In 1898, President Wilford Woodruff stood before the Saints in General Conference and recalled a priesthood meeting in the early days of the Church where Joseph Smith stood and stated,
“I want to say to you before the Lord, that you know no more concerning the destinies of this Church and kingdom than a babe upon its mother’s lap. You don’t comprehend it…. it is only a little handful of Priesthood you see here tonight, but this Church will fill North and South America—it will fill the world.” Among other things he said, “it will fill the Rocky Mountains. There will be tens of thousands of Latter-day Saints who will be gathered in the Rocky Mountains, and there they will open the door for the establishing of the Gospel among the Lamanites, who will receive the Gospel and their endowments and the blessings of God. This people will go into the Rocky Mountains; they will there build temples to the Most High. They will raise up a posterity there, and the Latter-day Saints who dwell in these mountains will stand in the flesh until the coming of the Son of Man. The Son of Man will come to them while in the Rocky Mountains” (In Conference Report, April 1989, p 57).
Whether or not those were the exact words or ideas Joseph expressed at the meeting, they do give us a hint of the vision President Woodruff had for the Church during his presidency: missionaries traveling throughout the world, a gathering of the Saints to the Intermountain West, construction of temples, and a preparation for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Many of these themes do echo the idea of Zion that Joseph Smith taught and tried to implement with a distinct new twist here and there. These were, in part, the ideals that governed the Kingdom of God in the pioneer era.
A New Zion
After Joseph Smith’s death in 1844, the Church’s leadership passed to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles under Brigham Young. This group had to pick up the pieces of the shattered dreams of Zion that the original leader of the Mormon movement had set out to create and forge a new incarnation of the ideal. Following an initiative that Joseph had started, the new leaders made and carried out plans to move to the Great Basin region of the American West. Many comparisons were made between these pioneers as a modern “camp of Israel (D&C 136:1)” on an Egypt-like exodus to settle a promised land “in the top of the mountains” that “all nations would flow unto” and out of which would “go forth the law” (Isaiah 2:2; Micah 4:2). Upon arrival in the Salt Lake Valley, Apostle Orson Pratt offered a prayer, dedicating the land to God and consecrating the site of a city of saints (see England, 1985, pp.132-133). A few days afterwards, Brigham Young arrived and had a vision that lasted for several minutes, beholding the valley filled with homes, bowered with greenery, and a temple whose spires reaching up into heaven. Satisfied, he said, “It is enough. This is the right place, drive on (Fife & Fife, 1956, p. 94).”
Led by Brigham Young and succeeding prophets, tens of thousands of Saints from across America and Europe immigrated to the west and established over 500 colonies in an area reaching from a core in Utah and southeastern Idaho across much of the American West and into Mexico and Canada. This, to them, was their land of Zion—a Kingdom of God on earth in the Great Basin, a holy community built up by believers. The concept of Zion practiced in these colonies was rooted in the ideals of Joseph Smith’s work and adapted to the circumstances and leadership of the day. In Leonard J. Arrington’s groundbreaking work Great Basin Kingdom, there are seven basic principles that summarized the ideas governing Zion in the pioneer era:
1: The Gathering. As discussed previously, the Saints felt that they were gathering out descendants of ancient Israel from among the “Gentiles” or non-Israelites. Converts to the faith were to immigrate to Utah, believing that they were fleeing “Babylon”—the corrupt world and its ways of wickedness—to go to “Zion”—the promised land. There they would dwell together in righteousness, prepare for the Second Coming of the Lord, and build the Kingdom of God on earth under the direction of the Lord’s mouthpiece, the prophet. It also meant that they could be free from mobs that might drive them away from their homes again. A popular hymn expressing the sentiment of the missionaries’ cry at the time is still sung among the Latter-day Saints today:
Israel, Israel, God is calling,
Calling thee from lands of woe.
Babylon the great is falling;
God shall all her tow’rs o’er-throw.
