"Come, Come Ye Saints" (Heber J. Grant Lesson 14)

The hymn "All Is Well," or "Come, Come, Ye Saints" as it is commonly referred to, composed on Locust Creek in April 1846, has an interesting history. Although the song was popular with the Mormon pioneers, obscurities in its history need clarification. There have been some misconceptions about the motivation for composing the hymn. Finally, the exact location of the Mormon camp on Locust Creek has never been identified, creating a question as to whether the song was composed in Iowa or Missouri. This paper will examine these problems in an effort to increase the reader's understanding of the history of this great hymn that was a marching song for the Mormon pioneers and is a hymn sung today by Mormons around the world as well as by members of other faiths.

The Composer

William Clayton, the composer of "Come, Come, Ye Saints," was one of thousands of exiles forced from their homes in Nauvoo, Illinois. In early spring of 1846 this group moved westward across Iowa en route to a new, more tolerant home. William, an early convert to Mormonism in Great Britain, was baptized by Heber C. Kimball in the River Ribble on 21 October 1837 and served as a counselor in the British mission presidency. On 8 September 1840 he and his family left their beloved England to make a new home in Nauvoo.

The Nauvoo years were busy ones for William. He served as a clerk for the Church and "was necessarily thrown constantly into the company" of Joseph Smith. Later he was recorder in the Nauvoo Temple.

These days were to be short-lived, however, for on 27 February 1846, unfriendly "gentile" neighbors forced him and numerous other Mormons to leave Nauvoo. For the journey west, Brigham Young appointed him clerk for the entire "Camp of Israel," an appointment that gave William extra assignments in addition to caring for his family. He was also involved in playing concerts with the camp band at the various settlements as the pioneers traveled west.

Because the first day of the journey was extremely cold, they traveled with difficulty only seven and one-half miles into the bleak Iowa prairie. The weather in Iowa that year was miserable for pioneer travel. Of the approximately ninety days spent in transit from the Mississippi to the Missouri, George A. Smith records in his diary that they had "thirty-four days of storm, either snow or rain. This was one of the wettest springs that Iowa had had or was to have for some years to come." The bad weather affected the health of these pioneers, not only bringing on sickness but also making recovery difficult. The following journal entry by William Clayton is typical of their miseries: "I have been sick again all day especially towards night. I was so distressed with pain it seemed as though I could not live."

No doubt adding to his distress was the necessity of leaving the youngest of his four wives, Diantha, in Nauvoo. Diantha, the daughter of Winslow Farr, was married to William Clayton on 9 January 1845, in Nauvoo, by Heber C. Kimball. When the remainder of the family left for Iowa, seventeen-year-old Diantha was expecting her first child and was only a month away from delivery. She was therefore in no condition to face the hardships of the journey. It is difficult to perceive the frustration and turmoil that William had during the several months after leaving Nauvoo. The terrible weather and living conditions, plus a large family to care for—including three wives, five children, and his mother—added greatly to these frustrations. He was particularly concerned about Diantha and frequently sent her letters.

Diantha, it appears, was also lonely for her husband. In a letter of 16 March she writes:

My Beloved but absent William

It rejoised my heart to heare a word from you but it would have given me more joy to have had a line from you but I am thankful for a little you know that is the way to get more.

To tell you I want to see you is useless yet true you are constantly in my mind by day and I dream about you almost every night, as to my helth it is about the same as when you left onely a little more so I often wish you had taken your house a long for it looks so lonesome it seems a long time since I saw you but how much longer it will be before I can have the priviledge of conversing with you face to face it is yet unknown to me father is doing as fast as he can he wants to get away soon after conference if possible Mother sends her best respects to you, often says how lonesome it seems dont you think Wm will come to night I expect it would cheer her heart as well as mind to hear your voice once more, dear Wm write as often as you can send, for one line from you would do my heart good.

I must draw to a close for I am in haste

I will try to compose myself as well as I can. I never shall consent to have you leave again.

Farewell, Farewell

A New Hymn is Composed

April 15 found the camp located at Locust Creek, about one-half mile west of the middle fork of Locust Creek. However, the exact location of this camp has not, to date, been positively identified, though it is known to have been near the present-day Iowa-Missouri state line, which has a history of changes and disputes from 1816 to 1895. Some evidence suggests that the camp was located just south of the present-day state line in Putnam County, Missouri. William Clayton records in his journal on 15 April that he spent the previous night on watch and was exceedingly frustrated because the cattle and horses were breaking into the tents. This day, however, brought him good news. The day before, Charles Decker had arrived from Nauvoo with a large packet of letters and messages for the camp. One of the letters, to a Brother Pond, noted that Diantha had delivered a "fine fat boy" on 30 March but "was very sick with ague and mumps."

It appears that maybe two women received this information from the Pond letter and then, in turn, passed the news on to William. Helen Mar Whitney, wife of Horace Whitney, records the event:

As I learned, through the mail, that Wm. Clayton was the father of a child by his wife, Diantha Farr, who was left with her parents in Nauvoo. I bore the tidings to Wm., whose delight knew no bounds, and that evening Horace, myself and a number were invited over to their camp, Wm. being one of the band, whose encampment was only a short distance from ours, and which event Horace mentions thus: "In the evening there was a grand christening held at Bro. Clayton's camp, in celebration of the birth of his child in Nauvoo."

