“Gathering the Dispersed Nauvoo Saints, 1847–1852,” Ensign, July 1997, 12
Theirs was a Nauvoo exodus wedding. Emily Abbott and Edward Bunker became bride and groom on 19 February 1846, with Elder John Taylor of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles officiating. A few weeks after the wedding, Elder Taylor crossed the Mississippi River to join the winter exodus of about 3,000 Latter-day Saints from Nauvoo, Illinois. Emily and Edward left in May during the larger spring exodus of about 10,000 Latter-day Saints, stopping midway across Iowa at Garden Grove. There, they and another newlywed couple bought a log cabin “minus doors, floor or window.”1 In June, Edward hiked west 140 miles, where he was one of the last 16 recruits to enlist in the Mormon Battalion.
During the winter of 1846–47, Emily was expecting a baby in Garden Grove while husband Edward was marching across Arizona with the Mormon Battalion. (For ease of reading, the names of present-day U.S. states are included.) The Church, like the Bunkers, was widely dispersed. The Saints had been forced from Nauvoo and scattered like the pieces of a broken china plate.
By the time spring 1847 arrived, the 14,000 members who had fled the Nauvoo area were located in numerous groups across the western United States. The main group was encamped along the Missouri River at Winter Quarters, Nebraska. (In addition, two groups of Saints were waiting to “gather to Zion” as soon as the Church identified its new home: more than 10,000 converts in the British Isles and some 238 Saints in northern California who had traveled from New England on the ship Brooklyn.)
As the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles observed, “At no period since the organization of the Church on the 6th of April, 1830, have the Saints been so extensively scattered.”2 The goal of the Twelve was to locate the isolated, large, productive place where the Church was to be reassembled. They faced four urgent tasks: (1) send an advance, exploratory pioneer group west to find a route and the settlement site; (2) subsequently send large pioneer companies to establish a settlement at the site; (3) have the Saints who were waiting to go west develop good temporary farms and homes; and (4) gather the widespread groups of Saints.
Surprisingly, during 1846 and early 1847 two Latter-day Saint groups arrived in California months before President Young left Winter Quarters for the Rockies: the Brooklyn Saints and the Mormon Battalion.
Saints on the Brooklyn. Wind-puffed white sails instead of dusty white wagon covers helped one group of Saints go west by sailing around South America’s Cape Horn and up to California. On 4 February 1846—the same day Charles Shumway ferried across the Mississippi River from Nauvoo, starting the Church’s exodus west—the ship Brooklyn sailed from New York harbor. On 31 July 1846, these Saints, led by Sam Brannon, reached Yerba Buena (present-day San Francisco), a village of about 150 residents. Though many stayed in California, in time about one-third migrated to the intermountain area and rejoined the main body of the Church.3 (See “Voyage of the Brooklyn,” Ensign, July 1997, p. 16.)
The Mormon Battalion. Having nearly 500 men enlist in the Mormon Battalion in July 1846 for one year of Mexican War duty was both a blessing and a hardship for the Church. Much of the battalion’s early pay and uniform allowances went to the Church’s general funds and helped the Saints in and near Winter Quarters. But the loss of 500 strong men left many families in precarious circumstances, hindering the trek westward. President Young gave the departing battalion a prophetic promise, however. He said that “on condition of faithfulness” they would be spared from battle, their expedition would result in great good, and their names would “be handed down in honorable remembrance to all generations.”4 About 80 women, children, and youths accompanied the battalion, working as laundresses and military aides.5
The battalion’s trek across the western United States would be one of history’s longest infantry marches. The Mormon Battalion first marched from Council Bluffs, Iowa, to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. They then followed the traders’ well-worn trail to Santa Fe, New Mexico. There, Colonel Philip St. George Cooke assumed command. Cooke’s orders from General Stephen W. Kearny, commander of the Army of the West, were to march the battalion to the Pacific Ocean, making a wagon road in the process. In places they had “pioneered a new route through previously unexplored deserts between mountainous Apache strongholds on the north and the Mexican frontier settlements on the south. This route would become a key link in a proposal for a southern transcontinental railroad. This in turn would make the 1853 Gadsden Purchase necessary, bringing what is now southern Arizona and New Mexico into the United States.”6
Of the 496 men who left Fort Leavenworth, 335 reached California. Most of those who did not make it to California had become physically unable to continue marching and had been sent in sick detachments, along with most of the women, children, and youths, to winter at Pueblo, Colorado. When the battalion reached southern California in January 1847, they learned that the war was over and that California belonged to the United States.
