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NAUVOO, Ill. Several activities, highlighted by a walk down Parley Street to the Mississippi River, were held Feb. 3-5 in commemoration of the 160th anniversary of the Mormon Pioneers' exodus from Nauvoo.
Each year visitors, area residents, BYU students and missionaries in the Illinois Nauvoo Mission remember the beginning of the historic trek to the Salt Lake Valley. This year's theme for the weekend events was "With Faith and Fortitude, They Went Forward."
In the face of local hostility in the fall of 1845 and early 1846, Church leaders decided to leave Nauvoo. The decision transformed the once-largest city in Illinois to a wagon factory overnight. Nearly 1,500 wagons were ready in November, and an additional 2,000 were partially completed in early 1846. Although initial plans were for the saints to leave in the spring of 1846, conflicts intensified, and they decided to leave as soon as possible. The first ox-drawn wagon, owned by Charles Shumway, crossed the Mississippi River on a flatboat Feb. 4, 1846.
This year's commemoration began Friday, Feb. 3, with a program of period music and true stories significant to the occasion. Of the 14 stories told, eight were recounted by descendants who are currently Nauvoo missionaries.
Sister Dorothy Nielson from St. George, Utah, told the story of her great-great-grandfather Winslow Farr's daughter, Diantha, who was married to William Clayton. A confidant of Brigham Young, Brother Clayton was called to be in one of the first groups to leave Nauvoo. Diantha was only a month from delivering their first child, so she stayed behind with her parents. It was two months before Brother Clayton received word that Diantha had delivered a "fine, fat boy." Shortly after receiving the news, William wrote the hymn that has become an anthem of inspiration and gratitude for Church members, "Come, Come, Ye Saints."
Elder Richard Jarvis from Willard, Mo., quoted from the journal of his ancestor, Sidney Tanner, whose wife, Louisa, and small son, James Monroe Tanner, died along the way. To Louisa's parents he wrote, "She requested me to write and tell you that she died in the full triumph of the faith of Jesus Christ, and her most desire for living was for the benefit of her family and friends and to do what she was afraid they would not do for themselves, that they might arrive to a glorious salvation in the kingdom of God, where she expects to meet them and enjoy their society."
To conclude the program, Elder Kay Lybbert, Warden, Wash., quoted his great-great-grandfather, Wilford Woodruff: "I left Nauvoo for the last time, perhaps, in this life. I looked upon the temple and the city of Nauvoo as I retired from it and felt to ask the Lord to preserve it as a monument to the sacrifice of His Saints."
Following the program, descendants of pioneers were invited to honor their ancestors. Several hundred audience and cast members stood in remembrance of their progenitors.
On Saturday morning, Feb. 4, horse and ox-drawn wagons, 30 marchers representing the Nauvoo Legion, and many walkers in pioneer dress re-enacted the walk down Parley Street, leading to the crossing point on the Mississippi River. More than 300 participants wore name cards of individuals who were part of the 1846 exodus. With a temperature in the low 20s F. and winds of 15-25 mph, re-enactors were sympathetic to the early saints' difficulties in being forced to leave in winter without adequate clothing and supplies.
Following the singing of "Come, Come, Ye Saints," and the Nauvoo Legion representatives muster and flag-raising ceremony, Joseph Smith Academy student Spencer Hearne played "Taps" as the United States and Illinois flags were raised then lowered to half-staff in remembrance of the pioneers who died in the exodus. A group of academy students placed flowers into the river in memory of those who left that cold February day.
On Sunday, Feb. 5, the exodus remembrance concluded with a "Sunday Sociable" titled "Gathering in the Lord's Own Way." Fred E. Woods, BYU professor of Church history and executive director of the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation, gave a computer graphics presentation focusing on the immigrant experience of gathering to and through Nauvoo. He highlighted how the Lord intends (both then and now) for His children to "carefully gather together . . . consistently with the feelings of the people" (Doctrine and Covenants 105:24).
Brother Woods described various Latter-day Saint historical commemorations with friends of other faiths in Lexington, Mo.; Topsfield, Mass.; New Brunswick, Canada; and Keokuk, Iowa; where a bonding occurred among participants. He discussed projects his foundation will be involved in this summer in Iowa City and Des Moines, Iowa.
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