When we think of President Brigham Young’s leadership in Utah, we usually picture him in Salt Lake City. But he did some of his most influential work 300 miles to the south, in the city of St. George. He lived there during six of the last seven winters of his life, from 1870 to 1877. Beginning in 1872, he lived in the place we now know as the Brigham Young Winter Home. His prophetic ministry from this home influenced the lives of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the late 1800s, especially in their worship and service in the temple. That ministry continues to influence Latter-day Saints throughout the world today.
An Unlikely Witness
One unlikely witness of President Young’s ministry in St. George was a man named Samuel Goold. Samuel was a gardener at President Young’s winter home. He labored outdoors with soil and seeds and with roots, vines, and branches. He probably had no need to enter the home. And President Young, his employer, probably had no obligation to invite him inside. But President Young did invite Samuel inside his home. He even welcomed him into private rooms.
Samuel saw much of what people see today when they visit that historic home—with one significant exception. He spent time with Brigham Young there.
“I have been with him at his dining table,” Samuel wrote. “In his parlor. Prayer circle. Private bedroom, and private office.”1
What did Samuel see? What did he learn when he was with a prophet in his home?
The dining table was a gathering place for the Young family and their friends. Samuel Goold was one of those friends.
President Young’s daughter Clarissa recorded her memory of such gatherings: “Father enjoyed having his friends come to our home for suppers.”2
In the 1870s, a parlor was another place for gathering. When President Young was in St. George, his home served as Church headquarters, the central place for prophetic leadership. He and other leaders probably met in the parlor to discuss the work of the Church in the territory of Utah and throughout the world. This was a time of growth and transition for the Church. From 1870 until President Young’s death in 1877, the Church grew from 9 stakes to 20 and from about 90,000 members to 115,000 members.3 President Young oversaw the construction of four temples in Utah during that time—in Salt Lake City, St. George, Manti, and Logan.
Sometimes a parlor was simply a place for friendly conversation—something President Young enjoyed with friends and family in St. George. Charles Walker, a stonecutter for the St. George Temple, once walked home with President Young after a Church meeting. He recalled, “I escorted Brother Brigham to his home and had a pleasant little chat with him.”4 Brother Brigham surely enjoyed pleasant chats with Samuel the gardener, just as he did with Charles the stonecutter.
Samuel did not elaborate on the meaning of the phrase “prayer circle.” Perhaps he referred to family prayers. Perhaps he referred to more formal prayers—performed only in temples today but sometimes conducted outside of temples under the direction of the First Presidency during Samuel’s lifetime.5 Perhaps he referred to both practices. In any case, the phrase suggests that he sometimes gathered for prayer with President Young and others. He probably heard the prophet offer petitions to God.
Maybe Samuel’s experience was like that of young Heber J. Grant, who was often invited to join family prayers at President Young’s home in Salt Lake City: “I have lifted my head, turned and looked at the place where Brigham Young was praying, to see if the Lord was not there. It seemed to me that he talked to the Lord as one man would talk to another.”6
The warm winter weather in St. George was good for President Young’s health late in his life. That was one reason he spent winters there. His large bedroom, with its comfortable furnishings and cheery yellow walls, gave him a place to relax and rest—sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. He loved learning, so he likely passed some of his time in this room with a book in his hands.7
Samuel Goold did not say why he was allowed to visit President Young’s bedroom. However, it seems clear that the prophet trusted Samuel and valued his friendship.
When Samuel stepped into President Young’s private office, he entered a sacred place. The office was in a small white building, separate from the home. It was not as comfortable or elegantly appointed as the rooms in the home, but its impact on the Church today is immense—probably more lasting than the impact of any other place on the property.
Evidence suggests that in this private office and in the St. George Temple, President Young met with trusted associates to discuss the temple endowment. They worked together to prepare the first written version of that ordinance. The Lord had revealed the ordinance to the Prophet Joseph Smith in Nauvoo about 35 years earlier, and Joseph had shared it with Brigham Young and other Apostles.
Elder Wilford Woodruff was one of the men who assisted President Young in this effort. In March 1877, he wrote, “President Young has been laboring all winter to get up a perfect form of Endowments as far as possible.”8 President Young died five months later.
Because of the work President Young and others did in that small white building and in the temple, the sacred endowment has been preserved for us today. Their work also prepared the Saints to receive the endowment for their deceased ancestors, a practice that began in the St. George Temple.
Brigham Young, a Man Who Was Both Great and Good
Years after Brigham Young’s death, Samuel Goold wrote a personal history.9 He did not describe his own labor in President Young’s gardens—he mentioned only that he worked there. He said little about the home—he merely listed the rooms he visited. But he did share his admiration for the man who lived in the home.
“I worked for him up to the time of his death, and for the estate for one year after his death,” Samuel recalled. “And right here I wish to state that a better man to work for I think it would be impossible to find. He was always pleasant, gentle and kind, and always as good as his word. Whenever he promised a person anything, or made any agreement with a person, one could depend upon the fulfillment of that promise or agreement to the very letter. . . . I never saw or heard anything, but what was admirable and worthy a man of God. His example was worthy of imitation in every instance. He was very neat and plain in his manner of dress, economical in the use of means, his diet plain and simple. [He] observed the old maxim of early to bed and early to rise. He was exceptionally regular, punctual, and prompt to all his appointments, and, in short, he was in every way a great and a good man.”10