Saturday, 14 November 2015

On the Trail of the Mormons

This part of the Midwest is highly significant in the story of the Mormons.  I crossed the Mississippi River just north of Nauvoo, a name given to the town by Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism. Nauvoo was chosen as the headquarters for Mormon settlement in 1839, and it was from here in 1846 that they subsequently started the gruelling trek west to found a new settlement in Salt Lake City.  They crossed the Mississippi into Iowa, and on my way to Farmington on Sunday morning I found myself riding along the Des Moines river on the route they followed, now called the Mormon Trail.
The Mormon Trail roughly coincides with the Pony Express Trail for much of its length, and partly as a result of this I have been interested in finding out a bit more about the Mormon history. As my only means of transport is two feet or four hooves, Ann kindly agreed to drive me, and on Wednesday 30th September we set off on a day trip to Nauvoo with friends Noreen and Ruth Ann.
Mormonism was founded by treasure-seeker, seer and self-appointed prophet Joseph Smith in Palmyra New York State in the 1820s, after he had claimed he was guided by the angel Moroni (not bony) to a set of buried gold plates. These plates contained the text of the Book of Mormon written in an unrecognisable Semetic language, and conveniently God instructed Joseph not to let anyone else see them unless they and their family wished to be cursed. Joseph translated the text by sticking his head into his hat to read seers stones, and the results were dictated to a willing scribe. God thoughtfully provided the stones along with the golden plates, and had touchingly even named them Urim and Thummim. Among many other interesting concepts, the Book of Mormon locates the Garden of Eden in Missouri and tells of how native American Indians came to be descended from Israelites who fled to the Americas in around 600BC in steel ships. Joseph's many amazing revelations fell largely on infertile ground in Palmyra, but took root further afield, and in 1931 Kirtland Ohio became the first headquarters of the movement which became known in 1838 as 'The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints'. (LDS)
However the Mormons seemed to have a knack for getting up everyone's noses, and after moving west from Ohio to settle in Missouri, they were ejected from there in the 1830s and moved to Nauvoo.  Joseph and his brother Hyrum ended up in jail in Carthage Illinois, where they were killed by a mob of angry settlers, and the Mormons were ejected once more to make their famous overland trek to Salt Lake City.  Brigham Young's famous pronouncement "This is the place" was perhaps a reflection of the fact that few others would be gagging to set up home by a salt lake in the middle of the desert.
Ann, Noreen and Ruth Ann admire an impressive equestrian statue of Joseph and Hyrum Smith in front of the newly constructed Mormon temple in Nauvoo.... 
Nauvoo is sited on a bluff, and we had our back to an absolutely stunning vista out over parkland down to the Mississippi, but Joseph and Hyrum seem to be oblivious and apparently more interested in discussing the temple.  The original temple was in fact incomplete when the Mormons left Nauvoo, and it was subsequently destroyed by fire and tornado. The new temple shown here is externally a replica of the original, and was completed in 2002.
A statue of Joseph Smith and his long suffering wife Emma in the Women's Garden at the visitors' centre...

 The garden contains thirteen statues representing the various roles and responsibilities of women, but presumably not Smith's twenty-seven 'spiritual wives', the subject of his polygamy being glossed over.

Eyes Westward. The Mormons like a good statue, and this one was at the site of the Mississippi ferry crossing where the Mormon pilgrims set out on the first stage of their journey west.  It depicts Joseph Smith proclaiming to sidekick Brigham Young  "My people shall become a numerous and mighty host in the vastness of the Rocky Mountains"

Brigham is wielding not a rolled up newspaper with which to belabour the prophet, but a map of the route west.

Brigham Young's house....
..which originally only comprised the central section, so it was just as well he moved to Utah before he acquired his harem of fifty-five wives. Well if you've got the space...

Joseph Smith's prime waterfront property..
.. when Joseph and Hyrum were killed in 1844, their bodies ended up buried rather unceremoniously under a shed at the side, a location known to only a select few.  In 1928 at the request of Joseph's grandson, the remains were dug up and moved to their final resting place under a marble slab a few feet away, together with the remains of Emma Smith. The photo below shows the tomb on the left by a reconstruction of the shed.
This is in a small cemetery dedicated to the Smith family.
After being ladies that lunch in quaint little town of Nauvoo, we drove home on the opposite bank of the Mississippi via Keokuk, named after an influential Sauk (or less romantically Sac) chieftain.  Here he is peering out across the Old Muddy.
 And a good day was had by all when we rounded it off with ice creams from Dairy Queen.

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