Erastus Snow: Faithful servant, missionary and colonizer
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After more than fourteen years of full-time missionary work, service in the Quorum of the Twelve and leading the colonization of what is now Southern Utah, has earned the title "faithful servant," Elder Steven E. Snow said on Feb. 14 during this year's first installment of the Men and Women of Faith Lecture Series organized by the Church History Library and held in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square.
Elder Snow, who serves in the Seventy and as Church Historian and Recorder, shared insights about the life and contributions of his ancestor Erastus Snow and how the faithful example of this early Church leader is still affecting generations today.
Elder Snow said that to his descendants and students of Church History, Erastus is usually remembered for four things — his entrance to the Salt Lake Valley, his call to the Quorum of the Twelve, many years of devoted missionary work and the colonization of southern Utah. It was his strong leadership and unwavering devotion that kept him busy for his entire life in pursuit of building the kingdom of God.
Erastus Snow was born on Nov. 9, 1818, in St. Johnsbury, Vermont, the eighth of eleven children.
"Like most of their neighbors, the Snows survived and provided for themselves through farming," Elder Snow said. "So Erastus learned early the importance of hard work. That trait, together with his Yankee practicality, would serve him well in his later years of Church service."
It wasn't long after the "new faith" was introduced to his older brothers — who were working miles away from the family farm — that Erastus learned about the Church. They reported home the doctrines they had found, but it wasn't until the summer of 1832 that two elders made it to Erastus' town, bringing the teachings of the gospel with them.
"He really resonated to the teachings of the gospel," Elder Snow said. "He wanted to be baptized right away but his father was hesitant and asked him to study more before he took that big step. So he continued to study and by February of 1833 his father acquiesced to Erastus' baptism."
Finally, with permission from his father, Erastus was baptized. He traveled to where his older brothers were living. In the middle of the winter they broke a part of the ice in a nearby pond and his older brother, William, baptized him.
"This moment assured him a life of service and devotion to his new-found faith," Elder Snow said.
Not long after his baptism Erastus made his way to Kirtland, Ohio, to meet the prophet Joseph Smith and to gather with the Saints. While there he received his patriarchal blessing from the Prophet Joseph Smith's father, Joseph Smith Sr. The words recorded recognized his desire to preach the gospel and promised young Erastus that he would "preach unto the ends of the earth."
It was shortly after his sixteenth birthday that Erastus left for what became his first of many missions. His first call to Pennsylvania and then later two additional calls to Maryland and Ohio kept him somewhat near home.
"Missionary service was the hallmark of Erastus' life in the Church," Elder Snow said. "Depending on how you count them, he served no less than a dozen missions and was engaged in full-time missionary work for more than 14 years."
It was often while he was away that children were born, some even died, and other family events occurred.
"These calls to serve came at times which were not convenient, often in times of great personal or family hardship," Elder Snow said. "He never murmured and always answered the call."
Despite the painful separation from his family for almost three years, his call to open the Scandinavia Mission in 1850 was one that would remain a satisfying memory for him for the rest of his life.
"It was the first serious missionary effort outside of the U.S." Elder Snow said. "Significant progress was achieved and many converts joined the church and moved to Utah."
Within six months Erastus was speaking and writing in Danish, and he began translating the Book of Mormon into Danish — the first translation in a foreign language.
One of the most significant events of his life was when he and Orson Pratt were the first two of the Mormon Pioneers to enter the Salt Lake Valley.
"He left and caught up with Orson Pratt, the same missionary who had brought him the gospel fifteen years earlier, and together those two, Elder Orson Pratt and Erastus Snow were the first to appear in the Salt Lake Valley on July 22, 1847," said Elder Snow.
Erastus spent a lifetime serving within the Church. He was called to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve on Feb. 12, 1849. He and his distant cousin, Lorenzo Snow, who later became prophet, along with Charles C. Rich and Franklin D. Richards were called to serve in the Quorum of the Twelve and ordained on the same day. Often, Church members would go to Erastus for help and guidance, Elder Snow said. Erastus was constantly approached for advice on various topics, from struggling marriages to failing dams."
Because he was often busy helping others, Erastus was known at times to be tardy to meetings and other events. Some of the other Church leaders at the time joked and gave him the title, "the late Erastus Snow."
A large part of Erastus Snow's ministry was spent in the St. George area of southern Utah. He was instrumental in the building of the St. George Tabernacle and temple. The completion of those buildings ensured the Saints were there to stay, Elder Snow said. "He was a great colonizer," he said. "He was second only to Brigham Young himself."
Many monuments stand today in honor of Erastus Snow. In addition to the St. George Temple and tabernacle grounds, a life-size bronze can be found at This Is the Place State Park, in Salt Lake City, Utah; the name of Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, is named after Erastus and Lorenzo Snow; the city of Snowflake, Ariz. has ties to Erastus Snow stand as a monument to his work and colonization.
• This year's Church History Library lecture series will be held monthly in the Assembly Hall on Temple Square through the month of November. The next lecture will be held March 14, as Julie B. Beck will speak on the topic "Faith of Latter-day Sisters: A Personal Perspective."