Brigham Young: Persecutions and The Decision to Go West

It can be difficult at times to comprehend just how hostile people were to the early Latter-Day Saints. We hear tidbits and stories, but there were terrible atrocities committed against the Saints, not the least of which was the murder of the prophet Joseph Smith. Brigham Young recounted this event as follows:

We lived in Illinois from 1839 to 1844, by which time [enemies of the Church] again succeeded in kindling the spirit of persecution against Joseph and the Latter-day Saints. Treason! Treason! Treason! they cried, calling us murderers, thieves, liars, adulterers, and the worst people on the earth. … They took Joseph and Hyrum, and as a guarantee for their safety, Governor Thomas Ford pledged the faith of the State of Illinois. They were imprisoned [in Carthage, Illinois], on the pretense of safekeeping, because the mob was so enraged and violent. The Governor left them in the hands of the mob, who entered the prison and shot them dead. … After the mob had committed these murders, they came upon us and burned our houses and grain. When the brethren would go out to put out the fire, the mob would lie concealed under fences, and in the darkness of the night, they would shoot them (DBY, 473).

The rancor and hatred directed against the Church and its members was so extreme that they would even attempt to murder people trying to put out fires on their property. Against such hostility, Brigham Young forwent retaliation but instead sought for help from others, but it was all in vain. He said:

In the year 1845 I addressed letters to all the Governors of states and territories in the Union, asking them for an asylum, within their borders, for the Latter-day Saints. We were refused such privilege, either by silent contempt or a flat denial in every instance. They all agreed that we could not come within the limits of their territory or state (DBY, 474).

There was no one willing to be charitable enough or brave enough to take them in. Brigham Young, through revelation, decided to take the Saints out West. This was not an easy decision and required full faith on their part, especially Brigham’s. Although he was leading them, he stated:

We were migrating, we knew not whither, except that it was our intention to go beyond the reach of our enemies. We had no home, save our wagons and tents, and no stores of provisions and clothing; but had to earn our daily bread by leaving our families in isolated locations for safety, and going among our enemies to labor (DBY, 478).

Even in the face of all these trials and persecutions, Brigham Young never wavered in the faith. He knew he had a charge from the Lord to protect His people and lead them to safety. Brigham Young always testified it was the Lord who guided him and said:

I do not wish men to understand I had anything to do with our being moved here [to the Salt Lake Valley], that was the providence of the Almighty; it was the power of God that wrought out salvation for this people, I never could have devised such a plan (DBY, 480).

Few people are great enough to lead a large group of people into unknown land, and fewer still are humble enough to give all praise to the Lord. Brigham Young was given seemingly insurmountable tasks and yet fulfilled them all. No matter the persecution and prejudice he and the Saints faced, he pressed forward and led them all to their destiny in the West.

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