Come to Zion, come to Zion
Ere his floods of anger flow.
Come to Zion, come to Zion
Ere his floods of anger flow.
(Hymns, 1985, 7)
Among other things, temples were used to draw people to the Great Basin region for the gathering. By this time, a system of ordinances that were to be performed in temples and which were considered necessary for salvation had been introduced. The four temples that were constructed were all in Utah. Temple ordinances were performed in approved locations, mostly in Salt Lake City while the temples were under construction. Approvals, however, were not made for the performance of these sacred rites in other locations of Church membership, such as England, ensuring that the Saints would have to come to Zion to receive all the ordinances of the gospel. This geographical limitation was intended: Brigham Young taught that it was necessary to restrict the performance of endowment ceremonies to Utah, believing that to do otherwise would “destroy the object of the gathering (Buerger, 1987, p. 50).”
2: The Mormon Village. Inspired in part by Joseph’s Plat of Zion, Mormons in Utah worked to create orderly towns, laid off in a grid system of wide streets at right angles to each other. Often, a large central block was to be set aside for public buildings, especially the local church buildings. The blocks in the village were divided among the colonists who used the land to build their homes and raise orchards, gardens and some livestock. Farmers were to live inside the towns but go outside to work on the farms in the Big Field—an easily-irrigated area that was set apart for agriculture and divided into 5 to 20 acre lots that were distributed among the farmers (see Arrington, 1958, p.90). Where applied, this arrangement provided security against Native Americans, made possible a more advantageous use of land, and assured, in general, a highly organized community life.
Although at there are certain unique patterns to Mormon village layouts, they did not follow the Zion plat in exact detail. Even Salt Lake City—the capitol of Mormondom—exceeded the size and scope of Joseph’s one-mile-square Zion, covering an area of approximately 4 miles by 3 miles within three years of its inception. Other adaptions in Salt Lake include the decision to move the “central” temple block to a location nearer to the foothills rather than the center of the valley. In surveying Utah towns in general, Richard H. Jackson found that there was no consistency in community layouts asides from wide streets; square grid patterns; and large, uniform lots distributed by lottery to colonists, indicating that the Zion plat was not followed as strictly as has been assumed in the past (Jackson, 1977, p. 7). Even still, orderly patterns of organization emerged that define the unique Mormon village system.
3: Property as Stewardship. Brigham Young once stated that, “The Lord has given to me all I possess; I have nothing in reality, not a single dime of it is mine… the coat I have on my back is not mine, and never was; the Lord put it in my possession honorably, and I wear it…. I do not own a house, or a single farm of land, a horse, mule, carriage, or wagon… but what the Lord gave me…. It is all the Lord’s and we are only his stewards (Young, 1997, pp. 156-157).” This belief—that all that the Saints had was the Lord’s and they were just caretakers—allowed the Saints to be more willing to give up everything they possessed to the Church, which they felt was acting for the Lord. As such, all rights to land were derived from and subject to Church disposition. This ensured that group interests would be held above individual interests in the public arena, as the Church guided both the economic, temporal activities in the territory and the spiritual ones.
4: Redeeming the Earth. The Great Basin area was not exactly the Garden of Eden. To those who first arrived there it was a barren desert with Death by starvation, Native American or other means lurking around every corner. Mormons noted this, joking, for example, that Southern Utah was a shapeless lump of leftover material from the Creation that God didn’t know what else to do with. The orderly development of local resources in each community was necessary for their very survival, but it also had theological implications.
To the Mormons, the earth was a beautiful, paradisiacal garden to begin with, but with the Fall of Adam and Eve it was cursed. Eventually, however, they believe that “the earth will be renewed and receive its paradisiacal glory” (Articles of Faith 12).
