Chapter Twenty-Six

Pioneers to the West

“Chapter Twenty-Six: Pioneers to the West,” Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual (2003), 323–36

While the Latter-day Saints in Winter Quarters and in the wilderness of Iowa waited out the winter of 1846–47 and planned for the momentous trek the following spring, three other groups of Saints were already on the move to the West: the Mormon Battalion, members from the eastern United States who sailed on the ship Brooklyn, and a small party known as the Mississippi Saints.

The March of the Mormon Battalion

Captain James Allen of the United States army was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel after enlisting five companies of Mormon men. Under his direction 541 soldiers, 35 women (20 of whom were designated as laundresses), and 42 children began their march to Fort Leavenworth on 21 July 1846. Before they left, the officers, all of whom had been selected by Church leaders, met privately with members of the Twelve. The Brethren promised them that their lives would be spared if they were faithful. Sergeant William Hyde reported that they were charged “to remember their prayers, to see that the name of the Deity was revered, and that virtue and cleanliness were strictly observed. [The troops were instructed] to treat all men with kindness … and never take life when it could be avoided.”1

Brigham Young recruiting the Mormon Battalion

Brigham Young recruiting the Mormon Battalion

Nevertheless the departure of the Mormon Battalion worried many. Sergeant William Hyde, who left a wife and two small children with aged relatives, said, “When we were to meet with them again, God only knew. Nevertheless, we did not feel to murmur.”2 Drusilla Hendricks, whose husband had been wounded in the Battle of Crooked River in Missouri, would not let her oldest son, William, join until the voice of the Spirit convinced her otherwise. On the morning the battalion left, she was still heartsick and could not go with her husband to see her son off. Instead she went to milk the cows and pray for William’s safety. She wrote, “Then the voice … answered me saying, It shall be done unto you as it was unto Abraham when he offered Isaac on the altar. I don’t know whether I milked or not for I felt the Lord had spoken to me.”3

The new soldiers marched two hundred miles down the east side of the Missouri River, then crossed over to Fort Leavenworth, arriving on 1 August 1846. There they were outfitted with supplies, guns, and forty-two dollars per man as clothing money for the year. The paymaster at the fort was surprised when every man was able to sign his name on the payroll. Only a third of the volunteers he had previously paid could write. A portion of the money was collected by Parley P. Pratt and others sent by the Church. This was used to support the battalion members’ families in Iowa and in unorganized territory, to assist in evacuating the poor from Nauvoo, and to help Parley P. Pratt, John Taylor, and Orson Hyde on their mission to England.

map, western U.S.

The route of the Mormon Battalion from Iowa to California. Note that three separate sick detachments were sent to Pueblo, Colorado. They later joined the pioneers on the main trail in Wyoming.

General Stephen W. Kearny’s regiment had already embarked in June toward Santa Fe to conquer New Mexico for the United States. The Mormon Battalion was to follow him and aid his operations if necessary. For two weeks the battalion remained at Fort Leavenworth. The weather was very hot, and many men suffered, particularly with fevers. Their commanding officer, Colonel Allen, became severely ill and was not able to leave with them when they took up their march. Captain Jefferson Hunt, the ranking Mormon officer, took temporary command of the battalion. About two weeks after leaving the Missouri River, the men learned that Colonel Allen had died. This saddened them because they had grown to admire this benevolent officer.

The Mormon officers felt that Captain Hunt should continue as their leader and requested by letter that President Polk appoint him to the position. But First Lieutenant A. J. Smith of the regular army was already en route to assume command. “The appointment of Smith, even before his character was known, caused a greater gloom throughout the command than the death of Colonel Allen had,” wrote battalion historian, Daniel Tyler.4

Jefferson Hunt (1803–79)

Jefferson Hunt (1803–79) and his wife accepted the gospel in 1834. Brother Hunt became commander of Company A in the Mormon Battalion. Two of his sons also enlisted in the battalion. Later he assisted the colonization effort in Provo, Utah, and San Bernardino, California. Huntsville, Utah, was named in his honor.

Lieutenant Smith set a rapid pace for Santa Fe, hoping to overtake General Kearny before the latter left for California. This wore heavily on the soldiers, and more especially on the wives and children who were allowed to travel with the battalion. With the relentless push, the men had little rest, and often the weary fell behind, trudging into camp hours after the others. Worse than the fast travel were the ministrations of the military doctor, George B. Sanderson of Missouri. He seemed to dislike the Mormons and forced the men to swallow calomel and arsenic for their ills from the same rusty spoon. The men referred to him as “mineral quack” and “Doctor Death.” William L. McIntire, a good botanic physician, had been appointed assistant surgeon to the battalion but was unable to administer to his afflicted friends in any way unless ordered to by Dr. Sanderson, the battalion surgeon.

