The Lord’s Autograph
I have great respect for this institution and what it does—the special needs that it meets and the contribution it makes to the Church’s efforts to educate our members and others.
What I’d like to do today is talk briefly about our concept of God. It’s so natural to us who have grown up in the Church, but it’s not natural to others in the world, even other Christians. As you know, many people have different concepts of a mysterious God that we can’t even fathom, called the Trinity. Others of great and devout belief believe that God is loving and merciful but is so holy and so far removed from them that they have to approach Him through an intermediary, through one of the saints or through Mary. And they do so with great reverence. Others totally reject Him. Others believe He is going to hang us over a fire like a spider on a spider web and watch us slowly roast if we have not done everything that he has asked us to do. Frankly, I have a little trouble with that one.
But we believe in a God who is our Heavenly Father, and we mean that literally—that we are literally His children. And out of that, by extension, we believe that He loves us infinitely and knows us intimately. And both of those are really significant.
When I was a young boy, probably twelve or thirteen, I had an interesting experience, and that became one of those defining moments for me as time went on, as I thought back on that. I was a paper boy, and I had a paper route that ran about 2 ½ to 3 miles from my home. I always did it on a bike, even in the worst weather. Back in those days, you didn’t get a computerized billing from the Deseret News or the Tribune. You went around door to door and “collected,” we called it. Each month you had to collect the funds. And then you sent in what the newspapers had billed the paper boys and the rest was yours—about twenty-five dollars a month back then.
One day I was out collecting and I stopped at a door and told the woman I was there to collect, and asked her if I could do so. And she said, “I don’t have any money to pay you.” Then all of a sudden she brightened up and said, “But I do have a check that I just received in payment for something else. It’s for 27 dollars. If you had enough money in your little bag to change, I’ll sign it over to you.”
So I looked in my bag and I had just about enough to take out what she owed me and give her the rest in change. So when I left, my bag was pretty empty, except for a check. So I went on, finished my route, and as I got to the last house, I again knocked and again the person said, “Do you have any change?”
I said, “Not much.” I reached in my bag, and that check was gone. I can still remember, these many years later, just how absolutely sick—physically sick—I was, because not only was that my whole month’s salary, but now I was going to have to come up with $25.00 to pay the Deseret News. So I started at that point, walking my bicycle very slowly, retracing my steps back to that house. I picked up every piece of paper, every scrap; I turned over every rock I think. I looked and looked and looked. I spent over an hour and retraced that path three different times. It took me—I was a slow learner then—it took me that long, when suddenly I’m walking along, thinking “What am I going to do?” The thought came, “Well, you can’t find that check, but somebody knows where it is.”
I stopped right there—I can just picture myself—I stopped right on the side of the road, bowed my head and said, “Heavenly Father, I need that money! Help me find my check.” Now, if I had opened my eyes and made another whole circuit and eventually found it, I would have been absolutely thrilled. And I would have known that God heard and answered my prayer. But something really unusual happened. I said “Amen,” I opened my eyes, and I’m standing here like this and right here, just about here where these flowers are, there was my check stuck in the bush.
Now, later I’ve had people tell me, “Well, you just never saw it. It was there all along.” Well, you can tell me whatever you want, but I know what happened that day. And as I thought about that, I finally came up with a conclusion. I would have been thrilled if He had just helped me find the check. But He did more than that. He not only answered my prayer, He answered in a way that was absolutely, unmistakably from Him. That was the day I knew that my Heavenly Father knew me and that He loved me. And that’s a very key part of testimony. And I know that some of you may still be wondering about that.
I love the Primary song, because it’s so true of many of us. At some point in life, every one of us has to come to this on our own. Do you know which song I mean? “Heavenly Father, are you really there? Do you hear and answer every child’s prayer?” (“A Child’s Prayer,” Children’s Songbook, p. 12)
That is the key testimony, particularly in these days of growing trial and tribulation and economic turmoil. I’ll bet you there are a lot of you who are getting ready to leave this place and are wondering, “What in the world am I going to do for a living?”
I don’t know if you saw in the paper yesterday that there’s an In-and-Out Burger in Provo, opening up. Did you see that? Five hundred people appeared at the Marriott to apply for ten or twelve positions. I’m sorry, that’s the world you’re going into. So what I’d like to do is talk more about that principle, and use the book and the story that President Richards just made reference to.
How many of you are native Utahns? I’ll count—if you’ve lived here twenty years or more you can count yourself as a native. How many of you are native Utahns? How many of you have ever heard before the concept of the Hole in the Rock pioneers. A few. I’ll bet you that fifty percent of you, if you’re normal, think it has to do with Butch Cassidy and his gang, the “Hole in the Rock gang” they were called. No. Not those pioneers. And others of you think it’s that crazy little shop just south of Moab where they have a cave in the rock.
