Review of Documents, Volume 4: April 1834–September 1835


Godfrey, Matthew C., Brenden W. Rensink, Alex D. Smith, Max H Parkin, and Alexander L. Baugh, eds. Documents, Volume 4: April 1834–September 1835. Vol. 4 of the Documents series of The Joseph Smith Papers, edited by Ronald K. Esplin and Matthew J. Grow. Salt Lake City: Church Historian’s Press, 2016. ix, 668 pp. Photographs, maps, notes, bibliography, appendices, index. ISBN 978-1629721743. $54.95

Review by J. Stuart

J. Stuart is a PhD student in history at the University of Utah.

The Joseph Smith Papers Project has revolutionized the way that historians and educators can study and teach the life of the LDS Church’s first prophet. The fourth volume of the Documents series provides introductions and transcripts of its documents to help readers better understand each source. Documents, Volume 4 contains several important documents produced between April 1834–September 1835, including a sales receipt for the purchase of Egyptian artifacts that included the Book of Abraham, early documents related to the publication of the Book of Commandments (Doctrine and Covenants), and the promise of an endowment of power in the Kirtland Temple. Although Documents, Volume 4 has fewer revelations than the first three volumes of the Documents series, that should not prevent historians and researchers from engaging with the volume for research and classroom use.

Some documents are more valuable than others for specific lessons and approaches to teaching Church history and the Doctrine and Covenants (every person’s teaching approach can benefit by including material from Documents, Volume 4). With this in mind, throughout this review I articulate several key areas of the volume that educators can use to employ the documents in their gospel teaching. Specifically, I suggest ways that teachers can better explain the pragmatic aspects of Joseph Smith’s prophetic leadership, the importance of the Camp of Israel (also known as Zion’s Camp), and how the Camp of Israel prepared Latter-day Saints for callings within the early Church.

Throughout 1834–35, Joseph Smith engaged in many Church-related duties that we do not traditionally emphasize in Sunday School, seminary, or institute classes. Documents, Volume 4 presents readers with several dozen documents related to the ways that Joseph Smith and others governed the early Church. These documents will help students to see the ways that Joseph Smith and other priesthood leaders collaborated on matters both practical and spiritual. For instance, some High Council meetings address matters of Church discipline, some relate to raising volunteers for the Camp of Israel, and others give specific direction to Church members in their callings. These types of meetings reveal the ways that early Church leaders made decisions and operated, providing a glimpse into the decision-making processes that we need our students to learn in order to serve in their own callings. They also highlight the “busyness” of Joseph Smith’s life. He participated in scores of meetings, corresponded with many people, preached, led the Church through financial struggles, and oversaw the publication and spread of his teachings. Using these documents, teachers can help their students recognize the weight of Joseph Smith’s day-to-day duties as they help their audience understand his religious teachings.

Documents, Volume 4 also contains letters written to Emma Smith that shed light on the familial responsibilities that Joseph did his best to tend to while doing all that he could to lead the Church (48–59). These documents portray a very human side to Joseph, a valuable counterbalance to hagiographic narratives that downplay the parts of the Prophet’s life not directly related to Church governance or doctrine. These sources also allow educators to introduce students to the Smiths’ marital relationship, which faced the highs and lows that every marriage faces (with the additional stresses of Joseph’s frequent absence on Church business). Joseph Smith spent a lot of time doing things other than receiving revelations or pondering the topic of his next sermon. Like Latter-day Saints today, he balanced family responsibilities and other concerns outside of Church governance.

Even within his Church responsibilities, Joseph Smith grappled with leading the Saints through events like the Camp of Israel. The sources in Documents, Volume 4 remind readers that Joseph Smith was not perfect, nor did he operate in ideal conditions. He argued with his fellow Saints over petty matters like the presence of a dog in the camp. Cholera swept through the camp, and more than a dozen participants passed away as a result. However, the Camp of Israel’s failure to win back Jackson County through military means reveals important traits of Mormonism’s first prophet. Joseph Smith possessed the humility to disband the camp even though it went against what he wanted to do personally. The Camp of Israel demonstrates how Joseph Smith received “refined” revelation when the Saints’ circumstances required.

Documents, Volume 4 also invites readers to consider why the Lord would ask the Saints to march to Zion despite their failure to recover their land and property. Teachers could ask students to consider that many of those who accepted both the revelation to redeem Zion as well as the Lord’s instruction to disband the Camp of Israel became leaders of the Church in Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and elsewhere. In fact, Joseph Smith specifically said that the Camp of Israel proved the Apostles’ faithfulness and capacity for leadership (221, see 219–34 for more on the calling of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles). Educators could organize a lesson around the idea that Latter-day Saints have always had to serve in the face of frustration and disappointment—and why those who persevere in times of trouble (a trait belonging to model disciples) might be seen as especially ready to lead other Saints.

Sources in Documents, Volume 4 also help to explain the expansion of priesthood quorums and the evolution of Church government from April 1834–April 1835. Using letters, meeting minutes, revelations, and other documents available in this volume of The Joseph Smith Papers will undoubtedly help teachers to better answer student questions about priesthood organization and the evolving responsibilities of Church leaders. Teachers can use the meeting minutes, letters, and revelations in Documents, Volume 4 to discuss the practical reasons why the early Church’s governing structures changed. Joseph Smith could not manage the minutiae of everyday Church governance without help; the Lord provided other leaders to assist in leading a Church experiencing rapid growth.

Educators should also be sure to teach their students about the participation of women and children in the Camp of Israel. While teaching about the importance of women’s contributions, educators should point out that a woman, Jane Clark, gave the second-largest financial donation to the Camp of Israel—fifty dollars (148). Unfortunately, because of record-keeping practices in the nineteenth century, we know much less about female participation in the early Church than male participation. As educators, we can do much more to teach the history of women in Mormonism—this document provides a great opportunity to include their faithful actions.

