"In all of our historical recounting of the what, we must never forget the why," Elder John K. Carmack of the Seventy said Sept. 26.
Giving the opening address during a sesquicentennial symposium at BYU titled, "They Gathered to Zion," Elder Carmack summarized the experiences of Brigham Young and Samuel Brannan. "Why each did what he did," he said, ". . . explains the success of Brigham Young in Utah and it explains the fragmentation of Samuel Brannan's efforts in California."Samuel Brannan followed the self-centered instincts that ultimately brought him down as a Church leader and got the California colony off to a bad start," continued Elder Carmack. "Brannan was ambitious, capable and energetic. But his spirituality and leadership talent were shallow.
"In stark contrast to Brannan's activities we find Brigham Young tirelessly and effectively leading the Church. If Brannan was inexperienced and ineffective, Brigham Young was highly experienced and had been tested as if by fire.
"Whereas Brannan saw himself as a successful and rich entrepreneur - California's first millionaire, the founder of communities, newspapers, a school, saw mills, commercial establishments, and farms - [Brigham] Young saw his duty as that of finding a place which God had prepared, far away in the West, where none could hurt or make afraid. He saw that if he was successful, the Saints would be blessed."
Elder Carmack's opening address was followed by other presentations from numerous Church history scholars on topics such as the exodus from Nauvoo, crossing America, the overlooked non-disaster handcart companies, real people, and trail life.
The symposium was co-sponsored by the Smith Institute for Church History, BYU Religious Education, the BYU Department of Church History and Doctrine, the BYU History Department, Charles Redd Center for Western Studies, Mormon History Association, and the BYU College of Family, Home and Social Sciences.
Elder Carmack began his address by explaining that Brigham Young and Samuel Brannan met on the banks of the Green River June 30, 1847.
Brigham Young was leading the vanguard company toward the Salt Lake Valley. Samuel Brannan, then a new and untried Church leader who had led the Saints on the ship Brooklyn from New York around Cape Horn to California, was certain the Church would prosper on the beautiful and temperate western coast.
Elder Carmack explained that when the Brooklyn first landed in California its passengers more than doubled the population of Yerba Buena, now San Francisco. Although Brigham Young did not want to move the entire body of the Church to California, he also did not wish to "depopulate California of all the Saints" and supported early settlements there.
"As we look back on that charming scene, we think of what might have been had their leader been a stalwart Church leader, seasoned and ready to establish the Church," Elder Carmack said, noting that the Church did not initially prosper in California. "Perhaps it was not meant to be at that time."
Elder Carmack said the Church's early failures in California "can be explained, in part, by the nature of the First Elder of the colony (Samuel Brannan) in contrast to Brigham Young, the leader of the Church and the company that entered the Salt Lake Valley."
Elder Carmack said that Samuel Brannan was neglectful of his Church responsibilities. "Either he didn't understand the gospel or didn't want to be bound by it."
In time, many Brooklyn Saints joined the main body of the Church in Salt Lake City. Those remaining dissembled and scattered, for the most part, going the way of the world, said Elder Carmack. "The branch of the Church in California, like a candle, flickered and eventually died."
Elder Carmack compared the Brooklyn colony in California to the Zenos allegory quoted by Jacob in the Book of Mormon. Zenos made an elaborate allegory of the tame and wild olive trees, representing the conditions in Israel.
Some of the tame olive trees, representing faithful Israel, became wild and did not bear good fruit. Grafting in new branches did little to reverse the disappointing change in the trees.
"The [early] California branch of the Church, like the wild branches described in Jacob, soon overcame the tame branches on the tree which the master of the vineyard had planted with so much promise," said Elder Carmack.
Like the master's servant in the allegory, he continued, a succession of Church leaders tried to reclaim the wild olive trees in California: Charles C. Rich, Parley P. Pratt (who disfellowshipped Brannan), Amasa Lyman and George Q. Cannon. They had some success, but September 1857, Brigham Young ordered the California Saints home to the Salt Lake Valley - ending the effort to establish the Church there.
Elder Carmack said it was not the gold and easier opportunities of California that brought the early Church settlements down, but it was more the unclear signal of leaders like Brannan that caused so many to wander in strange paths.
"What went right in Utah was the result of leadership - the prophetic leadership of a practical and inspired man." The Saints, he continued, needed a prophet with unshakable faith, focus and vision. He planted a tame olive tree in Utah.
"Many decades later laborers would go back to California. When they returned they went with ordinary motivations to seek work and opportunities to grow, raise families, and build a solid Church. . . . A tame branch was grafted into the wild olive tree and soon the good roots of California bore fruit."