Assigned to garrison duties in San Diego, San Luis Rey Mission, and Los Angeles, most of the battalion men counted the days until their enlistment expired in July 1847. In San Diego, Company B men spent off-duty hours working at their trades, including brickmaking. Within two months, they built two brickyards, a kiln, courthouse, and chimneys; dug several wells; and performed carpenter, blacksmith, and leather work, “which won the friendship of many residents of San Diego.”7
When release day came in July 1847, 79 soldiers accepted army pleas to reenlist, but 239 went north to San Francisco, determined to cross the Sierra Nevada and head eastward to find their families.8 When word came from President Young suggesting they consider staying to earn money in California, 56 took jobs near Sutter’s Fort; some of them were among the first to discover the gold that launched the California Gold Rush; others worked elsewhere. About 70 battalion veterans went eastward in 1847. Private Edward Bunker and 31 others, for example, reached and then left the Salt Lake Valley in mid-October 1847 and, despite deep snows, arrived at Winter Quarters, Nebraska, in mid-December “penniless and destitute” after being gone for 18 months.
“I found my wife [Emily] in quite poor circumstances,” Edward Bunker recalled, and he met his 11-month-old son.9 By the early 1850s, most of the Mormon Battalion men had joined the Saints in the mountains of Utah.
As promised by President Young, the Mormon Battalion was spared from battle. However, 23 men, 2 women, and 3 children—all Latter-day Saints—and 1 non-LDS soldier died as a result of exposure, exhaustion, or illness.
The following chart shows the locations of the widely scattered Nauvoo Saints in early spring 1847.*
• 5,000 (main group)
Winter Quarters, Nebraska
• 5,000 (cluster groups)
Pottawattamie lands in Iowa, across the river from Winter Quarters
• 450 (three wagon companies)
Ponca Camp, Nebraska, 120 miles north of Winter Quarters
• 600 (temporary settlers)
Garden Grove, Iowa (a temporary LDS settlement and resting place)
• 700 (temporary settlers)
Mount Pisgah, Iowa (a temporary LDS settlement and resting place)
• 500 (individual families)
Scattered locations in eastern Iowa
• 200 (individual families)
• 1,500 (Nauvoo area exiles and new converts from the U.S. and Europe)
St. Louis, Missouri
• 335 (Mormon Battalion)
• 300 (Mormon Battalion sick detachments, about 80 women and children with the battalion, and the Mississippi company of Saints)
Far southwest of Winter Quarters, Nebraska, two other Latter-day Saint groups ended up wintering in 1846–47 at today’s Pueblo, Colorado: the Mississippi company of Saints and the sick detachments of the Mormon Battalion.
While Nauvoo was being evacuated, leaders instructed members in the South to come northwesterly and to join them somewhere on the Platte River.10 In late March 1846, Alabamans under John Holladay and Mississippians under William Crosby formed a company of some 60 persons. Guided by 25-year-old John Brown, a Tennessean and former missionary to the South, they headed to Missouri, where they were joined by 16 other members, some connected to the southerners. The group, which came to be known as the Mississippi company of Saints, then set out on the Oregon Trail and arrived at Grand Island, Nebraska, unaware they were already 170 miles west of President Brigham Young and the growing settlement at Winter Quarters. Thinking President Young was west of them, they trekked onward to today’s Laramie, Wyoming, where they learned that the Saints had stopped to create Winter Quarters.11
Needing a place to winter themselves, they accepted a mountain man’s invitation to accompany him 300 miles south to Pueblo, Colorado, arriving in early August. There as many as 15 mountain men and their Spanish or Native American wives and families headquartered. The southerners fixed up their own lodgings and prepared food for the winter. One traveler observed these Saints on 20 August and said: “After half an hour’s riding, we saw the white wagons of the Mormons drawn up among the trees. Axes were sounding, trees falling, and log-huts rising along the edge of the woods and upon the adjoining meadow. As we came up, the Mormons left their work, seated themselves on the timber around us, and began earnestly to discuss points of theology, complain of the ill-usage which they had received from the ‘Gentiles,’ and sound a lamentation over the loss of their great temple of Nauvoo.”12
In September, John Brown and 6 others headed back to the South to get additional family members. On the way home they met the nearly 500-man Mormon Battalion, whose leaders had come to feel encumbered by the over 80 women and children accompanying the battalion and hampered by some seemingly unrecovering sick battalion soldiers. When battalion leaders learned that 275 miles west at Pueblo was headquartered the Mississippi company, the news was received joyfully. Within four days many of the women and children were sent to Pueblo with the first of three sick detachments of soldiers. Ultimately about 154 soldiers and nearly all of the women and children with the battalion joined the more than 70 wintering southerners to form a community of over 300 Latter-day Saints.
