J. Reuben Clark, Jr. (1871-1961), First Presidency
Note: The J. Reuben Clark Law School, on the campus of Brigham Young University, is named after this prominent lawyer and member of the First Presidency
Taken From the Talk: "To Them of the Last Wagon," 5 Oct. 1947
I would like to say something about the last wagon in each of the long wagon trains that toiled slowly over the plains, up mountain defiles, down steep, narrow canyons, and out into the valley floor that was to be home—this last wagon:
The Brethren had really visioned the glory of the Lord, who walked near them, put his thoughts into their minds; his Spirit guided and directed them, petitioned thereto by the thousands of Saints who were back in Winter Quarters, back in Iowa, back in the States, and beyond, even across the waters, for the faithful poured out their souls in fervent prayer to Almighty God that the Brethren should be inspired.
The Saints buoyed up the Brethren out in front with encouragement, with praise, and sometimes even with adulation. Knowing the Brethren were prophets of God, the Saints gave them full confidence, daily, almost hourly, expressed. The Brethren lived in a world of commendation from friends and the tried and true Saints. Rarely was their word or their act questioned by the faithful Saints. This was as it should be and had to be to carry out the Lord’s purposes.
But back in the last wagon, not always could they see the Brethren way out in front, and the blue heaven was often shut out from their sight by heavy, dense clouds of the dust of the earth. Yet day after day, they of the last wagon pressed forward, worn and tired, footsore, sometimes almost disheartened, borne up by their faith that God loved them, that the restored gospel was true, and that the Lord led and directed the Brethren out in front. Sometimes, they in the last wagon glimpsed, for an instant, when faith surged strongest, the glories of a celestial world, but it seemed so far away and the vision so quickly vanished because want and weariness and heartache and sometimes discouragement were always pressing so near.
When the vision faded, their hearts sank. But they prayed again and pushed on, with little praise, with not too much encouragement, and never with adulation. For there was nearly always something wrong with the last wagon or with its team—the off ox was a little lame in the right front shoulder; the hub of the left front wheel was often hot; the tire of the hind wheel on the same side was loose. So corrective counsel, sometimes strong reproof, was the rule, because the wagon must not delay the whole train.
But yet in that last wagon there was devotion and loyalty and integrity, and above and beyond everything else, faith in the Brethren and in God’s power and goodness. For had not the Lord said that not even a sparrow fall[s] unnoticed by the Father [see Matt. 10:29], and were they not of more value than sparrows? And then they had their testimony, burning always like an eternal fire on a holy altar, that the restored gospel was true, that Joseph was a prophet of God, and that Brigham was Joseph’s chosen successor.
When the train moved forward in the early morning sun and the oxen with a swinging pull that almost broke the tongue got the last wagon on the move, the dust in the still morning air hung heavy over the road. Each wagon from the first stirred up its own cloud, till when the last wagon swung into line, the dust was dense and suffocating. It covered that last wagon and all that was in it; it clung to clothes; it blackened faces; it filled eyes already sore, and ears.
The wife, soon to be a mother, could hardly catch her breath in the heavy, choking dust, for even in the pure air she breathed hard from her burden. Each jolt of the wagon, for those ahead had made wagon ruts almost “ex” deep, wrung from her clenched lips a half-groan she did her best to keep from the ears of the anxious, solicitous husband plodding slowly along, guiding and goading the poor, dumb cattle, themselves weary from the long trek. So through the long day of jolting and discomfort and sometimes pain, and sometimes panting for breath, the mother, anxious only that the unborn babe should not be injured, rode, for she could not walk; and the children walked, for the load was too heavy and big for them to ride; and the father walked sturdily alongside and prayed.
When in the evening the last wagon creaked slowly into its place in the circle corral and the Brethren came to inquire how the day had gone with the mother, then joy leaped in their hearts, for had not the Brethren remembered them? New hope was born, weariness fled, fresh will to do was enkindled; gratitude to God was poured out for their knowledge of the truth, for their testimony that God lived, that Jesus was the Christ, that Joseph was a prophet, that Brigham was his ordained successor, and that for the righteous a crown of glory awaited that should be theirs during the eternities of the life to come. Then they would join in the songs and dancing in the camp, making the camp’s gaiety their own—as much as Mother’s condition would permit.
Then the morning came when from out that last wagon floated the la-la of the newborn babe, and Mother love made a shrine and Father bowed in reverence before it. But the train must move on. So out into the dust and dirt the last wagon moved again, swaying and jolting, while Mother eased as best she could each pain-giving jolt so no harm might be done her, that she might be strong to feed the little one, bone of her bone, flesh of her flesh. Who will dare to say that angels did not cluster round and guard her and ease her rude bed, for she had given another choice spirit its mortal body that it might work out its God-given destiny?
My mother was one of those babes so born in 1848, ninety-nine years ago.
Another morning came, when courageous little Bill, who, with a hero’s heart, had trudged through long days of hot sun and through miles of soggy mud in the rain, his little body drenched, little Bill, weak and wan, must be crowded in to ride with Mother, for he was sick from a heavy cold. Months before, on that cold winter’s night when they fled Nauvoo for their lives to escape the fiendish wrath of a wild mob, Bill became dangerously ill with pneumonia, which left him with weak lungs. This old illness now returned. He grew worse and worse. The elders came and prayed he might get well. But the Lord wanted little Bill with Him. So a few mornings later a weeping mother and a grief-stricken father and that last wagon swung into place in the line, leaving beside the road, under some scrub brush, a little mound, unmarked save for heaped up rocks to keep out the wolves, a mound that covered another martyr to the cause of truth.
So through dust and dirt, dirt and dust, during the long hours, the longer days—that grew into weeks and then into months, they crept along till, passing down through its portals, the valley welcomed them to rest and home. The cattle dropped to their sides, wearied almost to death; nor moved they without goading, for they too sensed they had come to the journey’s end.
That evening was the last of the great trek, the mightiest trek that history records since Israel’s flight from Egypt, and as the sun sank below the mountain peaks of the west and the eastern crags were bathed in an amethyst glow that was a living light, while the western mountainsides were clothed in shadows of the rich blue of the deep sea, they of the last wagon, and of the wagon before them, and of the one before that, and so to the very front wagon of the train, these all sank to their knees in the joy of their souls, thanking God that at last they were in Zion—“Zion, Zion, lovely Zion; Beautiful Zion; Zion, city of our God!” [Hymns, no. 44].
They knew there was a God, for only he could have brought them, triumphant, militant, through all the scorn, the ridicule, the slander, the tarrings and featherings, the whippings, the burnings, the plunderings, the murderings, the ravishings of wives and daughters, that had been their lot, the lot of their people since Joseph visioned the Father and the Son.
But hundreds of these stalwart souls of undoubting faith and great prowess were not yet at their journey’s end ...
J. Reuben Clark, Jr., "To Them of the Last Wagon," General Conference, 5 October 1947,
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Interest [on debt] never sleeps nor sickens nor dies; it never goes to the hospital; it works on Sundays and holidays; it never takes a vacation; it never visits nor travels; it takes no pleasure; it is never laid off work nor discharged from employment; it never works on reduced hours. ... Once in debt, interest is your companion every minute of the day and night; you cannot shun it or slip away from it; you cannot dismiss it; it yields neither to entreaties, demands, or orders; and whenever you get in its way or cross its course or fail to meet its demands, it crushes you.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
It seems sometimes as if the darkness that surrounds us is all but impenetrable. I can see on all sides the signs of one great evil master mind working for the overturning of our civilization, the destruction of religion, the reduction of men to the status of animals. This mind is working here and there and everywhere.