"We seldom get into trouble when we speak softly. It is only when we raise our voices that the sparks fly and tiny molehills become great mountains of contention."
- - Gordon B. Hinckley
August 1, 2012
Two Temples on the Prairies, 1846 and 1847
by James B. Allen

As every Latter-day Saint knows, special prayers are offered each day in the temples of the Church. The prayers are partly in behalf of sick or otherwise afflicted people whose names have been submitted for the prayer roll, although they are also concerned with other things.

But as I take part in the temple ceremony, and particularly the prayer circle, I sometimes think also of the struggles the Nauvoo Saints had as they were being forced to abandon their beloved city, and I am inevitably impressed with the fact that, amid all the persecution and trouble, they anxiously took time to go to the Nauvoo Temple in order to receive the temple blessings that had been revealed through Joseph Smith. More than 5,600 Saints received their temple endowments before the final exodus took place.

Then, as I participate in the prayer circle in the unhurried and unharried setting of our modern temples, I sometimes think of two special prayer circles held by Brigham Young and a few close associates as the pioneers were on their way West. There were no temples or other houses of worship available, but feeling the need for special blessings they donned their temple robes (how impressive that at least some of these early pioneers had their temple clothes with them) and held a prayer circle.

There may have been more such times, but these two are recorded in William Clayton’s published pioneer journal, and are the only ones I know about. For me, just reading about these prayer circles and the setting in which they were held is an emotional, spiritual experience.

The first one happened on May 30, 1846, nearly four months after the first group of Saints crossed the frigid waters of the Mississippi. During the intervening time they had experienced perhaps more real difficulties than any of the pioneers of 1847 or later, except for the terrible year at Winter Quarters and the tragic experience of the Willie and Martin handcart companies. The winter and spring weather on the plains of Iowa brought bitterly cold storms, tents being blown over, and muddy trails to follow.

On April 15, after a frustrating night on watch during which cattle and horses broke into tents and wagons, William Clayton received word of the birth of a son to his young plural wife, Diantha, who was still in Nauvoo. It was under these conditions that he sat down that morning and composed the famous hymn “Come, Come, Ye Saints” (which, at that point, he titled “All is Well”).

On April 24, at Garden Grove, the Saints established one of two important Iowa way stations that would provide supplies and assistance for future companies. On May 18, they began settlement of the second such station, Mt. Pisgah. William Clayton and his family arrived on May 26, and Clayton described the setting as “a very beautiful situation, the prairie rolling and rich, skirted with beautiful groves of timber on the main fork of the Grand river.” Four days later, the first of the two prayer circles mentioned in Clayton’s journal was held.

That day, probably a little before noon, Clayton borrowed a temple robe from his brother-in-law, Aaron Farr, and rode about three miles out onto the prairie with Willard Richards. There Brigham Young and four others were waiting. Clayton described what happened next, as others joined them:

Two tents were brought and we fixed them up and then met and clothed. There were President Young, P. P. Pratt, J. Taylor, Geo. A. Smith, A. Lyman, John Smith, N. K. Whitney, D. Spencer, O. Spencer, C. C. Rich, E. T. Benson, Wm. Huntington and myself. Clothed and having offered up the signs, offered up prayer, Heber C. Kimball being mouth. We then conversed awhile and appeared again, Geo. A. Smith being mouth — A. P. Rockwood and Wm. Kimball were guarding the tent. Prayers were offered that we might be delivered from our enemies and have teams to go on our journey, etc. About two o'clock we returned to camp. (William Clayton, William Clayton’s Journal: A Daily Record of the Journey of the Original Company of “Mormon” Pioneers from Nauvoo, Illinois to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake, published by Clayton Family Association [Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1921], entry for May 30, 1846).

In my mind these two tents comprised, at that moment, a kind of temple on the prairie, as thirteen men found a secluded spot where they could dress in their sacred robes and offer prayers for the success of their historic journey. The next day, incidentally, was Brigham Young’s forty-fifth birthday.