The sources in Documents, Volume 4 reveal the ways that Joseph led the early Saints, and how the Lord proved the faithfulness of many early leaders of the Church. The documents also provide material that educators can use to teach about Joseph Smith’s personal life and the ways that it affected his Church duties. Teachers can and will glean important information for teaching Church history and the Doctrine and Covenants from Documents, Volume 4. I wholeheartedly recommend that teachers use the documents from the Joseph Smith Papers Project to add variety and detail to their lessons and to increase their own gospel knowledge.



Review of By Study and Also by Faith


By Study and Also by Faith: One Hundred Years of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 2015. Notes, black-and-white illustrations, 654 pp. with index. ISBN-13: 978-1-4651-1878-3, US $33.50.

Review by Scott C. Esplin

Scott C. Esplin is an associate professor of Church history and doctrine at BYU.

“In the history of the Church,” President Boyd K. Packer taught, “there is no better illustration of the prophetic preparation of this people than the beginnings of the seminary and institute program. These programs were started when they were nice but were not critically needed. They were granted a season to flourish and to grow into a bulwark for the Church. They now become a godsend for the salvation of modern Israel.”[1] Seeking to chronicle this history, the recent volume, By Study and Also by Faith: One Hundred Years of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion, captures the system’s rise from a humble beginning of seventy students in 1912 to become a worldwide organization that provides religious education to over 700,000 students a year.

In the volume’s foreword, Elder Paul V. Johnson, former Commissioner of the Church Educational System, outlines the book’s purpose: “We were in danger of losing a great deal of knowledge of our history. Some other organizations cut their connections to their roots and begin to drift. This organization could not afford this,” he warned. “Our history doesn’t limit us, but like a plant’s roots it anchors and nourishes us and is crucial for growth. Our history helps us grasp our identity and protects us” (viii).

The prologue adeptly overviews the foundation of education in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Drawing from the words of modern revelation and the practices of the early Saints, it outlines the groundwork laid for Seminaries and Institutes by educational endeavors in Ohio, Missouri, Illinois, and Utah. Importantly, the prologue connects the Church’s earlier academies and religion classes to the modern Church Educational System, helping the reader recognize that the seminary and institute programs were the continuation of larger efforts to nurture faith in the hearts of youth and young adults. While some readers might wish this and later parts of the book were strengthened by a discussion of religious instruction beyond Mormonism or a deeper examination of the alternatives to released-time religious education, the prologue nicely places the formation of the seminary and institute system within a larger Church context.[2]

Following the prologue, the book focuses its remaining nearly six hundred pages specifically on the history of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. In chapters that are as long as one hundred pages each, the book details the operations of programs that grew beyond their Wasatch Front beginnings to their current reach around the world.

The authors, who, it appears from the acknowledgments, all have backgrounds in Church education, seem to grapple with a challenge faced by every teacher: too much material to cover and a reluctance to leave anything out. As one who has tried to talk more quickly in a class in order to teach more material, I resonate with the difficulty, or even the reluctance, they faced to “reduce and simplify.” However, the words of Elder Packer quoted earlier regarding the history of the program might apply to the volume specifically. From a reader’s perspective, some of the information the book contains is “nice but . . . not critically needed.” For example, a general readership likely does not need details of the Alpine summer school from 1927 and 1928 (48–50), a listing of extracurricular activities by teachers and students in the 1930s (62), the development of choirs at the Logan and Salt Lake City institutes in the 1940s and ’50s (111), a reference to William E. Berrett constructing a coffin for his deceased child (141), or the listing of computer reporting programs in the 1990s (418–19). The challenge of too much detail is especially evident in the latter half of the volume, where the authors write about events that they and some of their readers personally experienced. Of course, this difficulty is faced by anyone who attempts to write in an historical way about events of the recent past involving living subjects. The challenge increases when the writing is done by committee. Though the volume is well researched and seeks to be exhaustive, some of its information might better be placed in a footnote or in a separate collection altogether.

Admittedly, the book maintains its detailed focus on the seminary and institute systems. Therefore, beyond the prologue, which touches on other Church education endeavors that were foundational to the programs in question, the bulk of the book makes little mention of related religious education programs like those at BYU, BYU–Idaho, and BYU–Hawaii. To the authors’ credit, when the other Church universities are mentioned, it is always in the context of their connection to the history of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. This is the case with the discussion of BYU President Ernest L. Wilkinson, as his role as chancellor of the Unified Church School System is emphasized, and with the overview of BYU–Idaho’s Pathways Program, as the book draws connections to the larger Institute of Religion system.

As an institutional history, the book is heavily organized around people. This may be appropriate because teaching is, first and foremost, a people-oriented profession. From the beginning of each chapter, which, with the exception of the prologue, starts with a full-page picture of a person central to the story (Thomas J. Yates, first seminary teacher; President Henry B. Eyring, two-time commissioner of the Church Educational System; Stanley A. Peterson, associate commissioner/administrator of religious education and Church schools; and so forth), to appendix 7, which contains twenty-three pages of administrator biographies, the book is people-dominated. Page after page contains interesting pictures of people important to the history. Even when the expansion of the program internationally is discussed, it is in conjunction with people. For example, when the first international programs are examined, they are introduced with headings that include both a location and a person: Great Britain—John M. Madsen, Australia—J. L. Jaussi, and New Zealand—Rhett James (184–91). This pattern of discussing a building, program, or country in conjunction with people important to the story is consistent throughout the text.