Surprisingly, this group in Pueblo was some 520 miles southwest of President Young and the Saints back at Winter Quarters. No one knows what would have been the sad outcomes for those with the Mormon Battalion had not the Mississippi company of Saints been so fortuitously located in Pueblo to receive, care for, and nurse their incoming brothers and sisters. During their fall-to-spring stay there, they built a church for worship and socials, and at least 9 deaths, at least 7 births, and 3 marriages occurred in this Colorado branch of the Church.
Next spring, an advance party of 17 from the Mississippi company went north in April and waited for two weeks at Fort Laramie before greeting President Young’s advance, exploratory company on 1 June 1847. The rest of the Mississippi company and those associated with the Mormon Battalion who had wintered at Pueblo soon moved north to Fort Laramie and reached the Great Salt Lake Valley five days after President Young.13 These pieces of the scattered Church became part of the whole again.
Fervent prayer started President Young’s 1847 advance, exploratory trek from Winter Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley. Norton Jacob wrote of the events of 16 April: “After being numbered and formed into two lines in a circle … all kneeled down, when Brother Brigham addressed the Lord by prayer and dedicated the mission and all we have to the Lord God of Israel.”14 Their fundamental mission was to precisely locate the site that had been revealed to President Young in a vision—a site in the Great Basin “in the top of the mountains” (see Isa. 2:2).
This advance, exploratory group led by President Young was not a typical Latter-day Saint train with tight food supplies and families planning to be settlers.15 Rather, this was a handpicked scouting group of 143 men, 3 women, and 2 children. Eight of the Twelve Apostles were in the group. To speed their journey, the company would use more horses and mules than oxen, differing from later companies heading west.
In accord with a 14 January 1847 revelation (see D&C 136), President Young organized the Saints carefully into companies of 100, 50, and 10 (meaning people in this case, not wagons). He served as company president and main captain, aided by 2 captains of 100, 5 captains of 50, and 14 captains of 10. Their story is one of “organization, foresight, and discipline,” wrote one historian, saying that they stopped more days for Sabbath worship than for delays caused by travel hazards.16
For half their journey, this advance, exploratory company followed the north side of the Platte River.17 Later travelers joked that the lazy Platte was “a mile wide and an inch deep, too thin to plow, too thick to drink.” As much as possible, they followed somewhat established trails, smoothing and improving the way for following pioneer companies and only occasionally blazing new trail segments.
During this trek, men were assigned as hunters and fishermen. Blacksmiths were essential, constantly fixing wagons and wheels and shoeing horses. It was later written: “As soon as camp was formed, Brother [Alfred] Lambson’s forge would be prepared and the ringing of the anvil was heard until night fall.”18
On 18 April, a clerks’ inventory tallied 72 wagons, 66 oxen, 89 horses, 52 mules, 19 cows, and 17 dogs. The wagons carried stockpiles of flour, sea biscuits, dried beans, bacon, dried beef, salted codfish, and salt. Cows provided milk. Wagons contained tents, saddles, iron for horseshoes, nails, leather for harness repairs and for boots and shoes, tools, cooking and eating utensils, sacks of garden seeds and buckwheat, and bags of corn, oats, and bran to feed the livestock.
