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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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”).
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.
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
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,
Family Association [Salt Lake City: Deseret
1921], entry for May 30, 1846).
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.
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.
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
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
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.)
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:
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
ed. Will Bagley [Spokane: Arthur H. Clark, 1997], entry for May 30,
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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.