Mormon Pioneers and Little Lambs


It’s Throwback Thursday!
The following blog article originally posted at Mormon Coffee on July 24, 2006.


Today [tomorrow] is Pioneer Day in Utah. Each July 24th the residents of Utah celebrate the “Days of ’47” commemorating Brigham Young’s 1847 arrival in the Great Salt Lake valley. This holiday is a big deal; a state holiday with parades, fireworks and family picnics. It’s a lot like the 4th of July is for the rest of the United States.

Being Pioneer Day, you can understand that the festivities place an extra emphasis on the Mormon pioneers who settled Utah. More than usual, that is. Mormon Pioneer heritage figures prominently in the identity of today’s Mormons.

We see a lot of artistic renderings of the Mormon pioneers. On canvas and in sculpture they are depicted in various poses and scenes. Sometimes we see their hardships, and sometimes their joys, but almost always we see them in family groupings. The LDS Church emphasizes its commitment to family, of course, and the pioneers who crossed the plains and mountains included mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers.

As an example of artistic portrayals of LDS pioneers, here’s the way the Mormon Pioneers are depicted on the LDS web site:

And here’s a sculpture found on Temple Square in Salt Lake City:

Here’s why I find this interesting. There is a current exhibit at the Culture House, a museum in Reykjavik, Iceland, titled The Road to Zion. The exhibit

sheds light on the religious foundations of the Mormons, traces the journey of Thordur Didriksson (1828-1894) over sea and land, and gives insight into the community that the Icelanders joined and lived in abroad [i.e., Spanish Fork, Utah].

My cousin (who lives in Reykjavik) thoughtfully sent me a booklet about the exhibit, produced by the museum. The booklet includes an excerpt from the journal Mr. Didriksson kept as he crossed America in a Mormon handcart company.

We were in Omaha for three weeks, to prepare for the handcart journey across the prairie. There were 220 emigrants in the company. …The men pulled the carts and the women pushed. …There were over 30 children in the company, and early every morning they were all sent ahead of the adults in one bunch. Some of them had very little clothing, though they all wore hats. They were driven along with willow switches and had to keep walking as long as they were able. It was no use crying or complaining, but during the heat of the day they were allowed to rest and were given food. They were often two or three miles ahead of us. It was hard for the parents to see their five- or six-year-olds driven like sheep. (Church Archives, Ms 8795)

I have never seen an artistic rendering of Mormon pioneer children being driven with willow switches. Have you?

About Sharon Lindbloom

Sharon surrendered her life to the Lord Jesus Christ in 1979. Deeply passionate about Truth, Sharon loves serving as a full-time volunteer research associate with Mormonism Research Ministry. Sharon and her husband live in Minnesota.
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13 Responses to Mormon Pioneers and Little Lambs

  1. falcon says:

    I’ve done some reading on this program and let me tell you it is full of a lot of fiction. I’ve also been to Nauvoo where “the saints” crossed the Mississippi River in the winter and headed west. In addition to this I’ve been to Council Bluffs Iowa and down the road to Omaha NE. and visited Mormon sites there. I still have the memory stored of the cute little Japanese (young) woman who gave us the tour of the museum in Omaha. She really turned on the appeal to emotions as she regaled us with the stories of the “saints” trek out to Utah.
    I doubt if she knew the full story herself or perhaps her testimony might have been effected. The facts are that the handcart brigade was a total Brigham Young boondoggle. From a Denver Post article:
    “The Mormon handcart expeditions were the “most deadly (chapter) in the history of westward migration in the United States,” David Roberts says in “Devil’s Gate.” Nearly 250 of the 900 members of the Martin and Willie handcart companies, which were caught in brutal blizzards in the Wyoming and Utah mountains in the fall of 1856, died, mostly from cold and starvation. That compares to 42 members of the Donner Party who perished in the Sierras.”
    “And many of those who are aware of it see the experience as inspiring, as evidence of profound faith and divine intervention, according to Roberts. Not a single member of the handcart companies apostated, they claim.”
    “The truth, however, is that the planning for the handcarts was bungled through stupidity and arrogance, and the result was a journey of such horror that many who lived through it could never talk about it. And yes, many of the survivors did desert the church.”
    “The reality was that poor planning and irrational decisions, even stinginess, doomed the handcart scheme from the outset.”
    “The carts were made of green wood, which means they split and broke as the pioneers pushed them across the prairie and mountains. Most of the converts were not used to the strenuous work required to propel a loaded cart over hundreds of miles. And because Young claimed the handcarts would cross in just two months, he provided for no supply stations along the route. Planning was so poor, in fact, that officials in Salt Lake did not even know how many handcart companies were stranded in the mountains in 1856.”