On 16 September at the last crossing of the Arkansas River (in present-day Kansas), Smith sent Captain Nelson Higgins and ten men to convey most of the soldiers’ families up the river to the Mexican village of Pueblo (in present-day Colorado) for the winter. The men strongly protested this “division” of the battalion because they had been promised that their families could accompany the army to California. The decision proved to be wise, however, in light of the difficult trek that lay ahead. A month later at Santa Fe, a detachment of sick men and all but five of the remaining women were sent under the direction of Captain James Brown to join the earlier group at Pueblo. There the battalion members met John Brown and his company of Mississippi Saints, who were wintering in Pueblo.

Philip St. George Cooke (1809–95)

Philip St. George Cooke (1809–95) entered the United States Military Academy at age fourteen. Most of his service in the military was on the frontier, and he crossed the plains several times. When he assumed command of the Mormon Battalion at Santa Fe, he was welcomed by the men, who were happy to be relieved of Lieutenant Smith.

Under Cooke’s direction the women and sick were sent to Pueblo to enable the healthy men to resume their march toward California. Upon arriving in San Diego, he praised the efforts of his men, saying they “exhibited some high and essential qualities of veterans.”5

On 9 October 1846 the weary soldiers dragged themselves into Santa Fe, the provincial capital of New Mexico, which had some six thousand inhabitants. General Kearny had already left for California, leaving the city under the command of Colonel Alexander Doniphan, a friend of the Saints from the Missouri days. Doniphan ordered a one hundred gun salute in honor of the arrival of the Mormon Battalion. In Santa Fe, Lieutenant Smith relinquished command to Lieutenant Colonel Philip St. George Cooke, whom the men came to respect as a fair but firm leader. The new commander had orders to blaze a wagon trail from Santa Fe to California. Veering south along the Rio Grande, the soldiers sometimes followed Spanish or Mexican trails but generally cut new roads. Once again the march took its toll in sickness; on 10 November a third detachment of fifty-five worn and weakened men turned back toward Pueblo.6

Not only did lack of water and food plague the remaining 350 members of the battalion, but the sandy trails were a constant challenge. The soldiers were either pulling long ropes to help the teams get through the deep sand, or they were walking double file in front of the wagons to make firm trails for the wheels. After they turned northwest toward Tucson they encountered a herd of wild bulls. These were bulls abandoned by Spanish and Mexican ranchers. The bulls stampeded the line of march, sending the soldiers rushing for safety. The “battle” lasted only a few minutes, but ten to fifteen animals were killed, two of the battalion’s mules were gored to death, and three soldiers were wounded. The event was immortalized as the Battle of the Bulls, and was the only fight during the battalion’s long journey.

The battalion passed without incident through Tucson, where a small Mexican garrison was stationed. They then rejoined Kearny’s route along the Gila River. Beyond the Colorado River lay over a hundred miles of trackless desert, where water was obtained only by digging deep wells.7 There the battalion encountered the heaviest sands, the hottest days, and the coldest nights. Weakened animals were butchered for food and all parts were eaten, including the hide, which was boiled until it was tender enough to eat. By this time many of the men were nearly barefoot, and some of them wrapped rawhide and old clothing around their feet to protect them from the hot sands. Beyond the desert they transported wagons through the narrow mountain passes of the coastal range with ropes and pulleys. Finally on 29 January 1847 they reached Mission San Diego at the end of their 2,030-mile march and reported to General Kearny. Kearny was named governor of California by President Polk in February.

Since California was already in the hands of the United States, the battalion men served as occupation troops with garrison duty in San Diego, San Luis Rey, and Los Angeles.8 While in southern California, the Saints gained the respect of the local citizens. Those in San Diego built a courthouse and houses, burned brick, and dug wells, thus contributing significantly to the building of the community. On 16 July, at the end of their year’s enlistment, the battalion members were discharged, although eighty-one men chose to reenlist for an additional six months.

discovery of gold at Coloma

The officially recognized discovery of gold at Coloma in northern California occurred on 24 January 1848 at John Sutter’s lumber mill. Of the eleven white men and one woman present, at least six were Church members from the Mormon Battalion. The most widely accepted record of this famous discovery comes from the journal of battalion member Henry Bigler: “Monday 24th this day some kind of mettle was found in the tail race that looks like goald first discovered by James Martial [Marshall], the Boss of the Mill.”9

Most of the discharged men left for northern California, intending to travel east to join the Saints in the Salt Lake Valley. They were met by Captain James Brown, pioneer, founder of Ogden, and counselor in Ogden’s stake presidency for many years. He conveyed a message from Brigham Young asking those without families to stay in California to work during the winter of 1847–48. Most of them did. Many spent the winter at Sutter’s Fort on the Sacramento River and assisted in the discovery of gold in January 1848 that began the California gold rush. The following summer they honorably completed their contracts with Sutter, abandoned the gold fields, and joined their families in Salt Lake City or at the Missouri River.

