Special Feature | BYU Studies

Special Feature

Pioneer Resources from Saints at Devil's Gate
April 18, 2017
Special Feature
Pioneer Resources from Saints at Devil's Gate
The Joseph Smith Papers Project

A few months ago, the Church Historian's Press released a book to act as a companion to the art exhibit Saints at Devil's Gate, a collection of fifty-two landscape paintings of the Mormon Trail by Josh Clare, John Burton, and Bryan Mark. The exhibit is open to the public through September 2017 at the Church History Museum and can also be viewed online. The book is available at the museum, on amazon.com, or through store.lds.org.

In addition to the paintings, this exhibit features multiple quotations from pioneers who crossed the plains in the mid-nineteenth century. The travelers underwent a variety of experiences as they traveled to their new home in the untamed West, and the journals and reminiscences they left behind offer insights into the often-poignant emotions they felt as they left their homes behind in hopes of establishing Zion.

At times, the Saints felt exuberance at their prospects. Many of the scenes they crossed were beautiful, and they captured their awe in their writings. For instance, twenty-two-year-old Samuel Openshaw wrote at Council Bluffs, Iowa:

"Traveled through a beautiful country where we could stand and gaze upon the prairies as far as the eye could carry, even until the prairies themselves seemed to meet the sky on all sides, without being able to see a house. Thought how many thousands of people are there in England who have scarce room to breathe and not enough to eat. Yet, all this good land lying dormant, except for the prairie grass to grow and decay."

Other times, trail life was difficult and the Saints had to rely on their faith to get them through the journey. Mary Pugh Scott recalled that when she entered the Salt Lake Valley at age twenty-six, she had bittersweet feelings at the sight:

"As we enter the valley of the mountains and look out over the vast land of Zion, I am dismayed by the very immensity of the view. The boundless silence, and to see miles of sage brush everywhere. Behind us now are the heart aches and many thousands of silent tears that fell on the long unknown trail. I remember my dear home in England, of the flowers and trees and beautiful surroundings at that safe home. And I am home sick for my dear mother and father. But just as I have covered those endless hundreds of miles, so now I will begin work with renewed faith, begin the task of building a good home in this new wilderness."

These quotes, and others like them, are available on the Church Historian Press's website in a free compilation. They detail many specific points on the trail from Nauvoo to Salt Lake. They are a wonderful resource for anyone who wants to further their knowledge of these pioneers and share that knowledge in a talk, at family home evening, or as part of a pioneer trek experience.