Brigham Younghttps://www.mormonnewsroom.orgThousands of exhausted, freezing pioneers marching across dozens of inches of snow in the dead of night, their end goal hundreds of miles away, all led by one man: Brigham Young. He wasn't elected or picked to lead the Saints west, he was foreordained to lead them and gained their love and belief in his guidance. Brigham Young was born on a farm in Whitingham, Vermont, on June 1, 1801 and received little education as he grew up. In 1828, after moving to New York, he read The Book of Mormon for the first time and joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (“Brigham Young” Biography). He continued to serve in the Church until Joseph Smith’s murder, after which he was ordained as President of the Church, a position he served in for 30 years until his death in 1877 (“Brigham Young” EBSCO). During his tenure, he led between 60,000 and 70,000 Saints 1,300 miles west to the Great Salt Lake Valley, served as governor of the Utah territory, founded a major financial institution, but above all, served the members of the Church by leading them on the path to their Heavenly Father (“The Trek”). A hero must possess determination and leadership even in the face of adversity. Brigham Young is more than just a historical figure to read about in a textbook; he’s a hero who showed great determination and leadership in leading the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in his 30 years as President of the Church (“The Trek”).
Brigham Young Entering the Salt Lake Valleyhttps://mormonsoprano.com/Over the course of his life, Brigham Young exhibited great determination and drive to accomplish tasks that were necessary. Even when interacting with the government that had turned its back on the Church, Brigham was determined not to let previous animosity between the two groups keep the Saints from getting to Salt Lake. “Polk enlisted 500 Mormon soldiers to support General Stephen Kearney’s Army of the West in California. Young authorized this arrangement to get money for the Mormon migration and to acquire government permission to camp on Indian lands” (“Brigham Young” Biography). Brigham Young asked that the Saints field at least 500 men to aid the US Army in its campaign against the Mexicans, so 543 signed up, forced to leave their wives and children to pull their hand carts the rest of the way to the Salt Lake Valley (“Mormon Battalion”). However, by marching, the men in what came to be known as the Mormon Battalion earned small wages that they proceeded to send to their families crossing the Plains. When the Mormon Battalion arrived at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to be outfitted for the Mexican-American War, they sent the money they would have spent on nicer uniforms back to their haggard families. In the end, the Saints were blessed by sending these 543 men to the Army because they received needed cash for their trek, and after all their service in the Army, the only battle the Mormon Battalion fought in involved being attacked by a herd of wild cattle in which only two men were wounded. “Young also established the Perpetual Emigration Fund, which ensured a steady flow of converts and immigrants who were assisted with loans and employed in public work projects upon their arrival in Deseret [now Utah]” (“Brigham Young” Biography). Many of the Saints were converts from Europe, who, in most cases, had spent all of their money and sold all of their possessions to pay for the voyage across the Atlantic. Brigham Young sent word that they would have hand carts purchased for their travel across the Plains in exchange for help in building many public works once they reached the Valley. Brigham Young was determined to get the Saints who had emigrated from Europe across the Plains so arranged a way for them to cross. Brigham not only showed great determination whilst crossing the Plains, but also once he had reached and established Salt Lake City. “To keep money in the territory, Young urged development of home industries, the Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution…” (“Brigham Young” Encyclopedia). As the Saints became more and more at home in the territory they had settled and the harvest began to become more consistent than what many people thought was possible in the Salt Lake Valley, the members began to establish businesses and trading posts to profit from their excess goods. Although the vast majority of the residents of the Utah territory at the time were Mormon, there were still a few non-members who had migrated west to take advantage of the enormous swaths of land and riches promised in the West. Many of these people, once crossing the Plains, had set up farms and businesses and had began to turn quite a profit. When Mormons came to these store owners to buy food and supplies, the store owners routinely charged higher prices specifically because their customers were Mormon. To combat this, Brigham Young set up the ZCMI to increase trade and business within the Mormon community. “As Brigham descended into the Valley through Emigration Canyon, he was much stronger and observant than he had been the year before” (Gibbons 154). Many of Young’s previous feats were displays of mental determination and will, as most of the aforementioned events involved resisting the efforts of others to tear him down and what he had created, the previous quotation shows how persevering Brigham was physically. Even after Rocky Mountain fever, Brigham was still determined to reach the Valley. Like the Saints he led, he pushed through the hard times and came out of his trial on top of the mountain.