Mormon Battalion veterans

Mormon Battalion veterans.

In 1898, at the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the discovery of gold in California, four men who had been at the initial find were present. All four were Latter-day Saints. They are from left to right: Henry W. Bigler, William J. Johnston, Azariah Smith, and James S. Brown.

Courtesy of Brigham Young University Library

The Brooklyn Saints

The Mormon Battalion was not the first group of Saints to reach the West. That honor belongs to a company of Saints who sailed out of New York harbor aboard the ship Brooklyn on 4 February 1846, coincidentally the same day the first Saints left Nauvoo. In August 1845 Church leaders had decided that a way station on the California coast would be needed for immigrating Saints from the South Pacific or England who came around the tip of South America. Apparently Brigham Young envisioned the young, energetic Samuel Brannan as a Church agent in the San Francisco bay region. The publisher of The Prophet, the Church newspaper in New York, he was appointed in September 1845 to charter a ship and direct the company.

Samuel Brannan (1819–89)

Samuel Brannan (1819–89) went east to the Salt Lake Valley from California but was unable to convince Brigham Young to continue on to California. He became disaffected and returned to the coast, where he was prominent in California as a politician, land speculator, and publisher. Before his death he lost the wealth he had gained during California’s boom days.

Courtesy of Utah State Historical Society

During the last three months of 1845, Samuel Brannan and Orson Pratt visited various branches in the East and recruited seventy men, sixty-eight women, and one hundred children to sail for the West about the middle of January. They were chiefly farmers and mechanics who carried with them all the tools necessary to build a new colony on the West Coast. They also took a large quantity of school books and the printing press on which The Prophet had been printed. In December, Brannan chartered a ship at seventy-five dollars per adult, including provisions, and half fare for children. Known as the Brooklyn Saints, they left for California expecting to help choose and establish the final destination for the Church.

The Brooklyn

The Brooklyn was built in Newcastle, Maine, in 1834 and was a 445-ton fullrigger, 125 feet long, 28 feet wide, and 13 feet deep. She was piloted by Captain Abel W. Richardson, a part owner.

In addition to the 238 Latter-day Saints led by Samuel Brannan, the company also took with them tools for eight hundred people, the printing press of the Prophet, a large quantity of school books, and provisions for six or seven months. Coincidentally, the Brooklyn set sail on 4 February 1846, the same day the exodus from Nauvoo began.

The voyage of the Brooklyn was relatively pleasant except for two severe storms—one encountered in the Atlantic and the other in the Pacific Ocean. Twenty-one specific rules governed the conduct of the Saints during their journey. Reveille was at six o’clock, and the Saints were not permitted to leave their staterooms “without being completely dressed (i e) without their coats, &c.” The rooms were to be cleaned by seven and to be inspected and aired daily. Breakfast was at eight-thirty (children first) and dinner from three to five o’clock, with a “cold lunch” served at eight in the evening. Provisions were made for attending to the sick and for cooking for the group, and Sabbath morning services were held at which “all that are able must attend, shaved, and washed clean, so as to appear in a manner becoming the solemn, and holy occasion.”10 Rounding Cape Horn, the ship stopped at Juan Fernandez, the island made famous by Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. They also spent ten days in the Sandwich Islands (now the Hawaiian Islands). There were two births during the voyage, and the children were named Atlantic and Pacific, after the oceans where they first saw life. Ten of the passengers died on the voyage.11

map, western hemisphere

The route of the Brooklyn. After rounding Cape Horn, a storm drove the Saints five hundred miles east, where they put in at the island of Juan Fernandez (Robinson Crusoe’s island) on 4 May 1846. There they loaded fresh water, fruit, and vegetables. After five days they set sail for the Sandwich (Hawaiian) Islands, arriving there on 20 June. The Brooklyn entered Yerba Buena (San Francisco) Harbor late in July 1846, after over five months at sea.

When the Brooklyn arrived at San Francisco Bay on 31 July 1846, Brannan, who had hoped to be the first American to fly the United States flag in California, was disappointed to see it atop the Mexican customhouse. Some of the company sought work along the coast, but others founded a colony further inland, which they called New Hope. Brannan dreamed that New Hope would become the center for the Saints in the West. By January 1847 he was publishing the California Star, the second English newspaper in California. Most of the Brooklyn Saints were unaware the Church was settling in the Great Basin and willingly followed Brannan’s direction.

