D&C/CHURCH HISTORY - LESSON 44
THE TREK WEST - PART 2
- Introductory Comments.
- The Mississippi Company of Saints.
- Last week in discussing some of the other Mormon groups moving west,
I missed the contingent known as the Mississippi company of Saints.
- This company of saints originally consisted of fourteen families from
Monroe County, Mississippi, led by William Crosby and John Brown.
- John Brown had previously served as a missionary in the southern states
and had success in baptizing a large number of persons and organizing several
branches. Among those was a group in Monroe County, Mississippi.
- Brother Brown married one of the Mississippi converts, Elizabeth Crosby
- As the Saints were preparing to leave Nauvoo, Brother Brown left Nauvoo
for Mississippi to assist in outfitting a company to head west.
- They left Mississippi on April 8, 1846 hoping to meet up with the Saints
- They arrived at Independence, Missouri in the latter part of May. They
were joined there Robert Crow and his family, and William Kartchner, members
of the Church.
- They formed an emigrant company with a small group of non-members who
were heading for the Oregon Territory. The united companies had a total
of 25 wagons.
- Being in Missouri, the members did not announce the fact that they
were Mormons, and traveled west without the non-members knowing that they
- The Oregon emigrants did not discover that they were traveling with
Mormons until they reached Indian country along the south bank of the Platte
River. At that point, those headed for Oregon decided that their Mormon
friends were not traveling fast enough, so they parted company and went
- The Mississippi company now numbered nineteen wagons.
- The company travel to within a few miles of Fort Laramie. They were
unable to obtain any information on the advanced companies of the Saints.
The main body of the Saints had progressed no further than Winter Quarters.
- At the recommendation of a Mr. Kershaw, they decided to go south to
Pueblo and winter there, reaching Pueblo on August 7.
- They learned there that the main body of the Saints had stopped to
winter on the Missouri. They also learned of the Mormon Battalion.
- 8 men from the Mississippi company, including John Brown, left Pueblo
on September 1, to return to Monroe County to bring the rest of their families
- After arriving back in Mississippi, they received a message from Brigham
Young that they leave their families in their old homes for another year,
but send all the man that could be spared to go west.
- A small group of men left, fitted out with two wagons, under the leadership
of John Brown, arriving in Council Bluffs, a few days before the Pioneer
company left Winter Quarters. Five of the Mississippi company joined the
vanguard pioneer company including John Brown and two black servants.
- Part of the Mississippi company that had wintered in Pueblo, met the
vanguard pioneer company near Fort Laramie. They indicated that the remainder
of the Mississippi company and the detachments from the Mormon Battalion
would leave Pueblo on June 1 and follow the vanguard company into the mountains.
- The Trek West - Introductory Thoughts.
- In their book, The Mormon Experience, Leonard J. Arrington and Davis
Bitton wrote the following summation of the trek west:
- "Historians have called the Mormon migration the best-organized
movement of people in American history. Unlike other contemporary journeys
to the Far West, it was religiously motivated. the Mormons went without
guides and professional outfitters employed by most westering emigrants.
A poverty-stricken band of people, in many cases unable to outfit themselves
properly, the Saints were not frontiersmen; they were artisans, farmers,
businessmen, and clerks. The organization and cohesion of the Mormons was
in marked contrast to 'the process of disruption that prevailed so generally'
in overland trail movements. Unique to the Mormons were the planting and
building for the benefit of those to come later, sending back from Salt
Lake City relief and supply parties to aid others on the last and toughest
part of the route, and establishing a Perpetual Emigrating Fund to finance
the poverty-stricken so that they could make the journey and pay later.
The entire community of Nauvoo, a whole culture, was transported to a completely
uninhabited location. Other frontier communities either drew slowly, adding
a few families at a time until local government and trade became possible,
or materialized overnight in the boom-bust syndrome of the mining exploitation
of the West. In contrast, Salt Lake Valley was, within three months of
settlement, home to nearly two thousand people and was well organized for
trade and government." (Mormon Experience, p101)
- Personal Thoughts.
