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Hymns of the Trail

Museum Treasures

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In their journals and reminiscences, many Latter-day Saint pioneers wrote of singing while crossing the plains, often ending the day with music. In the 19th century, most hymnals included only the words to the hymns, not the music. Hymns and other songs were sung to familiar tunes and could often be sung to more than one tune.

The pioneer hymns “Come, Come, Ye Saints” and “Hail to the ‘Twelve,’ and Pioneers” were written on the trail in April 1846 and September 1847. 

Eliza R. Snow wrote “Hail to the ‘Twelve,’ and Pioneers” in September 1847 when her pioneer company met Brigham Young and some of the Twelve on their way back to Winter Quarters. Eliza penned this poem for a meeting at which the Brethren would speak on their last night with them, and it was sung to the tune of “Yes, My Native Land I Love Thee,” a hymn popular at the time.1

The final stanza relates her hopes for their future reunion: “We will onward to the valley, / Speed your way, make haste and come; / That, ere long with joy and gladness, / We may bid you welcome home.2 Although this hymn and its tune have fallen into obscurity, the song’s message of hope and happiness helped many pioneers along their journey.

Musician William Clayton, who was in the first pioneer company to enter the Salt Lake Valley, wrote the words to the hymn “Come, Come, Ye Saints” while camped on the plains of Iowa. With many miles ahead of them, the company had already experienced storms, sickness, and broken wagons. To add to these difficulties, William was concerned about his wife Diantha, who had remained in Nauvoo because she was expecting her first child.

On April 15, 1846, William received news that Diantha had given birth to a healthy baby boy. The words of this hymn tell of hardship as well as joy, reflecting Clayton’s feelings as he received the happy news. He recorded in his journal, “This morning I composed a new song—‘All Is Well.’ I feel to thank my heavenly father for my boy and pray that he will spare and preserve his life and that of his mother and so order it so that we may soon meet again.”3

The hymn soon became a favorite among the pioneers, and it is still loved today. The hymn’s message of faith and determination resonates with people of many faiths, and modified versions appear in the hymnals of several Christian denominations, including the Seventh-day Adventist Hymnal.4

With their messages of hope, faith, and perseverance, these hymns inspire us to join the pioneers in saying, “All is well!”

Footnotes

[1] Shane J. Chism, comp., A Selection of Early Mormon Hymnbooks 1832–1872: Hymnbooks and Broadsides from the First 40 Years (2011), 117.

[2] Shane J. Chism, A Selection of Early Mormon Hymnbooks, 116–17.

[3] William Clayton, William Clayton Journal, ed. Lawrence Clayton (1921), 19.

[4] “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” SDA Hymnal: A Complete Online Hymnal, 622.