The focus on people comes at a cost, however—one that Elder Johnson acknowledges in his foreword. “Despite this volume’s relatively large size, it cannot be comprehensive. There are too many people, too many powerful accounts, and too many miracles and blessings to squeeze into one volume” (ix). Therefore, the emphasis on certain people, most often those with connections to central administration, exacerbates a challenge, especially for a program that is no longer limited to the Wasatch Front. The problem of selectivity is especially evident in the aforementioned appendix of administrator biographies, as the book does not clearly identify the criteria used for determining inclusion. With more than 3,000 current employees and over 44,000 volunteers worldwide, prominent people are going to be missed, even in a book of over six hundred pages. For example, Joseph M. Tanner is only mentioned in a passing sentence as a bridge between Karl G. Maeser and Horace H. Cummings, though Tanner served as superintendent of Church schools for five pivotal years (25). Additionally, a personal introduction in the text to nearly every central-office administrator, coupled with detailed biographies of these leaders in an appendix, subtly brands the book as an institutional production, though system-wide non-administrators and volunteers outnumber full-time administrators dramatically. Therefore, thousands of current and former full-time employees and volunteers who dedicated many years to the work of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion may feel their history was neglected. While the book will resonate with those who know and love the leadership of the Seminary and Institute systems, much remains to be written from the perspectives of women (443–47), students (453–56), and volunteers (456–59). In fact, institutionally, as many pages are dedicated to employment practices including compensation and contracts (541–44) as are specifically dedicated to the voices of women, students, and volunteers.[3] Furthermore, perspectives from non-English-speaking areas of the world are limited.

These observations are not intended to be criticisms of what is a remarkable product. In fact, President Packer’s observation that the program had become “a godsend for the salvation of modern Israel” is also evident in the history. The tone of the volume is admittedly and unapologetically positive, as a volume dealing with this topic and published by the Church should be. “The history of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion is one of faith, sacrifice, and devotion,” writes Chad H Webb, administrator of Seminaries and Institutes of Religion. “It is a history of commitment to and love for our Father in Heaven and His Son Jesus Christ. It is a history of love for the sacred word of God, of love for youth and young adults and of lives dedicated to teaching, lifting, preparing, and protecting them” (xi–xii).

While the book outlines challenges faced by Seminaries and Institutes of Religion over time, it openly asserts that God’s hand coupled with the sacrifice of loyal employees advanced the program. For example, describing the challenges faced in expanding beyond Mormonism’s traditional intermountain region, the book concludes, “As in Church education’s infant days, the right leaders and teachers came forward to overcome each obstacle” (93). This volume ascribes to the perspective voiced by President Joseph F. Smith: “The hand of the Lord may not be visible to all. There may be many who cannot discern the workings of God’s will in the progress and development of this great latter-day work, but there are those who see in every hour and in every moment of the existence of the Church, from its beginning until now, the overruling, almighty hand of Him who sent His Only Begotten Son.”[4] While not flawless, By Study and also By Faith succeeds in chronicling the divine hand in the history of Seminaries and Institutes.


[1] Boyd K. Packer, “Teach the Scriptures” (address to Church Educational System religious educators, 1977), 4.

[2] For example, additional detail could be added to clarify Elder David O. McKay’s initial opposition to the seminary program (41).

[3] These voices do emerge occasionally in other portions of the book, but not as separate sections.

[4] Joseph F. Smith, in Conference Report, April 1904, 2.

Ties That Linked the Rails

Ties That Linked the Rails: Utah’s Role in the Building of the Transcontinental Railroad and the Benefits

Keynote address by BYU Professor Fred E. Woods

May 10, 2016, Promontory, Utah

Fred Woods, Promontory, Golden Spike

Fred E. Woods at Golden Spike National Historic Site, Promontory Summit, Utah. Photos courtesy of Fred E. Woods.

I feel honored to have been selected to provide some remarks at this annual celebration. I keenly sense my responsibility as a keynote speaker to address this vibrant topic. As a boy living in Southern California, I received an electric train set one Christmas which brought me more excitement than I can possibly articulate. I approach this occasion with that same enthusiasm.

Leonard J. Arrington argued, “More than any other single agency the railroad converted a nation of diverse sections into ‘one nation, indivisible.’”[1] Today we are now at the crossroads where a monumental task was completed involving an abundance of iron rails and wooden ties. This colossal enterprise stands as a testament to a catalytic transportation transformation. It seems appropriate it would take place in Utah Territory. Here, Utahans completed the transcontinental telegraph and later assisted in the construction of the transcontinental railroad.

Reenactment of Golden Spike ceremony, May 10, 2016.

Reenactment of Golden Spike ceremony, May 10, 2016.

When the telegraph was completed in Salt Lake City, October 1861, Brigham Young sent a clear signal to President Lincoln, “Utah has not seceded, but is firm for the Constitution and laws of our once happy country.” Less than eight years later, on May 10, 1869, hundreds gathered at Promontory to witness another coast to coast completion. The driving of the last spike of the transcontinental railroad reverberated continuity to a once broken nation.[2]

Railroad enthusiast Asa Whitney had strongly asserted that the Pacific Railroad would bring the nation “all together as one family, but with one interest – the common good of all.”[3] Promontory was selected to be the place of convergence ending an intense rivalry between the UP and the CP. What Appomattox had been to the North and South, Promontory became to the East and West. Both places were catalytic in binding a nation, now tied together in each cardinal direction.

Engine 119 heading to the Golden Spike anniversary celebration!

Engine 119 heading to the Golden Spike anniversary celebration!

