In biting, merciless cold, Church members and others Feb. 3-4 remembered the exodus of Brigham Young and his followers from the city they had built on the banks of the Mississippi River.
It was 150 years ago Feb. 4 that the exodus began, with Charles Shumway driving the first wagon to be ferried across the river. A few weeks later the river froze and the wagons could be driven over the ice.Record-cold gripped the area during the commemorative weekend, with the temperature plunging to 12 F below zero during a Saturday afternoon meeting at the ferry landing site on the river. Bill Price, a public affairs missionary appointed with his wife Sidney to organize the commemoration, estimated the wind-chill factor to have been about 50 F degrees below zero.
"It took that cold weather for us to really appreciate what happened 150 years ago," reflected Elder Hugh W. Pinnock of the Seventy at the Nauvoo Ward sacrament meeting Sunday regarding the Saturday meeting at the riverfront.
Others echoed the sentiment, including Pres. G. Richard Oscarson of the St. Louis Missouri Stake and his wife, Linda. Both had ancestors among the Nauvoo Saints.
In an interview, he recounted the incident of his ancestor, Newell Knight, telling his wife Lydia that the Saints may have to move again, to which she responded: "Well, there's nothing to discuss. Our place is with the Kingdom of God. Let us at once set about making preparations to leave."
Sister Oscarson mentioned her Nauvoo ancestors James Lake Jr. and his wife, Philomela, who crossed the river in February 1846. He had lost one leg in an accident before he joined the Church.
"They never complained," she said. "But I wonder how much we really appreciated them until Saturday when we all stood there freezing in our warm clothing and boots and wool socks and wondered what in the world they did. That they even survived five minutes seems a miracle to me."
Wrote Brigham Young: "The fact is worthy of remembrance that several thousand persons left their homes in midwinter and exposed themselves without shelter, except that afforded by a scanty supply of tents and wagon covers, to a cold which effectually made an ice bridge over the Mississippi river which at Nauvoo is more than a mile broad. (History of the Church, p. 603.) About a thousand did remember Feb. 3 as they trekked down Parley Street to the ferry landing where they huddled inside a tent warmed with space heaters for a program of music and speeches.
"President Gordon B. Hinckley sends his love and best wishes to each of you," said Elder Pinnock, first counselor in the North America Central Area presidency. "He asked if we would let each of you know . . . how much he wishes he could be sitting here with us."
Noting that this month there will be more Church members outside the United States than within, Elder Pinnock said: "Brigham Young and those loyal followers of a sesquicentennial ago were searching for peace and a place to raise their children. . . . As those pioneers fought for the physical lives 150 years ago, we have been called upon today to fight a different battle, for our moral lives."
Brigham Young led the pioneers to peace and freedom then; Gordon B. Hinckley leads Church members in a battle against the problems of a decaying society, he said.
Susan Easton Black, associate dean of honors at BYU and a Church history scholar, talked of the beautiful city the Saints had built knowing that they would not remain, building a temple as a memorial to their deceased prophet.
"Why would these people build up a city when they were going to exit and they knew that Brigham Young and Joseph Smith years before had also known that?" she asked. "The answer is because they were following a prophet of God."
Gaylen S. Young Jr., a descendant of Brigham Young and Lorenzo Snow, recalled a prophecy by President Young that if the Saints would be faithful to their covenants God would shower down blessings on them so they could make the trek.
Illinois State Sen. Laura Kent Donahue said she thought from previous visits to Nauvoo she knew what the Church was all about. "But until today I hadn't a clue," she said expressing appreciation for the hardship the Saints endured.
William Pitt's brass band, a recreation of a musical aggregation that was among the Saints during the trek, provided music for the meeting and other occasions. Also performing was a choir composed of BYU students attending a semester in Nauvoo, missionaries and Nauvoo stake members.
Horses, wagons and a campfire at the riverfront lent atmosphere for those who braved the cold for a while to gaze across the river and reflect.
Later, Dr. Loren N. Horton, Iowa's senior historian, shared journal and diary accounts of the trek by several Saints who experienced it. Sunday, Elder Pinnock addressed the Nauvoo Ward sacrament meeting and an afternoon fireside that commemorated the exodus.
"President Young delayed his own crossing of the Mississippi until all who desired and were deemed worthy could receive their endowments," he noted. He pleaded with Church members to think deeply about the importance of their own temple attendance.
Dr. Milton V. Backman, BYU professor of Church history, spoke on the temple ordinances revealed in Nauvoo through Joseph Smith and carried out by Brigham Young.