Every Latter-day Saint with Scandinavian heritage (there are many of us) should read William Mulder’s Homeward to Zion: The Mormon Migration from Scandinavia (University of Minnesota Press: 1985; reprint Brigham Young University Press: 2000). It is a well-researched and fascinating account of the story of tens of thousands of Latter-day Saints who found the Gospel in their native Scandinavian countries of Denmark, Sweden, and Norway and then emigrated here more or less en masse throughout the second half of the nineteenth century.
In opening his study, Mulder notes that
The Mormon immigrant, like every other immigrant, crossed more than an ocean and a continent — his traveling was, in John Ciardi’s phrase,
. . . across the sprung longitudes of the mind
And the blood’s latitudes. (Mulder xi.)
This is certainly the case with Scandinavian emigrants who went straight from their green homelands to Zion’s harsh environment in Deseret. It must have been extremely difficult to trade their green homelands for the arid desert of the Western United States, but they willingly did so out of their religious conviction that they could build a Zion unto God.
Of this conviction Mulder observes the following:
In 1849, when Mormon missionaries first set out for Copenhagen, Zion was the provisional State of Deseret, a regional empire bounded by the Rocky Mountains and the Sierras, the Oregon country and Mexico, with a corridor opening to the Pacific for an eventual port of entry for immigrants expected to come the water route round the Horn. By the time Anders Thomsen and the first proselytes from Scandinavia reached the Valley, Deseret had been reduced to the Territory of Utah, boxed in by arbitrary parallels and meridians, to be further trimmed as surrounding territories were created. But what was left still challenged the immagination. “Utah” meant “the tops of the mountains,” and it was in the tops of the mountains Isaiah had predicted the House of the Lord would be established and all nations flow unto it. Brigham Young sent out exploring parties to discover every habitable valley and pre-empt the Kingdom — here was a land where the Mormons at last could be the original settlers, keeping the outsider in decided minority. By his death in 1877, Young had founded 358 communities, including outposts in California, Arizona, Nevada, Idaho, Wyoming, and Colorado. If arable land was scarce and water the price of blood, the limitation proved an advantage: noting ruefully that the Mormons “have not only settled but have filled all of tillable Utah,” a federal commission in 1888 concluded that “those who hold the valleys and appropriate and own the waters capable of use for irrigation, own and hold Utah, and nature has fortified their position more strongly than it could be done by any Chinese wall or artificial defense.” (Mulder 191.)
Although it was surely discouraging to end up in the sun-baked and dusty valleys of Utah, Idaho, and Arizona, Mormon settlers including those from Scandinavia and England had found their home in these valleys. Here, they were able to live their deeply held religion without molestation by mobs and militias determined to expel or exterminate the Mormons because of their beliefs.
On July 24, we celebrate the day that Brigham Young and the Latter-day Saints who had left brick homes in the beautiful city of Nauvoo on the Mississippi River — many without having had the benefit of selling their valuable homes and property because they needed to avoid the violence promised them by the mobs — entered the Salt Lake Valley and made their new home in Deseret.