By late April, the wagons left behind Nebraska prairie lands and entered the high, dry Great Plains, where short, curled “buffalo grass” grew and where, in the coming month’s heat, travelers’ lips chapped and wood wagons and boxes shrank and cracked. Streams and firewood became scarce. Being in buffalo country, “we picked up some dry buffalo dung, which made a very good fire,” wrote Howard Egan.19 Another group member wrote that he “could stand on [his] wagon and see more than ten thousand buffalo.”20 During May, hunters brought in badly needed buffalo meat, which William Clayton described as “very sweet and as tender as veal.”21 What meat they didn’t eat, they dried around campfires and tucked into their wagons. Fearing Indian attacks, on 4 May the captains ordered that wagons roll four abreast that day. During travels on 6 May, scouts rode back and stopped them “in consequence of the prairie being on fire ahead.”22 The next day, Howard Egan wrote, “Last night the Lord sent a light shower, which put the fire out and made it perfectly safe to travel.”23
In western Nebraska, each group of 10 took turns leading the company “so as to divide the chore of breaking the road.”24 President Young and Elder Heber C. Kimball of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles often rode ahead “to look out the route.” In mid-May, William Clayton, trying to tally the miles traveled by counting rotations of a wagon wheel, wanted an odometer—a gear device with graduated cogs. Other wagon trains had used them. He promoted the idea, science-oriented Elder Orson Pratt helped design it, and mechanic Appleton Harmon constructed it from a feed box and scraps of iron. Clayton attached the odometer to a wagon axle.25 Using odometer readings, explorer John Fremont’s maps, and his own daily observations, Clayton published a trail guide a year later that proved useful to subsequent Latter-day Saints and others heading west.26
In late May, the pioneers pushed past impressive rock formations in western Nebraska. Carved by wind and rain, the formations looked like buildings, earning them names like Courthouse Rock, Jail Rock, Chimney Rock, and Scotts Bluff. On 29 May, while they were camped at the Nebraska-Wyoming border, President Young called a meeting and chastised some of the men for too much evening dancing and card playing, quarreling, crudeness, levity, loud laughter, yelling, put-downs, profanity, and unholy attitudes. There was not enough prayer and good reading. His repentance call produced markedly improved camp behavior. In fact, taken as a whole, these men were decent, orderly, unselfish, and loyal to each other.
On 31 May, a “good hard road” brought the advance, exploratory company, now in mountain country, to their first timber and firewood in three weeks. By then they were averaging 12 miles per travel day. On 1 June, President Young’s 46th birthday, the travelers camped near Fort Laramie. There, four events broke their normal routines. First, at the fort they gained information about the trail ahead and acquired some supplies. Second, they met 17 members from the Mississippi company of Saints who had wintered at Pueblo and then had come to Fort Laramie two weeks before President Young, where they then joined President Young’s company.27 Third, word came that 600 to 700 wagons of non-Latter-day Saints were westbound from St. Joseph, Missouri, headed for coastal Oregon and California, and would soon catch up with the Latter-day Saints, who preferred to travel alone.28 Fourth, starting on 3 June, the advance, exploratory company crossed over the Platte River to join the Oregon Trail.
Near Casper, Wyoming, the advance company spent four laborious days recrossing the Platte River, which was unusually swift at this time. Carpenters built a ferry boat by connecting two canoes with planks. It was capable of carrying one wagon. President Young assigned 10 men to stay behind to operate the ferry and earn money for the Church from the oncoming Oregon Trail travelers.
Leaving the Platte, the company marched overland to reach their next lifeline of water, the Sweetwater River. During June’s final week, the company followed the Oregon Trail along the Sweetwater. Often the road was sandy, the landscape barren. Hunters found antelope but no buffalo. Pioneers interacted with Oregon-bound companies, each group sometimes helping the other with repairs or blacksmithing. One day the advance company covered 18 miles; another, 25. On 27 June they rumbled over the Continental Divide at South Pass, a gentle saddle 7,550 feet above sea level. They camped at Pacific Springs on the west side of the pass.
On 28 June, the advance company reached the important fork in the road where the California Trail and the Oregon Trail divide near Green River in Wyoming. The Saints veered left toward California. That evening, by the Little Sandy River, they met legendary mountain man Jim Bridger, the first known white man to see the Great Salt Lake. He expressed doubt that corn could grow in the Great Salt Lake Valley because of the early frosts. Two days later, on 30 June, Sam Brannan, leader of the Brooklyn Saints at San Francisco, arrived. Among other things, he tried to convince President Young to bring the Saints to coastal California.
Over the next few weeks, many of the advance company became sick from an unknown illness, suffering pain in the head, back, joints, and bones; hot flashes; chills; and sometimes delirium.29 For them, riding in jolting wagons was torture.30
On Sunday, 4 July, a dozen Mormon Battalion soldiers from Pueblo caught up with the advance, exploratory company.31 Another 140 battalion members, they said, were eight days behind them with the rest of the Mississippi Saints. On 7 July, the pioneers crossed a brook-ribboned, grassy valley floor, and stopped at Fort Bridger—then only two long log houses and a horse pen, with several Native American lodges nearby. Howard Egan traded two rifles for 19 buckskins and 3 elk skins “for making moccasins,” indicating that the company’s boots were wearing out.32
Leaving the California Trail, President Young directed the group southwest along a crude, hardly used trail that headed more directly toward the Great Salt Lake Valley, the site President Young wanted to reach. On 10 July they crossed the Bear River Divide, 7,700 feet high, the highest point on the Mormon Trail. At the present Utah-Wyoming border, the advance company camped by an impressive formation of jutting, tapioca-textured rocks called by some the Needles.
