Outside the re-creation of the log tabernacle where he was sustained as president of the Church in December 1847, the first successor to the Prophet Joseph Smith, President Brigham Young is now memorialized in bronze along with his two counselors in the First Presidency, Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards.
The 8 1/2-foot statue is the first phase in a planned renovation of the Church historic site of Kanesville in Council Bluffs, Iowa, which will focus the site more sharply on teaching the vital doctrine of succession in the leadership of the Church.
Included in the renovation will be expansion of the existing visitors center to house additional exhibits. Within the log tabernacle reconstruction will be a new diorama.
Located in front of the log structure, the bronze statuary depicts President Young accompanied by his two counselors and looking at a map. The map is intended to symbolize the Church being prepared to move forward with renewed direction after the reorganization of the First Presidency, said Stan Watts, who created the sculpture.
Brother Watts said that for reference he used the earliest photographs he could find of the three men. Thus, President Young is shown without a beard, and President Richards is depicted with hair on his head, as he would have appeared about the time of the sculpture. In later life, Brother Richards was bald and stouter than during the Winter Quarters/Kanesville period of Church history, Brother Watts noted.
Historic Kanesville is located on the Iowa border across the Missouri River to the east from Winter Quarters, which is in present-day Omaha, Neb., where the pioneer exiles from Nauvoo, Ill., camped en route to the Salt Lake Valley. Acting in his authority as president of the Quorum of the Twelve, President Young led the Church westward, with the advance company reaching the valley on July 22, 1847. President Young then journeyed back to the main body of the Church at the Missouri River, which, by this time, had moved back across the river and established the Kanesville settlement.
It was here that the nine members of the quorum who were present met in council at the home of Elder Orson Hyde on Dec. 5 to discuss the matter of reorganizing the First Presidency. After a somewhat rancorous discussion, President Young voiced his feeling that the Church could not long survive in its present state, but with the First Presidency reorganized, it could move forward with priesthood power. A spirit of peace and calm settled over the body, and Elder Hyde moved that President Young be sustained as prophet, seer and revelator. The quorum voted unanimously to sustain the motion.
Over a two-week period, the log tabernacle was hastily constructed for a conference of the Church, at which the new First Presidency was sustained by the general membership of the Church on Dec. 27, 1847.
In the 1990s, a citizens group under the leadership of Monte Nelson undertook construction of a replica of the tabernacle. It was dedicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley on July 13, 1996. Later, ownership of the tabernacle replica and an adjacent gift shop now used as the visitors center was conveyed to the Church.
By donating funds, Brother Nelson is working with the Church's Family and Church History and Missionary departments to renovate the historic site.
Mark Lusvardi of the Church's Exhibits Division said the renovations will be undertaken during winter months with completion anticipated for the spring. He said the visitors center will contain a topographical model of early Kanesville featuring important locations at the time the Latter-day Saints were living in the area. Other historical exhibits will highlight what was in Kanesville at the time. An existing exhibit on the Mormon Battalion will be improved. The battalion members were mustered into the United States Army at Council Bluffs in July 1846.
A theater in the building will be enlarged, and a new audiovisual presentation on succession in the presidency is being developed to be shown there, Brother Lusvardi said.
The diorama in the log tabernacle will use mannequins and art to tell the story of the restoration of the gospel and the succession in the presidency.
The Kanesville/Winter Quarters area is rich in Church history. At Winter Quarters is the Mormon Trail Center near the two-year-old Winter Quarters Nebraska Temple, which is adjacent to a cemetery containing the remains of many Latter-day Saint pioneers.