Happy Pioneer Day

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.


13 Responses to Happy Pioneer Day

  1. marlajayne says:

    I’ve never really thought of it in this way…that the leaders allowed people to suffer and die for their own gain. Hmmm. I’m wondering what kind of gain that was. And was it really the leaders who let people suffer and die? I also think that the poor souls who died gained much more in terms of a divine reward than those who struggled on.

  2. runtu says:

    Well, for Joseph Smith, the gain was simple: power, wealth, and sex. And yes, the leaders could have and should have stopped things before people suffered and died. All Joseph Smith would have had to do was tell the truth, and no one would have died.

  3. marlajayne says:

    I’m trying to decide whether to comment further or not because I’m really not an argumentative person…but well, okay, just a couple of quick things. #1 BUT HE DIED! #2 I I think he did tell the truth. It would have been easier (in some ways) to “take it back,” but well, I know you know the rest of the story.

  4. runtu says:


    I’m not interested in arguing. It’s pretty clear to me that Joseph was not what he claimed to be. I respect that other people, like you, have reached a different conclusion.

  5. runtu says:

    But just for the sake of argument, I don’t think Joseph planned on dying for the cause. And given his track record of lying to his friends, his followers, and his wife, I don’t believe he told the truth about the religious things, either.

  6. That was something I realized recently. Joseph Smith wasn’t a martyr. Don’t get me wrong; his murder was unlawful and wrong. It was not martyrdom. He didn’t die in defense of the faith. It wasn’t like the mob grabbed him and gave him the opportunity to recant.

  7. elderjoseph says:


    You only need to read D&C to see how Joseph used so called revelation for his own gain :

    Got himself a house built .

    D&C 41 : 7 And again, it is meet that my servant Joseph Smith, Jun., should have a house built, in which to live and translate.

    food and rainment too and whatever else he needs !

    D&C 43:13 And again, I say unto you, that if ye desire the mysteries of the kingdom, provide for him food and raiment, and whatsoever thing he needeth to accomplish the work wherewith I have commanded him;

    No need for him to work either .

    D&C 24: 9 And in temporal labors thou shalt not have strength, for this is not thy calling. Attend to thy calling and thou shalt have wherewith to magnify thine office, and to expound all scriptures, and continue in laying on of the hands and confirming the churches.

    A boarding house ( some kind of hotel ? ) I think he got a liqour license for this enterprise

    D&C 124:56 And now I say unto you, as pertaining to my boarding ahouse which I have commanded you to build for the boarding of strangers, let it be built unto my name, and let my name be named upon it, and let my servant Joseph and his house have place therein, from generation to generation.

    And an endless supply of women .

    D&C132:62 And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery, for they belong to him, and they are given unto him; therefore is he justified.

    And collect his followers wives as he went along too .

  8. K*tty says:

    Reading from the seven volumes of Church History, Joseph Smith’s death is nothing like it is portrayed by the church. He, as much, gave the sign to the Mason’s to spare him as a follow member. And don’t get me started on the gun he fired and the liquor that was shared with the guards. Yes, I know that drinking was not a commandment then, but apparently having been told that by God directly, and then treat it as a suggestion, well……. And apparently God didn’t think it was all that bad either, thus no sword of fire to get THAT point across. Do I think that Joseph Smith deserved to die that way? Absolutely not. But can feel the anger of the mob because of his arrogance to destroy the press and the mob mentality that he was a pervert and adulterer? Yes. We have seen reactions like this in our day and age. Why do you think controversial criminals are guarded when they are taken from prison to court? Guards even have to protect Warren Jeffs, et al. from themselves.

    As far as the pioneers, those that made the first trek had no problems per se, it was the others who started out too late and not without some warning that it was not a prudent time to go. Do I fault the pioneers who went later? No. But today if you drive in the snow and bad weather, you too, are taking a chance.

  9. marlajayne says:

    Uh oh. Sounds like contention to me.

  10. runtu says:

    What sounds like contention to you?

  11. Kandy Richards says:

    I ran across your website accidentally while trying to do some research on Ezra Granger Williams. He was my Great-Great Grandfather. Don’t know who you are, but I am curious. If you’d like to, please send an email and let me know how we are related. My lineage from Ezra down is Ezra Granger Williams, Frederick Granger Williams II, Vernal Williams, Verl Gaylen Williams.

    I’m interested in your site, and when I have more time I plan to investigate more. I am also one of the descendants who has left the LDS Church (I converted to Catholicism) so we may have a little bit in common.

  12. Dude says:

    I am also a direct descendant of Ezra G. Williams.

    I think you need to study your history a little more thoroughly if you think early LDS church leaders gained anything temporally other than persecution, violence, plundering of property, banishment, suffering, sickness, death and murder. The word “hardiness” almost isn’t strong enough to express the type of characters these men were to be able to endure all of this in their lifetimes.

    You are right that the Mormon pioneers suffered greatly to immigrate to and establish the Utah territory. But the LDS leaders didn’t profit from it, not in the sense that you’re inferring here. The church as a whole profited greatly from their sacrifice and many of us living in the western US can still say we are profiting from their sacrifice. But the pioneers, just like their LDS leaders made the sacrifice happily, knowing that they were following the Lord’s will through their prophet.

    Think about it for a second, the arguments (some based in fact, some based in lies) against the early LDS leaders and the establishment of the Mormon faith haven’t really changed for 150 years. By the time of the Mormon immigration to Utah, most of this information and disinformation about their leaders was already being well circulated. And yet so many, the vast majority of the Mormons still followed Brigham Young’s council and remained faithful to him and to their church through these great hardships.

    So basically, if you could go back in time and warn all these pioneers about what you “know about Mormonism and it’s founders”, they would probably say something like this: “yeah, we’ve heard all this before, but we know the truth and we’re following our prophet”. Then they’d go on to suffer everything that you are so arrogantly and “righteously” indignant about.

  13. runtu says:

    Go ahead and call me arrogant and self-righteous, if it makes you feel better. I’ve been called much worse.

    The bottom line for me is that people died for no good reason. And that makes me sad.

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