This purification was not to be accomplished by any mechanistic process nor by any instantaneous cleansing by fire and/or water. It was to be performed by God’s chosen; it involved subduing the earth and making it teem with living plants and animals. Man must assist God in this process of regeneration and make the earth a more fitting abode for himself and for the Redeemer of Man…. An important admonition to be industrious, and not idle, was supplementary to this belief.
Making the waste places blossom as the rose, and the earth to yield abundantly of its diverse fruits, was more than an economic necessity; it was a form of religious worship. As one early leader later wrote, the construction of water ditches was as much a part of the Mormon religion as water baptism (Arrington, 1958, pp. 25-26).
One aspect of this sentiment was a desire to beautify their living environment as best as possible. As expressed by George A. Smith, “The plan of Zion contemplates that the earth, the gardens, and fields of Zion, be beautiful and cultivated in the best possible manner. Our traditions have got to yield to that plan, circumstances will bring us to that point, and eventually we shall be under the necessity of learning and adopting the plan of beautifying and cultivating every foot of the soil of Zion in the best possible manner (Smith, 1856, 3:282).” The Saints were to redeem and beautify the earth through work.
5: Frugality and Economic Independence. Brigham Young desired to have “the Kingdom of God… rise independent of the gentile nations,” even going as far as to say that, “I am determined to cut every thread of this kind an live free and independent, untrammeled by any of their detestable customs and practices” (Arrington, 1958, p. 47). This was, in a way, a central goal in moving to an undesirable area of desert and colonizing an area covering several hundred miles—the creation of a self-sufficient, isolated commonwealth of Saints where they could live as they wished. Some colonies were created with certain resources in mind so the territory could produce everything necessary for survival—iron in Parowan for nails and other tools, cotton in the St. George area and flax to make linen in Mantua for cloth, lead in the Las Vegas area for bullets, and so on. Although most of the attempts at developing these resources did not work out as planned, they demonstrate the value Church leaders put on making everything they could on their own. This policy had an impact on merchant life, particularly during the times when Mormons attempted a complete boycotting of “Gentile” merchants, focusing on setting up cooperative stores, such as ZCMI instead. To reinforce the attempt at self-sufficiency, frugality in living was encouraged by the General Authorities.
Perhaps the greatest threat to the independence and isolation of the Saints was the construction of the transcontinental railroad in the late 1860s. While leaders wanted the railroad completed and worked to help construct the lines, fears were raised that it would bring major changes to their society. Contemporary anti-Mormons of the day were certainly hopeful that such would be the case, expressing belief that the train would “civilize” Utah and obliterate the Church in the process. The more practical problems facing leaders, however, were the fact that cheap imports brought by the train would undermine homegrown and homemade products from Utah, a flood of non-members seeking mining and business opportunities would break up the relatively homogenous population of the territory, and it would change the process of immigration. Steps were taken to deal with the situation at hand and to utilize the incoming rail as best as possible under the direction of local Schools of the Prophets (groups acting as local organizations for priesthood leaders to discuss community issues along with theology and church government) and the Relief Society (the women’s organization for the Saints). As a result of the planning and preparations, the Church was able to survive the changes and support self-sufficiency through cooperatives and boycotts. The coming of the rail, however, did mark a watershed moment in Mormon history and brought the predicted changes to Utah (Arrington, 1958, pp. 240-245).
6: Unity and Cooperation. Unity was an important factor in the Zion of the Enoch text: “the Lord called his people Zion because they were of one heart and one mind, and dwelt in righteousness” (Moses 7:18). In order for the Zion to succeed, unity and cooperative effort was absolutely necessary, as often became apparent in their absence. The symbol of a beehive was chosen for Utah, in part, due to the exemplary industry and cooperation of those insects. Every man’s labor was expected to be subject to the call of the Church authorities for tasks deemed necessary for the growth of the kingdom. Their willingness to respond provided the means for the extensive economic planning and colonization that took place.
