Brigham Young: The Modern Moses

We are the pioneers of this country (DBY, 474).

70,000. That’s how many people Brigham Young had to help cross the barren plains over the years to get to their new safe haven in the mountains. Let it not be underestimated just how difficult a task was laid out before President Young, all while having to protect the Saints from hostile mobs and governments, but he was able to fulfill his overwhelming task to the utmost and help the Saints find their new home where they could be free to worship God in their own way and live as they desired.

Brigham Young had been prepared by the Lord for this immense undertaking. In Zion’s Camp, he had been able to see Joseph Smith as he led them through difficult conditions (see HC 2:61–134, 183–85). He was also in charge of moving the persecuted Saints from Missouri to Nauvoo where they would be safer (see HC 3:250–52, 261). Thus when Brigham was called by God to be a new Moses (D&C 103:16), he was ready to do so.

Through inspiration from the Lord, Brigham Young organized the Saints so that they would be ready to travel. As outlined in D&C 136, he organized them in companies of hundreds, fifties, and tens similar to Moses of old. Each company had a president and two counselors and everyone was under the direction of the Twelve Apostles. Each company also needed to provide their own necessities and decide who would go and who would wait. In addition, each company would take an equal portion of poor, orphaned, and widowed to make sure they were provided for as was keeping in character with Brigham Young and his concern for the vulnerable.

Brigham Young promised the Saints that the Lord would bless and preserve them on their trek so long as they obeyed the Lord. The Saints were told not to argue and gossip, not to be drunk, to uplift each other, to return what you borrow, to return lost items to their owners, and to be wise with your belongings. All this is of course still good advice for us today. Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, President Young also counseled them to praise the Lord with singing, music, dancing, and prayer if they felt happy. Likewise, they could turn to the Lord in prayer if they felt sorrowful, especially given the harsh conditions they were under. Brigham Young wanted the Saints to know that the Lord was watching over them and would hear their prayers whether of joy and sadness. This would have been powerful in helping the Saints not feel abandoned and depressed as they made the long journey.

The journey was not easy. The pioneers had to get up at 5:00 AM and be ready to move out by 7:00 AM. Each day they had to find grazing land for cattle as well as good water. Advance companies had to try and level the trail to make it easier for later companies. Sickness was rampant with even Brigham Young contracting mountain fever. Many people including infants died and had to be buried and left as the pioneers continued on. Despite all these hardships, they persevered.

Just as Moses led the children of Israel from Egypt to Mount Sinai in about three months, Brigham Young led the Saints across America from Winter Quarters to the Rocky Mountains in about three months. Brigham Young reached the top of Big Mountain and looked down at what at the time was the untamed wilds of the Salt Lake Valley and declared: “This is the right place. Drive on.” It must have looked like an inhospitable place to stop, but Brigham trusted the Lord and the Saints trusted their leader. Just as the children of Israel were told the promised land was flowing with milk and honey, Brigham Young and the pioneers eventually turned the wilderness of the mountains into a fruitful field and made the desert blossom as a rose, as had been foretold millennia ago by Isaiah (see Isaiah 32:15–16, 35:1).

Brigham Young had done the seemingly impossible in helping the Saints cross the plains into an uninhabited wasteland that eventually became a thriving community. He would continue to guide people there for decades and eventually helped settle the West for the Saints and later for all. His determination, faith, and wise leadership made it all possible.

Brigham Young: Loving Father


Bring up your children in the love and fear of the Lord; study their dispositions and their temperaments, and deal with them accordingly, never allowing yourself to correct them in the heat of passion; teach them to love you rather than to fear you, and let it be your constant care that the children that God has so kindly given you are taught in their early youth the importance of the oracles of God, and the beauty of the principles of our holy religion, that when they grow to the years of man and womanhood they may always cherish a tender regard for them and never forsake the truth (DBY, 207).

We live in an age where, unfortunately, many public heroes that accomplished a lot of good have been revealed to have immoral private lives. This includes US presidents, civil rights leaders, and religious ministers. In stark contrast to these hypocritical figures is the Prophet Brigham Young. Not only was he a great man to the people and nation, he was equally if not more so a great father to his children.

