Category Archives: Mormon trail

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.

Donner Hill

Published / by William Root / Leave a Comment

Placed by: LDS 38th North Ward Priests[1]

GPS Coordinates: 40° 45’5.76″N, 111° 48’3.28″W

Historical Marker Text:
Lured by Lansford Hasting’s assurance that his shortcut from the well-known trail to Oregon and California would save 250 miles and weeks of travel, the ill-fated Donner-Reed party reached this place August 23, 1846, after spending 16 days to hack out a 36-mile road through the Wasatch Mountains. Here at this narrow mouth of the canyon, they were stopped by what seemed impenetrable brush and boulders. Bone-weary of that kind of labor, they decided instead to goad the oxen to climb the hill in front of you. Twelve-year-old Virginia Reed, later recalled that nearly every yoke of oxen was required to pull each of the party’s twenty-three wagons up the hill. After this ordeal, the oxen needed rest, but there was no time. The party pushed on to the Salt Flats, where many of the oxen gave out. This caused delays, which led to disaster in the Sierra Mountains.

A year later, July 22, 1847, Brigham Young’s Pioneer Party, following the Donners and benefitting from their labor, reached this spot. William Clayton recorded their decision: “We found the road crossing the creek again to the south and then ascending a very steep, high hill. It is so very steep as to be almost impossible for heavy wagons to ascend…Colonel Markham and another man went over the hill and returned up the canyon to see if a road cannot be cut through and avoid this hill. Brother Markham says a good road can soon be made through the bushes some ten or fifteen rods. A number of men went to work immediately to make the road…After spending about four hours of labor the brethren succeeded in cutting a pretty good road along the creek and the wagons proceeded on.”

Donner Hill looking east towards Emigration Canyon

Among the lesson learned that day was one stated succinctly by Virginia Reed in a letter to prospective emigrants back home: “Hurry along as fast as you can, and never take no shortcuts.”

Extended Research:

In 1846 a wagon party led by George Donner departed Independence, Missouri and began a perilous journey from the United States towards Alta California in Mexico. The wagons were late in reaching the Sierra Nevada mountain range and disaster awaited the 88 members of the Donner Party. Extreme suffering and starvation followed, with 41 members of the group dying and eventually the incident drew national attention over reports that some members of the ill-fated party resorted to cannibalism in order to survive.[2] The Donner Party originally planned to travel to California via Oregon, but real estate speculator Lansford Hastings promoted an alternate route published in his famous Emigrants Guide to Oregon and California in 1845, and the Donner Party opted to try it.³

Hastings was not certain if he should promote the cutoff from Fort Bridger through the Salt Lake Valley and westward following John C. Fremont’s expedition in 1845, but he received support in favor of the cutoff from Fremont and Jim Bridger. Hastings thus advised the Donner-Reed party that they would save some 350-400 miles if they took his “cutoff.” One of his partners, James Clyman, however became convinced that the route was not suited for wagons and therefore tried to dissuade members of Donner-Reed Party from taking the cutoff. Joseph R. Walker, who successfully guided the first wagons over the California Trail by way of Fort Hall, also thought the route an unproven risk.[3]

Other migrant groups, which included the Bryant-Russell Party and Harlan-Young wagons, left Fort Bridger in mid-July 1848, following the Bear River into East Canyon where they passed through Devil’s Gate with difficulty along the Weber River. Hastings subsequently directed a group of German migrants from the Heinrich Lienhard party on a direct route through Echo Canyon into Devil’s Gate, where they caught up with the Harlan-Young party near the Jordan River. The Donner Party departed Fort Bridger two weeks later on July 31 and Hastings talked them out of going via Weber Canyon and Devil’s Gate, instead telling them to blaze a new path over to what would come to be called Emigration Canyon. On August 7, 1846, James Reed began carving a trail for the wagon train, chopping down bushes and trees in the Wasatch Mountains towards the canyon. Reed was joined by the remaining members of the wagon party who continued to hack and dig their way for 35 miles from present-day Henefer, Summit County, to Salt Lake City.²

Emigration Creek along Donner Hill

The Bryant-Russell, Harlan-Young and Lienhard parties would successfully pass through the Sierra Nevada Mountains into California, while the time the Donner Party spent trailblazing in Utah foreshadowed later events. After the three week trek through the Wasatch Mountains, the oxen were already exhausted and their supplies began to run low.