The moment the final spike was struck, telegraph wires transmitted the simple but momentous communication, D-O-N-E. Instantly news of the completion spread across a nation erupting in celebration. Cannons boomed in cities from the Atlantic to the Pacific. In Salt Lake City, 7,000 gathered in the Tabernacle for the celebration. Promontory enjoyed bands from Fort Douglas and the Salt Lake City 10th Ward.[4]

As the nationwide celebrations faded, America entered an era of new prosperity with the expansion of commercial ventures. As with our transforming informational age, the uniting of the rails from the Pacific to the Atlantic suddenly brought the world much closer. Soon the first transcontinental freight train left California bound for the east coast transporting Asian teas as well as regular passenger service. Travelers could now cross the continent in a week instead of six months. Previously exorbitant overland travel costs were reduced to a mere $70.00 for emigrant rail passage.[5] Gone were the days of treacherous ocean travel via the Panama route that ended the life of railroad enthusiast Theodore Judah and others.[6] The new rail connection made America’s future promising.

Intercontinental trade began to grow extensively. Within a decade of completion, the transcontinental railroad managed to transport $50 million worth of freight across America annually. The connected rails also unlocked markets of the west coast and Asia in the east, (only 5% from Asia and 95% locally),[7] and also carried eastern goods to a blossoming west beyond the rolling waters of Old Man River. Just as the railroad promoted the expansion of commerce in America, it also stimulated intellectual life, a transfer of cosmopolitan culture, and stirred public discourse. Passengers and freight not only traveled faster, but as with the telegraph, it was a pathway for ideas and intellectual stimulation.[8]

Such benefits however, came at a costly price. Constructing the transcontinental railroad required vision, muscle, brains, sweat, and undeviating doggedness. General Wm. Sherman called it a “work of giants.” Most of all it demanded tenacious teamwork and many believed the end result would be worth it. As early as 1866, the Rocky Mountain News proclaimed, “The one moral, the one remedy for every evil, social, political, financial, and industrial . . . need of the entire Republic, is the Pacific Railroad.”[9]

The building of the railroad completed largely by manual labor. It is hard to imagine the completion of Pacific railroad without the efforts of the Chinese laborers. Charlie Crocker, in an attempt to justify why he wanted to bring Chinese workers on the construction line of the Central Pacific, simply stated, “They built the Great Wall of China, didn’t they?”  Further, the CP set a record of laying 10 miles of track in one day with a workforce of 90% Chinese!

Not everyone benefitted from the transformative tracks. For the Native Americans, the Iron Horse led to another trail of tears: encroachment, intrusion, and infringement. Abundant buffalo herds were slaughtered by invading whites, ancestral lands lost, and thousands of Natives were thrust onto unwanted reservations. A penetrating statement spoken by a Native American in Dee Brown’s classis book, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, captures the resentment of a deceived people: “the only promise the white men ever kept was to take our land, and he did.”

Nevertheless, in the name of “manifest destiny,” the train rolled on, and along with it, promises to yield big dividends. The Central Pacific leadership was made up of the big four: Crocker, Hopkins, Stanford, and Huntington, whose combined business experience was both impressive and influential. For the UP, there was Sherman, Dodge, and the Casement brothers; all former Union generals. Engineers and foreman were also Civil War veterans overseeing many Irish and German immigrants as well as ex-soldiers from both the union and confederate armies. Ambrose argued this enterprise, “could not have been done without the Civil War veterans and their experience. It was the war that taught them how to think big, how to organize grand projects, how to persevere.” The work force was made up mostly of Chinese on the CP and Irish on the UP, but critical to both were the Mormon graders under the direction of the American Moses, Brigham Young.[10]

The impact of Utah’s contribution in building the transcontinental railroad and her subsequent territorial benefits is a subject that merits attention. Keep in mind that in 1869 Mormons made up 98% of Utah’s total population.[11] In this same year, Samuel Bowles, editor and publisher of the Springfield, MA. Republican, observed, “but for the pioneership of the Mormons, discovering the pathway, and feeding those who came out upon it, all this central region of our great West would now be many years behind its present development, and the railroad instead of being finished, would hardly be begun.”[12] Further, in his book, History of Utah, Hubert Howe Bancroft wrote, “It was acknowledged by all railroad men that nowhere on the line could the grading compare in completeness and finish with the work done by the people of Utah.”[13]

The Mormon grading was not only superior, but their construction camps were conducted in stark contrast to the notorious “hell on wheels” encampments. Instead of boisterousness induced of whiskey, gambling, and soiled doves; the Mormon camp sites operated under orderly and peaceful religious governance. “Twice daily, workers and their families assembled for prayers and on Sundays they attended religious services. . . . Neither swearing nor drunkenness characterized their construction camps.”[14] Clarence Reeder, summarized the Mormon efforts to construct the railroad: “A people working together in harmony under the guidance of their religious leaders to accomplish a temporal task which they treated as though it were divinely inspired.”[15]

Music in the Mormon camps along the Union Pacific was sometimes provided by the “Rocky Mountain Glee Club,” comprised of the laborers. Home spun songs were sung by Latter-day Saints around the campfires, including this one written by Mormon grader, James Crane:

At the head of great Echo

The railway’s begun

The Mormons are cutting

And grading like fun.

They say they’ll stick to it

Till it is complete,

When friends and relations

They’re longing to meet.”[16]


Reenactment of the original Golden Spike ceremony.

Reenactment of the original Golden Spike ceremony.

Another preferred Latter-day Saint song was:


Hurrah, hurrah, the railroad’s begun.

Three cheers for the contractor, his name Brigham Young.

Hurrah, hurrah, we are faithful and true

And if we stick to it, it’s bound to go through.[17]

Gathering at Golden Spike National Historic Site.