- For me, the trek west has always held a particular fascination. I grew
up in the Salt Lake and Utah Valleys where we always celebrated Brigham
Young's arrival on July 24. We had our Primary block parades.
- My parents were proud of their pioneer heritage and often talked of
it. As a boy, I recall going up to my Grandma Beardall's home on 23rd East
in Salt Lake. Stepping into her home was a step into the past. Old fashioner
furniture and rugs. They heated and cooked using coal.
- Hanging on the wall of her visiting room was a large framed map that
depicted the pioneer trail from Nauvoo to Salt Lake City. I was always
fascinated by the map. After my grandmother died, my dad took the map,
refinished the frame and it now hangs above the fireplace of my mother's
home, reminding another generation of the proud heritage that is theirs.
- Much of this account is from the perspective of Heber C. Kimball.
- The Trek West - The Vanguard Company.
- Leaving Winter Quarters.
- Sunday, March 21, 1847: Heber called his last family meeting before
the trek - about 50 members, including 11 infants. Instructions were given
to those that would follow.
- Of his family only one wife, Ellen Sanders, went in the first company.
Also, his son-in-law, nephew, and 5 adopted sons.
- Originally, 144 men were to be assembled with the 1st company. They
were to pattern themselves after ancient Israel, 12 men for each of the
12 tribes of Israel.
- There were a few non-Mormons selected and three black slaves of southern
members. After the addition of 3 women and 2 children and other changes
along the way, the final group consisted of 159 members.
- April 5: Under instructions from Brigham Young, Heber moved 6 of his
companies wagons out of Winter Quarters four miles to the west to a place
known as Cuttler's Park.
- Other wagons joined Heber's as the could get ready and continued to
move west about 35 miles to the banks of the Elkhorn. The advanced divisions
built a ferry boat and moved the camp across as soon as it arrived.
- Heber returned to meet with John Taylor who had just returned from
England with specially ordered scientific instruments to be used by Orson
Pratt. They would be charting a road that would be used by the Saints for
more than 20 years.
- April 14: Brigham & Heber left Winter Quarters and joined the main
camp already 47 miles to the west.
- Brigham had previously left on April 7, but returned to Winter Quarters
to meet with Parley P. Pratt, who had returned from his mission to England.
- On the early part of the trek Brigham & Heber occupied the same
wagon, but by May Heber was in a private wagon with his wife Ellen. The
following February Ellen bore a son.
- April 15: Brigham spoke to the assembled vanguard camp, "I
called the Pioneer camp together and addressed the brethren on the necessity
of being faithful, humble and prayerful on the journey. Exhorted the camp
to vigilance in guarding, and informed the brethren that I had intimations
that the Pawnee Indians were advised to rob us. Said we should go in such
a manner as to claim the blessings of heaven." (CHC 3:162-163)
- April 16: In the afternoon, the pioneer camp made its final start westward.
Only four miles were travel that day and eight the next.
- During these two days, the camp was getting organized putting procedures
into place for the ongoing trek westward.
- There were 73 wagons in the camp; 93 horses; 52 mules; 66 oxen; 19
cows; 17 dogs, and some chickens.
- Daily schedule:
- 5:00 AM: Reveille.
- 7:30 AM: Departure.
- One hour for lunch.
- 8:30 PM: Evening prayer.
- 9:00 PM: Taps.
- The Vanguard Company Moves West.
- April 19: The first day of serious travel. The camp moved forward under
its new organization and regulations. The traveled 20 miles.
- The Mormons traveled on the north side of the Platte River which they
followed to Fort Laramie. The Oregon Trail ran along the south side of
- WHY DID THE LEADERSHIP CHOOSE THE INCONVENIENCE OF MAKING A NEW TRAIL
OVER USING A GOOD ROAD?
- It was preferable to contact with western emigration, much of which
was from western Missouri and contained old enemies of the Saints. The
consideration was more for the thousands of Saints that would follow, than
for the present company.
- Of the early crossing over the plains Heber wrote: "It was
pretty hard and laborious, I admit; but it was one of the pleasantest journeys
I ever performed."
- Before crossing Loupe Fork the camp was visited by the grand chief
of the Pawnee tribe, named Shefmolan.