In April 1847, Samuel Brannan headed east to meet the body of the Church and offer to guide them to California. He met Brigham Young and the pioneer company in June at the Green River (in present-day Wyoming). Thomas S. Williams and Samuel Brannan were sent to guide the members of the battalion and also members of the Mississippi Company into the Salt Lake Valley. These two groups had wintered at Pueblo and were at the time en route toward Salt Lake City. After spending a few days in the Salt Lake Valley with Brigham Young and the Saints, Brannan returned to California with Captain James Brown of the Mormon Battalion to conduct Church business. Disenchanted with Brigham Young’s decision not to establish Church headquarters on the coast, Brannan soon apostatized. Some of the Brooklyn Saints followed him. Brannan publicized the California gold rush and became the region’s first millionaire, but eventually lost his fortune through unwise investments and died a pauper.

The Pueblo Saints

As we have seen,12 during the winter of 1846–47 about 275 Latter-day Saints formed a substantial community at Pueblo, hundreds of miles west of the main body of the Saints at the Missouri River. This group consisted of the three sick detachments from the Mormon Battalion and approximately sixty “Mississippi Saints,” who had come to Pueblo in August.

These southern members of the Church were accompanied by John Brown, who had moved from Mississippi to Nauvoo in 1845. He was appointed by Brigham Young in January 1846 to return to his fellow Saints in the South and urge them to join in the westward migration. Brown and William Crosby led forty-three people 640 miles to Independence, Missouri, where they were joined by fourteen others. They continued west along the Oregon Trail, expecting to find the main body of the Saints led by Brigham Young. In July, however, when they reached Chimney Rock in western Nebraska, there were still no Saints. Trappers returning from California told them there were no Mormons ahead of them. Unaware that Brigham Young had decided to establish Winter Quarters on the Missouri, they decided to move to Fort Laramie. There they met John Richard, a trapper who invited them to winter near his trading post at Pueblo. Word finally reached them in Pueblo that Brigham Young had stopped at Winter Quarters.

John Brown (1820–97)

After leading the Mississippi Saints to Pueblo, Colorado, John Brown (1820–97) was active in assisting emigration until about 1870. He also served as bishop of the Pleasant Grove Ward in Utah for twenty-nine years. He held numerous civil offices and was mayor of Pleasant Grove for twenty years.

Life was somewhat settled in Pueblo. In addition to hunting for venison, the Mississippi Saints planted turnips, pumpkins, beans, and melons and worked for fur trappers, who paid them with corn. With the incoming battalion men, they built a school which doubled as a church. The battalion kept up regular military drills, and dances were frequent. Seven babies were born during the winter, but there were also nine deaths.

In the spring, Brigham Young wrote to the Pueblo Saints and told them of the plans of the main pioneer company to go to the Great Basin in the vicinity of the Great Salt Lake. An advance party from Pueblo went north to Fort Laramie, where they met Brigham Young and the pioneers. President Young then dispatched Elder Amasa Lyman and others to guide the rest of the Pueblo Saints to the Salt Lake Valley, where they arrived just five days after the pioneer company.

Winter Quarters: A Staging Ground for the Pioneer Company

The winter of 1846–47 saw the Mormon Battalion en route across a trackless desert—the Brooklyn Saints on the sea and then arriving at San Francisco Bay, and the Pueblo Saints waiting out the winter. Meanwhile, Winter Quarters, Nebraska, was bustling with activity in preparation for a pioneer company to make the trek west to the Rocky Mountains.

During the fall of 1846 plans were laid for the westward trek. It was decided that a relatively small party should make the initial crossing of the plains to blaze a trail for the larger companies to follow. But even this smaller undertaking required extensive preparation. Wagons were built and outfitted, horses and oxen sturdy enough to withstand the rigorous thousand-mile trip were procured, foodstuffs and other supplies were gathered, and sustenance and protection were arranged for those who remained behind.13

Equally important was the need for more information about the largely uncharted regions of the West. Besides conferring in November and December with local traders and trappers, such as Peter Sarpy, about the trail west of Winter Quarters, council leaders consulted with four men who had recently been in the Rocky Mountain region. Father Pierre Jean DeSmet, a Catholic priest and missionary among the Indians of the Oregon country, arrived in camp en route to St. Louis after five years in the mountains. He was one of the few white men who had visited the Great Salt Lake. Taking advantage of this good fortune, the Brethren questioned him carefully. Five days later two American Fur Company traders gave detailed accounts of the regions west of the Rockies and drew a map of the best areas to settle. Later, Logan Fontenelle, an interpreter for the Omaha Indians, described in detail the westward trail and the best locations for settlement in the mountains.

