On the Trail in August
August 1997

“On the Trail in August,” Ensign, Aug. 1997, 48

Faith in Every Footstep 1847–1997

On the Trail in August

The following representation of events that took place in August 1847 is provided as part of the sesquicentennial celebration of the arrival of the Latter-day Saint pioneers to the Salt Lake Valley.

In August 1847, many of the Saints were still scattered, with a big company of 1,500 Saints on the trail west and other groups in Winter Quarters, Nebraska; Kanesville, Iowa, and the surrounding area; Garden Grove and Mount Pisgah, Iowa; and San Francisco, California. In addition, about 10,000 Saints in England were preparing to emigrate. But now they had a gathering place, the Great Salt Lake Valley.

First Homes in the Salt Lake Valley

The first homes were built in a stockade as a defense against the Indians. Later, homes throughout the valley were built from either wood or adobe. Elders Wilford Woodruff and George A. Smith of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles worked together to build some log cabins. Elder Woodruff wrote on 5 August 1847 of his experience gathering timber for the cabin: “As we were under the necessity of returning soon [to Winter Quarters, Nebraska] and wanted some place to unload our goods … , we thought it best to go into the mountain and draw out logs and build us some cabins. … So I took my ax this morning and in company with G. A. Smith went to the mountain about six miles. We had several men with us to assist in chopping. We found a grove of fir trees that we thought would answer well. We had to make a road to it and bridges across the creek. … We chopped, drew out more logs than to build one house. … I blistered up my hands and was very weary at night. Distance of the day 14 [miles].”1

The Big Company on the Trail

Led by Elders Parley P. Pratt and John Taylor of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, the big company had left Winter Quarters, Nebraska, in June 1847, consisting of about 1,500 men, women, and children. They arrived in the valley of the Great Salt Lake in the fall of 1847. The diary of Patty Sessions gives us a glimpse into the day-to-day life of this big company. A midwife, she writes between 1 and 13 August of delivering a baby girl, gathering black currants, baking pies, repairing the wagons, and gathering wood, which was very scarce. She also tells of a pioneer who “came into camp with news from the Twelve saying we are 750 miles from Salt Lake City, where they had located.”2

Mary Jane Mount Tanner was a child on this trek and wrote of some of her memories: “I used to see other children running barefooted, and thought it would be nice to take my shoes off too. But my feet were not accustomed to such rough usage. … One day, while trying the experiment, I wandered a little way from the road, and getting among a bed of prickly pears, was obliged to sit down and take care of my feet while some of the children went to the wagon for my shoes. … I think this must have cured me of the desire to go barefooted.”3

Saints at Winter Quarters Longed to Go West

“Our crops look exceeding well and we now begin to realize the good of our gardens,” wrote Mary Haskin Parker Richards on 12 August 1847 to her husband, Samuel, who was on the second year of his mission to Great Britain. “We have had some green corn that was brought us from Da[l]tons’ farm and tomorrow expect to have some of our own. Wish you were here to share with us. Samuel, I hope you will let no unnecessary thing detain you from coming home as soon as circumstances will admit, for although I am willing that you should remain as long as ’tis the Lord’s will that you would, yet I am nonetheless willing that you should come home as soon as his servants give you permission to do so. … We have not yet lacked or wanted for food and also that I do not entertain any fears that we are going to, although at times the prospect looks rather dull. … I hear there are several that have ague [fever and chills, sometimes malaria] in the camp. I was in hopes we should have left it behind. The place where we now are is not very healthy. I pray we may not have to remain here long. I long to go to a place where the air is pure and the climate healthy, but I desire to remain here til you come to go with me, for I never want to travel again in your absence.”4

Return to Winter Quarters

More than half of the advance, exploratory company known as the Camp of Israel did not stay in the Salt Lake Valley. Instead, groups started departing in mid-August for Winter Quarters, Nebraska, to prepare for others to go west in 1848. The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles planned the return trip to Winter Quarters carefully. One important part of the plan was for a company of hunters to go on horseback ahead of the others. The men were assigned to hunt in order to obtain and dry meat for the ox team companies to follow them east. President Young asked Norton Jacob to head up this hunting company. Brother Jacob recorded in his diary President Young’s instructions:

“We wish you to be cautious of the teams entrusted to your care, and recruit them at every place where you find the feed and situation will answer. Be prudent in all things and do not give way to a hurrying spirit, not letting your spirits run away to Winter Quarters before your bodies can arrive there. As soon as you arrive at a good hunting country, we wish you to stop and hunt, so as to supply the ox teams that will start from here in a few days; and then you will not be detained any longer hunting, but will be able to pursue your journey steadily to the buffalo country on the Platte [River]. Be humble; be patient; be prayerful. Listen to the counsel given you, and obey it, and you shall be blest; and in a short time we will be with you again, and go with you to our homes.”5

The Mormon Battalion Near Fort Sutter

By August, some released members of the Mormon Battalion had found temporary jobs near Fort Sutter, California, at the suggestion of President Brigham Young.

On 24 August, Sergeant Daniel Tyler wrote from near present-day Lodi, California: “We … were almost overjoyed to see a colony of Americans, the first we had seen since leaving Fort Leavenworth, about a year previous. But the best of all was, the news … that the Saints were settling in the Great Salt Lake Valley, and that five hundred wagons were on the way. This was our first intelligence of the movements of the Church since the news … at the Arkansas [River] crossing.

“The following day, we rested and held meeting in the evening, as we had frequently done since our discharge. Some … wished to remain here and labor until spring, wages being good and labor in demand; besides, a settlement of the New York Saints [from the ship Brooklyn] was within a few miles.”6


  1. Wilford Woodruff Journals, 5 Aug. 1847, Historical Department, Archives Division, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; hereafter cited as LDS Church Archives. Spelling, capitalization, and punctuation corrected on all sources cited in this article.

  2. Patty Sessions Diary, 1–13 Aug. 1847, LDS Church Archives.

  3. Margery W. Ward, ed., A Fragment: The Autobiography of Mary Jane Mount Tanner (1980), 44.

  4. Maurine Carr Ward, ed., Winter Quarters: The 1846–1848 Life Writings of Mary Haskin Parker Richards (1996), 176–78.

  5. C. Edward Jacob and Ruth S. Jacob, eds., The Record of Norton Jacob (1949), 78.

  6. Daniel Tyler, A Concise History of the Mormon Battalion in the Mexican War, 1846–1848 (1964), 310–11.

  • William G. Hartley, a BYU associate professor of history and a research professor at the university’s Joseph Fielding Smith Institute, teaches Sunday School in the Riverside Third Ward, Murray Utah North Stake.

Photo by Welden C. Andersen

Patty Sessions (oval inset: courtesy of International Society Daughters of Utah Pioneers) traveled west in the company led by Elders Parley P. Pratt (right) and John Taylor (far right).

[illustration, photo] Once in the valley, pioneers hauled logs from mountain canyons (below, left: Mormons Hauling Wood, artist unknown, courtesy of Utah State Historical Society) to build their log cabins (right: photo by Marty Mayo).

Inset, above: Embarkation of the Saints in Liverpool, 1851, by Ken Baxter