Often—especially for the more difficult tasks—the call given by the Church came in the form of an economic mission. Usually, members were called with little or no warning at a general conference and asked to settle a new region or develop a certain resource. They were expected to leave soon after the call was extended and remain until given an official release. These missions were given equal weight and honor as the proselyting mission calls and were to be attended with the same degree of fervor and persistence. In this way, the performance of economic activity under Church direction was given a spiritual side, pushing these pioneers through tasks that would have been quickly given up otherwise.
Typical of the spirit of these Saints was my relative, John Pulsipher’s reaction to being called to settle in Southern Utah:
October, 1861. At an evening meeting in the City, I was informed by Bro. George A. Smith that I was selected for a missionary to the south, on what was known as the cotton mission. This news was very unexpected to me. Volunteers were called for at conference to go on this mission, but I did not think it meant me, for I had a good home, was well satisfied and had plenty to do. But when Apostle Geo. A. Smith told me I was selected to go I saw the importance of the mission to sustain Israel in the mountains — we had need of a possession in a warmer climate, and I thot I might as well go as anybody. Then the Spirit came upon me so that I felt to thank the Lord that 1was worthy to go (Brooks, 1961, p. 207).
7: Equality. Alongside of unity and cooperation, equality among the Saints was given as a divine mandate from an early date: “If ye are not equal in earthly things, ye cannot be equal in heavenly things (D&C ).” This belief led to justice in distribution of resources. It was found in the policies of immigration, construction of public works, the allotment of land and water rights, and the cooperative stores and industries that would eventually be found in communities throughout the territory. These seven basic ideas served as the governing principle for the early Saints seeking to build the Kingdom of God in the west (see Arrington, 1958, pp. 22-27).
While it is easy to focus on the more outward, physical side of attempting to create Zion in Utah, the pioneers had a great spiritual focus that underpinned the efforts they made. Brigham Young taught that, “We have been gathered… for the express purpose of purifying ourselves, that we may become polished stones in the temple of God (Young, 1997, p. 112).” He also stated that, “We have faith, we live by faith; we came to these mountains by faith (Young, 1997, p. 106).” Indeed, it was that faith—faith that they were doing the work of God, directed by a true prophet of God—which what allowed them to settle in and survive a desert in a coordinated manner. Not everyone stayed faithful, but considering what these early Saints went through, a surprising amount remained steadfast in their beliefs.
Often, this spiritual side of things was meshed together with the physical. President Young was known to affirm this on several occasions, teaching that, “With God… there is no difference in spiritual and temporal labors—all are one. If I am in the line of my duty, I am doing the will of God, whether I am preaching; praying, laboring with my hands for an honorable support; whether I am in the field, mechanic’s shop or following mercantile business, or wherever duty calls…. Anything that pertains to the building up of the Lord’s kingdom on earth… we have been taught to consider a spiritual work (Young, 1997, p. 22).” The economic missions mentioned above are a supreme example of this principle, which the early saints regarded as “the spiritualization of temporal activity” rather than the “materialization of the religion (Arrington, 1958, p. 33).”
One aspect of the spiritual side to Zion was a preparation for the Second Coming of Christ. Brigham Young once stated that, “The purpose of our life should be to build up the Zion of our God… and prepare a people to meet the Lord when he comes (Young, 1997, p. 111).” In the time of Joseph Smith, the imminence of the millennium in the Mormon mindset was a driving factor for the establishment of a utopian Zion. Likewise, in the pioneer era, leaders of the Church were eagerly anticipating the apocalypse in the near future as they directed the construction of the Kingdom of God on earth. For example:
During the Civil War the church had viewed the conflict as a prelude to the apocalypse. Professing loyalty to the United States and declining to follow the southern states out of the union, church leaders nevertheless expected the war to usher in the winding-up scenes prior to the Second Coming, and they urged the Saints to flee to Zion for refuge (Alexander, 1991, p. 320).
The apocalyptic feelings associated with the war and other millennial preaching created more impetus for a gathering to Zion, pushing the Saints to purify themselves to meet the Lord.