George Miller, a headstrong leader, argued with Brigham Young over prospective travel and settlement plans. Miller did not agree that the Twelve Apostles held supreme authority in the Church; therefore, he took a small group of Saints to live among the Ponca Indians on the Niobrara River in northern Nebraska. President Young, realizing that dissension in Church leadership was dangerous, sought the will of the Lord on how to deal with Miller and his followers. On 11 January 1847 he related a dream he had the night before where he discussed with Joseph Smith the best method of organizing the companies. Three days later he presented to the Church “the Word and Will of the Lord concerning the Camp of Israel in their journeyings to the West” (D&C 136:1).

Accepted by the assembled priesthood quorums as a revelation to the Church, this document became a constitution governing the westward migration. It said that the trek was “under the direction of the Twelve Apostles” (v. 3) and required the Saints to enter into a “covenant and promise to keep all the commandments and statutes of the Lord our God” (v. 2). It contained much practical direction about preparing for the pioneer journey and caring for the poor, widows, orphans, and Mormon Battalion families. Each man was to “use all his influence and property to remove this people to the place where the Lord shall locate a stake of Zion” (v. 10). The Saints were also to cease contending with each other and were directed to eliminate other vices that were among them.14

Delegations went to each encampment to read the revelation and to announce the names of men Brigham Young desired to go in the pioneer company and in the companies to follow during the first year. Throughout the spring Church leaders held many meetings with various emigrating companies, providing information relative to their tentative location, the construction of boats for fording rivers, methods of pioneer travel, planting seeds, and irrigation.

The original idea was to handpick 144 men for the pioneer company—twelve for each of the twelve tribes of Israel—but as it turned out the original group consisted of 143 men (including three slaves of southern members), three women (wives of Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Lorenzo Dow Young), and two children. Collectively they had a variety of pioneering talents and skills. They included mechanics, teamsters, hunters, frontiersmen, carpenters, sailors, soldiers, accountants, bricklayers, blacksmiths, wagon makers, lumbermen, joiners, dairymen, stockmen, millers, and engineers.15 Eight of the party were Apostles, and several had been with Zion’s Camp. The company’s equipment included a boat, a cannon, seventy wagons and carriages, ninety-three horses, fifty-two mules, sixty-six oxen, nineteen cows, seventeen dogs, and some chickens.16

The three women of the pioneer company

The three women of the pioneer company: Harriet Wheeler Young, wife of Lorenzo D. Young; Clara Decker Young, wife of President Brigham Young; and Ellen Sanders Kimball, wife of Heber C. Kimball.

Journey of the Pioneer Company

Some of the vanguard company left Winter Quarters on 5 April 1847, but because of delays caused by general conference and the arrival of Parley P. Pratt and John Taylor from England, little progress was made during the first several days. The arrival of the two Apostles was a blessing because they brought money contributed by the English Saints and scientific instruments for calculating latitude, elevation, temperature, and barometric pressure. Orson Hyde, who had accompanied the two to England, arrived during the middle of May. Since these three were not yet outfitted, they remained in Winter Quarters. Elders Pratt and Taylor traveled with other companies later in the season, and Elder Hyde superintended the Saints who remained at the Missouri River.

Finally on 16 April the camp began its one thousand-mile trek. After two days on the trail, Brigham Young organized the camp in military fashion in case they encountered hostile Indians. William Clayton, the official camp historian, recorded accurate mileage for later emigrants. For the first few days this meticulous record keeper counted the monotonous revolutions of the wagon wheel to calculate the daily mileage. He soon proposed using a mechanical odometer for the job. Scientific-minded Orson Pratt designed the device, and Appleton Harmon, an experienced woodworker, constructed it.17

map, pioneer route

The pioneer company of 1847 traversed eleven hundred miles from Winter Quarters, near present-day Omaha, Nebraska, to the Salt Lake Valley. Their route followed the broad and gentle Platte River valley for six hundred miles to Fort Laramie in Wyoming, where they arrived on 1 June. They crossed to the south side of the Platte and followed the Oregon Trail for almost four hundred more miles to Fort Bridger.

West of Independence Rock in Wyoming, their trail crossed the Continental Divide at South Pass. Somewhere southwest of there the pioneers met Jim Bridger. On 7 July the pioneers reached Fort Bridger. Continuing south, they picked up the Reed-Donner trail into the Salt Lake Valley.

During this final phase of the trek, which was the roughest section of the trip, Brigham Young contracted mountain fever, and the company split into three groups—the vanguard, the main company, and the rear guard with Brigham Young.

