More than 650 children died during the 1,300-mile trek from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Utah during The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints migration in the mid-1800s. On Saturday the Pioneer Children’s Memorial was unveiled in their honor at This Is the Place Heritage Park.
President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles offered the dedicatory prayer for the memorial, according to a church press release.
“How grateful we are as Thy children to be gathered here at the base of this memorial that has been prepared to honor the little children who, in their faith and trust tried to come here, but did not make it,” President Ballard said in his dedicatory prayer. “Watch over and bless those who do come, that they will feel and know what a wonderful privilege it is to have a place like This is the Place Heritage Park. ... We dedicate this memorial now for the building of faith of any and all who will come here to celebrate the wonderful pioneering efforts for this, the Salt Lake Valley.”
The memorial has the names of children etched in 17 large stones.
“Many of their stories are told through graphic displays, text, audio and video narratives, and 47 bronze statues that communicate something of the emigration history and the grit and resilience of the pioneers,” the church release said.
Artists in conjunction with the Metal Arts Foundry in Lehi created the statues.
According to the church statement, “Church leaders say the memorial is also a bridge that connects the pioneering efforts of past and present.”
“Utah is becoming more and more ethnically diverse [and] they’re all pioneers,” said Utah Area President Elder Craig C. Christensen of the Seventy. “So, this is really a way for us to highlight what Utah stands for. We hope it’s not lost that this is a memorial for children. And part of the sacredness of the gathering was the sacrifice that little children made, and mothers and fathers made to get here. And we see that in Utah today.”
Christensen added, “You see immigrants coming here, looking for a better life and focusing on what they have to do to make a better life for their children. That’s really why this is important.”
In addition to underlining the connection between past and present, President Ballard noted the deep foundation of faith possessed by Utah’s early settlers, according to the church statement.
“We must never forget that those early pioneers survived because they had great faith — as you know, the faith that built this marvelous community,” President Ballard said in remarks prior to giving his dedicatory prayer. “Many of [them] were limited in their education. Some of them could not read or write. But they knew deep in their hearts that God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ would always be with them.”
The site is intended to be a place of meditation and reflection. It includes seating and shade for contemplation, conversation and appreciation of Utah’s pioneer heritage, according to the press release.
A tour of the memorial ends with a view of the Salt Lake Valley and a bronze sculpture titled, “Journey’s End.”