After entering the Salt Lake Valley, the first member of the party died of tuberculosis near the Great Salt Lake. A site near Grantsville, Utah provided temporary relief with underground water springs, their last source of water until reaching the Humboldt River. In the Salt Flats, Reed’s thirsty oxen ran off and were never seen again. Upon reaching Iron Hill, a fight broke out between one of Reed’s teamsters and John Snyder, a driver for the Graves wagon. Reed stabbed Snyder in the chest and was banished by the Donners after Snyder died. Reed thus avoided being pinned down by the early winter storms which trapped the rest of the party. His departure in October towards Sutter’s Fort allowed him to organize a rescue party in Sacramento that arrived in February 1847. Along the Humboldt River a band of Paiute Indians killed 21 of the Donner Party’s oxen and stole another 18, with more than 100 of the party’s cattle now gone. Two Indian guides assisted the Donner Party in reaching the summit of the Sierra Nevada, but turned back with the first sign of snowfall in early November.1

Donner-Reed Party burial remains discovered in the Salt Lake Desert

The delayed timing and trek through the west desert led to the party becoming snowbound in the Sierras. Malnutrition was a common cause of death, and Irish immigrant Patrick Breen wrote in his journal on Christmas Eve that he was living in a “Camp of Death”. 1 Some of the members of the party camped along the banks of Alder Creek and frozen Truckee Lake, now Donner Lake, where most of the cannibalism occurred. The first rescuers arrived at Truckee Lake in February 1847, composed of soldiers from the U.S. Army stationed in California during the U.S.-Mexican War, among them were members of the Mormon Battalion. One week after rescuers arrived, other isolated camp sites were still using the corpses of the dead for food. Breen wrote in his diary on February 26:

Martha’s jaw swelled with the toothache: hungry times in camp; plenty hides, but the folks will not eat them. We eat them with a tolerable good apetite. Thanks be to Almighty God. Amen. Mrs Murphy said here yesterday that [she] thought she would Commence on Milt. & eat him. I don’t [think] that she has done so yet; it is distressing. The Donners, 4 days ago, told the California folks that they[would] commence to eat the dead people if they did not succeed, that day or next, in finding their cattle.1

Patrick Breen’s diary entry describing the routine cannibalism in the encampment

Three additional relief efforts occurred in April in an attempt to find members who had become separated while camping along Truckee Lake. In the last effort they found only one survivor, Louis Keesberg, who was surrounded by half-eaten corpses. As the survivors departed with the rescuers, members of the Mormon Battalion were ordered to bury the dead bodies inside the main cabin on what is today Donner Pass and then set fire to the cabin.[4]

The Donner Party, in essence, blazed the trail into the Salt Lake Valley which Brigham Young and the Mormon Pioneers used the following year. Young left Winter Quarters, Nebraska with his encampment and passed through the mouth of Echo Canyon by mid-July 1847; he then picked up the Donner-Reed trail and followed it into the Salt Lake Valley. Instead of three weeks, it took Young’s party one week, a matter of great importance since it enabled the Mormons to plant wheat and potato crops in time for their first harvest in the fall. In the last quarter-mile, rather than hauling their wagons over Donner Hill, the Mormons decided to hack through the brush and go around Donner Hill. The Mormons emerged four hours later at what is now This is the Place State Park.[5]

For Further Reference:

Primary Sources:

Breen, Patrick. Diary of Patrick Breen of the Donner Party, 1846-7. Berkeley: University  of         California Bancroft Library, 1910.

Secondary Sources:

Campbell, Eugene. “The Mormons and the Donner Party.” BYU Studies Quarterly, Vol. 11 no. 3 (1971).

Miller, David. “The Donner Road through the Great Salt Lake Desert.” Pacific Historical Review, Vol. 27, no. 1 (February 1958): 39-44


[1] Originally installed by “Mormon Explorers” Y.M.M.I.A. In 2010, the original plaque was stolen and re-erected in 2016 by the LDS 38th North Ward High Priests

[2] Campbell, “The Mormons and the Donner Party.”

[3] Miller, “The Donner Road through the Great Salt Lake Desert,” 39-44

1 Breen, 18

1 Breen, 28

[5] Campbell, “The Mormons and the Donner Party.”