Wherever possible the pioneers followed existing roads and trails. They did very little trailblazing between Winter Quarters and the Salt Lake Valley. Across Nebraska the Oregon Trail ran along the south side of the Platte River. The first part of the Mormon Trail paralleled the Oregon Trail to Fort Laramie, Wyoming, but was on the north side of the river because the pioneers hoped to find better grazing and to avoid conflict with immigrants on their way to Oregon. The next section of the trail crossed Wyoming from Fort Laramie to Fort Bridger. Forbidding bluffs on the north side of the Platte forced the Saints to cross over at Fort Laramie and follow the Oregon Trail for 397 miles. At Fort Bridger the Oregon Trail turned north to the Pacific Coast, and the final segment of the Mormon Trail picked up the year-old track of the Reed-Donner party through the Rockies into the Salt Lake Valley.

pioneer odometer

On 16 May 1847, midway between Council Bluffs and Fort Laramie, the famous “odometer” was installed to relieve the camp historian, William Clayton, from the tedium of counting the revolutions of a wagon wheel to calculate the distances traveled. It could tally ten miles before starting over.

On the return trip to Winter Quarters a new odometer that could count up to one thousand miles was built, and William Clayton successfully measured the complete distance from the Salt Lake Valley to Winter Quarters.

Courtesy of Norman E. Wright

On 26 May the company passed Chimney Rock—a principal landmark in Wyoming—which was considered the halfway mark by emigrating Saints. It was near Chimney Rock that Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball expressed concern over the lightmindedness and profanity of some camp members who were holding mock trials and elections, gambling, and playing cards. Late one evening the two senior Apostles, moved by the Spirit, discussed calling the camp to repentance. The next day Brigham Young spoke to the men plainly.

Chimney Rock

Chimney Rock, one of the most famous landmarks for the western emigrants, could be seen for days as the companies crossed western Nebraska. Near here the pioneers met a band of Sioux, their first meeting with Great Plains Indians.

William Clayton recalled Brigham saying, “Give me the man of prayers, give me the man of faith, give me the man of meditation, a sober-minded man, and I would far rather go amongst the savages with six or eight such men than to trust myself with the whole of this camp with the spirit they now possess. … Do we suppose that we are going to look out a home for the Saints, a resting place, a place of peace where they can build up the kingdom and bid the nations welcome, with a low, mean, dirty, trifling, covetous, wicked spirit dwelling in our bosoms? It is vain!” He concluded with a call to repentance: “If they [the brethren] will not enter into a covenant to put away their iniquity and turn to the Lord and serve Him and acknowledge and honor His name, I want them to take their wagons and retreat back, for I shall go no farther under such a state of things. If we don’t repent and quit our wickedness we will have more hinderances than we have had, and worse storms to encounter.”18

The following day, Sunday, Brigham Young convened a special meeting of the leaders. They went out on the bluffs, clothed themselves in their temple robes, and held a prayer circle. William Clayton said they “offered up prayer to God for ourselves, this camp and all pertaining to it, the brethren in the army, our families and all the Saints.”19 Thereafter a more saintly atmosphere prevailed in the camp.

Independence Rock

Independence Rock, another famous site, marked the beginning of the ninety-six mile route along Wyoming’s Sweetwater River. Today, the graffiti of emigrants from pioneer days to the present can still be seen carved in the rock.

At Fort Laramie the pioneers halted for repairs, Brigham Young celebrated his forty-sixth birthday, and the camp was joined by some of the Pueblo Saints. At the last crossing of the Platte (in present-day Casper, Wyoming), the pioneers used their boat, the Revenue Cutter, to ferry their goods and belongings across. They built rafts to ferry their wagons. Several Oregon-bound people paid $1.50 per wagon to be ferried across as well. Recognizing an opportunity to earn needed funds, Brigham Young left nine men behind to continue the lucrative ferry. The rest pushed on through South Pass, rafted across the Green River, and arrived at Fort Bridger early in July.

The pioneers encountered a number of mountain men as they traveled west, such as Moses Harris, Jim Bridger, and Miles Goodyear. Harris and Bridger were not optimistic about planting crops in the Salt Lake Valley. Goodyear was the most enthusiastic about agricultural success and encouraged the Saints to settle in Weber Valley, where he lived.

