A few months ago I was sitting on a beach in Corpus Christi, Texas. While enjoying the sound of the surf and the ocean breeze, I watched as people were engaged in different beach activities. I happened to notice one gentleman with a metal detector scanning the beach. I was probably the only one paying attention to this man. Really, it is a common sight and little notice is paid to those who engage in this type of activity. However, Joseph Smith was tagged with the title of a money digger. Really, not much different than the modern day version I saw on the beach. Interestingly, the Montpelier [Vermont] Watchman stated in the early 1820’s that many people were engaged in looking for treasure in what mountain chain?
a. The Green Mountains of Vermont
b. The White Mountains of New Hampshire
c. The High Uintah’s of Utah
d. The Appalachians of North Carolina
Even before the exodus from Illinois, Mormon leaders laid careful plans to cope with the harsh reality of their isolation. Physical seclusion was not meant to carry over into intellectual isolation or into depriving the Saints of the Church’s official written word. In the interest of providing his followers with proper and needed reading, Brigham Young pleaded with immigrating Mormons to bring with them books about the world’s affairs. More significantly, he commissioned W. W. Phelps, editor of the first Church periodical, to raise money for the purchase of printing equipment to publish his own books and to establish a newspaper. This task, like those delegated to other builders of the new sanctuary, was to prove a difficult one.
Armed with letters of introduction from Brigham Young, Phelps accepted the challenge. In one letter Young explained that those who planned to follow him to the Rocky Mountains could not be exalted in the next life without knowledge because it was through obedience to knowledge that they received their blessings. The extent of a Saint’s knowledge helped determine the degree of his exaltation. Young trusted that his statement of this principle would be enough to persuade the Saints to help Phelps get the necessary equipment to provide their children with books and themselves with new and inspiring reading. If the Saints wanted this “Intelligence of Eternity” to flow from the “proper source,” Young insisted, they would have to receive Phelps and assist him in his “Journey of noble Enterprise.”
When Phelps received this assignment, he was living with Young and the Mormons at Winter Quarters. He could easily have bought a press in St. Louis or Cincinnati—but he was broke. He therefore undertook a “mission” to the east coast, where he collected enough money from the faithful too enable him to buy a small Ramage hand press in Boston. By November 1847, Phelps had the press back in the Mormon settlements on the Missouri River, ready for transportation to the mountains the following spring. Brigham Young, however, felt compelled to give priority to people over machinery, and as much as he wanted to have printing equipment in the new location, it was left behind. In a letter from Chimney Rock, Nebraska, on his second trip to Utah, Young explained his actions to the anxious Church leaders of the small but growing settlement in the Salt Lake Valley: “You must not be disappointed in not seeing the printing presses, type, paper, mill irons, mill stones, carding machines, etc., as I had fully calculated on the teams that you sent from the valley bringing them on. We have the poor with us; their cry was urgent to go to the mountains, and I could neither close my ears nor harden my heart against their earnest appeals. . . I am disappointed in not bringing the presses, etc., but I cannot avoid it; it is out of my power to do everything. . .”
Church authorities in the Great Basin, while aware of the reasons for the delay, continued to ask that the printing press and materials be forwarded from Winter Quarters. But transportation remained an acute problem in the impoverished settlements of western Iowa. The difficulty was finally solved by a general donation of goods and money from local Mormons. In May 1849, three ox-drawn wagons, loaded with Church property, including a printing press, type, glue, stationery, ink, and 872 bundles of newsprint, left for the West under the supervision of Howard Egan, a trusted and experienced overland wagon boss.
Monte Burr McLaws, Spokesman for the Kingdom (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1977), 25-26.