William Clayton, in his journal, says he received the "good news" in the morning from Ellen Kimball and went immediately to Pond's camp. Brother Pond then read him the letter telling about William's wife and new son. William also records that after hearing the news he composed a new song, "All is Well." His complete journal entry for this date reads as follows:

Wednesday, 15th. Last night I got up to watch, there being no guard. The cattle and horses breaking into the tents and wagons. I tarried up then called S. Hales and Kimball. This morning Ellen Kimball came to me and wishes me much joy. She said Diantha has a son. I told her I was afraid it was not so, but she said Brother Pond had received a letter. I went over to Pond's and he read that she had a fine fat boy on the 30th ult., but she was very sick with ague and mumps. Truly I feel to rejoice at this intelligence but feel sorry to hear of her sickness. Spent the day chiefly reading. In the afternoon President Young came over and found some fault about our wagons, etc. In the evening the band played and after we dismissed the following persons retired to my tent to have a social christening, viz. William Pitt, Hutchinson, Smithies, Kay, Egan, Duzett, Redding, William Cahoon, James Clayton and Charles A. Terry and myself. We had a very pleasant time playing and singing until about twelve o'clock and drank health to my son. We named him William Adriel Benoni Clayton. The weather has been fine but rains a little tonight. Henry Terry's horses are missing and have been hunted today but not found. 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. O Lord bless thine handmaid and fill her with thy spirit, make her healthy that her life may be prolonged and that we may live upon the earth and honor the cause of truth. In the evening I asked the President if he would not suffer me to send for Diantha. He consented and said we would send when we got to Grand River.

Thus we have the setting for the composition of the hymn "Come, Come, Ye Saints," variously referred to as "the hymn that helped domesticate the American wilderness," "the hymn that went around the world," "the Mormon signature hymn," "the favorite hymn of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Mormons around the world," and a hymn "worthy to be classed among the great hymns of Christian literature."

Commemorating the Birth of a Son

Clayton's journal entry seems to indicate that the new song was written to commemorate the birth of his new son and the deliverance of his wife through the perils of childbirth. A tradition which is in error, however, has developed within the Church relative to the origin of that hymn. The common misconception claims that Brigham Young came to William Clayton, who was recognized as one of the capable musicians within the Church during his time, and asked him to write a hymn that would strengthen and encourage the members of the camp. A typical example of this account comes from an early lesson manual for the women of the Church:

It was at Locust Creek, Iowa, that President Brigham Young, feeling great anxiety, because there were murmurings in the camp of Israel, called Elder William Clayton aside, and said, "Brother Clayton, I want you write a hymn that the people can sing at their camp-fires, in the evening; something that will give them succor and support, and help them to forget the many troubles and trails of the journey."

Elder Clayton withdrew from the camp, and in two hours returned with the hymn familiarly known as, "Come, come ye Saints." His personal testimony is to the effect that the Spirit of the Lord rested upon him during the time of its composition, and that the hymn was written under the power and inspiration of the Lord.

No support has been found for this early tradition. It certainly is not included in Clayton's own journal; the long-held Clayton family tradition does not support it; and a letter written by Heber J. Grant, while serving as the seventh President of the Church, rejects it. President Grant, in a letter dated 28 March 1923 to Victoria C. McCune, a daughter of William Clayton, makes the following comment:

Elder Frank Penrose brought me a carbon copy of a letter dated July 21, 1920, written by yourself to Lillie T. Freeze, with reference to the hymn, "Come, Come ye Saints."

I was very glad to have this information regarding the writing of the poem. I had heard that the poem was written at the special request of President Brigham Young, at Winter Quarters. I do not know where I read or where I heard, at this late date, that President Young requested your father to go and write a hymn that would encourage and bless the Saints on their journey from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake Valley, but I have made this announcement time and time again in public, but of course shall do so no more.

The Hymn Grows In Popularity

William Clayton's "new song" appears to have gained rapid popularity with the members of the Church, for by 1851 it was included in a hymn book published by the Church. Another tradition referred to by numerous writers is that the song was sung by pioneer groups at evening camp fires to give them great encouragement in combating the many troubles and trails of the journey. But this writer has not seen any reference to Clayton's hymn recorded in any original pioneer journals or writings that he has studied.

One of the most authentic accounts we have of the inspiration evoked by this song is from a secondary source. Heber J. Grant shares a testimony given by his father-in-law, Oscar Winters, while Brother Winters was visiting at the Grant home:

Brother Grant, I do not believe that the young people today fully appreciate what a marvelous inspiration it was to the Saints in crossing the plains to sing, almost daily, the hymn, "Come, Come Ye Saints."