With that, let me introduce you to some pioneer people and the concept of what I finally—seeking for a way to describe those kinds of blessings that I just told you about—I finally called them “The Lord’s Autograph.”
I don’t know if I can read off this screen or not with this, but we’ll try it. Let’s start the power point, and I’ll get my six-shooter here. By the Lord’s autograph—I finally decided to write this out, and I wrote it this way: Sometimes the Lord not only answers a prayer or a need, but does so in a highly dramatic or very specific manner. In doing so, not only does He grant us one of his “tender mercies,” as the scriptures call them—that is, answers our prayers—but He does so in a way that is clearly from His hand, almost as if He had personally signed it for us. Thus the concept of “the Lord’s autograph.” Not only does He bless us, but He does it in a way that powerfully says, “I am here. You are my child. I love you and I have not forgotten you.”
So with that, let’s talk about this group, that in searching for a title for the novel, I finally came up with the word undaunted, which Webster says is “characterized by courage and tenacity, not dismayed or discouraged by challenge, unwilling to abandon one’s purpose,”—now, think of yourselves trying to get a job, you seniors—“undiminished in valor and determination.”
President Hinckley has a wonderful statement that I think applies here. He said, “It is good to look to the past to gain appreciation for the present and perspective for the future.” That’s an interesting statement. “It is good to look upon the virtues of those who’ve gone before to gain strength for whatever lies ahead.” And then he says this: “Their tremendous example can become a compelling motivation for us all.”
That’s why I love Church history, because in reading these people’s lives and watching their example, we feel inspired and compelled when we get discouraged or down, or think life is hard.
This is an unusual group. Unlike other Mormon pioneers, they were not fleeing persecution or driven out by mobs; they were not seeking freedom of religion. They already had it. They were not trying to join with others of their own faith—they were already there. And they were not escaping crushing poverty or oppression. They lived in prosperous Mormon communities and comfortable homes, and they owned successful farms and businesses. So this is really unique from all the other standard pioneer groups that we think about.
They went when they were called by the prophet. They went because they believed that call was from the Lord. They also believed it was necessary for the safety and security of the overall community. They were called from southern Utah communities to go over into what we now call the Four Corners area, or the San Juan—now San Juan County, Utah—because there was a lot of lawlessness, a lot of cattle rustlers coming in, a lot of restlessness with the Indians and these lawless whites, and Brigham Young said, “What we need is stability in that area or the whole area is going to break out into war.” So they went because they saw this was critical to not just their own selves—in short, they went because they believed it was the right thing to do. It’s just that simple.
Let me give you an example of two of these undaunted people, James and Mary Davis. He was a prosperous merchant in Cedar City. Mary was in very frail health, very poor health, and was two months pregnant at the time of the call. Now, back then they got up in stake conference and they read out the names, occasionally you’d hear a woman or a man go, “Oh, no!” as they heard their names called out. Well, you can imagine how she felt when their names were read out by the stake president. She had given birth to eight children at this point, and had seen four of them die shortly after birth.
Though they were both greatly dismayed, they agreed that they were under covenant and should accept the call. But troubled by her health, they asked their bishop for a blessing for her. Their bishop laid his hands on her head, and this is what he said—this is in James Davis’s own words: “Bishop C.J. Arthur blessed my wife and told her if she would go and do her part, her health would be restored and that she would never be called on to part with another child. He also told her that the Lord would protect us, and our lives would be spared.”
Now the interesting thing is, when they made the call, as part of the call, it was indicated that if this was not a convenient time for you—this is not like a regular mission call—if this is not good for you, then you don’t have to go. Well, if anybody had a good reason to say, “You know, this isn’t a good time for us,” it was them. But they went. They went with the exploring party. And because Mary by now was about 7 ½ months pregnant, they left her in a little Arizona town called Moncopi while they went on to find the settlement. Then they sent four men back for the Davis family, and the cattle they had left behind.
As they were working their way back, one night a group of five Navajo warriors came in. The leader was the one who had shot and killed George Albert Smith’s son. They were missionaries; he came up to him pretending friendship and said, “That’s a wonderful pistol. Can I see it?” And George Albert Smith[‘s son] turned around and he took the pistol and shot him three times in the back. So this is the man, okay? And they know this is the kind of man he is; he hates whites. And he starts to threaten them. He picks up his knife, walks right up into Mary’s face and says, “This is what I’m going to do to you and your children,” and kicks dirt in their food.