Big Mountain

Published / by Grace Fahey / Leave a Comment

-Write up by: Grace Fahey

Placed By: Sons of Utah Pioneers

GPS Coordinates:  N 40° 49.683 W 111° 39.217

Historical Marker Text 1:

“On 19 July 1847, scouts Orson Pratt and John Brown climbed the mountain and became the first Latter-Day Saints to see the Salt Lake Valley. Due to illness, the pioneer camp had divided into three small companies. On 23 July, the last party led by Brigham Young reached the Big Mountain. By this time most of the first companies were already in the valley and planting crops. Mormons were not the first immigrant group to use this route into the Salt Lake Valley. The ill-fated Donner Party blazed the original trail one year earlier. They spent thirteen days cutting the trails from present day Henefer into the valley. That delay proved disastrous later on when the party was caught in a severe winter storm in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Mormons traveled the same distance in only six days. Until 1861, this trail was also the route of California gold seekers, Overland Stage, Pony Express, original telegraph line, and the other Mormon immigrant companies, after which Parley’s Canyon was used. This monument, erected and dedicated 25 August 1984, by South Davis Chapter, Sons of Utah Pioneers, replaces the original plaque erected 23 July 1933, by Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Association and the Vanguard Association of the Salt Lake County, Boy Scouts of America”.

Nearby Markers: Little Mountain

Historical Marker Text 2:

“This is the last summit in the Wasatch Mountains along the pioneer trail. From this point the trail descends northwest until it reaches Emigration Creek. As William Clayton’s emigrants guide warns, “The descent is very steep all the way.”

The Donner Party passed over the summit August 21, 1846 and the Mormons on July 21, 1847.

Salt Lake City Chapter Son of Utah Pioneers

Extended Research:

Big Mountain is a landmark on the Utah section of the Mormon trail. The journey from Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake City, Utah is now known as The Great Mormon Migration[1]. The Mormons embarked on this journey after facing violent religious persecution in both Missouri and Illinois. After their prophet and leader, Joseph Smith was killed in 1844, Brigham Young became the new leader of the main body of Saints and decided to flee persecution and seek a new home in the West.[2] As early as September 1845, Young favored the Salt Lake Valley as a potential new home for his followers.[3]

The Great Basin was attractive to the Mormons because of its isolation. At the time it was still a part of Mexico and largely unsettled. The Great Basin presented an opportunity for the Mormons to escape the religious persecution which they had endured in the United States. Brigham Young liked the idea that it was isolated and not under firm Mexican control, because he hoped no one else would want to settle there. The Mormon migration was thus a journey to escape persecution and find religious freedom.[4]

The Mormon migration began in February of 1846. During the first leg of the journey, Mormons suffered a loss of over 400 people. In response, they decided to stop in Omaha, Nebraska, for the winter. Then, in April 1847, the Mormons continued to the Rocky Mountains. Brigham Young led 142 men, 3 women, 2 children, 72 wagons, and cattle into the Great Basin. The steep, rocky conditions of the last portion of the trail made the migration treacherous.[5] At Fort Bridger, the Mormons took the Donner-Reed trail through the Rocky Mountains and into the Great Basin. The final leg of the trek was the most challenging yet. [6]

After months of climbing steep and rocky terrain, the journey soon came to an end. On 21 July, pioneers Orson Pratt and John Brown saw the Salt Lake Valley for the first time. Orson Pratt was enthusiastic in his assessment:

“After issuing from the mountains among which we had been shut up for many days, and beholding in a moment such an extensive scenery open before us, we could not refrain from a shout of joy which almost involuntarily escaped from our lips the moment this grand and lovely scenery was within our view.”[7]

One day later, after months of hardship and traveling, the advanced party of Mormon pioneers finally looked out over the Great Basin from atop what is now called, Big Mountain. Pioneer Thomas Bullock wrote that they viewed

“the Salt Lake in the distance with its bold hills on its islands towering up in bold relief behind the silvery lake —a very extensive valley burst upon our view, dotted in 3 or 4 places with Timber. I should expect the valley to be about 30 miles long & 20 miles wide. I could not help shouting ‘hurra, hurra, hurra, heres my home at last’—the Sky is very clear, the air delightful & altogether looks glorious; the only drawback appearing to be the absence of timber—but there is an Ocean of Stone in the mountains, to build Stone houses, & Walls for fencing. if we can only find a bed of Coal we can do well; & be hidden up in the Mountains unto the Lord.”[8]

On July 22nd 1847, after a final trek down the canyon, the first emigrant group camped in the Salt Lake Valley.[9]

Brigham Young, sick from Mountain Fever, followed behind and reached Big Mountain the next day. On July 23, his history records,

“I ascended and crossed over the Big Mountain, when on its summit I directed Elder Woodruff, who had kindly tendered me the use of his carriage, to turn the same half way round so that I could have a view of a portion of Salt Lake Valley. The spirit of light rested upon me and hovered over the valley, and I felt that there the Saints would find protection and safety. We descended and encamped at the foot of the Little Mountain.”[10]

Young and his group entered the valley on July 24th and joined the members of the advanced camp who were already plowing the land and planting crops.