When people think of Brigham Young, they remember an extraordinary leader. Throughout his life, he displayed many feats of leadership that made him famous throughout the country (“Brigham Young” EBSCO). “He and his counselors studied government publications and other literature on the Far West and discussed it with explorers and fur traders” (“Brigham Young” Biography). Despite the fact there was a signed order by the governor of Missouri, Lilburn W. Boggs, ordering the murder of any Mormon found within the state once a force reached the Mormon settlement, Brigham Young did not act hastily but instead researched the route to the west and above all, where the church’s final destination was, by looking at maps and consulting explorers and fur traders. Brigham kept a cool head in the face of the extermination of all the people he had worked to protect for the previous fifteen years and made the decision to lead the Saints across the Plains to the Great Salt Lake Valley. “He dispatched communities throughout the territory to the most fertile valleys. Each group included skilled mechanics and artisans to establish viable settlements, obtaining for the Mormons the best real estate in the territory” (“Brigham Young” Biography). Brigham Young didn’t just lead the Saints into the Valley only to have no plan for survival, he sent organized groups across the throughout northern Utah that consisted of craftsmen and mechanics so the groups would be able to sustain the established settlements Brother Brigham had sent them to maintain. Brigham Young had no previous experience of settling vast territories in the west, so he showed great leadership through successfully identifying people with necessary skills and organizing them into efficient groups, thus affirming their success within the Valley. “With Salt Lake City as the base for Mormon colonizing, Young dispatched missions not only in Utah but to areas now in California, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, and Wyoming” (“Brigham Young” EBSCO). Brigham also planned and worked to extend the population and area of influence of the Church so that they would have a strong foothold in the West once the impending expansion of the US into the West occurred. The only thing Brigham did wasn't just defend his people and move them across the Plains, he accomplished many more feats in his life thanks to his excellent leadership. “In his lifetime, Brigham Young supervised the trek of between 60,000 to 70,000 pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley; founded 400 settlements; established a system of land distribution later ratified by Congress; served as the first territorial governor of Utah for two terms...and as Church President for 30 years” (“The Trek”). The group Young supervised whilst crossing the Plains was no small group. Over the course of a couple of years, he led up to 70,000 pioneers 1,300 miles west (“Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail”). 70,000 men, women, and children. The sheer logistical nightmare Brigham sorted out in distributing wagons, hand carts, food, water, and repairs is in of itself and incredible accomplishment. The fact that he accomplished this exploit with such a low mortality rate and established hundreds of settlements, set up a land distribution system for residents of Utah, and served as governor at the same time as serving and President of the Church reaffirms the amazing leadership Brigham Young possessed. “...Young gave way to a non-Mormon governor but continued to govern unofficially through his position in the Church until his death…” (“Brigham Young” Encyclopedia). Although Brigham Young was no longer the head of state in name, he was still essentially governor of Utah during his 30 year tenure as Prophet and President of the Church. One reason that can be attributed to Brigham’s success without holding the title of governor could be the fact that nearly the entire population at the time of his Presidency was Mormon, so would have little reason to listen to a non-Mormon governor who had matters of state on his mind rather than listen to the man who had brought them across the Plains and only had their happiness in mind. A second, more likely reason is that the Saints truly loved Brigham as he had led them away from oppression in Missouri, after it seemed they would never escape it, as recent history seemed to prove. He had also ensured that they would thrive in the so-called “desolate” Salt Lake Valley by mastering irrigation techniques and settlement crews that made sure they maximized the capabilities of the arid Valley floor.
Brigham Young Statue in US Capitol Building Statuary Hallhttps://www.flickr.com/On countless occasions throughout his life, Brigham Young showed great perseverance and determination even in the face of, in many instances, deadly circumstances. He is remembered as a hero because of his great ability to lead the people who had attached themselves to him and became known as one of the great colonizers of the West. Echoing the epic of Moses of the Old Testament, Young led over sixty thousand people over a thousand miles through dozens of freezing rivers, across the Great Plains, and into the Rocky Mountains. He organized his settlers into specialized groups that would be able to take full advantage of the arid soil on the Valley floor. Yet, unlike many leaders who make the excuse they are above the work they set their followers to, Brigham Young trudged through the mud, waded through the rivers, swatted away the poisonous bugs, and at the very end when he could do no more, rode in a bumbling, half-broken wagon being carried through the Rocky Mountains with the Saints. Brigham Young inspires me personally because of his great leadership and determination. Not just the fact he was a great leader, but why he was such a great leader. He truly loved the Saints and truly wanted what was best for them, and put his trust in his Heavenly Father to guide him through countless perilous trials. He relied on the peace and strength that Jesus Christ gave him to push through the incredibly difficult trials and problems that he faced personally day in and day out, whether it be contemplating whether or not it was worth getting up and living through the mountain fever and that rickety hand cart, or planning for lives of the Saints, their tens of thousands of lives weighing on his shoulders. Here was a man, raised as a farmer, with almost no education, who when burdened with the extensive planning and protection of the 70,000 men, women, and children placed in his care, did not shy away, but stood strong and performed the task he had been foreordained to complete with great success. When he fell down, he got back up. When his friends and family died and left him in sorrow along the Trail, he got down on his knees and received strength and guidance from his Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. This unwillingness to surrender to failure and unmatched dedication to the people he loved is what earns Brigham Young the title of hero.
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