Joseph had engrained the idea that the center place of Zion would be built in Jackson County, and even as the Saints worked to built up Zion in the west—waiting for the Lord’s coming—they looked back to their promised land in Missouri. A theologian of the time wrote:
The plan of building up Zion has not yet been consummated. The saints were not permitted to enter into immediate possession of the land, which was promised them as an everlasting inheritance…. In the meantime the honest in heart are gathering to the valleys of the Rocky Mountains…. But Zion shall yet be established on the chosen site (Talmage, 1967, p. 353).
While working in their interim Zion, the Saints patiently waited and prepared for the time of their promised return to Missouri. After all, “[The Savior] will never come until his Saints have built up Zion, and have fulfilled the revelations which have been spoken concerning it” (Woodruff, 1969, p. 253). Little did they know that they would be waiting longer than they knew to return to build their city of Zion.
The United Order of Enoch
Among the legacies of attempting to create Zion in Missouri is the Law of Consecration—an economic order based on the idea of giving all that one possessed to the Church and letting their leaders allot the pooled resources according to the wants and needs of the Saints. This system was abandoned by the 1840s, but was still held up as the ideal. Then, the 1873 economic panic hit the nation hard. Mines shut down, business slowed and banks closed in Utah, causing the Saints to feel that they were too closely tied to the economy of the rest of the US. This became an excuse for Brigham Young to attempt implementing a form of the law of consecration in Utah, referring to it as the United Order of Enoch in reference to the city of Zion in Mormon scripture that gave inspiration to Joseph Smith.
Brigham City, under the direction of Elder Lorenzo Snow, had a cooperative economic venture in place that allowed the city to be unaffected by the 1873 Panic. Inspired by this effective example of a cooperative effort and seeking to deal with the problematic economics of the time, the general authorities were sent out to establish United Orders in the stakes of Zion. Starting in St. George and moving north, they taught about and set up these economic ventures all across Utah.
In the end, four general types of orders emerged:
1) St. George-style Orders: The first order established under Church direction was in St. George. The local residents pledged their time, energy, ability, and income-producing property to the order and became subject to the direction of an elected board of management. They pledged to boost local manufacturing, stop importing goods, and trade only with members of the order while also agreeing to live according to a long list of Christian rules. Local members of the order were paid according to the labor and property they contributed to the economic venture. Many of the approximately 150 United Orders established in the 1870s followed this model. Most of this type of orders dissolved within the year as problems arose regarding fair distribution of benefits, causing members of the community to feel that they weren’t ready to live the plan.
2) Brigham City-style Orders: This plan, based off of the system that worked so well in Brigham City, did not require members to consecrate all their economic property and labor to the order, but emphasized community ownership and operation of particular enterprises. In Brigham City, some forty collective departments developed under the cooperative order producing items such as brooms, hats molasses, furniture and running a general store, a tannery, a woolen mill and several farming operations. Local stockholders representing almost every family in the community owned the organization and the profits from its activity were paid to shareholders in kind rather than cash. A few other communities, such as Hyrum, Utah and Paris, Idaho followed this model. Most of these orders lasted into the 1880s. Brigham City’s efforts, for example, broke down in 1885 due to natural disasters, economic restrictions by federal officials, and the fact that their leader was imprisoned for polygamy.
3) Salt Lake City-style Orders: This style of orders was designed for the larger cities, such as Salt Lake, Logan, Provo, and Ogden. It was essentially an adaptation of the Brigham City model, with individual wards within the cities running cooperative enterprises rather than the community as a whole. For example, in Logan, the First Ward built a foundry and machine shop, while the Second Ward organized a woodworking shop, and the Third Ward managed a dairy. Like the Brigham City type, most of these co-ops lasted until the mid-1880s, when government raids and other problems caused a breakdown in the system.