Brigham Young had a famously large family with 46 children. Given the average American family has three children or less now, this type of lifestyle is probably utterly alien to us. Most imagine it would be impossible to properly see after each of your 46 children’s needs or even to have enough fatherly love to spread around, but Brigham Young was not a typical man of the world but a man among men. His daughter Clarissa fondly remembered her childhood as a time of happiness and that her father was incredibly tender to his family, while another daughter said that he “was an ideal father, kind to a fault, tender, thoughtful, just and firm. … None of us feared him.” This is not at all like the austere, cold authority figure many people make him out to be.

In fact, Brigham Young felt his family was so important that if he failed being a good husband and father then he would “[wake] up in the morning of the First Resurrection to find that he had failed in everything.” He never let his many responsibilities get in the way of his most important responsibility: his family. We would do well to take his principles of child rearing to heart. He said, “It is not by the whip or the rod that we can make obedient children, but it is by faith and by prayer, and by setting a good example before them.” The most important thing we can do for our children is set a good example, and President Young is an excellent example to emulate.

An important aspect of being a good example is spending time with children. Brigham Young would spend every evening he was at home having a devotional with his children where he would instruct them and plan the coming days with them. He also involved them in some of his errands and tasks and made sure to be honest and just to all he encountered. His children later attested to the towering man of integrity he was in their lives.

And what was the effect of all this? His oldest son, Joseph, served in the Utah Territorial Legislature. Brigham Jr. was a mission president, apostle, and First Presidency Counselor. His son John was a counselor with his father. Willard had a prestigious military career. Susa Young Gates, a noted author and editor, was a leader in state and national women’s organizations in addition to raising a large family. We can see that Brigham Young had a great effect on his children and helped them to become upstanding, virtuous men and women.

Few people in history have been the subject of as much slander as Brigham Young. Even today, many biographies and accounts of his life rely on hearsay and fabrications, not the least of which are about his personal and family life; however, we can rely on primary sources concerning his family and relationship with them, chiefly his letters of correspondence with his children. They paint a picture of a man deeply concerned for the well-being of his family and always doing what he can to help them temporally and spiritually. We would all do well to study his methods and example in order to better help our children, too.

For more information:

Brigham Young’s Family

Brigham Young’s Letters

Brigham Young Family Quotes

Brigham Young: Caretaker of the Poor

The man who is hungry and destitute has as good a right to my food as any other person, and I should feel as happy in associating with him, if he had a good heart, as with those who have an abundance, or with the princes of the earth. They all are esteemed by me, not according to the wealth and position they hold, but according to the character they have (DBY, 317).

Brigham Young cared deeply for the poor and needy. Notwithstanding the enormous persecution the Saints received, he covenanted to help all the destitute Saints who could not escape due to lack of funds. After the infamous Extermination Order was given, Brigham Young took part in the Missouri Committee to decide how to help the Saints. There were hundreds of Saints in need, and Brigham Young proposed a covenant be made to “stand by and assist each other to the utmost of our abilities in removing from this state, and that we will never desert the poor who are worthy, till they shall be out of the reach of the exterminating order.” He and everyone who took this covenant fulfilled it and helped all the Saints in need.

Several years later, the Saints were again being driven out of their homes in Nauvoo. Brigham Young led the most of the people out West, but some were too sick or poor to leave at that time. Brigham made plans to find a way to bring these Saints too but then received terrible news. Armed men had driven these sick and destitute people out of Nauvoo across the river into Iowa. With almost no food or tents, they were in a desperate state. President Young quickly organized a rescue team and managed to save them and bring them to Nebraska. Even when organizing over 10,000 people to go West, Brigham Young never forgot the poor.

In 1848, Brigham Young created the Perpetual Emigration Fund (PEF), a revolving loan fund, to help poor Saints in America and Europe travel to Utah. In Brigham’s First Presidency’s own words:

The P. E. Fund is designed to deliver the honest poor, the pauper, if you please, from the thraldom [i.e., bondage] of ages, from localities where poverty is a crime and beggary an offense against the law, where every avenue to rise in the scale of being to any degree of respectable joyous existence is forever closed, and place them in a land where honest labor and industry meet a suitable reward, where the higher walks of life are open to the humblest and poorest, and where they can lay a foundation for indissolubly uniting themselves and their children in the progressive scale of human existence.

The PEF helped tens of thousands of people to have a better life where they could practice their religion in peace, but still kept enshrined within it the values of individual responsibility and self-reliance. All those who received funds were expected to repay them back when circumstances allowed.