So they’re afraid. He promises that he’s going to go back and get 25 more warriors and come back and massacre them in the morning. Can you imagine her feelings that night? She woke up in the morning, and as they were getting ready to leave, they saw a single solitary Navajo coming. He was an old man, and he said, “I’m here to help you. Get in your wagons. I’m going to lead you away. Pohecan and his 25 braves are coming, and they’re coming to kill you.”
So they followed him, and he led them to safety. Now here’s a remarkable coincidence: this family, and the other four men are facing a likely massacre when this old Navajo shows up who just happened to have been befriended and fed by the Davis family years before in Cedar City.
When they are finally to safety, he looks at Jim Davis and says, “Don’t you recognize me? I used to come to your store all the time, and you and your wife fed me and were good to me. And I learned that you were in this little small group, and I learned that Pohecan was coming. So I’ve been following you for the last four days. Then when I saw you were in danger, I came to save your life.”
Now, let me just ask you a simple question. How lucky is that? What a nice coincidence. The first example of the Lord’s autograph. Again, He could have just warned them, “Don’t go over there, there’s Pohecan.” No. He does it in a way the Lord says, “Mary, this one is from me, because of your faith.” It’s a wonderful concept.
Second of August, two weeks after they arrived at the San Juan, Mary gave birth to a healthy baby girl. She went on to have two additional daughters. She never lost another of her children, and enjoyed good health the rest of her life.
I’m just going to quickly introduce you to the trail—what is called the Hole in the Rock trail. This is just south of Escalante. This is their jumping-off point as they went out into the desert. Here from the helicopter you can see the original trail. You can’t see that from the roadway that drives down there. There’s the original trail. Forty miles south of that is a little place called Forty Mile Spring. That’s an interesting coincidence, isn’t it? Forty Mile Spring, and forty miles south. I don’t know how that happened. But it’s a wonderful source—you can see the cattlemen have put a tank in there now—it’s a wonderful source of grass and water. So this became the main camp while all the ones who are going gradually catch up.
They had a lot of fun there, because about a mile and half away is what they called Dance Hall Rock. Here they would come after the evening’s meal was done; here they would have meetings and play games and—to give you an idea, that’s a really remarkable structure. You can see that man standing at the top, there’s also one at the bottom. The remarkable thing is, looking down from the top, you’re looking at the dance floor. It is almost perfectly level. So guess what they did? That’s where they had their square dances.
When all the company got together, they sent men out across the river to scout out a way. Platt Lyman, who later became the captain of the company, in this big meeting—this is another view of Forty Mile Spring—he came back from that exploration and said, “It is certainly the worst country that I ever saw. Most of us are satisfied that there is no use of this company undertaking to get through to the San Juan this way.”
Now that’s a dilemma, because they have come all the way from their communities. They have come over Escalante Mountain, which is 9,000 feet high, which now has six feet of snow on it. So there’s no going back, and if they can’t go forward, they are in one big mess. So a meeting was held, and Bishop Jens Nielsen—some of you will recognize that name—remember in the Willey and Martin handcart story, there was a couple from Denmark? He was six foot two and she was four foot eleven; he weighed 230, she weighed about 98 pounds. His feet became so badly frostbitten that he just finally collapsed and said, “You’re going to have to go on without me.” And she wouldn’t. She put him in the cart and pulled him to safety. Well, this is the same Jens Nielsen. He is now sixty years old. He still walks with a terrible limp, because his feet were so badly deformed.
He gets up, when all of this talk is done, and he made two significant statements. Number one, he said, “This company must go on, whether we can or not.” Now, you think about that when it’s hard for you to find work—I’m going to go on, even if I can’t. These are the lessons that we get. And then in that wonderful Danish accent of his—he was trying to say, “What we need is more stick-to-it-ive-ness”—what he said was, “If the Saints have plenty of stickity-to-ity, we cannot fail.”
How many of you are descendants of some of the pioneers? That little phrase is still used by parents to their children: “What you need is more stickity-to-ity, kid.”
I wish I could show this pointer on all of the screens, but to give you an idea of what they’re facing, this is the Hole in the Rock, from across the river. The Colorado River Gorge is about 2,000 feet deep here, but there is the hole—see that crevice coming down? That’s where they went. They moved forward. Here’s the top of the crevice. Here’s a white sandstone bluff that dropped 50 or 60 feet in a sheer cliff, so they had to blast that out. You can actually see that. This is the approach the wagons took, and then they reached right here where the gap begins.
Let me give you a feeling for that, what it looks like. Just quickly, if you notice that, I’m about 25 or 30 feet from the camera man, and I’m 12 or 13 feet lower than him. Do you know what I’m saying? The grade there is 50 percent—it’s dropping 50 feet every 100 feet. We warn truckers about an 8 percent grade.
