I think we are a little behind in my ward for our Heber J. Grant lessons. We just did lesson 14 “Come, Come, Ye Saints” today, which seems to me like it is a lesson intended more for the spirit of July 24 than for this week.
This lesson contained an especially powerful experience of President Grant that can help us all obtain an appropriate gratitude for our pioneer ancestors. I support the notion that everyone in the Church, whether you converted two years ago or are the descendant of someone who crossed the plains, has pioneer ancestors. That is, the pioneers who sacrificed everything are ancestors in faith to us all. The fact that we have the faith that we do today is attributable to their hardships and willingness to leave all behind.
President Grant’s father was one of those who left everything behind to follow the prophet Brigham Young to the west. Reading President Grant’s words on the subject brings strong images to my mind and reminds me of my own pioneer ancestors.
Whenever President Grant heard the hymn “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” he recalled his father’s experience, as related by the Heber J. Grant manual:
I have never heard and never expect to hear, to the day of my death, my favorite hymn, ‘Come, come, ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear, But with joy wend your way,’ [without thinking] of the death and the burial of my little baby sister and the wolves digging up her body on the plains. I think of the death of my father’s first wife and the bringing of her body here for burial.
As President Grant’s father was crossing the plains with his first wife Caroline and their six-month-old daughter in 1847, the daughter got cholera and died along the way. They buried her in a shallow grave by the wayside, as so many of our ancestors had to bid farewell to their loved ones. A short time later, Caroline also died, but not before requesting President Grant’s father to come back for the body of their baby daughter after he had reached Salt Lake valley and to bury her and their daughter there in Salt Lake. In fulfilling this promise, President Grant’s father brought a friend and the friend’s adopted daughter Susan along. Susan tells of what happened when they found the shallow grave:
A few paces from the little grave we stopped hesitatingly, set down our things and stood with eyes fixed before us. Neither tried to speak. An ugly hole replaced the small mound; and so recently had the wolves departed that every sign was fresh before us. I dared not raise my eyes to look at Jedediah [President Grant's father]. From the way I felt, I could but guess his feelings. Like statues in the wilderness we stood, grown to the spot, each fully realizing that nothing more could be done. After several minutes of silent tears, we quietly withdrew, carrying away only that which we had brought.
This must have been a heartbreaking experience. At President Grant’s father’s funeral, President Heber C. Kimball related a vision that President Grant’s father had had regarding this tragedy:
He saw the righteous gathered together in the spirit world, and there were no wicked spirits among them. He saw his wife; she was the first person that came to him. He saw many that he knew, but did not have conversation with any except his wife Caroline. She came to him, and he said that she looked beautifully and had their little child, that died on the plains, in her arms and said, ‘Here is little Margaret; you know that the wolves ate her up, but it did not hurt her; here she is all right.
This story of course arouses sympathy with our pioneer ancestors, and rightly so. They sacrificed everything to come here and establish the Church in a stable environment so that it could incubate and become strong enough to spread throughout the world in these last days. All who join the Church can hail these early Latter-day Saints as their own ancestors in faith, regardless of what blood flows in their veins, because these saints purchased the Gospel that we now enjoy with their blood, sweat, and tears.