- He was not satisfied with the presents from the company. He said that
the whites would drive away their buffalo and that the camp should go back
and not go on.
- This caused the company to increase their guard, with fifty standing
on duty each half of the night. The cannon was prepared for action.
- At times, when wood for fuel was scarce the pioneers tried using dried
buffalo dung which they called meadow muffins or chips. The main objection,
other than the aesthetic one, was that they burned to fast.
- Heber invented a ground oven for burning the chips more slowly.
- May 1: Sighted their first herd of buffalo. A hunt was organized and
Heber decided to test his skills. When Heber shot his heavily loaded gun,
his horse sprang and flew down the bluff like lighting. If he hadn't been
a good horseman he would have been thrown.
- Brigham Young was concerned about the unnecessary slaughter of buffalo.
Wrote Erastus Snow: "This morning President Young gave some good
instructions to the camp, and sharp admonitions to some for being wasteful
of flesh; to the hunters for killing more than was really needed."
(Journal entry of May 18th).
- Communication with the camps to follow:
- The pioneers would erect posts a points along the trail with a message
written on it.
- On May 8th the following message was left: From Winter Quarters, 295
Miles, May 8th, '47. Camp, all well. W. Clayton.
- Another method was to take a piece of board about 6x18 inches, saw
is deeply enough to place a letter in the track. Cleats were nailed on
the sides and top to protect it. The board was nailed to a pole. The letter
of May 10 contained an account of the journey up to that point.
- Most are familiar with the fact that they often left messages on the
whitened skull of a buffalo.
- Orson Pratt kept a record of detail scientific observations.
- By use of the equipment he carried with him, at each day's encampment
he ascertained the latitude and longitude, altitude, and the state of the
- He also kept a record of the flora and fauna and the geological formation
of the country they passed through.
- Elder Pratt's entry for May 25: "A hard frost last night, and
at 5 1/2 o'clock the barometer stood 26:350, attached thermometer 40 deg.,
detached thermometer 35.8 deg. The morning is calm with a beautiful clear
sky. * * * We traveled five and a quarter miles, when I halted a few minutes
to take the sun's meridian which gave the latitude 41 deg. 41 min. 46 sec.
* * * I here took a luna distance for the longitude; also by an imperfect
trigonometrical measurement with the sextant at the distance of three miles,
Chimney Rock appeared to be about 260 feet in altitude. * * * On account
of the late rains the ground has been quite wet during the day. The soil
being of soft marly formation causes the water to stand in ponds and pools,
which have been numerous for 15 or 20 miles." (CHC 3:179)
- May 28: Heber walked around the wagons of his division and was disturbed
by the levity, gambling, and profane language.
- B.H. Roberts: "There was at times much merriment in camp. There
were musical instruments brought along and those who could play them. There
was dancing, too, occasionally, notwithstanding the absence of ladies;
the games of quoits, of checkers, some card-playing for amusement, scuffling,
wrestling, the telling of humorous stories of doubtful propriety, loud
laughter, the playing of practical jokes and the like were indulged. If
these things were an offense in a company made up of churchmen engaged
in a New Dispensation of the gospel of the Christ, and seeking then a home
for the exiles of a religious persecution, it should be remembered that
in the main the company was composed of young men, Brigham Young and Heber
C. Kimball were then forty-six years old, respectively; Willard Richards
forty-three, These were the recognized leaders of the camp; the rest of
the personnel of the Pioneers, with very few exceptions, ranged below this
age, and many of them far below it; and they were possessed of the exuberance
natural to youth, and that youth alive in a new atmosphere of freedom open
plains and boundless physical prospects, to which environment their souls
were unconsciously expanding." (CHC 3:182-183)
- Heber met with Brigham and the following day the two of them called
upon the camp to repent, cease their folly, and turn to the Lord their
God with full purpose of heart to serve him.