4) Orderville-style Orders: Perhaps the most interesting and utopian of United Order styles were those that operated like Orderville, Utah. Most were small communities, with populations ranging from 50 to 700 in size. These were the ultimate in economic cooperation: settlers retained no private property at all, shared equally in the community’s production, and lived and ate together as a well-regulated family. All members of the community were required take part. These were relatively successful, though problems of expanding size, burdens on more generous members of the community, disagreements over the distribution of goods, and restless youth combined to cause problems in Orderville. With the anti-polygamy campaigns driving local leaders underground in the 1880s, the Church finally recommended the Saints dissolve the order (see Allen & Leonard, 1992, pp. 367-371).
To Apostle Orson Pratt, these efforts signaled the nearness of the Millennium and the beginning of preparations to return to build Zion in Jackson County. Yet, for some other leaders, it served as a means of self-preservation in face of an economic panic. Not surprisingly, when things began to improve, many of the orders were abandoned (England, 1985, pp. 255-258). As indicated, the orders that survived both prosperity and human problems were dismantled due to the government anti-polygamy raids and other economic restrictions government action caused. Yet, for a while, the Saints were able to attempt to create organizations representing their vision of the utopian order of Enoch’s Zion.
Often, the federal government acted against the Saints as they worked to create their Great Basin Kingdom of Zion. Ten years after their arrival, an army was sent to respond to allegations of rebellion against the federal government, resulting in federal troops being stationed at Camp Floyd until the outbreak of the Civil War. Also, a distinctive practice of the Mormons during this time was polygamy. This was labeled as a relic of barbarianism by mainstream Victorian-era society and became a focal point of the “Mormon Question” in U.S. politics. After the conclusion of the Civil War, the federal government passed a series of Anti-polygamy bills that would come to threaten the very existence of the Church. Eventually, this led to changes in Mormon culture and religion that affected their idea of Zion.
Up to that point, however, the pioneer era saw the Saints strive to create Zion by settling the Great Basin region while they waited to return to Jackson County, Missouri. The communities they settled strove to follow the religious ideals of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young and were largely populated by converts gathered from America and Europe fleeing “Babylon” to come to “Zion.”
Come to Zion, come to Zion,
And within her walls rejoice….
Come to Zion, Come to Zion!
Zion’s walls shall ring with praise
(Hymns, 1985, 7).
(1985). Hymns of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Alexander, T. G. (1991). Things in heaven and Earth, the life and times of Wilford Woodruff, a Mormon prophet. Salt Lake City: Signature Books.
Allen, J. B., & Leonard, G. M. (1992). The Story of the Latter-day Saints (2nd ed.). Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company.
Arrington, L. J. (1958). Great basin kingdom: An economic history of the Latter-Day Saints 1830-1900. Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press.
Brooks, J. (1961). “The Cotton Mission.” Utah Historical Quarterly, 29(3), pp. 201-221.
Buerger, D. J. (1987). “The Development of the Mormon Temple Endowment Ceremony.” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, 20 (Winter 1987), 33-76.
England, B. (1985). The Life and Thought of Orson Pratt. Salt Lake City, UT: University of Utah Press.
Fife, A. & Fife, A. (1956). Saints of the Sage and Saddle: Folklore Among the Mormons. Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Press.
Jackson, R. H. (1977). “The Mormon Village: Genesis and Antecedents of the City of Zion Plan.” BYU Studies.
Smith, G. A. (1856) “Discourse by George Albert Smith, April 6, 1856.” Journal of Discourses. George D. Watt, G. D., et al (Ed.). 26 vol. Liverpool: F. D. Richards, et al., 1854-1886. 19:151-161.
Talmage, J. E. (1967). A study of the Articles of Faith (42nd ed.). Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Company.
Woodruff, W. (1969). The Discourses of Wilford Woodruff. Durham, G. W. (Ed.). Salt Lake City, UT: Bookcraft Inc.
Young, B., (1997). Teachings of the Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Ed.). Salt Lake City, UT: Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
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