    Think about this Utah as you celebrate.

  2. falcon says:

    Stupidity which causes undue suffering and hardship, is not a faith building exercise. Many Mormon immigrants to the U.S. had their hopes, dreams and expectations smashed by the con job that brought them to Zion in the 19th century.

    “1856 is indelibly etched into Mormon memory as a year of disaster. Late in the summer of 1856, a group of around 500 Mormons left Iowa bound for Utah. By October they had reached central Wyoming, too late to avoid the onset of the harsh Wyoming winter. With heavy snow making it impossible to continue on to Salt Lake City, the company sought refuge in a bleak cove. One of this unfortunate band recorded her experience:

    “We found a small ravine since named Martin’s Ravine. Here we made our camp in a clump of willows that grew close together. We settled down as we could not go on farther. We must wait for help or death must come to us. Few of us cared which. In the morning to add to our suffering a heavy snow had fallen upon us. We had camped in a circle so we did not know which way to go or from which we had come. Here we were lost, starving, and buried in two feet of snow. Three days we lived through this–In the morning there were thirteen dead and two more died during the day. While we were preparing to go on, the dead were gathered and placed in one large grave.”

    We know what the LDS spin is. It could use a dose of reality.

  3. Mike R says:

    Similar to the way most Mormons present their history is how they present the teachings church leaders have taught in the past , i.e. not enough transparency or disclosure to the public. Because of this non LDS will not be able to properly evaluate Mormonism . Mormons like to remind everyone how Brigham Young “made the desert bloom” and was a colonizer of the great Basin . The bottom line however is what did he teach about God and salvation etc . That’s the wise thing do to in examining him . For my money , he should have stuck with something he was good at ( colonizing Utah ) because he sure was’nt good at being a prophet . That fact allows me to properly evaluate Mormonism . The verdict : Matt 24:11 .

    Mormons are sincere , decent , people . It’s sad that they have been fooled into following false prophets of the latter days , and pride in the accomplishments in settling Utah cannot make up
    for that kind of spiritual error . That’s the scriptures view about this type of scenario .

    Our prayers for the Mormon people to be spiritually free will never cease . God loves them and so do we .

  4. falcon says:

    This whole thing is about the promotion of “faith”. So with their founders’ day type celebration, the LDS church is attempting to challenge its membership to the type of faith and commitment that the pioneers had. But when is faith really not faith? And what were the pioneers expressing their faith in by accepting the awful hardships and often death in their trek?
    Has anyone ever heard about Jonestown? Jim Jones took his followers down to a South American jungle where at a certain point he commanded them to commit suicide. There were at least 800 souls who did just that? Was that “faith”?
    David Koresh and his Branch Dividian followers went out in a flame of faith in their compound in Waco, Texas.
    My point is that while the LDS church are holding the pioneers up as examples of great faith, the reality is that many gave their lives unnecessarily but in the LDS world, spin is everything.