- Said Brigham: "I had rather risk myself among the savages with
ten men that are men of faith, men of mighty prayer, men of God, than to
be with this whole camp when they forget God and turn their hearts to folly
and wickedness. Yes, I had rather be alone; and I am now resolved not to
go any further with the camp unless you will covenant to humble yourselves
before the Lord and serve him and quit your folly and wickedness. For a
week past nearly the whole camp has been card-playing, and checkers and
dominoes have occupied the attention of the brethren, and dancing and `hoeing
down'--all this has been the act continually. Now, it is quite time to
quit it. And there has been trials of law suits upon every nonsensical
thing; and if those things are suffered to go on, it will be but a short
time before you will be fighting, knocking each other down and taking life.
It is high time it was stopped." (CHC 3:184)
- From that time on a more Saintly attitude prevailed in camp.
- The following day, Sunday, Brigham convened a meeting of the member
of the Council of 50 present on the trek. They went out on the bluffs,
clothed themselves in their temple robes and held a prayer circle to pray
- June 1: Arrived across the river from Ft. Laramie. To this point there
had been little sickness and no deaths. They had lost four horses - two
to the Indians.
- Joined here by an advanced company of 17 Mississippi Saints. They learned
that the rest of the Southern Saints and sick members of the Mormon battalion
were south at Fort Pueblo. Brigham sent 4 men to assist this group in getting
to the valley.
- From Ft. Laramie they joined the Oregon trail for the next month.
- The Oregon Trail was a busy road in 1847. While at Fort Laramie, a
party of four men arrived from St. Joseph, Missouri. They reported that
they had passed 2,000 wagons in various companies enroute to the west.
- Over this part of the trip, the Saints passed and were passed by pioneer
companies headed to Oregon or California.
- At a crossing of the Platte, the Saints remained 5 days while they
made various experiments in ferrying over their wagons.
- While there, they found that Oregon emigrants were willing to pay from
$1.50 to $2.50 per wagon to be ferried over, a profitable venture.
- A company of ten men were left to run the ferry.
- June 27: Met mountain man Moses Harris near South Pass. He said that
the great Salt Lake country was barren, sandy, and destitute of timber
and vegetation. He did provide a lot of usual information to the Saints.
- Heber said that he learned to approach mountain men upwind as they
generally considered cleanliness as bad as godliness.
- The company met another mountain man by the name of Thomas L. Smith,
who had a trading post on the Bear River. He described the Bear Lake, Cache,
and Marsh Valleys. Said Erastus Snow of his encounter, "He earnestly
advised us to direct our course northwestward from Bridger, and make our
way into Cache valley; and he so far made an impression upon the camp,
that we were induced to enter into an engagement with him to meet us at
a certain time and place some two weeks afterwards to pilot our company
into that country. But for some reason, which to this day has never to
my knowledge been explained, he failed to meet us; and I have ever recognized
his failure to do it as a providence of the Allwise God. The impressions
of the Spirit signified that we should bear rather to the south of west
from Bridger than to the north of west." (CHC 3:200)
- June 28: The company met Jim Bridger where they learned more about
the Great Basin country.
- They camped early that day in order to learn what they could from Bridger.
He provided valuable information on roads, streams, and the country in
- This was when the challenge was given where Bridger offered a $1000
for the first bushel of corn to be grown in the valley. Brigham's reply,
"Wait a little, and we will show you."
- June 30: At Green River, the company met up with Samuel Brannan coming
from the west. He brought news that his company had arrived in California
and was settling in the San Joaquin Valley and that the Battalion had also
reached the Pacific coast.
- Brannan gave a sales pitch on California: good soil, favorable climate,
it was now part of the U.S. Brannan did not receive a favorable reception.
- A few days later, five men were sent east along the trail, with one
wagon, to meet the emigrating companies of Saints now en route from Winter
Quarters and act as their guides to the Green River.
- July 9: Pioneers quit the Oregon Trail and followed the Hastings Cutoff,
the barely visible track left by the Reed-Donner part of 1846.
- Erastus Snow wrote, "We took a blind trail, the general course
of which is a little south of west, leading in the direction of the southern
extremity of the Salt Lake, which is the region we wish to explore. Fortunately
for us a party of emigrants bound for the coast of California passed this
way last fall, though their trail is in many places, scarcely discernable."
- Fortunately, this group blazed the trail into the Salt Lake Valley.
