Old This is the Place Monument

Write up by: Kauriana Kendall

Placed by: Mutual Improvement Association of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

GPS coordinates: 40.75319429362746, -111.81347150355577

Historical marker text (1):

THIS IS THE PLACE

BRIGHAM YOUNG

JULY 24 1847

Historical marker text (2):

THIS IS THE PLACE: A Rededication

In commemoration of a most significant historical event, this monument was first dedicated July 25, 1921. It marked the arrival in this valley of the Mormon Pioneers 74 years earlier, and more specifically, the moment when President Brigham Young rose from his sick-bed in Wilford Woodruff’s carriage and proclaimed to all the world: “This is the Place.”

Even in 1921, there was much disputation as to the exact location of the noted event. This monument was located here as the definitive answer as to where the event occurred. This answer came primarily from two speakers, very different in their presentations, but equally convincing in their conclusion.

The first speaker was 83-year-old W.W. Riter. As a lad of 9 years, he and his parents had followed Brigham Young to this valley. W.W. Riter was the living authority for the correct placing of the monument. In his early years, Wilford Woodruff had taken him to the spot and stated that this is exactly where Brigham Young had uttered those important words.

The second speaker was Brigham H. Roberts, aged 64, a prolific historian, theologian, congressman, eminent scholar, and a member of the Quorum of the Seventy. He said, “There has been much discussion as to whether this particular spot just outside the mouth of Emigration Canyon was really the place.” Then, quoting often from the journal of Wilford Woodruff, Mr. Roberts proved conclusively that there can be no doubt that the spot now marked by this concrete monument is very near to the actual place. In fact, speaking of the question, he remarked: “Seventy four years ago yesterday an incident occurred on or near the spot where we now stand that is destined to live in the memory of men through the ages to come.”

The above comments have been taken substantially from three articles published in the Salt Lake Tribune and three in the Desert News of the period. The comments came before and after the event.

The project of refurbishing the monument jointly undertaken by the Mills Chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers and Zachary Mahoney, a Scout who used his skill and wisdom to make his Eagle Project not only memorable but lasting.

Site No. 129

July 21, 2007

Rededicated by Elder Boyd K. Packer

Historical marker text (3):

THIS IS THE PLACE MONUMENTS

The first marker to commemorate the arrival of the Mormon pioneers into the Salt Lake Valley was a wooden cross. The eight foot post carried the name “Brigham Young.” The crosspiece said “This is the place.” In 1921, the wooden cross was replaced with the obelisk monument. This spot is where Brigham Young, in viewing the valley, made the statement, “This is the right place. Drive on.”

Extended research:

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was a relatively new religious movement in 1847, but the persecution its members faced up to that point was great. They were driven out of three states, faced an extermination order in one, and had received little support from local and federal governments. Their first leader, Joseph Smith, was murdered, and the process of setting up new leadership led to major dissension within the Church. The new leader, Brigham Young, initiated an effort to move his followers outside of America (to what would later be known as Utah) to avoid more persecution and government restrictions on their worship. Starting in 1846, members of the Church began making the trek west in wagon companies and, later, some handcart companies.

Brigham Young and his wagon company arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24 1847, where Young probably said something along the lines of, “this is the right place. Drive on.” According to his journal, at the top of Big Mountain, Brigham Young saw “the Spirit of Light…over the valley” and knew this was the spot the settlers were looking for. However, he made no note of the phrase “this is the place.”[1] Historians have debated whether Young actually said these words that became a monument and the name of a state park. Despite the certainty implied by the “This is the Place” monuments, there is no documentation of exactly what Brigham Young said that day. Pioneer Levi Jackman’s journal is perhaps as close as historians will get to Young’s actual words that day. Four days after Young’s arrival, Jackman paraphrased Brigham Young during a meeting called in order to decide “whear the city should be built.” As Jackman recorded it, “After a number had spoken on the subject a voat was calld for unanimosiley aggread that this was the spot. After that Pres Young said tha he knew that this is the place. he knew it as soon as he came in sight of it and he has seen this vearey spot before.”[2]

Wilford Woodruff, whose wagon the ill Young was riding in, made no comment on the words of his leader the day they entered the Salt Lake Valley; however, he is the one who eventually said the famous phrase during a Pioneer Day speech given in 1880—thirty-three years after the arrival of the wagon company and three years after Brigham Young’s death—that is so often repeated today. Here, Woodruff attributed to Young the words “This is the right place. Drive on.” Then, in 1888, Woodruff repeated the story, but quoted Young as saying “Drive on down into the valley; this is our abiding place.” Finally, in 1897, Woodruff told the story in another speech, this time quoting “That will do, drive on; this is the place.”[3] Clearly, there is no way to know exactly what Young said that day, but the catchy line written on the monument and advertised by the This is the Place Heritage Park continues to evoke feelings of pride from Utahns, especially every July 24th when Pioneer Day celebrations rival those of the Fourth of July.