Big Mountain is more than just a landmark on the Mormon Trail. Big Mountain marks the first time that the Mormon pioneers witnessed their destination stretched out before them.

Photo of Emigration Canyon from Big Mountain, 2017, by Grace Fahey

[1]Mormon Trail HistoryUtah.com, accessed March 27, 2017.

[2]Brigham Young; 1801-1877” PBS.org; New Perspectives on the West, accessed March 27th, 2017.

[3] Council of Fifty, Minutes, Sep. 9, 1845, in Matthew J. Grow, Ronald K. Esplin, Mark Ashurst-McGee, Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, and Jeffrey D. Mahas, eds., Council of Fifty, Minutes, March 1844–January 1846, first volume of the Administrative Records series of The Joseph Smith Papers, ed. Ronald K. Esplin, Matthew J. Grow, and Matthew C. Godfrey (Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2016), 472.

[4] This is the place’: The Mormon PioneersNational Historic Trails Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide; Utah- Crossroads of the West, National Park Services, Salt Lake City, UT, September 2010.

[5]Mormon PioneerNational Parks Service, accessed March 29, 2017.

[6] Stanley B, Kimball, “The Mormon Pioneer Trail, 1846-1847”. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Accessed March 27, 2017

[7] Orson Pratt, “Interesting Items Concerning the Journeying of the Latter-day Saints from the City of Nauvoo, Until Their Location in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake (Extracted from the Private Journal of Orson Pratt),” digital copy, LDS Church History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[8] Thomas Bullock Journals, Vol. 4, 1843-1849, LDS Church History Library, digital copy, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[9] ‘This is the place’: The Mormon Pioneers” National Historic Trails Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide; Utah- Crossroads of the West, National Park Services, Salt Lake City, UT, September 2010

[10] Brigham Young history, 23 July 1847, in Richard E. Turley Jr. and Lael Littke, Wagons West: Brigham Young and the First Pioneers (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2016), 142.

For Further Research:

Primary Sources:

LDS Overland Trails Datatbase: Brigham Young Pioneer Company 

Thomas Bullocks Journal Entry 

Orson Pratt’s Journal Entry 

Secondary Sources:

Mormon Trail HistoryUtah.com, accessed March 27, 2017.

Brigham Young; 1801-1877PBS; New Persectives on the West, accessed March 27th, 2017.

Mormon PioneerNationalParksService, accessed March 29, 2017.

‘This is the place’: The Mormon Pioneers” National Historic Trails Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guide; Utah- Crossroads of the West, National Park Services, Salt Lake City, UT, September 2010

Will Bagley, The Pioneer Camp of the Saints: The 1846 and 1847 Mormon Trail Journals of Thomas Bullock (Logan: Utah State University Press, 2001).

Richard E. Turley Jr. and Lael Littke, Wagons West: Brigham Young and the First Pioneers (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2016).

Journal of Orson Pratt

Published / by Grace Fahey / Leave a Comment

Pratt, Orson, “Interesting Items Concerning the Journeying of the Latter-day Saints from the City of Nauvoo, Until Their Location in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake (Extracted from the Private Journal of Orson Pratt),”