Even yet it took the Saints 16 days to traverse the last 116 miles between
Ft. Bridger and Salt Lake Valley.
- July 10: The pioneers met Miles Goodyear with a small company from
the San Francisco area back to the States. Good year had a farm in the
- When questioned about the Salt Lake Valley, Erastus Snow reported that
he "was unable to give us any hope; on the contrary, he told us
of hard frosts, cold climate; [that it was] difficult to produce grain
and vegetables in any of this mountain region." (CHC 3:206)
- July 12: Brigham Young struck with tick fever and remained sick for
nearly two weeks. Heber took over direction of the camp. The camp split
into three groups - the vanguard blazing the trail headed by Orson Pratt,
the main company, and a rear guard that stayed with Brigham and Heber.
- The Pratt company stopped to work on the road as they progressed along
the path cut the previous year by the Donner party,
- July 19: Orson Pratt and John Brown started out after sunrise to scout
the Donner road ahead. They ascended the road for about four miles when
they came to a dividing ridge and caught a glimpse of the valley. They
climbed a mountain several hundred feet to get a better view of the valley.
- July 21: Pratt's company passed over "Little Mountain" and
came upon a swift running creek now known as Emigration Creek.
- At the direction of George A. Smith, Erastus Snow left the main company
and followed Pratt's route, catching up with the vanguard company.
- Elder Snow and Elder Pratt left the vanguard company and proceeded
down the canyon. Orson Pratt wrote: "Mr. Snow and myself ascended
this hill, from the top of which a broad open valley, about twenty miles
wide and thirty long, lay stretched out before us, at the north end of
which the broad water of Great Salt Lake glistened in the sunbeams, containing
high mountainous islands from twenty-five to thirty miles in extent. After
issuing from the mountains among which we had been shut up for many days,
and beholding in a moment such an extensive scenery open before us, we
could not refrain from a shout of joy which almost involuntarily escaped
from our lips the moment this grand and lovely scenery was within our view."
- Pratt and Snow descended into the valley. Orson reported the temperature
at 96 degrees. They returned to their encampment in the canyon at about
9:00 PM that evening.
- July 22: A party of 9 headed by Orson Pratt and George A. Smith rode
into the valley to explore it. The remainder of the vanguard and main camps
were directed to work on the road into the valley.
- July 23: The main group enters the valley and camp on the banks of
- An attempt to plow the land was made, but the ground was so hard and
dry that several plows were broken in the effort. The company set to work
to dam the creek and flood the land, thus beginning modern irrigation.
- Brigham & Heber's company cross Big Mountain and get their first
sight of the valley.
- July 24: William Clayton wrote of President Young's company: "Saturday
24. We started early this morning and found the road very rough and uneven
to the mouth of the Kanion which is 4 3/4 miles from where we started...we
beheld the Great Valley of the Salt Lake spreading before us...we arrived
amongst the brethren at a quarter pas 12 having traveled today 12 1/4 miles...we
found the brethren very busy stocking and preparing plows, and several
plows to work."
- Brigham Young made the following brief entry into his journal: "July
24th: I started early this morning and after crossing Emigration Canon
Creek eighteen times, emerged from the canon. Encamped with the main body
at 2 p. m. About noon, the five-acre potato patch was plowed, when the
brethren commenced planting their seed potatoes. At five, a light shower
accompanied by thunder and a stiff breeze." (CHC 3:224)
- Wilford Woodruff wrote upon entering the valley that Brigham Young
"was enwrapped in vision for several minutes. He had seen the Valley
before in vision, and upon this occasion he saw the future glory of Zion
and of Israel, as they would be, planted in the valleys of these mountains.
When the vision had passed, he said: 'It is enough. This is the right place,
- Not all felt the same as Brigham. One Saint wrote: "Weak and
weary as I am, I would rather go a thousand miles further."
- Only a few Saints had arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake,
but they had laid the foundation for thousands of Saints to come to the
Intermountain West. These few Saints, who had been persecuted and driven
from their homes, would settle down and build a civilization and strengthen
the Church so that its great mission of spreading the gospel of salvation
could go forward in an way unparalleled in the history of the world.