Also despite the certainty of the text contained in the old monument’s longest plaque, historians do not all agree that the cement obelisk actually stands on the spot where Brigham Young looked out over the valley and declared that they had found the right place to settle. Historian W. Randall Dixon provides a description of the trails taken by the various groups of pioneers based on several journal entries. He explains that the Mormon Battalion took a vastly different route than Brigham Young’s wagon company into the Salt Lake Valley when they arrived five days later on July 29. Since this was the most direct trail to Emigration Road, where emigrants finally ended their trek and camped until finding a home, it is likely the one most of the later wagon companies used. Dixon concludes that “Most of the newcomers probably assumed that their trail was that which had been followed by their predecessors on July 22 and July 24. This may explain some of the later confusion on the matter of trails.”[4] W.W. Riter, named on the plaque as the “living authority for the correct placing of the monument,” was one such case, arriving in the valley 10 weeks after Brigham Young, according to his speech at the dedication of the monument. In this speech, he refuted claims that the first pioneers climbed over a hogback, but does not give any possible explanation for the “steep pitch” both Howard Egan and Heber C. Kimball, members of Young’s wagon company, mentioned ascending. Riter also claimed that he “crossed this same spot,”[5] meaning the location of the cement monument, probably not realizing that he would not have followed the same trail as Young, since a shorter, better blazed trail had been carved out for him by then. Therefore, even if he did cross that spot, it does nothing to prove that Young ever did.

Brigham H. Roberts, the second witness to the correct location listed on the monument plaque, is quoted a little misleadingly. In the speech he gave at the dedication of the old monument, he does in fact say that “an incident occurred on or near the spot where we now stand,” and he did quote Wilford Woodruff extensively, as the plaque says. However, his quote that “There has been much discussion as to whether this particular spot just outside the mouth of Emigration Canyon was really the place” is not from the same speech as the plaque suggests. In the dedication speech, Roberts was not at all concerned with the correct placement of the monument, but rather focused on the emotional aspects of the pioneers’ journey across the country and the mission of the saints in the valley.[6] Records such as the old This is the Place monument plaques and even the official history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints published by the Church which present the location and words of Brigham Young on that historic day as certain facts show that many people, including historians, have accepted half-explained truths and uncertain quotes in order to keep alive the idealized image of Brigham Young rising from his sick bed to announce “this is the right place; drive on.” The truth is that we do not know the exact spot where Young first saw the valley, nor do we know the words he said when he saw it. There are several other testimonies that suggest that the Old This is the Place Monument is placed accurately to the north of Emigration Creek, and there are many other historians who are certain Woodruff’s wagon stopped to the south of the same creek. While we can assume that the famous event took place somewhere around the mouth of Emigration Canyon, we must accept that the This is the Place monuments are more about commemorating a day of new beginning rather than giving us a perfect historical record that does not exist.

Though the arrival of the pioneers who were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Salt Lake Valley was important for a people trying to leave a country where they had faced persecution at every turn, they themselves then became the persecutors and the beginning of an end for the Native Americans inhabiting the same land. Brigham Young, consistent with his personality, wanted to be kind to the Native Americans and convert them to his religion, but was also wary and ready to mete out justice to any he believed deserved it. He said:

They [the Indians] are of the House of Israel, and the time has come for the Lord to favor Zion, and redeem Israel. We are here in the mountains, with these Lamanites for our neighbors, and I hesitate not to say, if this people possessed the faith they ought to have, the Lord Almighty would never suffer any of the sons of Jacob to injure them in the least; no never. But I am suspicious that this people do not possess the faith they should have, therefore I calculate to carry with me proper weapons of defence, that if a man should aim a blow at my person to take away my life, before he is aware, he himself is numbered with the dead.[7]