Brother Winters then related the following incident:

One night, as we were making camp, we noticed one of our brethren had not arrived, and a volunteer party was immediately organized to return and see if anything had happened to him. Just as we were about to start, we saw the missing brother coming in the distance. When he arrived, he said he had been quite sick; so some of us unyoked his oxen and attended to his part of the camp duties. After supper, he sat down before the campfire on a large rock, and sang in a very faint but plaintive and sweet voice, the hymn, "Come, Come Ye Saints." It was a rule of the camp that whenever anybody started this hymn all in the camp should join, but for some reason this evening nobody joined him; he sang the hymn alone. When he had finished, I doubt if there was a single dry eye in the camp. The next morning we noticed that he was not yoking up his cattle. We went to his wagon and found that he had died during the night. We dug a shallow grave, and after we had covered his body with the earth we rolled the large stone to the head of the grave to mark it, the stone on which he had been sitting the night before when he sang:

"And should we die before our journey's through
Happy day! All is well!
We then are free from toil and sorrow too;
With the just we shall dwell.
But if our lives are spared again
To see the Saints their rest obtain,
O how we'll make this chorus swell—
All is well! All is well!"

President Grant concludes by noting that there were tears in his father-in- law's eyes when Brother Winters finished relating the incident.

A most unusual account pertaining to this song is reported to have come to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir from an old Indian chief who claimed he heard about the incident from his father:

Many, many moons ago my people were on the warpath. We hated the palefaces. We held council and decided to kill everyone. A band of palefaces were going west. They had almost reached the Rocky Mountains. I was the chief of 1,000 young braves. That night silently we waited on a mountain pass for these people, which were led by Brigham Young. There were braves with bows and arrows behind every rock and tree, waiting to pounce down upon the palefaces. The pioneers camped for the night and prepared dinner. The big bonfire was burning brightly, and the palefaces danced around the fire. Everyone then sat down and began singing, "Come, Come, Ye Saints." I gave the signal, but our fingers were like stone—not one arrow was shot. We mounted our horses and rode back to camp. We knew the Great Spirit was watching over the palefaces. This is your song; it was your forefathers' song and is my song every night before I go to bed. It brings the Great Spirit near to me and makes me and my people happy.

A more recent account of the popularity and effect of this song comes from the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's European tour in 1955. At their first stop in Glasgow, Scotland, the choir sang "Come, Come, Ye Saints." "Midway in the program, after 'Come, Come, Ye Saints' the applause became so tumultuous, even to stamping, that it was necessary to repeat this hymn before proceeding with the concert."

A current choir member, Dr. Calvin R. Brown, who as a young man went with the choir on that European tour, relates the following:

"I first joined the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in 1944 at age 17. A year later I found myself in Bremen, Germany, a 2nd Lt. in the U.S. infantry. One Sunday morning during Christmas, I was alone by the great Dom in downtown Bremen, viewing with horror the total destruction of that beautiful city. Suddenly I heard the unmistakable strains of 'Come, Come, Ye Saints' in German drifting across the bombed out ruins. With great nostalgia and anticipation, I followed the sounds up some creaky stairs to a Sporthalle behind the great cathedral. When I opened the door, the singing stopped as all faces turned to me, noticing my uniform. Having experienced the most severe persecution all through the war, they were obviously frightened by my appearance. I tried to calm them and then began speaking in what they described as 'German without accent.' It must have been the gift of tongues. They considered me some kind of messenger delivering them from the extended period of darkness that they had suffered under Hitler. We then sang 'Come, Come, Ye Saints' together. I never hear it sung without remembering those tearful faces that day. The song changed my life."

More that a century and a third has passed since William Clayton identified himself as the composer of this "new song." However, its popularity has spread far beyond the camp fires of those Mormon pioneers and even beyond the singing by present-day Mormons in their various worship meetings. The Tabernacle Choir is widely recognized for its rendition of the great hymns of the plains, receiving requests that it be included in every broadcast. People of different faiths in many nations now thrill to its sound as do the Mormons. The song has been translated into many languages and is sung by Mormons and non-Mormons around the world. It is published, by permission, in two public school music series one of the ten best American hymns, comparing favorably with two of the great hymns of the world—France's "La Marseilaise" and Martin Luther's "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." It is one of the few hymns to have a special display, in its honor, in a non-Mormon museum at Corydon, Iowa, most likely only a few miles from the spot where the hymn was composed. The hymn has even been publicly recognized by a president of the United States. In a speech given in Salt Lake Tabernacle on 27 November 1978, President Jimmy Carter said:

I thought about the early Mormons coming across this country, singing a famous hymn . . . "Come, Come, Ye Saints." Only a deep faith could let the words of that song—"All is well"—ring out. In times when you and your forefathers were persecuted and driven one from another, [when you] crossed this land looking for freedom and a chance to worship in your own way, when perhaps you knew that you were about to die, when drought and thirst affected you, and still the song rang out, "All is well!"—this is indeed a demonstration of faith and a reaffirmation of hope.

Although William Clayton did not know it at the time, he immortalized his name when he composed the stirring words of his "new song" that spring day on Locust Creek. "Come, Come, Ye Saints" became a song of inspiration for the Mormon pioneers as they journeyed across the plains during the succeeding years, and it still stirs the hearts of Latter-day Saints, as well as those of other faiths, when it is rendered "around the world."

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