 July 21st. No frost this morning, but a heavy dew. We resumed our journey, travelled 2 1/2 miles, and ascended a mountain for 1 1/2 miles; descended upon the west side one mile; came upon a swift running creek, where we halted for noon: we called this Last Creek. Brother Erastus Snow (having overtaken our camp from the other camp, which he said was but a few miles in the rear,) and myself proceeded in advance of the camp down Last Creek 4 1/2 miles, to where it passes through a kanyon and issues into the broad open valley below. To avoid the kanyon the wagons last season had passed over an exceedingly steep and dangerous hill. Mr. Snow and myself ascended this hill, from the top of which a broad open valley, about 20 miles wide and 30 long, lay stretched out before us, at the north end of which the broad waters of the Great Salt Lake glistened in the sunbeams, containing high mountainous islands from 25 to 30 miles in extent. After issuing from the mountains among which we had been shut up for many days, and beholding in a moment such an extensive scenery open before us, we could not refrain from a shout of joy which almost involuntarily escaped from our lips the moment this grand and lovely scenery was within our view. We immediately descended very gradually into the lower parts of the valley, and although we had but one horse between us, yet we traversed a circuit of about 12 miles before we left the valley to return to our camp, which we found encamped 1 1/2 miles up the ravine from the valley, and 3 miles in advance of their noon halt. It was about 9 o’clock in the evening when we got into camp. The main body of the pioneers who were in the rear were encamped only 1 1/2 mile up the creek from us, with the exception of some wagons containing some who were sick, who were still behind.

July 22nd. This morning George A. Smith and myself, accompanied by seven others, rode into the valley to explore, leaving the camp to follow on and work the road, which here required considerable labour, for we found that the kanyon at the entrance of the valley, by cutting out the thick timber and underbrush, connected with some spading and digging, could be made far more preferable than the route over the steep hill mentioned above. We accordingly left a written note to that effect, and passed on. After going down into the valley about 5 miles, we turned our course to the north, down towards the Salt Lake. For 3 or 4 miles north we found the soil of a most excellent quality. Streams from the mountains and springs were very abundant, the water excellent, and generally with gravel bottoms. A great variety of green grass, and very luxuriant, covered the bottoms for miles where the soil was sufficiently damp, but in other places, although the soil was good, yet the grass had nearly dried up for want of moisture. We found the drier places swarming with very large crickets, about the size of a man’s thumb. This valley is surrounded with mountains, except on the north: the tops of some of the highest being covered with snow. Every 1 or 2 miles streams were emptying into it from the mountains on the east, many of which were sufficiently large to carry mills and other machinery. As we proceeded towards the Salt Lake the soil began to assume a more sterile appearance, being probably at some season of the year overflowed with water. We found as we proceeded on, great numbers of hot springs issuing from near the base of the mountains. These springs were highly impregnated with salt and sulphur: the temperature of some was nearly raised to the boiling point. We travelled for about 15 miles down after coming into the valley, the latter parts of the distance the soil being unfit for agricultural purposes. We returned and found our wagons encamped in the valley, about 5 1/4 miles from where they left the kanyon.

Source: Orson Pratt, “Interesting Items Concerning the Journeying of the Latter-day Saints from the City of Nauvoo, Until Their Location in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake (Extracted from the Private Journal of Orson Pratt),” digital copy, LDS Church History Library.

see: Big Mountain 

Ensign Peak

Published / by Jake Bardsley / Leave a Comment

Ensign Peak

Write-up by Jake Bardsley

Placed by: Pioneer Trails and Assoc.

GPS Coordinates: 40.7944° N, 111.8905° W

 

 

 

 

 

Historical Marker Text (1): 

Plaque A: (on S. side of monument, replica of original PTLA 43) ENSIGN PEAK July 26, 1847, two days after the Mormon Pioneers entered this valley Brigham Young and party climbed to this point and with the aid of field glasses made a careful survey of the mountains, canyons and streams. In the group were Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, George A. Smith, Ezra T. Benson, Willard Richards, Albert Carrington and William Clayton. Wilford Woodruff, first to ascend the Peak, suggested it as a fitting place to “set up an ensign” (Isaiah 11:12). It was then named Ensign Peak, subsequently the stars and stripes were raised here.

Historical Marker Text (2): 

Plaque B: Free-standing concrete slab, NE of monument 1.5’W 2.5’H 8″D (drawing of flag raising) THE SUMMIT Before he left Nauvoo, Brigham Young said that Joseph Smith, the deceased prophet, had appeared to him in a vision and shown him a place where the banner of liberty should wave. When he viewed this peak as he entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847, Brigham reportedly said, “This is the place,” adding “I want to go there.” Two days later, still weak from fever, he insisted on climbing the summit. Eight others made the hike with him where they spent several hours in prayer and counsel. They gazed over the valley and made plans for a new city. They wanted their new home to become the “ensign for the nations” of which Isaiah had prophesied in the Bible, hence the name Ensign Peak. No ensign, or flag, was flown on that occasion, but perhaps a yellow bandanna, tied to a cane, was raised as a symbolic gesture. Within a few weeks, an American flag was hoisted on the summit. Elevation 5,416 feet the elevation of Ensign Peak is 5,416 feet. This is 1,085 feet above the southeast corner of the temple block where the Salt Lake Baseline and Meridian were established on August 2, 1847 while Orson Pratt was laying out the city. At that point, the city was 4,331 feet above sea level.

