Monday, October 14, 2013

Utah's Historic 'Mount Sinai' -- Ensign Peak

By Lynn Arave

IT'S Utah's most sacred mountain - kind of the state's own version of Mount Sinai. At an elevation of 5,414 feet, this mound-shaped peak located behind the Utah State Capitol is only about 1,100 feet above the city streets - far lower than most other Wasatch mountain peaks. However, no other Utah mountain probably has a more significant religious history.
Consider the following:- According to President George A. Smith, first counselor in the First Presidency, Brigham Young had a vision of Joseph Smith and Mount Ensign while in the Nauvoo Temple, prior to leaving the East:
"President Young had a vision of Joseph Smith, who showed him the mountain that we now call Ensign Peak, immediately north of Salt Lake City, and there was an ensign [thatT fell upon that peak, and Joseph said, `Build under that point where the colors fall and you will prosper and have peace.' " (From an address given in the "new" tabernacle on June 20, 1869.)

                     Ensign Peak, center, as seen from Eagle Gate.

President Joseph F. Smith provided a similar description 13 years later:
[Brigham Young] "had before seen an ensign descend and light upon the mountain peak, which is now called from that circumstance - `Ensign Peak' - which was an indication to him that this was the resting place God designed for His people." (From an address given in the Provo Tabernacle on Dec. 3, 1882.)
The Mormon Pioneers arrived in Utah on Saturday, July 24, 1847. They spent all of the next day, Sunday, resting and worshiping God. However, on July 26, one of the first tasks attempted was to climb what is now known as Ensign Peak to get a better look at the valley and probably also to see first-hand the mountain in President Young's vision.
Among those pioneers who made that first climb were Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, Wilford Woodruff, George A. Smith, Ezra T. Benson, Albert Carrington and William Clayton. (The party used horses to make the first two-thirds of the climb, then dismounted and went on foot.)

Elder Woodruff was the first to reach the summit and President Young, still ill (and barely able to make it to the top with help), was likely the slowest climber. On top of the peak, President Young said, "Here is a proper place to raise an ensign to the nations." This is a reference to the scriptures where it mentions an "Ensign." (Isa. 5:26, D&C 105:39) These scriptural references are likely the inspiration for the peak's name. (They're also the source for the name of one of the Church's modern monthly magazines, The Ensign.)
The men then reportedly unfurled an ensign of liberty to the world. What an "ensign" means here is unclear. Perhaps the most common dictionary definition of an ensign is a flag or banner - specifically a national flag. But most historians are quick to point out that despite recurring myths, there's no evidence that a U.S. flag was raised on Ensign Peak at the climax of that first climb. Another definition of ensign is simply a badge or symbol, in accordance with a synonym of the word: insignia.

(The pioneers did raise a U.S. flag in the valley below as early as October of 1847, a significant act since Utah was technically still Mexican soil. The U.S. flag was definitely flown on Ensign Peak, complete with a 21-gun salute, on July 24, 1897, from a special flagpole - about six months after Utah was admitted to the union - in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the pioneer's arrival. A similar celebration was held on Ensign Peak, 50 years later in 1947.)
- Not long after the pioneers arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, Ensign Peak was also used for a brief period as an outdoor temple until the "Endowment House" was constructed.
- Ensign Peak has also had its controversial moments. For example, on Feb. 23, 1925, the Klu Klux Klan surprised Salt Lake residents by burning a red cross on the peak. The Klan also unexpectedly burned more crosses on the peak and had an initiation ceremony, less than two months later in April of 1925.
The peak and its monuments have also been the target of periodic vandalism.
- There's an 18-foot-tall monument on Ensign Peak, placed there on July 26, 1934, by the Salt Lake Ensign Stake Mutual Improvement Associations. Stones gathered from all along the Mormon Trail are incorporated into the rock monument. Although many inscriptions on the monument are no longer visible, such lettering as "Kolob" and "Logan Temple" are still readable.

(-Originally published by Lynn Arave in the Deseret News, July 20, 1991.)

-Additionally, an August 19, 1946 story in the Salt Lake Telegram newspaper reported on the sad death of a Salt Lake girl who fell to their death off the cliffs located northwest of Ensign Peak.
This report included a map that identifies the rock cliffs directly west of Ensign Peak as being called "Hell's Hollow," And, a "Devil's Rock" was also identified as a part of "Hell's Hollow." These colorful geological feature names seem to have been lost over the decades now.

-NOTE: The author, Lynn Arave, is available to speak to groups, clubs, classes or other organizations about Utah history at no charge. He can be contacted by email at:  

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