The next such event recorded by William Clayton took place exactly a year later: Sunday, May 30, 1847. By this time Brigham Young’s vanguard pioneer company, on the way from Winter Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley, was almost to the present eastern boundary of Wyoming, near the site of what is now the town of Henry, Nebraska. About a mile east of Henry are some low sandy bluffs, visible today from U.S. Highway 26.

Unfortunately, there had been some tension in the pioneer camp. Some of the men had been acting somewhat unsaintly: boisterous, arguing, even gambling, and in other ways not comporting themselves as Brigham Young thought they should.

On Saturday, May 29, he had taken the time to chastise them and call them to repentance in a long and pointed sermon. It had the intended effect. The men were solemn and subdued for the rest of the day and on Sunday morning most of them attended a public prayer meeting. Around noon they partook of the sacrament. Shortly afterwards a select group of men went into the bluffs were they found a quiet, level spot and held a special prayer circle. As described by William Clayton:

Soon afterwards all the members of the council of the K. of G. [Kingdom of God, a kind of political-religious group that were major players in planning for the move west] in the camp, except Brother Thomas Bullock, went onto the bluffs and selecting a small, circular, level spot surrounded by bluffs and out of sight, we clothed ourselves in the priestly garments and offered up prayer to God for ourselves, this camp and all pertaining to it, the brethren in the army, our families and all the Saints, President Young being mouth. We all felt well and glad for this privilege. The members of the above council are Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, Orson Pratt, George A. Smith, Wilford Woodruff, Amasa Lyman, Ezra T. Benson, Phineas H. Young, John Pack, Charles Shumway, Shadrack Roundy, Albert P. Rockwood, Erastus Snow, myself, Albert Carrington and Porter Rockwell. The two latter, having no clothing with them, stood guard at a little distance from us to prevent interruption. When we started for the bluffs, there was a heavy black thunder cloud rising from the southwest, and from all appearance it might rain any minute, but the brethren believed it would not rain till we got through and if it did we chose rather to take a wetting than to be disappointed of the privilege. It kept off remarkably till we got through and got our clothing on, but soon after it began to rain and after we got to camp it rained considerably, accompanied by strong wind. I never noticed the brethren so still and sober on a Sunday since we started as today. There is no jesting nor laughing, nor nonsense. All appear to be sober and feel to remember their covenant which makes things look far more pleasant than they have done heretofore. (Ibid, entry for May 30, 1847.)

Clayton emphasized the fact that they all felt glad for the privilege of participating in this private prayer circle. How important it was to that inner circle is suggested by Thomas Bullock’s journal entry for the same day. Apparently members of the group searched for Bullock before they went to the bluffs, but could not find him. Bullock wrote in his journal, however, referring to what Willard Richards had written in his:

Dr. Richards Reports “12:30 The Twelve, Rockwood, Shumway, P. H. Young, Snow, Clayton, Pack, went to a Valley in the bluffs & prayed, while Rockwell & Carrington watched. Bullock could not be found. 1:30 returned.” I confess, I have not been 45 yards from Camp, nor out of sight since last night. After [this] morning's meeting returned to my Wagon & back from Wagon to the Sacrament meeting. I was not the tenth part so grieved, to leave My Wife and all my children sick, one near the point of death in Winter Quarters as I am now grieved, that yesterday I covenanted to serve the Lord and today I am reported “Thomas Bullock cannot be found” when I have prepared every thing for the meeting [and] was perfectly ready & in sight of my Wagon, all the time, for a moment's notice. I have been deprived of one of my greatest & sacred privileges. O my God look down upon my tears & suffering & have mercy on me. Wherein I have offended thee, make it manifest to me, that I may repent, whatever it may be. (Thomas Bullock, The Pioneer Camp of the Saints: The 1846 and 1847 Trail Journals of Thomas Bullock, ed. Will Bagley [Spokane: Arthur H. Clark, 1997], entry for May 30, 1847.)

Whatever really happened in connection with Bullock, it is clear that this group of men looked upon this prayer circle not only as a special privilege but also as something sacred and tremendously important.

