as an Apostle he presided. He served for a long period as a member of the city council of St. George, and represented the Southern counties—Washington, Kane, Iron and San Juan —in the Council branch of the Legislative Assembly. He was a legislator almost continuously from the time of his settling in the South until he was disfranchised under the anti-polygamy provisions of the Edmunds Law.

He passed through all the hardships and privations incident to the settlement of Southern Utah and Southeastern Nevada, thoroughly exploring those parts, locating settlements in the most desirable places, and giving directions to the settlers for their defense and the protection of the general public against Indian depredations. Especially was this the case in the early “sixties,” when the Navajoes frequently crossed the Colorado river, driving off stock and murdering defenseless citizens in the weaker settlements and on the public highways. He was Brigadier-General, and as such commander of the Iron military district, and was chief counselor and adviser to the people throughout the southern country.

In the years 1873, 1875 and 1880 Apostle Snow performed short missions to the East. During the first of these he crossed the Atlantic, rc-visiting Scandinavia. In 1878 he served as a member of Zion’s Board of Trade, and the same year visited and set in order the branches of the Church in Arizona and New Mexico. In November, 1882, he was appointed by the First Presidency, with authority to call to his aid others, to go to Arizona and to the States of Chihuahua and Sonora in Old Mexico, with a view to locating and purchasing lands near the borders of the two nations, as a gathering place for Latter-day Saints. While he was upon this mission in Southern Arizona, his first wife, Artimesia Beman Snow, died in St. George, December 20, 1882.

In January, 1885, Apostle Snow accompanied President John Taylor and party on their trip to Arizona and Mexico, and in 1886 he went with Apostle Moses Thatcher and others to the City of Mexico, where they purchased large tracts of land in Northern Chihuahua, where the settlements of Diaz, Juarez, and Pacheclio were afterwards founded, chiefly by Latter-day Saints fleeing from the rigors of “the crusade.” He left Juarez in the latter part of July, 1887, having been summoned to Salt Lake City by the tidings of the approaching death of President Taylor, who was sick in exile.

After the death of that leader—the Twelve having assumed the Presidency of the Church—Apostle Snow returned to St. George, where he spent most of the following winter. In the spring he came back to Salt Lake City, where he continued to reside and to discharge the duties of his Apostleship until he fell sick with his final illness, which terminated his life May 27, 1888.

Apostle Snow was the husband of four wives, and the father of thirty-five children, twenty of whom, twelve sons and eight daughters, are living. Of the former, the best known are Mahonri M., Willard, Frank R., Moroni, George A. and Edward H., the last named the President of St. George Stake. Mahonri is a member of the High Council of that Stake, and Moroni a Bishop in Provo. The other sons named are business men of more or less prominence. Erastus B. Snow, deceased, was one of the Stake Presidency at St. George. Apostle Snow’s eldest daughter is Mrs. Sarah L. Thurston, of Santa Ana, California; others of the daughters are Mrs. Artimesia Seegmiller, Mrs. Elizabeth Ivins, Mrs. Susie Young, Mrs. Josephine Tanner, Mrs. Georgie Thatcher and Mrs. Martha Keat.

During the anti-polygamy crusade, when the Mormon leaders were much sought for by the minions of the law, Apostle Snow escaped arrest, though frequently in close proximity to the raiding deputies. Notably was this the case in February, 1886. On the 8th-of that month he was in the Church Historian’s Office while that and the adjacent buildings were being searched by the United States Marshal and his men, and five days later was on the same train with President George Q. Cannon eu route to Mexico, when the latter was arrested at Humboldt Wells, Nevada. He spent much of the time of his exile in visiting and counseling the people of the Southern settlements, both in public and private, the former when he could do so with safety, the latter in season and out of season, as his sense of duty impelled.

Erastus Snow was a man of great practical wisdom, and withal au eloquent speaker; fiery in his youth, deliberate in his age, and noted always for the soundness of his views and the logic of his utterances. He was eccentric to a degree, but his eccentricities were only character marks that endeared him to his friends and associates. A mental portrait of tho man, sitting in his buggy in the midst of a stream, reading a newspaper, while waiting for his balky horse to get ready to go on, is but one of many such pictures called up by the mention of his name. He was as patient and stoical in trouble, as in action he was fearless and wiso. Wherever there are Latter-day Saints, at home or abroad, few names and memories are more affectionately cherished than those of tho Apostle and Pioneer, Erastus Snow.

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