Convention of Statesmen

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In Celebration of Our Pioneers

As the 24th of July approaches, which is known as Pioneer Day to Latter-day Saints across the world, my mind drifts back to my own ancestors. It is the day we celebrate the arrival of the pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley after a long and arduous journey west, fleeing Illinois from certain persecution and death.

Prior to his marriage, my great-great-great grandfather, Moses Harris, had a conversation with his future father-in-law, Thomas Dodd Smith. Let me paraphrase as I have not read the account in quite some time although the message itself is burned into my brain.

Moses and Thomas were out chopping wood or working in the field, I cannot remember which, when Thomas stopped and looked his daughter's fiancé straight in the eye and said:

"Moses, the true church of God is nowhere to be found on the earth. It will not come in my lifetime but it will come in yours. Promise me this now, you will not forget Mother and me. When you find it, remember us."

"I will, Thomas. I will." Moses vowed.

Twice more before Moses and Fanny married, Thomas took Moses aside and elicited the same promise from him, and each time Moses gave him his word. Moses and Fanny were baptized into The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1833. It wasn't long after the possibility of performing that ordinance as proxy for the our ancestors became available that Moses and Fanny entered the waters of baptism, which happened to be a cold river, and were baptized for her parents. A promise solicited, a promise kept.

Moses and Fanny, along with their children followed the prophet, Joseph Smith, to Ohio and onward to Missouri. They settled near Crooked River and Moses built a homestead and farmed his 3,000 acres of claimed land. The climate for Mormons in Missouri became difficult, and on October 24, 1838 the Battle of Crooked River commenced. There is no doubt in my mind that Moses defended his family along with the others in the area. There is very little in the family record about this battle, but it is noted they did not leave Crooked River until late winter of 1838 or early 1839. My G3 grandparents eventually lost three children due to exposure to the brutal winter as they were driven from Missouri. Fanny was seven months pregnant.

Eventually the Harris' would settle in Montrose, Iowa, just across the Mississippi River from Nauvoo, Illinois. Moses served as a sometime bodyguard for Joseph Smith and in his free hours farmed his land in Montrose. June 27, 1844, at 5:45 in the evening, everything changed for every Mormon in the 19th Century. Joseph Smith, Jr. and his brother Hyrum were assassinated by cold-blooded, cowardly mobbers who had painted their faces black so as to remain undetected after completing their foul deed. Thereafter, Moses patrolled the streets of Nauvoo, with other brave man, to prepare for the eventuality of an attack.

Two years later, the Saints began to roll out of Nauvoo headed to a land westward Joseph had only dreamed of, Utah. Moses was in the wagon train with Brigham Young, but was struck terribly ill. When his son, Silas, was called to serve in the Mormon Batallion, Moses was too weak to take the family the rest of the way. They waited right there for Silas' return, then and only then, did they continue westward.

They did not arrive in the Salt Lake Valley until October 19th, but Moses and his family became a very integral part of Utah history helping to settle San Bernardino, Harrisburg and eventually ending in Leeds, where he died. When Brigham Young called, Moses obeyed. Always and unfailing, Moses was faithful to the Lord's prophet and his requests.

The ending paragraph of his obituary in the local Leeds, Utah newspaper reads:
He leaves a posterity now living of five children, [55] grandchildren. Father Harris' long and eventful life, after gathering with the Saints in Missouri, was mostly spent in opening up new settlements. He was very unassuming, and was honest and upright in his dealings with his fellow man, always quietly performing all duties required of him. He was very temperate in his habits. He never faltered nor murmured under all the trying scenes he was called to pass through, and was ever ready to bear a strong testimony to the truth of this Latter-day work. It can truly be said of him, "He has fought the good flight, he has kept the faith," and will come forth in the morning of the first resurrection and inherit all the blessings sealed upon his head in the Temple of the Lord, wherein he passed through all the ordinances given in those sacred places. ~ Warren Foote, reporter
Moses and his family instilled in their descendants a great sense of patriotism, love of God and a serious work ethic. My mother, his G2 granddaughter, instilled in me the pride of knowing where we come from and that deep responsibility that we live up to the sacrifices our ancestors made that we might have the very Gospel of Jesus Christ denied Fanny's parents.

So when we celebrate Pioneer Day, for me it is so much more than parades, concerts, speakers and dances . . . it is remembering my ancestors who sweat blood and tears who lived up to their covenants and stayed true to their God. It is remembering that I was born and raised in the glorious West because they walked and rode on a wagon across the prairies and mountains of the American Midwest and West. It is remembering I am free to pursue my dreams, goals and overcome my challenges because they made sure their descendants would have that opportunity. It's remembering that I am free to drive to my ward building and attend church every Sunday. It's knowing I can drive to Salt Lake at any time and stand at the base of the Church Administration Building and know that the prophet and apostles of God are hard at work inside and around the world administering to His kingdom. It is knowing I can share my thoughts, testimony and beliefs in person and on the internet without attack, relatively speaking.

So I give my thanks to each and every pioneer, those of our faith and those who were not, who carved America out of this harsh, unforgiving land. To those who buried loved ones across the American plains and mountains I thank you for your sacrifice and your sorrow. To those who buried the foundation of your beloved work for the Lord, I give you untold gratitude. And to those who came before me, thank you for the Utah I live in now.
In Celebration of Our Pioneers In Celebration of Our Pioneers Reviewed by Candace Salima on Friday, July 04, 2008 Rating: 5