DESERT KINGDOM

When the immigrants from the green British Isles first saw the treeless desert that was the Salt Lake Valley, many were bewildered. Drawn by hope, they had journeyed halfway across the world and pulled handcarts 1,300 miles. To some, the arid plain that greeted them in the 1850s seemed like anything but the Promised Land.
On the far western horizon, they caught a glimpse of the strange, salty lake, the Great Salt Lake.
As the newcomers pulled their handcarts into the city, they could see the eight-foot wall that bordered the square where the Latter-day Saint temple was being constructed. Across the street from the temple grounds, the wall enclosed the properties of Mormon Prophet Brigham Young, which included homes, barns, orchards, granaries, carpentry and blacksmith shops, a gristmill, and a private cemetery.
While some settlers were poor enough that year they were forced to dig roots for dinner, many lived in neat, tidy homes. (In the background is the Eagle Gate arch, which was constructed in 1859 to provide an entrance to Brigham Young’s property.)
The 1856 handcart immigrants were warmly greeted with a brass band, cakes and melons …
… but many settlers apologized they didn’t have more to offer. The past two summers had brought drought and plagues of grasshoppers, creating famine across the territory.
Brigham Young preached, “I want hard times, so that every person that does not wish to stay, for the sake of his religion, will leave. This is a good place to make Saints …”
The prophet blamed the drought and famine on wickedness and instigated the Mormon Reformation. Thousands responded to fiery speeches, confessing their sins and offering themselves for re-baptism.
While they waited for the Second Coming, the Saints worked together to make the “desert blossom as the rose,” creating a kingdom in the wilderness.
The prophet instructed the British immigrants, “Rest for a day or two … Don’t bother too much about your religious duties. Your first duty is to learn to grow a cabbage, an onion, a tomato, a sweet potato, to feed a pig, build a house, plant a garden …”
The settlers planted and harvested crops, tended orchards and farms, and built homes, meetinghouses, and mills.
They tended cattle and sheep on farms and in mountain pastures.
But for some handcart immigrants, the journey wasn’t over. Brigham Young delegated thousands of Latter-day Saints to settle outlying areas north and south of the Salt Lake Valley. Under his direction, some five hundred Latter-day Saint communities were founded.
In The Gates of Eden, the fictional Josephine Bell went south to Cedar City, to live in a cabin on the lonely outskirts of civilization.
In spite of the isolation, Josephine grew to love the wild beauty of the land.

After Josephine arrived in Utah, her story unfolded against a backdrop of one of the most complicated, tragic and colorful periods in the history of the American West.

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