  5. falcon says:

    So was this trek across the plains in which many people died needlessly, a faith building activity? When the Mormon pioneers prayed about it, did they get a “burning in the bosom”; a confirming feeling? Might some current LDS say that it was God’s will that these people die proving their faith?
    I often bring up the time I asked one of our Mormon posters if he would kill or steal if directed to by the Mormon prophet? He said he would but later “clarified” by saying that the prophet would have to tell him directly. He wouldn’t do it if it were just a directive delivered by e mail for example. He believed he’d be acting in “faith”, I guess.
    Is this faith? Joseph Smith talked at least 33 women into marrying him, some who were married to other men and a couple of adolescent girls. In at least one instance, he told one of the women that an angel with a sword had appeared to him and said he’d kill him if he didn’t practice plural marriage. He also had a line about it being a great blessing to one of the women’s families.
    Is this faith? Is it OK to question the LDS prophet or leadership. That’s a big “NO NO!” in Mormonism. What if these cart bragades had told Brigham Young, “Forget it. We’re not going.” They wouldn’t have died. One report said that many who did make the journey left Mormonism.
    I’d say they had learned a hard lesson about faith and asking questions. It would behoove modern day LDS to ask some questions about the religion they have dedicated their time, treasure, efforts and families to. “Faith” and really good feelings often serve to blind people to reality.

  6. falcon says:

    If someone is in a top-down autocratic type religion, they are taught to always follow the leaders and that the leaders will never lead you astray. This is a polite way of saying sit-down, shut-up and do what you are told.
    In the LDS religion, once someone has said to have received confirmation that the BoM is the real deal via a “burning in the bosom”, they have to eat everything that the church puts on their plate. That would include that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that the LDS church is the one true church and that the current prophet is truly a prophet of God receiving on-going regular guidance.
    LDS folks were also once led to believe that when a leader had a revelation of Jesus Christ, that Jesus had actually appeared to that leader. That’s been down-graded in recent years so that the leader is said to have a “testimony” of Jesus Christ. That’s quite a difference.
    What’s the danger of out-sourcing your decision making to “spiritual leaders”? Well they might be wrong. In Mormonland that is simply not a possibility. In fact when it’s pointed out that Mormon leaders have been frequently wrong in the past, the fail safe response is that the leader was just expressing his opinion. I’d say that when the leader speaks, the folks don’t think it’s personal opinion.
    Having faith doesn’t mean you don’t question authority. Perhaps it’s my Baby Boomer roots but that’s our generational mind-set along with “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” Too many of my generation, ironically, got caught up in cults where they didn’t question authority.
    During this celebration of the “saints” coming to the Utah valley, it might be a good idea for the LDS to pause and reflect as to whether or not their blind obedience to the “one true church” might be misguided. If the church can’t deliver on the promise to shepherd a member through the system that will result in them becoming gods, I think I’d look else where for my spiritual direction. Start with the Bible understanding that it’s not been corrupted and contains the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  7. Mike R says:

    It must be somewhat difficult for non LDS in Utah to be in the midst of all the hoopla and excitement this statewide observance generates . It would be easy to forget why Utah was settled and get side tracked by reading or hearing of the experiences of those men and women who through grit and termination , and the death of family members , endured the long trek westward to Utah territory. But
    Mormons wer’nt the only people in America’s history who made their way westward despite extreme hardships . So how should Christians view Utah’s “Pioneer Days ” observance ?

    Sooner or later the topic will get back to Mormonism and it’s claims , and it should . Mormonism teaches that Jesus the King appointed Brigham Young as king over a earthly kingdom so
    Brigham traveled west after Joseph Smith’s death to establish Zion in the Utah valleys and build up that kingdom (of God ).
    The gospel that Brigham Young preached was the only one which offered salvation , all other churches were part of the Church of the Devil of the latter days . Non Mormons were called “Gentiles” not God’s true worshipers in the land of Zion . So either submit to king Brigham as God’s exclusive mouthpiece , His prophet , and accept his rule and teachings or remain spiritually lost !

    Given those claims of Mormonism it sheds the proper light on the ” Days of 47 ” celebrated in Utah every July 24th , and why Christians should pray for their Mormon friends and seek to minister to them about Jesus and the true spiritual freedom found only in Him .

