161 years ago, the first Mormon settlers arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake. Over the next forty years or so, thousands of Mormon immigrants would arrive to populate planned settlements.
The Williamses were the first of my ancestors to arrive. After spending time in St. Louis providing medical services for church members arriving from Europe, Ezra Granger Williams married his sweetheart and then headed west with his mother and his new bride in the Ezra T. Benson company, arriving in Utah in 1849. They stopped in Nauvoo on the way to be sealed in the temple before they left.
Over the next 23 years, more of my ancestors arrived from such places as Tennessee, Wales, Switzerland, and Sweden. My great-grandmother was the last to arrive from Scotland in 1872. Her father, a miner, had come to Utah years earlier to earn money and had sent for his family, one child at a time. Great-Grandmother Jones would later joke that she was glad she waited; her siblings came by handcart and wagon company, but she and her mother traveled in style on a train.
But along with those who made it safely were thousands of Saints who suffered and died along the way, and many of those who lived through it carried permanent disabilities from their ordeal. Today these pioneers are honored for their faith and sacrifice, and rightly so.
I suppose I have mixed emotions about the pioneers. On the one hand it is difficult not to admire their courage in the face of terrible suffering. They believed in God and in their religion, and they were willing to give everything, including their lives, for their beliefs.
But knowing what I know about Mormonism and its founders, it’s also hard not to be more than a little righteously indignant at the men who invented the religion and who were willing to let people suffer and die for their own gain. That, I’m afraid, is unconscionable.
So, let’s honor the pioneers, while remembering that their suffering was entirely unnecessary.