Chapter 25 – Rescue

Tracing my Mormon pioneer roots because my story began with those who came before.

A definition of rescue is to save someone from a distressing situation, to free, liberate, redeem or emancipate them.

At least twice, Daniel was a rescuer. Leaving his family and farm to help people he’d never met because the church prophet asked him to, and he felt compassion toward his brothers and sisters in the faith.

The first rescue involved assisting church families in Missouri to reclaim land illegally taken from them. These families had moved to Missouri a few years earlier when Joseph Smith prophesied this location to be the site of a New Jerusalem.

The substantial influx of Mormons threatened the settlers already living there. They formed militias, sending the message, through violence, that Mormons were not welcome.

Smith condoned fighting back. The escalating violence between them led to the destruction of homesteads and the Mormon families fleeing for their lives.

When attempts to regain property ownership through legal channels failed, Smith called for church members in neighboring states to help these displaced families reclaim what rightfully belonged to them.

Daniel had only recently moved to America with Mary and his young children when he volunteered to join other saints in preparing for a military operation. While Joseph Smith hoped Missouri’s governor would intervene, his organized militia would fight if necessary.

They marched as many as forty miles a day to reach Missouri and dealt with limited food and blistered feet along the way.

Ultimately, the mission failed, possibly because Missouri’s militia was more formidable, and the governor chose not to intercede. Also, Joseph Smith said God had told him to stop battling because the saints were not yet worthy of Zion.

Although Smith told the rescuers to return to their families, he did not forget their allegiance and went on to reward many with church leadership roles. He ordained Daniel as part of the Quorum of the Seventies. Most of the original apostles were part of this Camp of Zion’s rescue.

Twenty years later, the current prophet, Brigham Young, made another rescue call. By now, Daniel, in his mid-fifties, was living in Utah. His family had grown to include multiple wives and many children.

This time a handcart company of men, women, and children making their way to Utah found themselves stranded in heavy snow. Trudging through knee-deep snow and icy river crossings caused many to suffer from hypothermia and frostbite. If the cold didn’t kill them, starvation would.

Nearly ten years after Daniel and his family emigrated to Utah, saints were still coming. Some used handcarts, which looked like large wooden wheelbarrows that could be pushed or pulled. They were a more economical way to complete the trek to Utah. Each could carry over a hundred pounds.

While cheaper than wagons, handcart travel was more grueling because it relied on people rather than livestock to move them. Also, handcarts didn’t provide shelter or the ability for the young, old, or ill to ride in as wagons did.

The handcart company may have run into blizzards because they left too late in the season. Pulling carts through the mud was challenging enough; added snow made the journey nearly impossible.

Fortunately, some returning missionaries came upon the stranded saints. They promised to send help once they made it to Utah.

When the missionaries arrived in Utah, they informed Brigham Young of the news. It took a few days to get a group of rescuers with wagons filled with supplies headed back their way. Daniel was one of those who stepped forward to help.

It was only because of the aide from the rescue party that the company reached Salt Lake City. Not all survived. Some who did were angry because they felt the church had promised safe passage. Others said the ordeal brought them closer to God.

All these years later, Mormons are still proud of their rescue stories. Theatrical reenactments, complete with music and costume, pay homage. Youth participating in coming-of-age treks are encouraged to draw upon the strength of the Mormon pioneer.

In his book, “The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail,” Wallace Stegner praised this as a tale of courage and endurance using phrases like “human kindness and helpfulness” and “brotherly love in the midst of raw horror.” Indeed, the rescuers showed compassion, for they were a family bonded in a common faith.

Is calling these rescues examples of human kindness overly generous? While Mormons did show themselves capable of bravery and selflessness towards members of their church community, they did not extend these same qualities or actions to rescue black and brown people forced to live in ways no human being should.

Mormons had the potential to be fierce abolitionists and justice warriors, and yet their empathetic gaze rested only on their own.

A famous Bible verse says in part, “the truth will set you free.” Those words give me hope that my writing is a form of rescue. Our soul is the wisest part of ourselves—the quiet center which knows what is just and kind. I hope through telling this story, Daniel and I may be afforded a path to redemption by laying bare the truth.

Daniel had all the makings to be a John Brown, but he chose not to be. He could have ferried black people to freedom but didn’t. He could have voiced his dissent within the church but stayed silent.

Daniel put himself in harm’s way to save those he saw as brothers and sisters. He turned a blind eye to those languishing in horrific enslavement and dehumanizing oppression because he deemed them unworthy of rescue.

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