Beyond Fort Bridger travel through the mountain passes became more difficult. By the time they reached the Salt Lake Valley, the company was separated into three groups. Brigham Young, ill from mountain fever, lagged behind the main group. After 13 July, a third division, under the direction of Orson Pratt, moved ahead to chart the route and prepare a wagon road through what became known as Emigration Canyon. On 21 July, Orson Pratt and Erastus Snow caught the first glimpse of the Salt Lake Valley and shouted for joy at the sight. After a twelve-mile circuit into the valley, the two men returned to camp.20

The advance company of pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley on 22 July 1847 and immediately set up a crude irrigation system to flood the land and prepare for planting. On 24 July, Brigham Young and the rear company arrived at the mouth of Emigration Canyon. Wilford Woodruff drove President Young in his carriage. They looked to the future as they gazed over the valley. Wilford Woodruff wrote, “Thoughts of pleasing meditations ran in rapid succession through our minds while we contemplated that not many years that the House of GOD would stand upon the top of the mountains while the valleys would be converted into orchard, vineyard, gardens and fields by the inhabitants of Zion and the standard be unfurled for the nations to gather there to.” Brigham Young said he was satisfied with the appearance of the valley as a “resting place for the Saints and was amply repaid for his journey.”21

On a later occasion, Wilford Woodruff explained that when they came out of the canyon he turned the carriage so that President Young could see the whole valley. “While gazing upon the scene before us, he 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. Drive on.’”22

Establishing a Settlement in the Valley

Sunday, 25 July was a day of worship and thanksgiving. Members of the Twelve spoke at morning and afternoon meetings on the importance of industry and upright behavior.23 For the first few days in the valley, there was some exploring to the north and south to determine the best place to settle. By 28 July, Brigham Young’s decision about the location of a city was firm. Between two forks of City Creek, he designated the lot where the temple would stand. The city would be laid out evenly and perfectly square from that point.

The first weeks were filled with activity. Within a week, a survey of the area had begun and men not engaged in farming were making adobes for a temporary fort, as protection from Indians and wild animals.24 The Mississippi Saints and some of the “battalion boys” who arrived in the valley in October built a bowery for public meetings on the temple block. The first child born in the valley was Elizabeth Steel, who was born to a Mormon Battalion family on 9 August. Two days later the Saints mourned the death of the son of a Mississippi couple, three-year old Milton Threlkill, who had wandered from camp and drowned in City Creek.

Exploration of the surrounding country was also undertaken. Brigham Young and the Twelve climbed a mount-like promontory to the north, where they prophesied of Zion and which they named Ensign Peak after the prophecy of Isaiah which reads: “He shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel” (Isaiah 11:12). Expeditions were sent to investigate adjacent valleys. The Saints also discovered the enjoyment of bathing in the Great Salt Lake to the west and in some warm sulphur springs north of the city.

Brigham Young, the Twelve, and most of the original pioneer company spent only thirty-three days in the valley in 1847. On 16 August they commenced their return to Winter Quarters to prepare their families to come to the valley the next year. En route they met with 1,553 Saints who were already on their way to the Salt Lake Valley. More familiar with the terrain this time, and with fewer wagons and light loads, men and teams found the traveling considerably faster.25 Their major excitement consisted of losing many valuable horses to the Indians and seeing Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball chased by a grizzly bear.

Meanwhile the arriving Saints settled in at the “Old Fort,” now the site of Pioneer Park in Salt Lake City, and prepared for winter. Before leaving the valley, Brigham Young designated John Smith, who he knew was in a later company, to preside over the newly created Salt Lake Stake. After he arrived in September, President Smith selected Charles C. Rich and John Young as counselors and organized a high council. This organization, like the high council established in Winter Quarters a year earlier, acted as both spiritual and civic leaders of the community. It was the only government in Utah until January 1849.

John Smith (1781–1854)

John Smith (1781–1854), brother of Joseph Smith, Sr., was ordained Presiding Patriarch of the Church on 1 January 1849 by Brigham Young.

Reorganization of the First Presidency

Brigham Young and his company arrived in Winter Quarters just before sunset on 31 October 1847, rejoicing to be with their families again. While en route Brigham Young discussed the possibilities of reorganizing the First Presidency of the Church with members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Although he emphasized that the Spirit was prompting him, not all of the Brethren were immediately in favor. In the absence of a precedent for such action they were uncertain if it was appropriate to reorganize the First Presidency at that time.

During the three years the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles presided over the Church, a great deal of significant work was accomplished. They completed and dedicated the Nauvoo Temple, administered the temple endowment to a host of faithful Saints, evacuated Nauvoo, expanded missionary work and Church administration in Great Britain, organized the Mormon Battalion, founded several settlements in Iowa, presided over the settling of Winter Quarters, and blazed the way to a new home in the West. Nearly all of these tasks were revealed to Joseph Smith prior to his death, and the Twelve completed them in a wonderful manner. Next was the question of whether the Twelve was to remain the presiding quorum of the Church or whether there should be another First Presidency; and this question needed to be resolved.

