Monday, March 30, 2009
Temple Trivia: St. George
The settlement of St. George was so significant to building the temple there, that that's what I'm focusing on today, rather than on specific temple stories. (I can go into those another time.)
After I learned about the settlement of southern Utah, I'm amazed anyone stuck around. Many didn't.
The original reason for getting a settlement down there was so the Latter-day Saints could be more self-sufficient. The Civil War had broken out, which led to a decrease in the cotton supply out West.
Combine that with the fact that Brigham Young didn't like to rely on outsiders for anything, and he decided that the Saints needed a way to get their own cotton.
(I found it ironic that even when the Cotton Mission was up and running, they always, always relied on dyes from back East to color the fabric.)
They'd already had success growing flax in what is now Utah Country, but they needed a warmer climate for cotton.
After scouts came back to Salt Lake and described the area, a lot of people were understandably wary. Volunteers were requested to settle the "Cotton Mission," but only one man raised his hand. The next week, Church leaders just called people from the pulpit, folks who had the skills they needed (everything from farmers to blacksmiths to coopers and even a mineralogist and a fiddler).
I'd heard about those kinds of mission calls and always marveled that the men just accepted their calls and did their duty. Not this time. About a third declined. They knew what a harsh environment they were being asked to live in. No, thanks!
Of those who did go, some turned around and went back as soon as they saw the area, and still more left after giving it a go for a time. The heat and other issues just made eking out a living there hard.
One early trial was an outbreak of malaria. (In the desert. I know; I don't get it either.)
A continuing problem was the Virgin River. The settlers had to dam it to reroute the water so they could actually water their crops. They spent much of the winter of 1861-62 making a dam and ditches. In the spring, floods washed out the dam and filled the ditches with mud. This delayed building their homes.
The dam washing out (and then rebuilding it) became a common theme: it broke again and again over the years, making it hard to grow food and build shelter, let alone to grow the cotton they were there to produce.
The settlers eventually began construction on a tabernacle, and then, on the counsel of Brigham Young, construction on a temple. I go into some of the challenges in building the temple in At the Journey's End, so I won't here. Just know that the people had their work cut out for them. I would have sat down and cried.
By the time the Cotton Mission was disbanded, there was quite a large settlement, and living there wasn't quite as big a sacrifice.
One interesting item is that a handful of people who were originally called to the Cotton Mission made a point of growing a token amount of cotton in their gardens every year even after the mission was closed.
Their reasoning: They'd been called to grow cotton and hadn't ever been released from that duty.
The early settlers had little in the way of material goods, and they sacrificed greatly to build both a tabernacle and a temple.
At first glance, building a temple there doesn't make much sense. The bulk of Church membership certainly wasn't in the area. The Salt Lake Temple was under construction (although it wouldn't be done for some time). Before long, the Logan and Manti Temples were being built and would serve more members of the Church.
In the end, President John Taylor, who became prophet shortly after the dedication of the St. George Temple, explained why it was built there: "Because there was a people living here [in St. George] who were more worthy than any others. Who were more worthy of the blessings of the temple"
Essentially, only the best of the best not only agreed to go down there, but they stayed and endured and sacrificed greatly because of their faith and dedication to God. That devotion was repaid with the blessings of eternity.
I'd say it was worth the price.
Today's tour stops:
An Ordinary Mom (in which I'm long-winded with thoughtful questions I've never been asked before)
If You Give a Mom a Moment (where she quotes lines from the book and tells why they resonated)
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