The Mormon Tabernacle Choir will make a special stop on its Upper Midwest Tour on 19 June to honor the Mormon pioneer loggers whose remarkable labor built Nauvoo, Illinois, a city central to the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A commemorative historical marker paid for and donated by the members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir will be erected at the Trail of Honor Park in Black River Falls, Wisconsin, near the mills where Latter-day Saints harvested over one and a half a million board feet of lumber and then floated it down the Black River to Nauvoo 400 miles away. In recognition of the pioneers’ hard work and ingenuity, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir will perform specially prepared musical numbers for members of the community.
“The sacrifices of these logging pioneers are not well known, even among Church members” says Choir president Ron Jarrett. “We wanted to honor these unsung heroes by singing their praises.” The special dedication will come near the end of a 10-day tour by the all-volunteer Choir, which they undertake every other year to share their love of music and to bring peace and joy into the lives of their listeners.
Black River Falls Mayor Ron Danielson will conduct the recognition event, which will begin at 10:00 a.m. at the Trail of Honor Park. It will include remarks from Elder Craig Cardon, a member of the First Quorum of the Seventy, one of the Church’s governing councils, in remembrance of the hundreds of pioneers whose unselfish labor provided shelter for thousands and in the process built character, integrity and strength.
Between 1839 and 1846, under the leadership of Church president Joseph Smith, Nauvoo grew from a humble town with one stone house and a few poorly constructed cabins to a metropolitan city rivaling the population of Chicago. During that period of rapid growth, Latter-day Saints built over 2,500 homes and numerous other business establishments like stores and mills. The most ambitious architectural projects were the Nauvoo House, a large hotel, and the Nauvoo Temple, the Mormons’ place of worship.
The decision to build both the Nauvoo House and the Nauvoo Temple simultaneously dramatically increased the need for lumber, which was scant in Nauvoo. Reports reached Church leaders that inexpensive, quality lumber could be obtained in Wisconsin, and the decision was made to establish sawmills there.
A small work party of 32 pioneers traveled to Wisconsin in September 1841, and within the next four years some 200 Church members were working the mills and camps. They ultimately operated four different mills and maintained six logging camps to supply the mills.
The work was difficult and the conditions harsh. The first season, before gardens were established, loggers’ diets sometimes consisted of only salt pork, flour and potatoes, augmented occasionally with game, fish, nuts and berries.
Between 1841 and 1845, Latter-day Saints harvested an estimated one and a half million board feet of milled lumber, over two hundred thousand shingles, and an inestimable number of loose logs, hewed timber and barn boards. The short, straight and relatively mellow Black River floated a dozen lumber-laden rafts 400 miles to Nauvoo.
Church members in Neillsville and surrounding areas have kept their forebears’ memories alive for over a century. “They came here to honor God,” says Mary Jurgaitis, a Latter-day Saint who lives a half a block from an early Mormon logging site. “I like to imagine the loggers’ satisfaction at the moment they came around the last bend in the Mississippi and the Nauvoo Temple was brought into their view,” she says.
“What a thrill that must have been for them.”