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‘Tread of unnumbered thousands of feet’

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Speaking at a luncheon in Salt Lake City on July 24, President Thomas S. Monson told an account of statesman Henry Clay traveling by stagecoach from Washington, D.C., to his home in Kentucky. On the way, "he had the stagecoach stop and he got out and he put his ear to the ground," President Monson said.

"What are you listening for?" Henry Clay was asked. "He replied, 'I'm listening for the tread of unnumbered thousands of feet that will pass this way westward.'

"There were thousands of feet that walked along the Mormon Trail; some never made it," said President Monson, first counselor in the First Presidency, during the luncheon in the Joseph Smith Memorial Building in downtown Salt Lake City.

He said that the pioneers were "going westward to the city of Zion, the city of their God."

President Monson was the final speaker during the Days of '47 Luncheon, which is part of the annual Pioneer Day activities in Salt Lake City. He was accompanied by his wife, Frances, who briefly addressed the gathering of some 200. Also attending the event, which included Days of '47 organizers, were Utah Gov. Michael O. Leavitt and U.S. Senators Orrin Hatch and Robert Bennett. Conducting the luncheon program was Barbara B. Smith, former general Relief Society president.

In speaking to the gathering, President Monson tenderly related how his great-grandmother, Margaret Miller, was one of those early Mormon pioneers on the trail west. Journeying from Scotland, he explained, her family "arrived in St. Louis just in time for an outbreak of cholera, that dreaded disease. In the space of 10 days, . . . my great-grandmother lost her mother, lost her father and lost two brothers. There were not enough coffins for any amount of money to bury all the bodies [in St. Louis], so the remaining brothers dismantled the stable they had for the oxen and fashioned caskets and laid four members of the family to rest in St. Louis. My great-grandmother and her siblings, as orphans, with four oxen and one wagon then began the journey to Salt Lake City.

"Such circumstances were not uncommon among those early pioneers. Tombstones of sage and rock marked graves the entire route from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City," President Monson continued. "Today is a day to honor all the pioneers for their courage and sacrifice — both those who arrived in this valley and those who perished before the journey's end."

Continuing, he related how a few years ago he and Sister Monson visited the handcart sites in Wyoming. "Visit Martin's Cove and you will shed a few tears. Stop where the Willie company was marooned and you will shed more.

"This causes us to pause and ask ourselves the questions: 'Would we have made it? Would we have been able to make the trek and endure the hardship and sacrifice? I think we would. Those tear-stained places across the trail to the West will not have been in vain if we do follow their example and become pioneers ourselves."

Referring to the use of the word "do," President Monson quoted from James 1:22: "But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves."

"Let us not only be the pioneers of today, but also let us so serve our fellowmen and our God, that our posterity will look upon our works and perhaps [they] will fit the comment made by John Ruskin, the English essayist: 'Wherefore, when we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight, nor for present use alone; let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think as we lay stone on stone that a time will come when those stones will be held sacred, because our hands have touched them; and men will say, as they look upon the labour and wrought substances of them: See this our fathers did for us.' "

Sister Monson, in her remarks, said: "We have thoroughly enjoyed the parade today and our association with all of you. I'm grateful I am here with you and I thank you for your friendship and your love."

During the Days of '47 luncheon, several Utahns were honored as "Pioneers of Progress," including members Jon and Karen Huntsman for humanitarian service throughout the world, and cancer research; Mary Bee Jensen, who pioneered folk dancing at BYU; and August L. Jung, widely known for advancements at the University of Utah in the treatment of newborns with life-threatening complications. The late President N. Eldon Tanner, former first counselor in the First Presidency, was honored with the posthumous legacy award. Also honored was Rick Majerus, basketball coach at the University of Utah who is known not only for taking the team to a national championship but also for promoting academics among his players.

E-mail: julied@desnews.com