On 12 July, because so many were ill, President Young asked Elder Orson Pratt to take a vanguard party of 25 wagons and 42 healthy men to “hunt out the road.” Their job was to clear the trail of thick willows, rocks, and brush for the coming wagons.
On 14 July, Elders Heber C. Kimball and Ezra T. Benson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, together with Lorenzo Dow Young and Howard Egan, hiked up “on the top of a high mountain” and “offered … prayers to the Almighty God in behalf of the sick and for our dear families.”33 But by 19 July, President Young, pale and emaciated with fever, could not go on, so 8 to 10 wagons stayed behind with him. The rest moved ahead. Thus the advance company was divided into three groups: Elder Pratt’s vanguard group, the main group, and the rear guard with President Young and other ill Saints.
On 19 July, Elder Pratt and John Brown of the vanguard group climbed a mountain near East Canyon and became the first Latter-day Saints to get a glimpse of a portion of the Great Salt Lake Valley. The next day, the group cleared the way over Big Mountain and Little Mountain. On 21 July, they found the year-old Donner Party trail, which “passed over an exceedingly steep and dangerous hill.” Elder Pratt wrote of the sight, “Mr. [Erastus] Snow and myself ascended this hill, from the top of which [we saw] a broad open valley. … At the north end of which the broad waters of the Great Salt Lake glistened in the sunbeams. … We could not refrain from a shout of joy which almost involuntarily escaped from our lips.”34
Continuing on, Elder Pratt and Erastus Snow entered the Great Salt Lake Valley and explored it for the day. By the evening of the next day, Thursday, 22 July, both the vanguard group and the main company were camped on Parley’s Creek at present-day 1700 South and 500 East in Salt Lake City.35 On the morning of Friday, 23 July, they traveled to a site between present-day Main and State Streets and 300 and 400 South, where they dedicated and consecrated the land to the Lord and began plowing at noon.
That same day, the rear guard was still in the mountains. Elder Woodruff, with President Young lying on a makeshift bed in Elder Woodruff’s carriage, reached the summit of Big Mountain. There they could see, for the first time, a small part of the Salt Lake Valley, the southwestern portion. Of that occasion, 15 years later, President Young said, “I directed Brother Woodruff to turn the carriage half way round so that I could have a look at a portion of the Salt Lake Valley. The Spirit of light rested upon me, and hovered over the valley, and I felt that there the Saints would find protection and safety; and that darkness which had rested over every place where we had been in the States vanished altogether.”36 The rear guard of sick Saints camped that night at Little Mountain.
The next day, Saturday, 24 July, the rear guard traveled the remaining six miles through Emigration Canyon. Elder Woodruff and President Young came into an extensive view of the valley. In his diary of that day Elder Woodruff wrote:
“This is an important day in the history of my life and the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. On this important day after trav[eling] from our encampment … we came in full view of the great valley or basin [of] the Salt Lake and land of promise held in reserve by the hand of God for a resting place for the Saints upon which a portion of the Zion of God will be built.
“We gazed with wonder and admiration upon the vast rich fertile valley. … Our hearts were surely made glad after a hard journey from Winter Quarters of 1,200 miles. …
“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, gard[ens] and fields by the inhabitants of Zion and the standard would be unfurled for the nations to gather there to.
“President Young expressed his full satisfaction in the appearance of the valley as a resting place for the Saints and was amply repayed for his journey.”37
Elder Woodruff later said of that moment on the 24th, President 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. Drive on.’”38 President Young had reached the appointed gathering place for the scattered Saints.
At about noon on Saturday, 24 July 1847, President Young and the rear guard joined the pioneer encampment near Main Street and 300 South. This location marked the end of the 1,300-mile Mormon Trail. For the next 22 years this general trail served as a major highway on which some 70,000 Latter-day Saints came to Utah, until the transcontinental railroad replaced it in 1869.
Encamped on the open valley floor, these travel-weary Latter-day Saints enjoyed a Sabbath day’s rest. Then, Monday morning, they continued plowing large fields and garden plots, again diverting creek water onto the hard soil to soften it, just as the men the previous Friday and Saturday had done. They planted buckwheat, corn, oats, turnips, peach trees, apple trees, cabbage, and potatoes. On Wednesday, 28 July, President Young and other members of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles appointed the site for a temple—in the fork where the creek (City Creek) branched. This action of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was the crowning step of their journey, putting in motion all that was needed to build again a house of the Lord as they had in Nauvoo.
