The State Builders: Their Journey, Advent, Tribulations and Triumphs

The State Builders: Their Journey, Advent, Tribulations and Triumphs

from Utah As It Is, by S.A. Kenner, published in 1904

MORE than half a century ago there appeared at the summit of one of the extreme western gorges of the Wasatch range, opposite the southern shores of the Great Salt Lake, a long, winding caravan of lumbering vehicles drawn by and oxen, whose sore-footed, weary tread indicated plainly enough how long and burdensome had been their journey; strung along in various positions were a motley array of men, women, and children, dust-begrimed, travel-worn, and rough-appearing, but with an expression of satisfaction upon each countenance because the end of the pilgrimage was spread out before them; the wearisome, wearing march was about concluded. Like a great jewel gleaming upon the shaggy breast of Nature, our now celebrated inland sea appeared at the northwestern corner of the landscape, while all around and about was the dismal, colorless sterility which had for so long been the chief characteristic of the country traversed. 

These people had come from the far-away East and were not on speculation bent, otherwise, they would probably have gone on and pitched their tents within sight of the golden-shored Pacific, which even then was a land of great promise. The exact date of their arrival was July 24, 1847, but a vanguard of a few men came in the day before. The people were Mormons, and their head and front was a man of religious tendencies and instincts named Brigham Young. He and his followers had had a pretty hard time of it crossing an unsettled, savage, and barren wilderness of which they knew but little, to arrive at last in a place regarding which they knew nothing; but what they didn’t know they proceeded to find out. They were looking out for a place to locate, where they would be so severely alone and so decidedly out of the way that the chances of another order to “move on,” of which they had had several, would be exceedingly slim for a long time to come. 

The State Builders: Their Journey, Advent, Tribulations and Triumphs

They came, they saw, they conquered. The series of forced marches which eventuated their arrival here commenced at the Missouri river some three months previously. Those who now make the trip in half that number of days and have never “teamed it” across the plains can form no conception of the trials and travails besetting that all but the desperate invasion of the dark domain of our continent. It was an experience not to be sought or coveted, but being possessed became a treasure of incomparable value. It made the refugees—for such in some sense they were—sturdy where irresolution had been, strong where weakness had existed, united in place of drifting apart, and hopeful of a successful outcome where previously there must have been some measure of dubiety.

It was altogether one of the most splendid performances from which the genius of progress ever withheld his smiles until complete success had crowned the performers’ labors. When they would not make twenty miles a day they got as far as they could, and when progress was impracticable they waited patiently till the difficulties were overcome. Notwithstanding cattle or horses occasionally being lost, wagons breaking down, the scarcity of nourishing food, the uncertainty and apprehension naturally prevailing as to what the next march would develop, the sickness, the sadness, the sorrow, and even the few deaths that occurred, there was no faltering from the purpose in chief, no deviation from the straightforward course, and no laxity in reliance upon the “protecting power of Divine Providence.” So they jogged along.

Around campfires at night, and occasionally while plodding their weary way by day, songs made to order could be heard, the chorus being generally of the uproarious style and given with a vocal vigor that made the welkin ring and let the lurking savages know that the travelers were by no means afraid of being heard. One—a fair sample of these “songs”— ran like this, the tune being “Old Dan Tucker:”

Out the way for California,

In the spring we’ll take our journey,

Far beyond Arkansas’ fountains,

Pass between the Rocky Mountains.

Old Governor Ford, he is so small He has no room for the soul at all;

He neither could be damned nor blessed If heaven and hell should do their best.

Then out the way, &c.

The Mormons are a wonderful set,

The devil never has beat them yet.

Some have wives and some have none,

But a hundred and ten has Brigham Young.

Then out the way, &c.

There was any amount more of this rough-and-tumble doggerel, but enough is produced to give an idea of its character; to give an idea of its effectiveness, of the resonance and vehemence with which it was sung, would be quite impossible. It was a kind of surcease of sorrow, at once a means of dispelling for the moment the ugly memories of recently bygone days and affording a sort of relaxation, and as such was not without value. Surely those men needed relaxation. In addition to the troubles always apparent, they were weak-handed, and a large band of hostiles such as were numerous then, by making a rush could have blotted them out. The cause of this was the fact that 500 of their brethren, all able-bodied, were also on “the way to California” by a different route, and for a different purpose, they have entered the of the United States in its war with Mexico, and are known in as the Mormon Battalion. All of these came to Utah later on from the west, some of them having participated in the experiences and scenes which attended the opening up of the golden era and making of California the great Mecca to which the devotees of the Mammon god flocked. The Battalion did its work honorably and well and none were lost. Nor were their services required by the Pioneers, who were bothered less by Indians than by some of the other disturbing agencies of nature, but this must be classed among the things providential. Finally, the journey ended as stated.

It is quite impossible even to imagine the sensations of those people at that time. They were free from the visitations of mobbers and marauders, and, notwithstanding the subdued glare of hostile campfires at great distances and the discordant serenades of the nearer wild beasts, could at last lie down in peace and sleep the undisturbed sleep of those whose consciences are void of offense. Their vigils were relaxed and they were at last free as the mountain air which fanned their cheeks and imparted vigor to their wearied bodies—American citizens, driven from their birthright, hounded from pillar to post, plundered, assaulted, all manner of religious and political persecution showered upon them—free at last as such citizens, but upon foreign soil! They were monarchs. of-all they surveyed now, the owners of all things surrounding them. There was none to oppose, as well as none to welcome; even had there been, the form of greeting must have been, “You are welcome to this vast field of nothingness; enjoy it if you can.” In this time of hardships ending but to begin anew, was there any thought of separation from the land to which they belonged but from which they had been expelled? If so, here was their grand opportunity. Their feet pressed the soil of Mexico, and even its laws could not reach them, so political as well as social independence was all at once within their grasp. How different this was from what they actually did! 

The independence they sought was that promulgated by Thomas Jefferson, not that of Jefferson Davis; they would add to, not take from, the domain of their country, and their first important act, aside from securing some measures of comfort, was the hoisting of the Stars and Stripes on a neighboring peak, thus proclaiming the new country to be the territory of the United States, following this, as soon as practicable, with the organization of a provisional State government and making a formal request for admission as one of the grand sisterhood.

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