Gathering at Golden Spike National Historic Site.

An estimated five thousand Utahans did “stick to it,” laboring for both the UP and the CP, whose supervisors were complimentary of the grading, trestlework, bridge-building, tunneling, and furnishing of ties completed in Utah.[18]

John J. Stewart wrote, “No state nor people figures more prominently in the story of the Pacific Railroad than do Utah and Utahans, particularly the Mormons. Mormon pioneers blazed the trail for much of the route of the railroad. The Mormon empire in the Great Basin provided much of the incentive for construction of the railroad. Mormons were among the first to petition Congress to construct the railroad. Brigham Young was one of the very first to subscribe to Union Pacific stock. Mormons provided much of the labor and capital in construction of the railroad, doing some of the surveying on Union Pacific and the grading on both Central Pacific and Union Pacific through Utah.

It was in Utah that the railroad was completed. Ogden, Utah, became the terminal point and the junction for the two railroad companies. Utah was site of one of the first branch lines on the Pacific Railroad.” The Utah Central ran 37 miles from Ogden to Salt Lake City. The last spike, driven by the American Moses, Brigham Young, had inscribed upon it (along with the mallet he used) “holiness to the Lord.” Stewart continues, “And Utah was to a peculiar degree both benefactor and beneficiary of the railroad, both as to passenger service and freight, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints utilized the railroad greatly with its missionary and immigration programs, and the mining industry could be developed extensively only with the aid of railroad facilities.”[19]

Some argued that Latter-day Saints did not want a railroad coming into Utah, the Mormon Mecca in the West, as it would disturb their cultural isolation. According to Samuel Bowles, Brigham Young was quick to respond to this claim: “It must indeed be a damned poor religion if it cannot stand one railroad.”[20] Utah’s consensus was that the benefits would outweigh the potential challenges. National newspapers boasted that Mormons would be crushed by gentile influence when the railroad reached Utah. Utah’s citizens soon recognized they would no longer be isolated, so they created programs to insulate their people. This was done through a variety of LDS church programs: a school of the prophets, the women’s Relief Society re-emerged, and agricultural and manufacturing cooperatives, enabling increased self-sufficient. In addition, the Zion’s Cooperative Mercantile Institution (ZCMI) was established to handle the purchase and distribution of wholesale items to shore up the city of the Saints.[21]

LDS Church leader, John Taylor stated, “It has been thought and charged by some that we are averse to improvements, and that we disliked the approach of the railroad. Never was a greater mistake. We have been cradled in the cities of the new and old worlds, where we have built locomotives, steamboats, gas works, and telegraph lines. . . . We have always been the advocates of improvement of the arts, science, literature, and general progress; and whilst we abjure evils, the follies, the crimes, and many of the lamentable adjuncts of civilization, we are always first and foremost in everything that tends to ennoble and exalt mankind. . . . We meet in friendly conclave with distinguished gentlemen connected with the eastern and western divisions of the railroad. . . . We hail these gentlemen as brothers in art, science, progress and civilization. . . . We will bare our arms and nerve our muscles to aid in the completion of this great cord of brotherhood which is already reaching our borders.”[22]

LDS leader, George A. Smith noted, “We started from Nauvoo in February, 1846, to make a road to the Rocky Mountains. A portion of our work was to hunt for the railroad. We located a road to Council Bluffs, bridging the streams, and I believe it has been pretty nearly followed by the railroad. In April 1847, President Young and one hundred and forty-three pioneers left Council Bluffs, and located and made the road to the site of this city [Salt Lake City]. A portion of our labor was to seek out the way for a railroad across the continent, and every place we found that seemed difficult for laying the rails we searched out a way for the road to go around or through it.”[23]

Mormon pioneer Jacob Weiler noted, “In April, 1847, I was chosen to be one of the hundred and forty four men and three women with Brigham Young as our leader . . . . Many times when gathered around the camp fire we would plan and talk over the future of our dreary wastes through which we were traveling.  I remember more than once the possibility of a railroad to the Pacific was spoken of as being in the near future.”[24]

Brigham Young stated, “I do not suppose we traveled one day from the Missouri here, but what we looked for a track where the rails could be laid with success, for a railroad through this Territory to the Pacific Ocean. This was long before the gold was found, when this Territory belonged to Mexico. We never went through the canyons or worked our way over the dividing ridges without asking where the rails could be laid. When we came here over the hills and plains in 1847 we made our calculations for a railroad across the country. . . . We want the benefits of the railroad for our emigrants so that after they land in New York they may get on board the cars and never leave them again until they reach this city.”[25]

Golden Spike Anniversary Celebration, Promontory Summit.

Golden Spike Anniversary Celebration, Promontory Summit.

The thousands of European converts gathering to an American Zion in weeks, rather than months, was chief among the railroad benefits. With the transportation revolution of steam power, instead of a 54 day voyage from Liverpool to New Orleans or 38 days of ocean travel to New York, the passage across the Atlantic was reduced to only eleven days and over America in just a week.

Initially, employment on the railroad provided Utah an immediate solution to a devastating problem. In 1868, Mormons first contracted to work for the Pacific railroad at a time when an insect infestation had brought the Saints to their knees. Crops were ruined, farmers were out of work, families need to be fed, and there was a shortage of cash. Work on the railroad was a God-send.

