“On the Trail in February,” Ensign, Feb. 1997, 38
The following representation of events that took place in February 1847 is provided as part of the sesquicentennial celebration of the arrival of Latter-day Saint pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847.
In early February at Winter Quarters, in present-day Omaha, Nebraska, with winter lingering and the Saints still unable to trek west, Church leaders recognized the need to brighten spirits. February 5 set the tone for the month, according to Elder Wilford Woodruff of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles: “At an early hour the band of music entered my carriage and rode through the streets of Winter Quarters playing so sweetly that it rent the air. … At 2 o’clock P.M. the Silver Greys met at the council house, the company of Silver Grays consisting of all the men in the camp of Israel over 50 years of age.”1
President Brigham Young told the crowd of attenders that “there is no harm in dancing. The Lord said he wanted His saints to praise him in all things.”2 With this invitation, “the center of the floor was then cleared for the dance when the ‘Silver Greys’ and spectacled dames enjoyed themselves in the dance; it was indeed an interesting and novel sight to behold the old men and women, some nearly a hundred years old dancing like in ancient Israel.”3
Several dances were held throughout the month. On 23 February several members of the Quorum of the Twelve visited the Council House, where a party was “gotten up” by the bishops for the benefit and entertainment of the poor. The event was well attended and its purpose amply fulfilled:
“To day being dedicated for a Dance & supper to the Soldiers wives, & the poor of the Camp, the house was filled to overflowing, and the Bishops having called upon their several wards for to furnish a supper for the poor, each individual took according to their liberality and it was reported that after enjoying themselves in the dance, there sat down to supper about 300 Souls.
“After the party ended, bishops had twenty-two baskets and 12 partial baskets of pies, cakes, and other refreshments left over to distribute to the poor.”4
By mid-February the Mormon Battalion had been gone from the camps of Israel for seven months. It had reached San Diego by the previous month, January 1847, although three sick detachments had had to march to Pueblo, in present-day Colorado, to winter. News from the Battalion was very limited. So when two bearded, ragged men who looked like mountain men suddenly appeared at Winter Quarters on 15 February, the news they brought about the Pueblo group was welcome indeed. The messengers were John H. Tippetts and Thomas Woolsey, who arrived after a harrowing, dangerous 52-day journey.
“Their arrival produced no small stir in camp,” John D. Lee wrote. “Men and women came in every direction to inquire after their friends in the Battalion.”5 The men brought with them 137 letters from Battalion men. “Our arrival was a surprise to the whole camp,” Tippetts wrote. “The folks were just sitting down to eat supper and they would accept of no excuse when they invited us to eat supper with them, rough and dirty as we were.”6 The two had not eaten for three days, so they enjoyed the feast. “After eating supper I went out in search of my family and soon found them,” Tippetts added.7
Forced indoors for most of the winter, women kept busy with housekeeping, child care, and sewing. Mary Haskin Parker Richards’s diary entries for February reveal she worked on a number of sewing projects, some for room and board, others for her own purposes.
1 February: “a cold day Janes chimney Smooked very bad. so that it kept the tears running down my cheeks about all the time was very uncomfortable did a little sewing. and in the eve was knitting.” 8 February: “I cut & fitted a dress for Sister S[mithies] and spent the day sewing on it.” Mid-month: She left on a short trip south to the Missouri border to visit with her relatives, the Burtons. 19 February: The day after she arrived, she “made two handkerchiefs for father & Mother [Burton].” 20 February: “reading sewing playing with Clara [a child].” 27 February: “Was making a night dress for my self.”
Mary Richards’s diary entries for the next month show her involved in similar activities: “sewing on my dress,” “sewed a little,” “reading & sewing,” and “I made a little white apron for Clara.”8
In his diary, Hosea Stout recorded a record snowfall: “Feb. 21, 1847. This morning the snow had blown and drifted until it was near half way to the top of my door & I could scarcly get it opened & had to throw away the snow to make roads before I could get around. It was decidedly one of the deepest snows that has fallen for some years & is still blowing and drifting all day.”9