Historical Marker Text (3): 

Plaque C: Free-standing concrete, E of monument 1.5’W 2.5’H 8″D (just to S. of B) FLAGS ON ENSIGN PEAK (Drawing of flag flying on peak, smaller drawings of American Flag, Joel Hills Johnson, Utah State flag, Ebenezer Beesley) Ensign Peak has been a place for much flag-flying. Shortly after the coming of the Mormons in 1847, an American flag was flown from the summit. Early settlers have also flown their special “flag of the kingdom” here. This “kingdom flag” was never formalized into an exact pattern, but likely had twelve blue and white stripes and one or more blue stars. It was likely flown from Ensign Peak as part of the first Pioneer Days Celebration in 1849. In 1897, the Salt Lake Herald, a local newspaper, erected the first flag pole on Ensign Peak, and the summit was designated by Utah leaders as an official place to display the American and State flags. Fifty years later, volunteers carried a seven-hundred-pound pole to the top of Ensign Peak where it was erected. The pole was later damaged by vehicles and removed to the Council Hall near the State Capitol.

Historical Marker Text (4): 

Plaque D: Free-standing concrete 3’W 3’H 6″D (Drawing of Salt Lake Valley) THE VIEW Ensign Peak provided Brigham Young’s 1847 exploring party with a good view of the Salt Lake Valley. Cradled between the Oquirrh Mountains to the west and the Wasatch Range to the east, the valley was covered with tall grass, sagebrush, and desert flowers but few trees. A river, which they later named the Jordan, ran the length of the valley and emptied into the Great Salt Lake. They observed a number of mountain streams flowing into the river. Below where they stood, efforts were underway to cultivate the land. From this vantage point the group began to lay plans for the city. Beyond the State Capitol Building lies State Street, stretching long and straight until it disappears from view in the distance. The Salt Lake Temple, now practically surrounded by tall buildings, once dominated the landscape. The small communities that formerly dotted the valley have grown to the point that it is often hard to tell where one ends and another begins.

Small Plaque below: 

Construction of this plaza and restoration of the monument have been made possible by the generous contribution of the family of David Aurelius Robinson (1905-1986). HIGH ON THE MOUNTAIN TOP Ensign Peak inspired pioneer poet Joel Hills Johnson, to write the verses of the popular hymne “High on the Mountain Top.” A fitting tune was written by Ebenezer Beesley. The peak has been the subject of many other poems and stories.” “Markers and Monuments Database.”

Extended Research:

In 1869, Mormon Apostle George A. Smith reported that Joseph Smith, the deceased founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), appeared to Brigham Young in vision sometime after Smith’s death and Smith showed Young a peak where the Saints should settle.  On July 24, 1847, when Young entered the Salt Lake Valley for the first time he reportedly recognized Ensign Peak as the place he had seen in a vision.[1]

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries Ensign Peak was utilized in many ways. In 1847 the “Peak” symbolically and literally represented a gathering place for the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. According to historian Ronald Walker, Young proposed several flags to represent “the gathering” and to create an identity for the occupants of Salt Lake City. Some suggested that the most fitting flag should be an American flag to fly on Ensign Peak, despite tensions between the Federal Government and the Mormon settlers. Mormons felt alienated but still maintained an American ideology.[2]

Apart from flying flags, members of the LDS church received and performed temple endowments on the peak while the Salt Lake City Temple was under construction. The temple endowment is a ceremony where members make covenants with God in order to receive promised blessings in return. Addison Pratt prior to his LDS mission received his endowment on July 21, 1849 on Ensign Peak.[2] During the Utah War (1857-1858) members of the Utah militia used the peak as a lookout spot for federal troops. Militiamen used smoke to signal during the day, and fire light to signal at night.[3]