Lewis Barney wrote, “The grasshoppers put in their appearance and destroyed our Crops it seemed that every avenue was Closed And the saints Cut off from supplies But the Lord who had brought them safe through all their troubles had not forsaken them For at this Critical time President Young was requested to take a heavy contract on the union pacific Railroad which he accepted this gave the Saints Labor for which they got Cash Clothing and provisions.”[26] In late May of 1868, Orson Pratt writing to Brigham Young stated, “Much of our wheat in this settlement is eaten off by the grasshoppers; consequently several are ready to go to work on the rail road.”[27]

In addition, Milando Pratt recalled, “The grasshoppers had eaten up my crop. . . . These pestilential migrators were no respecters of alighting places when night overtook them, for they would settle down upon the Great Salt Lake which pickled them in its briny waters by the hundreds of thousands of tons and then cast their carcases ashore until a great wall from 2 to 5 ft. in depth and from 3 to 9 or 10 ft. in width of these inanimate pests was formed for miles around the lake’s shore. And oh what a stench did this lifeless mass make. . . . Great clouds of grasshoppers flew over these Intermountain vallies, and would darken the sun like a misty fog, and when night overtook them, they would alight upon the ground and devour the crops wherever within their reach. This grasshopper plague was the incentive cause . . . to cease farming and go to railroad work.”[28]

Along with employment, there was the hope of an expanded market to transport local goods to a national market. Further, steel tracks could transport large granite stones for the Latter-day Saint temple, a distance of 20 miles from Little Cottonwood Canyon to Salt Lake City. Instead of taking several days to carry a load of stone from the quarry, it took about an hour. In addition, with increased visitors to Utah, the Mormons hoped that prejudices would soften towards the City of the Saints.[29]

Hope was realized when Mrs. Frank Leslie (wife of the famed New York publisher) took a trip by rail to Utah the following decade. Leslie perceived the impressive industry of the Saints that made the desert blossom as the rose and observed that Utah’s citizens were “‘better fed, better dressed, and better mannered’ than other Westerners, and lived in neater cottage, amid flowers and garden produce in profusion.” Although she could not yet come to grips with the practice of polygamy, Leslie admitted, “roses are better than sage-brush, and potatoes and peas preferable as a diet to buffalo grass. Also schoolhouses, with cleanly and comfortable troops of children about them, are a symptom of more advanced civilization than lonely shanties with only fever-and-ague and whisky therein.”[30]

But the transcontinental railroad was larger than a window to the Mormon Mecca or to benefit Utah’s inhabitants alone. It was built with the aim of producing more opportunities for all Americans to profit thereby and with the hope of generating greater national unity.  Providentially, the words engraved upon the golden spike read: “May God continue the unity of our country as this railroad unites the two great oceans of the world.”

On the day of dedication, Reverend J. Todd of Pittsfield, Massachusetts offered a prayer stating, “Our Father and God . . . we have assembled here, this day, upon the height of the continent from varied sections of our country, to do homage to Thy wonderful name, in that Thou hast brought this mighty enterprise, combining the commerce of the east with the gold of the west to so glorious a completion. . . . We here consecrate this great highway for the good of Thy people. O God, we implore Thy blessing upon it . . .  that this mighty enterprise may be unto us as the Atlantic of Thy strength and the Pacific of Thy love.”[31]

I conclude with a hope that we remember the immense price paid by a large body of men to complete this enormous undertaking. I pay tribute to the collective calloused hands, aching arms, strained backs, and blistered feet of the men who leveled the path and laid the rails under unrelenting circumstances. Regardless of size or strength, these diverse human beings linked rails that tied the nation together and prospered the whole.  As we walk in the diversity of our daily lives, may we too leave tracks and form ties with the aim of benefitting the greater whole. Remembering our common humanity will keep our nation united and lay the rails for generations to come.


[1] Leonard J. Arrington, “The Transcontinental Railroad and the Development of the West,” Utah Historical Quarterly vol. 37, no. 1 (Winter 1969), 4.

[2] Stephen E. Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000), 368, notes, coincidentally that Theodore Judah, the railroad visionary, and his wife Ann Ferona, commenced their wedding union on this same day.

[3] David Howard Bain, Empire Express: Building the Transcontinental Railroad (New York: Penguin Books, 1999), 14.

[4] Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World, 363, 366.

[5] Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World, 369.


[7] Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World, 371.

[8] See also which notes reduced time to travel and cost.

[9] Rocky Mountain News, 1866, cited in

[10] Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World, 18-19.

[11] Leonard J. Arrington, “The Transcontinental Railroad and the Mormon Economic Policy,” Pacific Historical Review, vol. 20, no. 2 (May, 1951), 157, put the LDS population for the year 1869 at about 75,000.

[12] John J. Stewart, The Iron Trail to the Golden Spike (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1969), 176.

[13] Hubert Howe Bancroft History of Utah (San Francisco: History Company, 1890), 754.


[15] Clarence Reeder, “A History of Utah’s Railroads,” Ph.D. dissertation, University of Utah (1959), cited in Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World, 287.

[16] Wesley S. A. Griswold, A Work of Giants: Building the First Transcontinental Railroad (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1962), 270

[17] Cited in Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World, 286.

[18] Leonard J. Arrington, “The Transcontinental Railroad and the Development of the West,” Utah Historical Quarterly vol. 37, no. 1 (Winter 1969), 10.


[19] Stewart, The Iron Trail to the Golden Spike (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1969), 175.

[20] Samuel Bowles, Our New West (Hartford, CT, 1869), 260.

[21] Stewart, The Iron Trail to the Golden Spike (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1969), 184.

[22] Orson F. Whitney, History of Utah, vol. 2, 238-239.

[23] Orson F. Whitney, History of Utah, vol. 2, 239.

[24] Autobiographical sketch of life and labors of Jacob Weiler, cited in, 3-4.

[25] Orson F. Whitney, History of Utah, vol. 2, 240-41.

[26] Autobiography and Diary of Lewis Barney.