Brigham Young always stressed the importance of the poor to be hard-working, good in heart and righteous, and not be idlers who break their word. “The Lord’s poor do not forget their covenants, while the Devil’s poor pay no regard to their promises” (DBY, 317). These values are to this day still a key component of the welfare system in the Church and Utah. Work, education, and responsibility are always emphasized and stressed making Utah’s welfare incredibly successful at helping people. Not to be forgotten, Brigham Young also preached the responsibility of those with wealth to help the poor. He said, “Let the poor be honest, let the rich be liberal, and lay their plans to assist the poor, to build up the Kingdom of God, and at the same time enrich themselves, for that is the way to build up God’s Kingdom” (DBY, 317). If these principles were applied everywhere, many people could be lifted out of the desperate cycle of poverty.

The poor and needy were always a concern for Brigham Young. He loved them and cared for them. Because of this love, he preached principles that would uplift and help them while also helping all those that emulated the Savior and cared for the poor as well. Brigham truly wanted to follow the Lord’s teachings by caring for those in need. We should also follow his example and help all those who are trying yet struggling to make a living. The Lord will bless our labors just as He blessed Brother Brigham’s.

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Brigham Young: An Extraordinary Missionary

Brigham Young was called to serve a mission while an Apostle in 1839. As specified in Doctrine & Covenants 118, the time and place of departure had already been revealed by the Lord. Mobbers were determined to stop this from coming to pass, but without fear, Brigham Young led the other Apostles to the designated meeting place and they all met as required in preparation to their mission to England. Brigham Young never cowed in the face of his enemies and he was always delivered by the hand of God.

Despite being seriously ill and leaving the care of his family in God’s hands, Brigham Young made his way to New York and then to Liverpool to serve the Lord. While there, he and the other Apostles met with tremendous success. The English people flocked to them and were baptized in droves, with over 800 people baptized in four months. Among that number were lay clergy who converted to the restored Church. Success would continue and miracles would occur just like those in the scriptures.

Brigham Young took the lead in all this, including what he considered his most difficult task: getting the Book of Mormon and hymn book printed in England. Many delays of the printing weighed on his mind, but through his faith and tenacity, they were eventually printed and disseminated to the English people, further increasing conversions and strengthening testimonies. Even harassment and persecution only served to bring more people into the fold.

At this time, Brigham Young as well as the rest of the Apostles instituted the policy of emigration. The newly converted saints in England were encouraged to go to America and join the main body of saints there. This undertaking would serve as excellent preparation for when Brigham would have to lead the whole body of saints out West.

After working hard, Brigham Young was finally able to return to his beloved wife and family. His sacrifice and diligence brought many new saints into the Church and many souls to Christ. He showed the Lord that he was able to feed His sheep and would be ready in the future to guide them to where they needed to be.

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White House Petition to Put Brigham Young on the $20 Bill

For understandable reasons, the government is considering replacing Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill with another important person in US history. The replacement should be someone who contributed immensely to the United States and helped shape it into the great nation it is today. An excellent choice would be a leader of a prominent American group that historically suffered extreme persecution by the US government and citizens, and despite that, was able to open up large swathes of America for habitation and settlement. There is no better choice to be proudly displayed on the $20 bill than Brigham Young.

Among his many qualifications for receiving such a high honor, Brigham Young led a persecuted group into the then unsettled West and helped it flourish into a land fit for habitation. He placed settlements all over what is now Utah, Idaho, Nevada, and Arizona. These states would not exist were it not for his great leadership, and they made it possible for the continent and country to be connected from the East to the West. Not only that, but these settlements were clearly designated as being free territories, helping push for the end of slavery.

Brigham Young was not only a settlement leader, but the second religious leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, currently the largest religion founded in the United States. This group received horrible persecution from fellow citizens and neighbors including having property destroyed, farms burnt, and even church members murdered. When looking for redress from the government, they were instead ordered to leave or be killed in a government enacted extermination order. After the original leader of the Church was martyred, Brigham Young took over the role as leader of the Church and instead of trying to claim vengeance, led his people away to the West. Even then, the government followed them and sought to destroy them.

Honoring Brigham Young on the $20 bill would not only honor a great man who helped make the United States what it is today, but would also be a step in addressing the wrongs committed by the United States against The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Let’s make it happen. You can sign the petition here.