The bulk of the battalion soldiers and Mississippi company from Pueblo arrived in the valley on 29 July. Counting them, President Young reported, “We number about 450 souls.”39 Regarding these battalion men, Private John Steele made this observation: “Our men … now looked like mountaineers, sunburned and weather beaten, mostly dressed in buckskin with fringes and porcupine quills, moccasins, Spanish saddles and spurs, Spanish bridles and jinglers on them; and long beards. … Receiving a hearty welcome and a ‘God bless you,’ from the Lord’s ministers, was worth all we suffered.”40
Surveyors soon laid out the city, divided it into 135 ten-acre blocks containing eight house lots, and designed a grid of wide streets and three public squares. In August the Salt Lake pioneers cut logs and poles in the canyons, constructed brush-roofed boweries for shade, and built small houses of logs or adobe. To covenant anew to build the kingdom, all were rebaptized in a pond behind a small dam in a creek. On 9 August, baby Young Elizabeth Steele (named after President Young) was the first birth in the settlement, and on 11 August, little Milton Therlkill from the Mississippi company drowned in a creek, the first death.
The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles had identified a route for the Saints to come west and located the place held in reserve for them. Now they would seek to anchor the settlement in the Great Salt Lake Valley with large pioneer companies coming from Winter Quarters. In fact, the big company of 1,500 Saints led by Elders Parley P. Pratt and John Taylor had already left in June 1847 and were on the trail. They would enter the Salt Lake Valley during September and October 1847.
In mid-August, nearly half of the pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley commenced their return to Winter Quarters, Nebraska, “nearly destitute of provision.”41 The returnees left in groups, anxious to get their families and bring them back to the Salt Lake Valley. On 22 August, leaders held a conference to ratify some decisions. Those in attendance approved that workmen build a common fence around the farm area and that the settlement be named Great Salt Lake City of the Great Basin, North America, and named the valley river the Western Jordan. “Raise all you can” and “live in the stockade” were parting instructions. Elder Kimball urged settlers to “throw away selfishness for it is of hell.” On 25 August, Elder Wilford Woodruff recorded with some pride: “We have laid out a city two miles square, and built a fort of hewn timber drawn seven miles from the mountains, and of sun-dried bricks or adobes, surrounding ten acres of ground, forty rods of which are covered with block-houses, besides planting about ten acres of corn and vegetables. All this we have done in a single month.”42
By 26 August 1847, all eight Apostles who were with the advance company, including President Young, left in a company bound for Winter Quarters, Nebraska. They were eager to report to the Saints that the long-prophesied site for latter-day Israel “in the top of the mountains” had been located and their new headquarters was already being built up.
By early September, the eastbound returning pioneers met and passed the westbound big company of 560 wagons.
Upon reaching Winter Quarters on 31 October 1847 the returnees found that the thousands of Saints camped on both sides of the Missouri River were meeting the task of establishing temporary homes and farms. “They have raised a crop equal to any we used to raise in Illinois,” President Young noted, mostly corn and garden produce. “The brethren in this region … have been much more healthy this summer and fall than ever in Nauvoo.” And he said of the Saints there that “all their exertions tend to their removal westward.”43
Late in 1847, the Twelve Apostles felt to reconstitute the First Presidency, which quorum had been vacant since the death of the Prophet Joseph Smith. So the Twelve called a special conference, for which workmen soon rushed to complete a large log tabernacle on the east side of the Missouri River in Miller’s Hollow. The tabernacle was described as “commodious” and “the biggest log cabin in the world!”44
In that tabernacle, on 27 December 1847, President Brigham Young and Elders Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards were sustained as the Church’s First Presidency. This action again concentrated major administrative leadership in the hands of three Apostles instead of all of the Twelve, and it freed members of the Twelve Apostles for assignments away from headquarters.
The next spring, each member of the First Presidency led a large pioneer company from the Winter Quarters–Kanesville area to the Salt Lake Valley.
Meanwhile, the remaining Saints—who made up the majority of those living in Winter Quarters—moved east across the Missouri River to Kanesville, Iowa, leaving Winter Quarters, Nebraska, all but destitute of inhabitants.