[27] Letter of Orson Hyde to Brigham Young, May 27, 1868, CR 1234/1, Reel 53, box 40, fd 6, CHL.

[28] Milando Pratt [Autobiographical Sketch], pp. 7-8, 12, Utah State Historical Society.


[30] Leonard J. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, paperback ed. 1966), 239.

[31] “The Proceedings at Promontory Summit,” Deseret News, May 10, 1869.

Craig L. Foster’s Review of “Conversations with Mormon Historians”

Conversation with Mormon_Historians_COVER_Front 2

Review of Alexander L. Baugh and Reid L. Neilson, eds., Conversations with Mormon Historians, Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, in cooperation with Deseret Book Company, Salt Lake City, 2015. pp.580 + xv, including index. $34.99.

Abstract: Conversations with Mormon Historians is a compilation of interviews with sixteen Latter-day Saint scholars. The book reveals why they went into their chosen professions, their rise to prominence as historians, and their thoughts regarding important topics such as the Prophet Joseph Smith and the restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Part of understanding history is to understand the historians who wrote it. In other words, to truly grasp historical interpretations and perspectives, we need to know the historians behind the works of historical writing. Only then can we recognize how and why various historical events and people are being portrayed. . . .

See the full review here.

To buy the book, visit here.

RSC as Professional Preparation

Elizabeth Pinborough, RSC, Church Publishing Services

“The Religious Studies Center has been an important part of my professional success. At the RSC I received professional job training while I was a student and was able to work on professional projects, which prepared me for employment as an editor after I graduated. Learning from professionals there was invaluable, and I was able to hone the skills I gained in class by working on real-world projects. I could also see that knowledge in action and broaden its scope. In my editing work I have relied on the knowledge of the publishing process I gained at the RSC. I also made lifelong friends and associates there. I am incredibly grateful for all the RSC taught me.”

—Elizabeth Pinborough, former RSC editing intern and now writer at Church Publishing Services Department

Job training at the RSC is made possible through your donation. To donate to the Friends of Religious Education, click here.

RSC Authors at 2016 MHA Conference

Cliff Lodge, Snowbird, Utah, MHA

MHA Conference, Cliff Lodge, Snowbird, Utah, June 9-12, 2016.

Join us for the 2016 MHA Conference June 9–12 at Snowbird Resort’s beautiful Cliff Lodge. To register, click this link. Sign up soon because the Early Bird discount ends on Saturday, May 7. The following RSC authors will speak:

Jonathan A. Stapley, “Mormon Ordination: Texts, Powers, and Priesthoods”

Clinton D. Christensen, “Racial Perception and the Priesthood: Practice Among Latin American and Caribbean Saints”

Matthew C. Godfrey, “A Season of Blessings: What We Learn about Ordination and Patriarchal Blessings in Kirtland, Ohio, from the Joseph Smith Papers”

Jill Mulvey Derr, “How Women Created and Negotiated Their Institutional Presence: Emergent Narratives from Key Documents in The First Fifty Years of Relief Society

John C. Thomas, “Ambivalence Lost? Remembering and Forgetting Unknown Tongues”

Brant W. Ellsworth, “Portals to the Past: Reflexivity and the Study of Memories”

Casey Paul Griffiths, “Young, Progressive, and in Love: Joseph F. Merrill, Laura Hyde, and the Origins of Latter-day Saint and PR Man”

Richard E. Turley Jr., Roundtable and Audience Discussion: Global Practice

Richard L. Bushman, “The Council of Fifty Minutes—An Initial Scholarly Appraisal”

Richard E. Bennett, “The Council of Fifty Minutes—An Initial Scholarly Appraisal”

Tona Hangen, “Performing Trek: Becoming ‘Pioneer Children’ in the Digital Age”

Laura Harris Hales, “Legal Briefs or Pastorals? The LDS Church’s Three Official Statements on Marriage and Family”

Barbara E. Morgan and R. Devan Jensen, “Line Upon Line: Joseph Smith’s Growing Understanding of Families and Heaven”

Jennifer Brinkerhoff-Platt, “A Cultural Perspective on Latter-day Saint Eternal Family Discourse”

Brett D. Dowdle, “Promised Gatherings to Promised Lands: Mormon Gatherings, Early Zionism, and Orson Hyde’s 1840 Mission to Jerusalem”

Samuel Brown, “‘To Read the Sound of Eternity’: Speech, Text, and Scripture in the Book of Mormon”

Terryl Givens, “The Book of Mormon and the Reshaping of Covenant Theology”

Ugo Perego, “Was Joseph Smith the Biological Father of Josephine Lyon? The Genetic Evidence”

Brian Hales, “Polyandry and the ‘Offer’ Mentioned in D&C 132:51”

Kenneth L. Alford, “The Utah War’s 1858 Move South Viewed through Women’s Eyes”

William P. MacKinnon, “Rescued or Kidnapped: The Trans-Atlantic Saga of Henrietta Polydore”

Patrick Q. Mason, “Twentieth-Century Environmental Politics in the Mormon Culture Region”

Kate Holbrook, “Mothers at Work: A Look at the 1970s”

Dave Hall, “Changing Realities for Mormon Women: The Gospel Literacy Effort During the Presidency of Elaine L. Jack”

Stephen J. Fleming, “When Did Joseph Smith Know What He Knew? Hints at Pre-Existence, Deification, and Eternal Marriage in the Book of Mormon”

Janiece Johnson, “Becoming A People of the Books: Early Mormon Converts and the New Word of the Lord”

Scott C. Esplin, “Changing Their Practice: Latter-day Saint and Reorganized Church Approaches to Historical”

Andrew H. Hedges, “Practice in the Papers: News from Utah, 1847–49”

Gerrit J. Dirkmaat, “Agriculture, Adversaries, and Apostasy: Joseph Smith’s Unpublished Revelation and the Conflict over Frederick G. Williams’ Consecrated Farm”

Justin R. Bray, “The Nose Knows: Mormons, Smell, and Sensory History”

Reid L. Neilson, “‘A Fine Intellectual and Spiritual Opportunity’: Church Historian Leonard J. Arrington’s Tour of the LDS Church’s Asian Area General Conferences, August 1975

Ardis E. Parshall, “‘The Matter is Having My Close Attention’: Discoveries into Winston Churchill’s Investigation of Mormonism in Britain”

Find RSC material from these authors by clicking here.

