The Pioneer Saints Saw the Majesty of God!

1833 Meteor Shower

An artists' drawing of the meteor shower of November 13, 1833, as depicted in Uriah Smith's Thoughts on Daniel and the Revelation.

This meteorite shower was recorded in Church history and long remembered by the Saints. It was the night that thousands of Saints were camped along the Missouri River at Wayne City Landing, after being driven out of Independence at gunpoint in November 1833. While camping there in the open, in the frigid cold weather, they witnessed a meteorite shower—a glorious display of heavenly lights which they interpreted as a sign from heaven that God was with them.

One encyclopedia explains that this was the Leonid meteor shower, which occurs every 33.25 years. It states that "every November, when the Earth passes through [the meteor's orbit], we meet at least a few Lenoids per hour," but that on November 13, 1833, the display was the greatest in recorded history. In that shower it was estimated to have "furnished 200,000 meteors for a given station [visible at a single place] between midnight and dawn, numbers of them brilliant, and many leaving trains" (The Encyclopedia Americana [1954] 18:713a, 713).

When the mob came upon the Saints in Jackson County in 1833, the majority of those in the Independence area fled to the most sacred spot—the Temple Lot, upon which the Temple of the Lord will someday be built. They had only the possessions they could carry as they fled from their homes.

Inez Smith Davis described the plight of some of the Saints as they camped on the Temple Lot. (Her maternal great-grandparents were Joseph and Emma Hale Smith, and her paternal great-grandparents were Apostle Lyman Wight and Harriet, his wife.) Inez stated:

The Saints were camped three days on the Temple Lot, while armed men rode through the settlements rounding up and driving to this spot the few left in their homes. They were then forcibly compelled to agree to leave the county. Through the snow and sleet of November, the pitiful band of exiled Saints made its way to the Wayne City Landing on the Missouri River. (Inez Smith Davis, The Story of the Church, 180)

Apostle Parley P. Pratt, who was an eyewitness to events in Jackson County in 1833, left this record:

Thursday, November 7th, the shore began to be lined on both sides of the ferry, with men, women, and children, goods, wagons, boxes, chests, provisions, etc., while the ferrymen were very busily employed in crossing them over; and when night again closed upon us the wilderness had the appearance of a camp meeting. Hundreds of people were seen in all directions. Some in tents, some in the open air around their fires while the rain descended in torrents. Husbands were inquiring for wives, and women for their parents, parents for children, and children for parents. Some had the good fortune to escape with their family, household goods, and some provisions; while others knew not the fate of their friends, and had lost all their goods. The scene was indescribable, and I am sure would have melted the hearts of any people upon earth. . . . Next day, our company still increased, and we were chiefly engaged in felling small cottonwood trees, and erecting them into temporary cabins, so when night came on we had the appearance of a village of wigwams, and the night being clear we began to enjoy some degree of comfort.

About two o'clock the next morning, we were aroused from our slumbers by the cry of, "Arise and behold the signs in the heavens." We arose and to our great astonishment all the heavens seemed enwrapped in splendid fireworks as if every star in its broad expanse had been suddenly hurled from its course and sent lawless through the wilds of ether. I can give the reader no better idea of this scene than by allusion to the shooting of a bright meteor with a long train of light following in its course such as many of us have seen in a bright starlit night. Now suppose that thousands of such meteors with their fiery trains were to run lawless through the heavens for hours together, this would be a scene such as our eyes beheld on that memorable morning; and the scene only closed by giving place to the superior light and splendor of the king of day. No sooner was this scene beheld by some of our camp than the news reached every tent and aroused everyone from their slumbers; every eye was lifted towards the heavens, and every heart was Tilled with joy at these majestic signs and wonders showing the near approach of the Son of God. (ibid., 180–181)

Vida E. Smith, who was Alexander Smith's daughter and Inez Smith Davis' mother, was acquainted with the elderly Saints who had witnessed the wonderful display in the heavens. She gave this description:

While the Saints were in camp in huts and tents made from bedding or carpets, or many of them without protection of any kind, they witnessed the wonderful "shower of stars." This was the morning of November 13,1833. The accounts of this night are many and interesting. The whole heavens appeared to be full of shooting, twisting stars, some like meteors, and some like "large drops of rain in sunshine." The streaks of brightness would twist and turn like serpents. They appeared to fall to the earth and be seen no more. (Vida E. Smith, Young People's History 1:140)

Lyman and Harriet Wight

Apostle Lyman and Harriet Wight.