Knowing whether or not the Great Salt Lake Valley settlers could produce a reasonable first harvest in untested land was essential to the Church’s future. Until the summer of 1848, the pioneers would have to rely on food and equipment brought in their own wagons. “The ingenuity of every man was taxed to the utmost,” said John Steele. By September 1847, the great Salt Lake Valley settlers had built a block-square fort with adobe walls seven feet high, and everyone had built cabins within the walls and moved in.45 Surprisingly, by then some of the July-planted corn was in tassel.46
While President Young was gone, John Smith, the Prophet Joseph Smith’s uncle, served as the valley’s stake president, assisted by counselors and a high council. These men were the valley’s spiritual and civic leaders. Under their direction, workmen expanded further the size of the original fort a block north and south (the original fort became known as the “Old Fort”), built hundreds of log cabins, fenced their city to control livestock, and constructed roads and bridges. They plowed some 5,000 acres and planted 872 acres with winter wheat.
Mormon Battalion captain James Brown, who had ridden to California with Sam Brannan, returned, bringing government pay for battalion men who had wintered at Pueblo. Valley leaders then sent Captain Brown back again to California with some of these funds, where he purchased and brought back cows, mules, wheat, and seeds. “The population of our city is 1671,” valley leaders reported on 6 March; “the number of houses 423.”47 That winter was surprisingly mild. But by mid-winter, hunger became a serious problem. “Many … are literally starving,” John Steele said as 1848 opened.48 Leaders rationed provisions. “We had about half a pound of flour per day for each person,” Jesse N. Smith recalled, who was age 13 then. “I was exceedingly hungry, for months my desire for food was not satisfied.”49 Residents ate crows, thistle tops, bark, and sego lily bulbs.50 They gathered “wild onion and thistle roots,” which, A. J. Allen wrote, “were not pleasant, but hunger made them taste good.”51
Cabin life in the fort was primitive. Mary Isabella Horne said the first log houses were small and lacked doors, windows, and floors. “The ground was full of snakes which used to crawl around our houses, but these were soon killed or frightened away,” Sister Horne recalled. “The timber was so full of bugs that it was years before they were entirely subdued. The mice also were very numerous, running over us by day and by night, and destroying considerable clothing.”52
By next May 1848, the long-awaited farm and garden plants sprouted. “Barley, oats, rye, buckwheat, and other grains look [good],” Elder John Taylor reported to President Brigham Young on 22 May; “flax and especially peas, look very promising.” But by month’s end the desperately needed crops were suffering from frost, lack of water, trampling by cattle, and crickets that came “by the thousands of tons.”53
Many of the settlers became discouraged. “The great cry is to California, and great fear that we shall not be able to support ourselves,” Steele noted.54 When crickets began destroying their crops in early June, the Saints prayed vigorously for help. For two weeks the crickets voraciously ate garden crops and corn plants before seagulls arrived.55 Gulls are native to the area but winter in California. John Steele recorded that gulls feasted on crickets during June for about three weeks. By July, gulls and summer heat had diminished the cricket menace, and new plants grew.56
On 10 August, the Saints celebrated their first harvest with a thanksgiving feast. Leonard Harrington wrote on 24 October: “Our wheat turned off tolerably well, though the crickets injured it considerable as also our corn, beans, vines, etc. We have enough to subsist on till another harvest, and some corn to spare.”57 The First Presidency, a year later, in 1849, assessed that “the experiment of last year is sufficient to prove that valuable crops may be raised in this valley.”58
History often overlooks the majority of Saints who had wintered in Iowa Territory across the Missouri River from Winter Quarters, Nebraska, living on lands recently vacated by Pottawattamie Indians. “A great number of our people made encampments on the east side of the river,” Bathsheba Smith recalled; “the camp thus scattered spread over a large tract.”59
In 1848, government officials ordered the Church to vacate the Native American lands west of the Missouri River where Winter Quarters stood. The Saints who could do so headed west, and the rest moved east across the river. Miller’s Hollow was renamed Kanesville, in honor of Thomas L. Kane, an army colonel who helped the Latter-day Saints. The Kanesville Stake serviced thousands of Church members living in about 90 Latter-day Saint settlements and hamlets.
