Brigham Young Biography: The Right Place
Although privately committed to leaving Nauvoo, Brigham and his associates were determined to complete the Nauvoo Temple so that the Saints could meet covenants made with the Lord to finish the House and also receive their temple ordinances. Even as they labored to defend themselves and finish the temple, they held meetings to decide when and where to move farther west. Soon after violence erupted in September 1845, they publicly announced their intention to leave by the following spring. By December the temple was ready for ordinance work, and by February nearly 6,000 members had received temple blessings therein. The Saints had also spent the fall and winter preparing for the exodus. Committees were appointed and a Nauvoo Covenant was signed, helping to ensure that those with property would assist those without during the exodus.
Partly because of concerns about governmental intervention, Brigham Young began the migration in the cold and snow of February 1846 rather than await spring. By hundreds, then by thousands, people (some 16,000 in number), animals, and wagons crossed the Mississippi River and trudged across Iowa. Reaching the Missouri River in June, it was determined that there would be no attempt to press on to the Rocky Mountains until the spring of 1847. Brigham Young established his headquarters at what was called Winter Quarters (now Florence, Nebraska) on the Missouri River. More than 50 branches of the Church were organized to shepherd the Saints in some 80 small LDS communities set up in southwest Iowa for a winter encampment.
Brigham personally directed the Saints' massive odyssey on the westward trail. This demanding experience taught Brigham Young valuable lessons about men and organization that he used throughout his years of leadership. He also learned anew that when human resources prove inadequate, one must turn in faith to God. That winter Brigham announced "The Word and Will of the Lord" (D&C 136) to help organize the Saints and prepare them for the westward trek. Brigham Young set out with an advance group of 143 men, three women, and two children on April 5, 1847. Delayed by illness, he arrived in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, a few days behind the advance party.
Once he saw the valley with his own eyes, he announced it as the right place for a new headquarters city and confirmed that the region would be the new gathering place. He also identified the exact spot for a temple. Brigham directed the exploration of the region; helped survey and apportion the land for homes, gardens, and farming; and named the new settlement "Great Salt Lake City, Great Basin, North America." On August 26, 1847, he joined the return party to Winter Quarters. On the trail east he encountered John Smith coming west and appointed him president of the Salt Lake Stake of Zion. In council they also agreed upon basic policies of cooperative work and sharing, which needed to be carried out immediately.
At Winter Quarters in December 1847, Brigham and other members of the Twelve reorganized the First Presidency of the Church. Their action was sustained by the membership in the log tabernacle at Council Bluffs, Iowa, on December 27, 1847. Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards were sustained as his counselors. The following April, Brigham, his family, and approximately 3,500 other Saints headed for the Salt Lake Valley. Brigham's activities in organizing companies, building bridges, repairing equipment, and training oxen developed abilities that would be in evidence the rest of his life.