In December 1833, Harriet, with only a large log and pieces of rag carpet to give shelter, gave birth to a son while camped on the north bank of the Missouri River.

Inez Smith Davis said that she

remembers as a child asking her grandmother, who was in the camp of the Saints that night, "Tell us about the night the stars fell." Her grandmother, Anna Christina Wight, was then about eight years of age, and clearly remembered that even the children were roused and dressed. . . . A great-grandmother of the author [Harriet Wight) had a son born to her one stormy night among the cottonwoods on the Missouri bottoms. Her bed was made beside a sycamore log, and the only shelter she had from the storm was pieces of rag carpet held up as protection by some of the sisters. (The Story of the Church, 181)

Apostle Wight testified under oath:

I was chased by one of these gangs [mobs] across an open prairie five mile . . . and lay three weeks in the woods, and was three days and three nights without food. In the mean time, my wife and three small children, in a skiff passed down Big Blue river a distance of fourteen miles and crossed over the Missouri river, and there borrowed a rag carpet of one of her friends and made a tent of the same, which was the only shield from the inclemency of the weather during the three weeks of my expulsion from home. . . . Here on the bank of the Missouri river were eight families, exiled from plenteous homes, without one particle of provisions, or any other means under the heavens to get any only by hunting in the forest. I here built a camp twelve feet square, against a sycamore log, in which my wife bore me a fine son on the 27th of December. The camp having neither chimney nor floor, nor covering sufficient to shield them from the inclemency of the weather, rendered it intolerable. In this doleful condition, I left my family for the express purpose of making an appeal to the American people to know something of the toleration of such vile and inhuman conduct. . . . I saw one hundred and ninety women and children driven thirty miles across the prairie, with three decrepit men only in their company, in the month of Nov., the ground thinly crusted with sleet, and I could easily follow on their trail by the blood that flowed from their lacerated feet!! on the stubble of the burnt prairie. (Times and Seasons 4 [July 15, 1843]: 263–264)

Writing of those Saints who were forced to leave Missouri, Inez expressed the high resolve concerning Zion which was felt by those devoted Saints, and is still felt by those who have caught the vision of God's marvelous Latter Day work.

The great experiment [to build Zion] had crumbled, but it had not failed. The men and women who camped in the bitter November sleet in the cottonwoods of the Missouri River still carried in their hearts their dream of a perfected state of society where there would be no oppression. The spires of Zion rose in their visions, sleeping or walking, while they wandered here and there, driven and despised. But did they name it failure? Perhaps some did. But not the vast majority. The rabid hostility of Missouri and Illinois only succeeded in pressing into the Latter Day Saint fiber strength and tenacity of purpose that could not know failure.

The legacy a man passes on to his sons in land and cattle may vanish, but the legacy of dreams lives on through hundreds of discouragements, through disaster and oppression, and so today the hills of Jackson County, Missouri, are loved by those who never saw them, and the ideals of which they are but the visible sign are handed down from generation to generation, with the thought that sometime there will arise the chosen ones who will redeem Zion, and realize the dream of their fathers, for a state of society where there will be not only spiritual, but economic and industrial freedom. They loved it, the land where they had met the bitterest discouragement of their lives.

Only once after that did Joseph Smith see the land of Zion, and then he crossed the river in secret and in the darkness of night that his feet might stand once more "upon the goodly land." (The Story of the Church, 184–185)

(Vision 42 [December 2002]: 10–11)