  8. falcon says:

    Here’s the deal about LDS “prophets”. It doesn’t follow the NT pattern but is an invention of Smith & Company. The Bible tells us clearly that there are prophets (see First Corinthians 12-14) and how they are to function within the Christian Church. But since Mormonism is not the Christian Church, they have their own protocol. So Mormons can’t really claim to be Christians if they aren’t going to follow the NT instructions.
    In the NT there can be more than one prophet in a church body. During a gathering they are to speak one at a time in order. What a prophet utters is to be tested by all those in attendance. Does this sound like the LDS church?
    Also, in Christianity, any prophet that goes off on a tangent is to be reined in, corrected and possibly admonished. That’s a real problem with the LDS church. Brigham Young, for example, came up with all sorts of nonsense and the membership in his era accepted it. Later on, much of what he proclaimed was jettisoned to the scrap-heap of Mormon doctrine never to be visited again.
    Another LDS rock star was Bruce McConkey. He embarrassed the leadership time and again but I don’t know if they ever corrected him. They won’t even publish his “Mormon Doctrine” tome when at one time it was suppose to be definitive.
    I think that any curious Mormon will find without too much difficulty that the religion they serve isn’t even a distant cousin of the faith established by Jesus and protected by the Holy Ghost.

  9. falcon says:

    I was led to read in Hebrews last night; the chapter dealing with “faith”. Hebrews 11.1 says the following: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”
    I read that verse and reflecting upon it, I can see how false prophets, apostles and teachers can mislead people. One of the things that these folks do is test the “faith” and commitment of the rank-and-file members. But they can only do this if they have control of those members and are able to manipulate them.
    The LDS religion is not a place for people who ask questions and will challenge the dictates of authority. In order for an LDS to be manipulated, they have to accept the Mormon narrative and the premise(s) upon which they are built. If it’s connected to an emotional experience, then it’s lights out for the member; it’s not lights on, as it may appear. Can darkness disguise itself as light? The Bible says it can. The Bible tells us that Satan can disguise himself in an angelic form of light.
    Think about how Joseph Smith got his “revelation”. Was it not from an angel. And didn’t that experience lead Joseph Smith to proclaim a different gospel? The Lord God warns us about accepting as light that which is darkness. I don’t think God cuts us much slack in claiming that we were deceived.
    Anyone reading here on MC has been led here by the Spirit of God to receive the message that leads to eternal life. No one, once knowing this, can claim ignorance.

  10. Mike R says:

    Sharon said , ” Mormon pioneer heritage figures prominently in the identity of today’s Mormons.”

    Brigham Young brought LDS westward largely because of persecution by non Mormons . In the identity of many of today’s Mormons accusing non Mormons of a persecution plays an important part in validating Mormonism as the true religious faith , and though it is’nt to the same degree as their Mormon ancestors experienced , still it is an important part of Mormon reasoning . This reasoning usually surfaces when a Christian attempts to refute Mormon doctrine in an effort to help a Mormon see how un Biblical many of their teachings really are . A term has been created by Mormons to help them dismiss attempts by Christian’s would dare say that Mormon leaders are false prophets and therefore LDS must dismiss them because spiritual safety is at stake . That term
    is not allowed to be used here on the Mormon coffee blog ( and with good reason ) , but it starts with “anti”, and the other part is obvious . Many Mormons retreat to using this term because they have what could be called a ” persecution complex ” that has been infused into their minds at a young age , and reinforced every year in stories about past Mormon history especially during observance of ” Pioneer Days ” in Utah .

    This term and the reasoning by many Mormons when being witnessed to by those who seek to warn them that Mormonism is not the answer , is a defensive mechanism used by Mormons to shut down the conversation and cast the person witnessing to them as an enemy of sorts , someone that is persecuting them merely for being a Mormon someone who simply holds beliefs different then them .
    This mentality is an unfortunate one , an although there are some non Mormons who verbally treat Mormons as people with disdain , still it seems most Mormons resort to broad brushing any attempt at refuting Mormon teachings as being personal attacks and persecution on them as a people .

