It took Brigham Young’s vanguard company about three months and one week to make the thousand-mile journey from Winter Quarters, Nebraska, to the Salt Lake Valley.
On the morning of July 24, 1847, Wilford Woodruff drove his carriage several miles down a deep ravine with a weak and feverish Brigham in the back until a view of the valley opened before them.
After studying the area for several minutes, the church leader spoke his famous words: “It is enough. This is the right place. Drive on.”
Over the next two decades, 60,000 to 70,000 Latter-day Saints traveled overland and settled throughout Utah and the Western United States.
This year marks the 175th anniversary of the pioneers’ arrival in the Salt Lake Valley.
It’s an occasion everyone can celebrate, whether you have a pioneer ancestor or not, President M. Russell Ballard, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said in 2020.
“Not everybody is a descendant of a pioneer that made their way across the Plains in the valley,” President Ballard said. “But all of us have forefathers, and regardless of our nation, culture and where we come from … we all have pioneer heritage.”
Elder Ulisses Soares, also of the Quorum of the Twelve, shared a similar sentiment on the same occasion.
“Every member of this church is a pioneer,” Elder Soares said. “No matter if they’re here in the United States or in Brazil or in Asia or Africa. ... Each new convert is a pioneer because he’s paving the way for their future.”
The Deseret News spoke with some historians to find stories that reflect on both those of the trail and some of the faith’s global pioneers in timing with the 175th anniversary of Pioneer Day.
‘Our hearts leap for joy’
The account of Louisa Barnes Pratt demonstrates remarkable faith, courage and resolve, said Patrick Mason, an author, historian and the Leonard J. Arrington chair of Mormon history and culture at Utah State University.
“I love the stories of ‘ordinary’ people doing extraordinary things, motivated and powered by their faith,” Mason said.
In 1843, Louisa’s husband, Addison, was called on a mission to Tahiti, leaving her alone with their four daughters, ages 5 to 14. When the Saints left Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1846, Louisa managed to prepare a wagon team and joined the mass exodus.
Louisa was sick when she arrived in Winter Quarters, Nebraska, and remained sick for most of the year and a half her family stayed there. She paid $5 for a “sod cave” to live in, with only a blanket for a door. A neighbor’s cow kept knocking down their chimney, so the family was forced to move into a “dugout” that was 5 feet underground. Louisa suffered from malnutrition and scurvy because of the cold, damp conditions, which led to the loss of her front teeth.
The Pratts’ situation was so pitiful that when a camp leader visited, all he could do was sit down and weep. Other women in camp ministered to Louisa. She records in her autobiography that at her lower point, a number of women “assembled at my tent, prayed, anointed me with oil, and laid their hands upon me.”
Louisa joined a train of 600 wagons on Brigham Young’s return trip to Salt Lake Valley in 1848. They “traveled hundreds of miles without seeing a single tree,” she wrote, so when they finally saw a cedar tree far off the trail, some of them walked to it for the simple pleasure of standing in the shade for a few moments.
When they arrived in Salt Lake Valley on Aug. 20, she wrote, “Our hearts leap for joy!”
Addison rejoined his family in Utah, only to be called shortly thereafter to a second mission in Tahiti. Louisa and the girls followed behind, but couldn’t figure out which island he was on, so Louisa spent 19 months on the small island of Tubuai teaching English, math, health and sanitation, handicrafts, music and the gospel.
“I share the sentiment that Western writer Wallace Stegner said about what inspired him about the Mormon pioneers: ‘Especially their women. Their women were incredible,’” Mason said.
Pioneers in Denmark
In 1843, young sailor Hans Hansen read the Book of Mormon, met Joseph Smith and joined the church. He wrote home to his family in Copenhagen, Denmark, about his experience.
His younger brother, Peter O. Hansen, believed his brother’s account. He told his sister and stepmother he would journey to America, translate the Book of Mormon and return to preach to them.
Peter joined the church in Boston and later became a night guard at the Nauvoo Temple, where he began working on a translation of the Book of Mormon in Danish.
A few years later in 1849, Peter Hansen was called to accompany Elder Erastus Snow of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to open a mission in Scandinavia. His manuscript eventually became the first complete foreign language edition of the Book of Mormon. Hansen also fulfilled his promise to teach his family the gospel.
As with Hansen, some of the best international pioneer stories involve Latter-day Saints bringing the gospel to their homelands, said Ryan W. Saltzgiver, a global history specialist for the Church History Department.
“What I see is the everyday faith,” Saltzgiver said. “That everyday faith is the thing that motivated them. When the moment required they do something big, they did something big. When they moment required something mundane, they just did the mundane.”
Pioneers in Brazil
The unlikely conversion of German Robert Lippelt in Brazil is an interesting pioneer story, Saltzgiver said.
Lippelt’s wife and children joined the church in Bremen, Germany, but he wasn’t interested. Following World War I, the family decided to immigrate to South America in search of better opportunities. Lippelt picked Brazil because the church was not established there yet.
“Here the Mormons will not find me,” he said.
That didn’t stop his wife, Auguste, from writing to church leaders to request missionaries.
Reinhold Stoof, then the church’s president of the South American Mission, sent missionaries to Brazil. In time, converts were baptized and a branch was organized. Eventually the church reached the community where the Lippelts lived.
Years after his wife’s death, Robert Lippelt suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. His daughter who cared for him intentionally left church literature where he could find it. He eventually read the material and the Book of Mormon. Lippelt said he wanted to be “where his wife is” and requested baptism.
Following his baptism, his paralysis was cured and he walked without assistance.
Pioneers in Mexico
Fernando and Enriqueta Gomez were born in Mexico and now live in Provo.
As part of their Pioneer Day celebration this year, the Gomez family will have a family reunion in Provo to commemorate 100 years of family history in the church. It started with his aunt, Consuelo Gomez, in the 1920s.
“She was the pillar. She became a member and teacher in the small branch,” Fernando Gomez said.
Gomez later served a full-time mission in Sonora, Mexico, in the 1960s, where he and his companion taught and baptized the Obeso family. One member of that family went on to serve as a mission president and temple president, Gomez said.
“The father was a banker and he changed professions just to be able to attend church on Sundays,” Gomez said. “The mother wrote me a letter back in the 1980s. She was very grateful to have had the gospel in their family.”
The Gomez family’s faith has also been strengthened by decades of collecting and preserving more than 100 years of Latter-day Saint history in Mexico. Much of their vast collection was recently donated to Claremont Graduate University, but they still maintain some items at their Museum of Mormon Mexican History in Provo.
“Our objective this July 24 will be to reinforce with the young people the legacy that they hold because of the people that have come before us,” Gomez said.