“The Worldwide Church”: A Kaleidoscopic Collection

In a new book titled The Worldwide Church: Mormonism as a Global Religion, noted authors discuss the history and challenges inherent to the growing global nature of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ranging from India to Taiwan to Africa, the Czech Republic, Mexico, and Russia. The volume is bookended by keynote addresses by President Dieter F. Uchtdorf, second counselor in the First Presidency, and Terryl Givens, professor at the University of Richmond. The book is edited by Michael A. Goodman and Mauro Properzi, professors of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University, and copublished by the BYU Religious Studies Center and Deseret Book.

The book features stories of pioneering members worldwide. Rosemarie Howard, reviewer for the Deseret News, writes, “This kaleidoscopic collection of papers offers insights as well as faith-promoting stories and experiences illustrating the multifaceted and expanding international nature of the LDS Church.” To see the complete review, click here. To buy a copy, visit here.

Worldwide Church, Mormonism Global Religion, Goodman, Properzi

“The Worldwide Church: Mormonism as a Global Religion,” edited by Michael A. Goodman and Mauro Properzi. Courtesy of BYU Religious Studies Center.

German Ambassador Receives “Called to Teach”

LeGrand Richards presenting "Called to Teach: The Legacy of Karl G. Maeser" to German Ambassador Peter Wittig, April 6, 2016

LeGrand Richards presenting “Called to Teach: The Legacy of Karl G. Maeser” to German Ambassador Peter Wittig, April 6, 2016. Courtesy of Kate Andreason.

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A. LeGrand Richards. Called to Teach: The Legacy of Karl G. Maeser. Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2015.

His Excellency Peter Wittig, German ambassador to the United States, presented a lecture on April 6, 2016, hosted by the Kennedy Center for International Studies at Brigham Young University. On behalf of the university, author LeGrand (Buddy) Richards presented Ambassador Wittig with a copy of Called to Teach: The Legacy of Karl G. Maeser at a luncheon hosted by BYU president Kevin J Worthen. The book was published by the Religious Studies Center.

Karl G. Maeser has rightfully been called the spiritual architect not only of Brigham Young University but also of the Church Educational System. As the first superintendent of Church Education, he helped found and maintain over fifty academies and schools from Canada to Mexico. He helped develop the public education system in Utah and helped establish the Utah Teachers Association. The students he taught personally included future United States senators and members of the House of Representatives, a United States Supreme Court justice, university presidents, and many General Authorities. He translated twenty-nine hymns and about a third of the Doctrine and Covenants into German and founded Der Stern, the Church’s German magazine (now called the Liahona).

To learn about more about the book, click here.

Designing Success at the RSC

Alex Masterson, RSC design intern

Alex Masterson, RSC design intern. Courtesy of Alex Masterson.

After being here [at the RSC] for about two and a half years, my time here is soon coming to an end. During that time, I’ve participated in five different internships, several of which were quite competitive, and published several articles and one award-winning children’s book. After looking back, I can comfortably say that I couldn’t have accomplished even a fraction of what I did without the opportunities, experiences, and knowledge that I gained here at the RSC.

I’m certain I could not have learned as much as I did in any class offered at BYU. I learned things about editing that they didn’t cover in the copyediting classes, and I was able to master InDesign and become incredibly proficient with Photoshop. I learned so much about publishing and academia in general, and I got the opportunity to digitize maps, which I’ve found I really enjoy. For all these things, again I have all of you to thank, along with some of the other students.

Most of you probably already know, but I just got a job as a technical writer for Entrata. I will be very sad to leave. My last official day will be sometime in May (depending how long it takes to finish Zion’s Trumpet). But I just wanted you to know the difference your opportunities make in the lives of the students.

Thanks again for all you do!

Alex Masterson

Approaching Antiquity: “Intimidating, Yet Richly Rewarding”

Approaching Antiquity, Joseph Smith and the Ancient World

“Approaching Antiquity: Joseph Smith and the Ancient World” is edited by Lincoln H. Blumell, Matthew J. Grow, and Andrew H. Hedges and includes presentations from from the BYU Church History Symposium.

What do readers think of Approaching Antiquity: Joseph Smith and the Ancient World? Following is an exempt of a review by Kurt Manwaring:

“The . . . book is intimidating, yet richly rewarding, with its broad range and nuanced makeup of applicable disciplines.

The table of contents introduces readers to topics both general and specific, from prophets and antiquity in early America to Joseph’s interests in and efforts to touch various manifestations of antiquity, to deeper looks at subjects such as Joseph’s study of ancient Egypt, the Bible and ancient languages.

“As impressive as the topics written about are the authors who have chosen to write. Richard J. Bushman, author of Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, anchors the book with an exhausting yet approachable chapter titled ‘Joseph Smith and the Study of Antiquity.’”

The book is edited by Brigham Young University professors Lincoln H. Blumell, Matthew J. Grey, and Andrew H. Hedges.

See the full review here. Do you agree with it? What do you think of the book?

Order a copy here.