    We love the Mormon people and seek only their spiritual well being , and because of our respect for them we want them to hear about the danger of latter days false prophets in their midst .

  11. historybuff says:

    As you already know, the vast majority of “chapel Mormons” are blissfully ignorant of their Church’s doctrines and history, and they don’t care to learn. They’re insulated in their own little LDS cocoon and will actively resist any attempt to learn the facts. That’s because their cocoon is very comfortable with all their friends and family close by, and they know not to even ask questions.

    Right now they’re celebrating the arrival of the early LDS into Salt Lake Valley and the hardships those settlers overcame on their journey. Deep down in their heart of hearts they know that their LDS leaders made horrible mistakes on that trek, but they’ve closed their minds to that while they enjoy the pageantry and the fireworks. Then they will go back to their pleasant lives, filled with LDS activities and meetings where no one asks any questions, and they will ignore any unpleasant truths.

    But occasionally one of them will actually study their history and doctrines. One of them will begin to search on the Internet, or ask questions of trusted friends. Minds will open, and then hearts. And that is when ministries like this one will have the opportunity to touch those hearts and help people change their lives for the better. It’s hard work and not very often rewarding, but there are those moments when you’re able to make a real difference in a Mormon’s life and feel the blessings that come from it. Be patient and be ready.

  12. falcon says:

    There isn’t a whole lot of room for questioning Mormons to express themselves within the confines of the sect. If someone asks a question and then subsequent questions, they will find that a wall goes up between them and their fellow members. It’s that belief that the “church is true” and anything that might hint at doubt, is dismissed and the person becomes an enemy of the faith.
    It’s hard for me to understand that attitude. Why would Mormons be so deathly afraid and almost flee from a fellow member who might express concerns or doubts? It’s baked into the cake of Mormon culture that no one is to question. If the person does question and doesn’t accept the simplistic explanations offered, then they have their toes right up to the line of outer darkness.
    A defensive posture is aptly captured in a response like, “I knew that a long time ago and it hasn’t effected my testimony one bit.” Get the psychological tactic here; “a long time ago” means that this is old news to me; you just learned about that?; it’s old and doesn’t matter. “It hasn’t effected my testimony one bit” (translation) “I have a strong testimony, stronger than your testimony, what’s wrong with you?”
    So I guess “testimonies” come under certain classifications from weak to moderate to strong. The stronger the testimony the more status within the group. Want to lose your status? Start asking questions that might be interpreted as expressing doubt.

  13. falcon says:

    Here’s the deal with Mormons; it’s true! That’s it, period, end of discussion. Anything that might challenge the “it’s true” paradigm is of the devil. Once someone receives the “burning in the bosom” experience or the equivalent, there are no questions. God has spoken to you. To doubt is to risk offending God.
    Mormons often wonder why I won’t read the BoM. I could I suppose and that way shut down their argument of “How do you know the BoM isn’t true if you haven’t even read it?” But here’s the deal and everyone familiar with the Mormon game knows what’s up. The only acceptable response to a Mormon is that the BoM is true. So even if someone like myself says, “Yes, I read the BoM. I prayed to God if it’s true. I read it humbly and sincerely….” the answer will be, “Keep reading it.”
    So you see, it’s a fool’s errand. That’s why I won’t get pulled into the game. We’ve had Christians on this site who have read the BoM more times than most Mormons. Is this acceptable to the LDS member? Absolutely not because the Christian has concluded that it’s “not true”.
    I challenge the basic premise that it can be known that the BoM is not true without reading it. It’s not that difficult because all I have to know is basic LDS doctrine to know that it’s not true. This specifically relates to the doctrine of the nature of God. Why would I even bother with a fundamental book of a religion that denies who God is?
    So the LDS religion knows that any member who really gets into a serious questioning mode won’t stick around long. The faith promoting activities like the one cited in the above article won’t hold on to a member who is looking at evidence despite how it makes them feel.

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