Take a quick look at your history textbook when school starts in the fall. Look in the index to find all the entries about Mormon history. Chances are, the pioneers and polygamy are the only things in it, leaving students with a very unbalanced and unrealistic look at how Mormons affected the history of the United States. It can also leave them with an incorrect understanding of Mormonism, especially if one of their literature assignments involves a popular book about a woman who left a polygamous group in modern times. The true name of the Mormon Church is The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—Mormon is just a nickname. Today’s Mormons don’t practice polygamy, although some of them are still pioneering.
Mormon history should be very interesting to teenagers because so much of it involves teenagers. How many teenagers do you know who got to make history? Lots of Mormon teenagers did. In past blog entries, I’ve talked about Joseph Smith, the first president and prophet of the Mormons. Mormon history begins with him, and he was only a teenager when the story began. I’ve also talked about teenage pioneers from Mormon history. Some of them kept journals and many of them wrote their stories later, so today, we know the important role of teens in Mormon history. They were often heroes and Mormon history is filled with stories of their sacrifices and challenges. But you won’t find any of those wonderful teenagers in the typical history book. In fact, school textbooks often overlook the amazing contributions of teenagers in general.
How do we know about most of these teenagers in Mormon history? We know about most of them through their journals and personal histories. They didn’t know, when they were pioneers, that they were becoming part of American history and they never guessed their journals would be read and admired in our time. Do you keep a journal? Your life might look pretty ordinary to you, but in one hundred years, your experiences will seem amazing to people living in that time. They will be amazed at the hardships you faced without their technology and at your ability to get through hard moral times with your testimony of Jesus Christ intact and your values strong. Do a good job with your journal—and tell the truth—and you might become part of history. If you’re Mormon, make sure your journal includes lots of information about your life as a Mormon, because you just might find yourself a part of Mormon history.
I’m going to tell you now a little about a Mormon teenager from Mormon history who kept a great journal. The next entry will tell you about another teenager, although she didn’t keep a journal—but she did dictate her history to someone before she died. But today’s story is about a teenager named Jebulon Jacobs, a pioneer driver. Yes, he became famous for driving—but only because he kept a really great journal. His journal shows he had worked hard to learn good writing skills and he understood how to tell a great story. If you want to be remembered in Mormon history, learn how to write.
Jeb, as he was known, was a driver. Brigham Young, the second Mormon prophet, knew teenagers loved to drive then, just as they do today. So when he needed people to drive, he chose teens. Of course, they weren’t driving cars back then. They drove wagons and carriages pulled by horses. But it was driving all the same, and teen Mormon boys loved doing it.
Even after the first Mormon pioneers came to Utah, there were always new pioneers trying to get there. Brigham Young was always trying to find the best ways to help them and one of his ideas was to try “down and back” wagons—someone would drive a wagon down from Utah, pick up passengers in Nebraska, and drive them to Utah. Sounds like a taxi or a bus, right? Well, Zeb, who was a teenager at the time, was one of the pioneer taxi or bus drivers sent to help bring pioneers to Utah. He kept a diary of the experience that is considered one of the best pioneer journals we have.
Going out, they carried passengers who wanted to go east for one reason or another and also supplies. They left supplies along the route to be picked up when they were returning, so they could live more comfortably on the trip back when they needed the space for passengers. In Wyoming, he and the other “Utah Boys” stopped at a spot where earlier Mormon pioneers had been forced to stop due to snow. They had buried a lot of their things in order to lighten their load, hoping someone could collect them later on. Jeb and his friends dug up an entire piano, still in perfect condition!
Jeb drove the down and back runs for eighteen weeks. You can read about his adventures on the trail here:
Now, what about your own diary? Be sure to keep it up and think about things people in the future might like to know about your life. You just might become a part of Mormon history, or even world history yourself as a result.