After arriving at Winter Quarters, Brigham Young continued to meet and discuss the matter with his colleagues. On 30 November he raised “the subject of appointing three of the Twelve as the Presidency of the Church,” suggesting that such a course would liberate the remainder so they could “go to the nations of the earth to preach the gospel.”26 This was consistent with previous revelations which identified this as the Twelve’s chief calling (see D&C 107:23; 112:1, 16, 19, 28).

While the pioneers journeyed westward in 1847, a more permanent and larger settlement was built in Iowa and named Kanesville in honor of Thomas L. Kane, who had befriended the Saints. The west side of the Missouri River was abandoned for health reasons and because the Saints had promised they would leave Indian land with all improvements after two years. By the time the pioneers returned, most of the Saints had already moved or were moving to Kanesville or other Iowa settlements that Orson Hyde presided over. On 5 December 1847, President Young convened another meeting of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in Hyde’s home in Kanesville. He said the subject of the First Presidency had been weighing heavily upon his mind and that the Spirit of the Lord had been stirring him on this matter. He asked the nine members of the Quorum present (Parley P. Pratt and John Taylor were in the Salt Lake Valley, and Lyman Wight was in Texas) to freely express their views on the subject, beginning with the oldest.27

Following the discussion, Orson Hyde moved that Brigham Young be sustained as President of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, that he nominate his two counselors, and that they form the new First Presidency. The motion was seconded by Wilford Woodruff and carried unanimously. President Young then nominated Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards as his counselors. They were also unanimously approved.

Three weeks later the Brethren held a general conference in a commodious log tabernacle that had been rushed to completion in Kanesville. During the joyful sessions of 24–26 December, suspense grew that a new First Presidency was about to be announced. On Monday, 27 December 1847, one thousand members crowded into the tabernacle and heard Brigham Young explain the need for a full organization of the Church, including a First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the Seventies, and the Patriarch to the Church. Then Orson Pratt presented Brigham Young as the new President, and the Saints readily sustained him. President Young then presented his counselors, who were likewise sustained. Finally, “Uncle” John Smith, president of the new Salt Lake Stake, was sustained as the new Patriarch to the Church. Each of these officers was again sustained in the Salt Lake Valley in October 1848.28

As important as the first arrival of Latter-day Saints in the Salt Lake Valley was, no event in 1847 was more significant than the smooth transference of leadership from the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to a new First Presidency, thus setting the precedent for future transitions up to the present day.

Show References


  1. In Daniel Tyler, A Concise History of the Mormon Battalion in the Mexican War, 1846–1847, reprinted, 1881 (Glorieta, N.M.: Rio Grande Press, 1964), pp. 128–29.

  2. In Tyler, A Concise History, p. 128.

  3. Marguerite H. Allen, comp., Henry Hendricks Genealogy (Salt Lake City: Hendricks Family Organization, 1963), pp. 26–27.

  4. Tyler, A Concise History, p. 144.

  5. A. R. Mortensen, ed., “The Command and Staff of the Mormon Battalion in the Mexican War,” in Utah Historical Quarterly, Oct. 1952, p. 343.

  6. The previous two paragraphs are derived from James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard, The Story of the Latter-day Saints (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1976), p. 231.

  7. Derived from Allen and Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, p. 232.

  8. Derived from Allen and Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, p. 232.

  9. Henry Bigler’s journal entry; spelling standardized.

  10. “Rules and Regulations,” Times and Seasons, 15 Feb. 1846, pp. 1127–28.

  11. Previous three paragraphs derived from Allen and Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, pp. 238–39.

  12. Section derived from Allen and Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, pp. 233–34.

  13. Derived from Leonard J. Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985), p. 130.

  14. Derived from Allen and Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, p. 237.

  15. See B. H. Roberts, A Comprehensive History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Century One, 6 vols. (Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1930), 3:181.

  16. See James Amasa Little, “Biography of Lorenzo Dow Young,” Utah Historical Quarterly, 1946, p. 80.

  17. Previous two paragraphs derived from Allen and Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, pp. 242–44.

  18. William Clayton, William Clayton’s Journal (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1921), pp. 191, 194, 197; spelling standardized.

  19. Clayton, William Clayton’s Journal, pp. 202–3.

  20. Previous three paragraphs derived from Allen and Leonard, Story of the Latter-day Saints, pp. 244–46.

  21. Wilford Woodruff Journals, 24 July 1847, LDS Historical Department, Salt Lake City; spelling and capitalization standardized.

  22. In “Pioneers’ Day,” Deseret Evening News, 26 July 1880, p. 2.

  23. Derived from Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses, p. 146.

  24. Derived from Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses, p. 146.

  25. Derived from Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses, p. 147.

  26. Wilford Woodruff Journals, 30 Nov. 1847; capitalization standardized.

  27. See Wilford Woodruff Journals, 5 Dec. 1847.

  28. See History of the Church, 7:623–24.