I am a huge fan of the Mormon pioneers. Our story of exodus is compelling, and you don’t have to live in Utah or be a descendant of the pioneers to appreciate them. This week, on Thursday, the 24th of July, Salt Lake City will remember the occasion as it always does, with the Days of ’47 parade. If you are within 100 miles of SLC it is worth attending, if only to see President Monson wear a cowboy shirt with pearl snap buttons, a bolo tie, and a cowboy hat (white, of course).
If you can’t go to the parade, please do yourself a favor and read this speech. To Them of the Last Wagon is the name of a talk given in general conference in October, 1947 by J. Reuben Clark, Jr., who was then serving as a member of the First Presidency. He remembers and honors the pioneers we have never heard of who were heroes in every sense. Here is just a quick sample:
Father took a little longer to yoke his cattle and to gird himself for the day’s labor; last, because his morning prayers took a few more minutes than the others spent—he had so many blessings to thank the Lord for and some special blessings to ask the Lord to grant, blessings of health and strength, especially for his wife, and for little Bill, and for the rest, and then the blessings for himself that his own courage would not fail, but most of all for the blessing of faith, faith in God and in the Brethren who sometimes seemed so far away. For they were out in front where the air was clear and clean and where they had unbroken vision of the blue vault of heaven. The Brethren had really visioned the glory of the Lord, who walked near them, put his thoughts into their minds; his Spirit guided and directed them, petitioned thereto by the thousands of Saints who were back in Winter Quarters, back in Iowa, back in the States, and beyond, even across the waters, for the faithful poured out their souls in fervent prayer to Almighty God that the Brethren should be inspired. The Saints buoyed up the Brethren out in front with encouragement, with praise, and sometimes even with adulation. Knowing the Brethren were prophets of God, the Saints gave them full confidence, daily, almost hourly, expressed. The Brethren lived in a world of commendation from friends and the tried and true Saints. Rarely was their word or their act questioned by the faithful Saints. This was as it should be and had to be to carry out the Lord’s purposes.
But back in the last wagon, not always could they see the Brethren way out in front, and the blue heaven was often shut out from their sight by heavy, dense clouds of the dust of the earth. Yet day after day, they of the last wagon pressed forward, worn and tired, footsore, sometimes almost disheartened, borne up by their faith that God loved them, that the restored gospel was true, and that the Lord led and directed the Brethren out in front. Sometimes, they in the last wagon glimpsed, for an instant, when faith surged strongest, the glories of a celestial world, but it seemed so far away and the vision so quickly vanished because want and weariness and heartache and sometimes discouragement were always pressing so near.
When the vision faded, their hearts sank. But they prayed again and pushed on, with little praise, with not too much encouragement, and never with adulation….
President Clark closes with these thoughts:
God keep their memories ever fresh among us, their children, to help us meet our duties even as they met theirs, that God’s work may grow and prosper till the restored gospel of Jesus Christ rules all nations and all peoples, till peace, Christ’s peace, shall fill the whole earth, till righteousness shall cover the earth even as the waters cover the mighty deep [see Moses 7:62]. Let us here and now dedicate all that we have and all that we are to this divine work.
Happy Pioneer Days, everybody!