The Mormons had just arrived in Utah after their 1,300-mile exodus across the Great Plains and over the Rocky Mountains. Food was scarce, the climate shocking in its extremes, and local Indian bands uneasy. Despite the challenges, Brigham Young and his counselors in the First Presidency sent church members out to establish footholds throughout the Great Basin. But the church leaders felt they had a commission to do more than simply establish Zion in the wilderness;
they had to invite the nations to come up to "the mountain of the Lord's house.> " In these critical early years, when survival in Utah was precarious, missionaries were sent to every inhabited continent.
The 14 general epistles, sent out from the First Presidency from 1849 to 1856, provide invaluable perspectives on the events of Mormon history as they unfolded during this complex transitional time. Woven into each epistle are missionary calls and reports from the field, giving the Mormons a glimpse of the wider world far beyond their isolated home. At times, the epistles are a surprising mixture of soaring doctrinal expositions and mundane lists of items needed in Salt Lake City, such as shoe
leather and nails.
Settling the Valley, Proclaiming the Gospel collects the 14 general epistles, with introductions that provide historical, religious, and environmental contexts for the letters, including how they fit into the Christian epistolary tradition by which they were inspired.
Reid L. Neilson is Assistant Church Historian and Recorder for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Managing Director of the Church History Department. He completed his PhD in religious studies (American religious history emphasis) at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is an award-winning author and has published over a dozen books. Nathan N. Waite is an Associate Editorial Manager for the Joseph Smith Papers Project in Salt Lake City. He received an MA in American studies from the University of Utah and previously published A Zion Canyon Reader.