In the 20th Century several people proposed different uses for the peak. Lon J. Haddock, a member of the Salt Lake City Manufacturers and Merchants Association ,with the support of Senator Reed Smoot, promoted the peak as a park.[4] Smoot and Haddock, however, did not gain enough support for their idea and it did not bear fruit. In the early 1900s, automobile dealers drove their cars to the top of the peak as an advertising opportunity. In 1910 the first automobile reached the top and other drivers followed, generally as publicity stunts.[5] In 1916, LDS Presiding Bishop, Charles W. Nibley proposed that a stone cross be built on Ensign Peak. Nibley suggested that the cross would represent the sacrifices of early Mormon pioneers, and also signal to the world that Mormons were in fact Christians.[6] Nibley’s proposal created controversy and the community ultimately rejected it. A year later advocates proposed a monument in honor of the Mormon Battalion (a military unit in the US war with Mexico comprised of around five hundred Mormons), but it also did not gain support.

In the fall of 1924 the Klu Klux Klan held a demonstration and used the peak for its own purposes. The 1920s marked a resurgence of the Klu Klux Klan nationwide. In Utah the Klan held a demonstration on the same day as LDS General Conference–a meeting for Mormons from around the world to gather and listen to their leaders. During the conference proceedings, the Klan burned a large cross at the top of the peak in a show of force for the KKK in Utah.[7]

The monument that sits atop Ensign Peak today was built on July 26, 1934. Standing at eighteen feet high, the Utah Pioneer Trails and Landmarks Association are responsible for its construction. Speakers and leaders of all faiths participated in the celebration.[8] In 1996, Ensign Peak was renovated and the construction of a permanent park began. [9]

[1] George A. Smith, “Historical Discourse,” 20 June 1869, Journal of Discourses (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854–1886), 13:85.

[2] Ronald W. Walker, “A Banner Is Unfurled,” Dialogue 26, no. 4(1993): 71-91: https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V26N04_89.pdf

[2] William S. Harwell and Fred C. Collier, eds., Manuscript History of Brigham Young (Salt Lake City: Collier’s Publishing Company, 1997), 224–25.

[3] B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1912), 4:507.

[4] Ensign Peak,” Deseret Evening News, August 8, 1908, 4.

[5] “Velie Automobile Climbs Ensign Peak,” Salt Lake Tribune, March 10, 1910, 4.

[6] To Erect Cross on Ensign Peak,” Deseret Evening News, May 5, 1916; “Ensign Peak Cross! Never! Cries Lund in Protest,” Salt Lake Telegram, May 7, 1916.

[7] Larry R. Gerlach, Blazing Crosses in Zion: The Ku Klux Klan in Utah (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1982) ,105–110.

[8] Ensign Peak Monument to Be Unveiled,” Deseret News, July 24, 1934, 9.

[9] R. Scott Lloyd, “Park at Ensign Peak Dedicated,” Deseret News, August 3, 1996, 3, 13.

Primary Sources

George A. Smith, “Historical Discourse,” 20 June 1869, Journal of Discourses (London: Latter-day Saints’ Book Depot, 1854–1886), 13:85.

Ensign Peak,” Deseret Evening News, August 8, 1908, 4.

Velie Automobile Climbs Ensign Peak,” Salt Lake Tribune, March 10, 1910, 4.

To Erect Cross on Ensign Peak,” Deseret Evening News, May 5, 1916

Ensign Peak Monument to Be Unveiled,” Deseret News, July 24, 1934, 9.

Scott Lloyd,Park at Ensign Peak Dedicated,” Deseret News, August 3, 1996, 3, 13.

Secondary Sources

William S. Harwell and Fred C. Collier, eds., Manuscript History of Brigham Young (Salt Lake City: Collier’s Publishing Company, 1997).

Brigham H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1912), 4:507.

Larry R. Gerlach, Blazing Crosses in Zion: The Ku Klux Klan in Utah (Logan: Utah State University Press, 1982).

Ronald W. Walker, “A Banner Is Unfurled,” Dialogue 26, no. 4(1993): 71-91: https://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V26N04_89.pdf

Ronald W. Walker, “A Gauge of the Times: Ensign Peak in the Twentieth Century,” Utah Historical Quarterly 62, no. 1 (1994): 4–25.

Dennis A. Wright and Rebekah E. Westrup, “Ensign Peak: A Historical Review,” in Salt Lake City: The Place Which God Prepared, ed. Scott C. Esplin and Kenneth L. Alford (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, Salt Lake City, 2011), 27–46.