These two events were special prayer circles, certainly not full temple ceremonies. But because this group of faithful pioneers, under the direction of Brigham Young, took time out to find secluded spots, clothe themselves in their sacred temple robes, and hold a special prayer circle, I often think of the spot three miles from Mt. Pisgah and another spot in the bluffs of Nebraska as “temples on the prairie.” And when I find myself participating in temple prayer circles I am frequently reminded of these little-known but important sacred moments in Church history.

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About James B. Allen

JAMES B. ALLEN, Professor of History, Emeritus, Brigham Young University

James B. Allen was born June 14, 1927, in Ogden, Utah. He married Renée Jones, April 16, 1953. They have five children, twenty-one grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren . He received his bachelor's degree in history form Utah State University in 1954, a master's degree from Brigham Young University in 1956, and the Ph.D. from the University of Southern California in 1963.

Active in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints all his life, he has served in numerous positions, including bishop of two BYU wards and a member of 5 different BYU high councils. In 1999-2000 he and Renée served as missionaries at the Boston Institute of Religion.

He has also been active in the Republican party and twice served as a delegate to the state convention.

In his professional career, he taught in the LDS Seminary and Institute program from 1954-63, after which he was a member of the faculty at Brigham Young University until his retirement in 1992. From 1972 to 1979 he also served as Assistant Church Historian (splitting his time between BYU and the Church Historical Department). He was chair of the History Department from 1981-1987 then, during his last five years at BYU, he was honored to hold the Lemuel Hardison Redd, Jr. Chair in Western American History. After his retirement he became associated with the Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Latter-day Saint History at BYU, where for several years he held an appointment as a Senior Research Fellow.

He has also been active in various professional organizations, including the Western History Association (served on various committees, and as chair of a program committee) and the Mormon History Association (president, 1971-73). He has been on various boards of editors and advisory committees and presented numerous papers at the meetings of various historical associations.

As a researcher and writer he is the author, co-author, or co-editor of fourteen books or monographs and around 90 articles relating to Western American history and Mormon history, as well as numerous book reviews in professional journals. Some of his books include the following:

The Company Town in the American West (University of Oklahoma Press, 1966)
The Story of the Latter-day Saints (with Glen M. Leonard; Deseret Book Company, 1976; 2nd edition 1992)
Trials of Discipleship: The Story of William Clayton, a Mormon (University of Illinois Press, 1987). Revised and republished in 2002 by BYU Press under the title No Toil Nor Labor Fear: The Story of William Clayton. In 1986, while still in press, this book won the prestigious David Woolley Evans and Beatrice Cannon Evans Biography Award.
Men With a Mission: The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the British Isles, 1837-1841 (with Ronald K. Esplin and David J. Whittaker, Deseret Book Company, 1992)
Studies in Mormon History 1830-1997: An Indexed Bibliography (with Ronald W. Walker and David J. Whittaker; University of Illinois Press, 2000). Allen was the lead investigator for this important work. It lists, and provides an index to, all the significant books, articles, doctoral dissertations and master's theses on Mormon history produced between 1830 and 1997. It has been widely hailed as one of the most important aids to finding LDS history ever published. In 2001 the Mormon History Association awarded the authors a special citation for the publication of this book. After that, working with J. Michael Hunter, Allen continued to update the bibliography database. Hunter has now taken over the updating, and the database is online at mormonhistory.byu.edu.
Mormon History (with Ronald W. Walker and David J. Whittaker, University of Illinois Press, 2001). This book is a history of the writing of Mormon history, from the days of Joseph Smith until the present time.

Over the years he has received various awards, honors, and recognitions, besides those indicated above. Among them were several "best article" awards; the Karl G. Maeser Research and Creative Arts Award, Brigham Young University, 1980; named Distinguished Faculty Lecturer, Brigham Young University, 1984; named a Fellow of the Utah State Historical Society, July 15, 1988; the Leonard J. Arrington Award for a Distinctive Contribution to the cause of Mormon History, awarded by the Mormon History Asociation, 2008.

James and Renée have enjoyed living in Orem, Utah since 1963.

He currently serves as Sunday School President in his ward, and he and Renée have been officiators in the Mt. Timpanogos Temple since 2004.

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