I love this: “On the morning of January 26th, the first wagons came to the top of the hole. The horses balked and refused to take the chute. They had a clear view of the river about 2,000 feet below. They tried another team with the same rearing and surging backwards, and still a third team. All were too frightened and nervous to risk. Joe Barton came to Brother Nielsen and said, ‘Brother Nielsen, I think I have a pair of horses that will go down.’
“‘Vell, Brother Barton, if you have, bring them along.’ Brother Barton brought his big wheel horses, and they moved off unconcerned but very slow and sure, feeling their way with their large, careful feet.” Why would they go? They were totally blind. There had been an epidemic of pinkeye; they were totally blind. What a lucky coincidence. Can you imagine them saying, “You know, what we need is a blind team here. Let’s send back to Cedar City and see if anybody’s got some blind horses.”
This is looking up the hole, those of you who can see the screen. There’s a figure standing there. This is the drop; down below there’s a cliff. What did they do? Well, they just hung a road on the side. They cut a little trail for the wagon wheels. You can barely see it. There’s the hole. And then they just built in with posts, laid brush on it. Can you imagine what it must have felt like as you drove your wagon over that? A road, hanging on the side of the cliff. You want to know why they were called undaunted? That’s why.
I was privileged to go with Carol Makita—some of you saw the documentary—we went down there three times. You may not recognize her, but this is Carol Makita, sitting there on a rock. That’s the drop, right down there. And to give you a feeling, that’s looking from the bottom. See the perspective? There’s actually three people in that photograph—one there, one there and one there just to the right of that.
Well, here’s two more, Stanford and Arabella Smith. She was 25 years old, had three little kids. Her husband went down to help the first ones, and everybody promised they’d help bring her down. Well, everybody got so busy, they forgot. He was so mad, he took his hat off and stomped it on the ground, when he found out they’d left his family. So he goes up—there’s no one, now, to help them—they’ve got one big old extra horse they’re going to hook on the back, but guess who has to hold onto him? Arabella, or Belle, as they called her. So what does she do with her children? She’s got a seven-year-old, a three-year-old, and a baby. So she sets the three-year-old on the ground, and says, “Okay, Roy, here’s the baby. Don’t move.” And then she goes and helps. She says, “Ask God to be with you,” and down they go. And I’ll just skip through that really fast.
Alone, with no one to help them, she has to leave the children. I’m going to tell you the story, rather than…Do you want to know why they call her undaunted? She says, “I’ll hold on to the reins; you go.”
He said, “Belle, you’re so small, you probably couldn’t even hold a butterfly back.”
That made her mad. So down they go, over the lip. The jerk of the wagon pulls the horse off of his feet and he drops back to his haunches. She’s trying to hang on. The horse then tips over on his side, which is good, because he’s now dead weight. But his flipping over throws her off balance, and she goes down headfirst, being dragged through the sand. Finally, the wagon hits a rock and it bounces, and that yanks on the reins, which flips her up to her feet again, slams her against the side of the cliff, cuts her leg from hip to ankle, and then slides to a stop in deeper earth.
Stanford jumps out of the wagon and he comes running around. He says, “Belle, are you all right? How did you do?”
She says, “Oh, I just crow-hopped my way down.”
And then he came forward, and he saw the blood on her skirt, and he said, “You’re not all right.”
And she just hauled back and kicked him in the shins. She said, “Does that feel like I’m all right?”
Well, that’s the kind of people we’re thinking about here. They were undaunted. And what is the lesson for us? It doesn’t matter—life will throw something at you. You remember that last April, President Packer spoke to the young priesthood. Do you remember what he said? He said, “You’re the generation that will no longer have it easy. You will see things happen that will be a test to you.” And he said, “If you’re strong you can go forward.” Actually, he said this will be good for you. And that’s what’s coming. And the lesson we learn—how did she make it? Because she has faith.
Mary Davis, so frail in health—why does she say Yes, I’m under covenant. Because they already knew that God knew them and loved them. And so when the bishop says, “Mary, you’ll not lose any more children, your health will improve, and you’ll be protected on the way down,” she knew that was true. And so she went. That’s the message of these wonderful, marvelous pioneers. And for you, if you don’t know that for yourself with rock solid surety—that God knows you and loves you and will assign those same kinds of blessings for you when we come seeking—then now is the time to get it. Because you don’t want to wait until you’re on the lip of the cliff and say, “Now should I do this or not?” Because your heart will falter.
That’s my testimony of the God that we worship, and I leave it with you in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.