Even when attempting kindness, the Mormon pioneers inevitably changed the lives of the natives by settling on valuable lands and trying to end the slave trade. Then many white settlers grew tired of kindness, leading to attacks on Native Americans for stealing, which culminated in events like the Walker War and the Black Hawk War. All of these tensions eventually ended to the satisfaction of the settlers: the natives were federally ordered and violently rounded up onto reservations which by 1900 represented four percent of the land native peoples controlled before the Mormons arrived in 1847. In addition, between 1847 and 1900, the natives suffered an estimated 90% population decrease.[8] While the larger “This is the Place Monument,” placed in 1947, does a better job at commemorating more groups of people involved in the history of Utah, the small 1921 obelisk focuses only on the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. While Utahns should be welcome to celebrate their heritage and the hardships their own ancestors endured, we would do well to remember that a home gained for one group meant a home lost for another.

[1] Jeffery Carlstrom and Cynthia Furse, The History of Emigration Canyon: Gateway to Salt Lake Valley (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2003), 32.

[2] Levi Jackman, Levi Jackman Journal, 1847 March-1849 April, microfilm, MS 138, Church History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[3] Jeffrey Carlstrom and Cynthia Furse, The History of Emigration Canyon: Gateway to Salt Lake Valley (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2003), 32-33.

[4] W. Randall Dixon, “From Emigration Canyon to City Creek: Pioneer Trail and Campsites in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847,” Utah Historical Quarterly 65, no. 2 (1997): 163, accessed February 24, 2020, https://issuu.com/utah10/docs/uhq_volume65_1997_number2.

[5] W.W. Riter, “Correct Placing of the Monument, Pioneer View,” Improvement Era 24, no. 11 (1921): 969-973, accessed February 24, 2020, https://archive.org/details/improvementera24011unse/page/962/mode/2up/search/mouth+of+emigration+canyon.

[6] B.H. Roberts, “Monument at Pioneer View,” Improvement Era 24, no. 11 (1921): 963, accessed February 24, 2020, https://archive.org/details/improvementera24011unse/page/962/mode/2up/search/mouth+of+emigration+canyon.

[7] Brigham Young, Journal of Discourses Vol. 1, (Liverpool : F.D. and S.W. Richards, 1854), https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/JournalOfDiscourses3/id/1805.

[8] Forrest S. Cuch, ed., A History of Utah’s American Indians (Salt Lake City: Utah State Division of Indian Affairs/Utah State Division of History, 2003).

For further reference:

Primary Sources:

Jackman, Levi. Levi Jackman journal, 1847 March-1849 April. Microfilm, MS 138. Church History Library.. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah.

Roberts, B.H. “Monument at Pioneer View.” Improvement Era 24, no. 11 (1921): 957-1049. Accessed February 24, 2020. https://archive.org/details/improvementera24011unse/page/962/mode/2up/search/mouth+of+emigration+canyon.

Riter, W.W. “Correct Placing of the Monument, Pioneer View.” Improvement Era 24, no. 11 (1921): 957-1049. Accessed February 24, 2020. https://archive.org/details/improvementera24011unse/page/962/mode/2up/search/mouth+of+emigration+canyon.

Young, Brigham, Journal of Discourses Vol. 1. Liverpool : F.D. and S.W. Richards, 1854. https://contentdm.lib.byu.edu/digital/collection/JournalOfDiscourses3/id/1805.

Secondary Sources:

Carlstrom, Jeffrey and Cynthia Furse, The History of Emigration Canyon: Gateway to Salt Lake Valley. Salt Lake City: Utah State Division of Indian Affairs/Utah State Division of History, 2003.

Cuch, Forrest S., ed. A History of Utah’s American Indians. Utah State University, University Libraries, 2003.

Dixon, W. Randall. “From Emigration Canyon to City Creek: Pioneer Trail and Campsites in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.” Utah Historical Quarterly 65, no. 2 (1997): 100-195. Accessed February 24, 2020. https://issuu.com/utah10/docs/uhq_volume65_1997_number2.

Hales, Scott A., David C. Nielsen, Angela Hallstrom, Dallin T. Morrow, and James Goldberg. Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Edited by Matthew J. Grow, Jed L. Woodworth, Scott A. Hales, and Lisa Olsen Tait. Vol. 2. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2020.

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