Winter Quarters and its hundreds of log homes fell vacant. In the next years the cabins slowly disappeared, the logs becoming firewood or parts of distant buildings. In the Iowa settlements, the Saints found the soil productive. “On the Iowa side we raised wheat, Indian corn, buckwheat, potatoes, and other vegetables,” Bathsheba Smith recalled, stating that they also gathered nuts, plums, and berries. “By these supplies we were better furnished than we had been since leaving our homes.”60
In April 1849 the First Presidency sent word from the Salt Lake Valley that Kanesville, Iowa, and the nearby Latter-day Saint enclaves were to have a linked, double role—a gathering area as well as an outfitting center: “The brethren in Pottawattamie [County], who cannot fit themselves out this season as we have suggested, will do well to continue where they are, striving for the same object the next year; and the Saints in the United States, Canada, Europe, Asia, and Africa will continue to gather on the Pottawattamie lands, and prepare for their future journey.”61
Among those living on Pottawattamie lands and preparing to go west were Allen Russell and Jude Allen, who belonged to the North Pigeon Branch. In 1849 their situation was fairly typical of hundreds of Saints. They “took up a farm,” built a house, planted corn, potatoes, and garden seeds. They decided to stay put until they got enough to emigrate to Salt Lake because, as they said, “we had traveled nearly all the time since 1844, and had not much to make our families comfortable.”62
However, Saints continually left the Kanesville area to head west as they could. Bathsheba Smith and her family moved on in 1849 among some 400 wagons.63 When the 1849 emigrating season ended, “nearly 8,000 exiles remained on the ‘Pottawattamie lands.’”64 Each spring, more Latter-day Saint wagon trains left Kanesville, Iowa. Approximate total LDS emigration figures, which also include converts from Europe and the United States who were not part of the Nauvoo exodus, show the trend: 1847, 1,700; 1848, 3,500; 1849, 2,500; 1850, 5,000; 1851, 5,000; and 1852, 10,000.65
Kanesville developed into a rustic, sizable Latter-day Saint town, boasting the log tabernacle, stores and shops, a concert hall, and the Frontier Guardian newspaper, which Elder Orson Hyde, who was assigned to preside over the Saints there, published for the benefit of the Church. At the river’s edge were three ferries. During the California Gold Rush, the Saints there prospered from selling farm products and livestock and providing skilled labor to the hordes of forty-niners. “This is quite a town,” Amelia Hadley said on 5 May 1851. “The houses are mostly hewed log, 2 story and on the main street they have sided them up and they present quite a fine appearance.”66
The great overarching tasks of Church leadership were to finish pulling in the Church’s scattered Saints and to establish a new western Zion. On 21 September 1851, the First Presidency issued a forceful statement to the Saints in western Iowa to gather immediately. They sent Elder Ezra T. Benson of the Twelve and Elder Jedediah M. Grant of the Seventy to oversee the migration. “We wish you to evacuate Pottawattamie [County] … and next fall be with us,” the First Presidency urged the Saints. “There is no more time for the Saints to hesitate,” they cautioned. “We have been calling to the Saints in Pottawattamie [County] ever since we left them to come away,” they reminded. “What are you waiting for? Have you any good excuses for not coming? No!”67
In response, in 1852 most of the Saints pulled out of Kanesville, Iowa, and surrounding settlements. Kanesville was renamed Council Bluffs. Deeper in Iowa, most Saints vacated the LDS settlements of Garden Grove and Mount Pisgah, both established in 1846. Some 10,000 Latter-day Saints were on the trail west in 1852, twice as many as in any other year. However, record numbers of other American pioneers, about 60,000, thronged to California and Oregon that year also. Stretches of the trails were jammed with wagons, and many good campsites were clogged.68
Some LDS branches moved as a group. Branch president Benjamin Gardner, for example, led 241 North Pigeon Branch members and 45 wagons west. In that group, Sister Eunice Allen had to choose between staying with her husband, who had become disaffected from the Church in 1841, and going west with her married children, including son Jude Allen. When she asked her husband one last time to come to Utah, he declined. Poignantly, “she turned and went into the house where she rolled up the few clothes she had, put her shawl around her shoulders and walked out to the wagons. She climbed into Jude’s wagon, never looking back.”69
Inflows of former Nauvoo Saints to Utah from Iowa during 1852 essentially closed the major chapter of the Nauvoo exodus story and ended the wide-scale and long-term scattering. Most former Nauvoo area residents who felt loyalty to President Brigham Young and the Church in Utah had moved west by then. Within a six-year period, Church leadership had done a remarkable job of reassembling the vast majority of the fragmented and dispersed Church membership. They had met well the challenges that they had faced when forced to leave Nauvoo in early 1846.
Edward and Emily Bunker, like other members separated in 1846, were now among the reassembled Saints living in one of more than 100 settlements in Utah. The Great Salt Lake Valley location “in the top of the mountains” was the “right place” for the Church to survive, build another temple, gain strength, prosper, establish procedures to gather modern Israel, and bring up new generations who would truly take the restored gospel out into all the world, preparing a people who will in time ready themselves for yet other important fulfillments of prophecy.