The Mississippi Saints

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“The Mississippi Saints,” Ensign, Feb. 2003, 41

The Mississippi Saints

The nucleus of the San Bernardino colonists was a group of former plantation owners and their households from Mississippi. In the early 1840s, a Latter-day Saint schoolteacher named John Brown served a mission in the South. He and his companions found a “fertile field” in Monroe County, Mississippi, and in a short time established a congregation of about 200 members. Their move from Mississippi to Utah and eventually to San Bernardino is one of the epic tales in Church history.

As President Young led the Saints west from Nauvoo in February 1846, the Mississippi Saints expected to gather with them on the trail. Led by John Brown, 14 families, some with slaves and servants, left in April 1846 and along the way were joined by the Crow and Kartchner families.1 They reached the Platte River an entire year before President Young and the first company. Continuing west, they soon learned from trappers that the Saints had set up camp in Winter Quarters on the west side of the Missouri River and in Kanesville, Iowa, on the east side of the river. Needing provisions and a place to wait for the winter, the Mississippi company followed French trapper John Richard to a fort called Pueblo. They built cabins and planted crops, establishing Colorado’s first colony.2

John Brown left for Mississippi to gather the rest of the Southern converts. Meanwhile, at Kanesville (modern-day Council Bluffs), President Young was encouraging the men to enlist in the U.S. Army and march to California to fight in the war with Mexico. He saw this as an opportunity for the group to use their monthly pay to help the Church move west. Although the Mormon Battalion had no military experience, the 520 men (accompanied by 35 women and 42 children) completed one of the longest infantry marches in United States history—a journey of nearly 2,000 miles. During the march, a detachment of sick men and accompanying families split off from the main group and fortunately met John Brown. He told them of the Pueblo settlement. They arrived in October 1846. Two other detachments also joined the colony.3

When the main group of the Mormon Battalion reached San Diego on 29 January 1847, the Mexican War had almost ended, so they were assigned to peacekeeping duties throughout southern California. This eventually led to the meeting of battalion members with Isaac Williams, who owned Chino Rancho.

Meanwhile, John Brown had arrived in Mississippi and was ready to bring the rest of the Southern Saints to Winter Quarters when he received word from President Young to have the group wait another year until the Saints had located in the West. Instead, he was to bring only a few able-bodied men to join President Young and the advance party in their 1847 trek from Winter Quarters west to the Salt Lake Valley. John Brown arrived with four white men and two African-American slaves, Hark Lay and Oscar Crosby. Another African-American, Green Flake, also joined the group.

On 8 April 1847, President Young’s advance company began its journey along the Platte. They were welcomed in Laramie, Wyoming, by 17 of the Latter-day Saint Pueblo colonists. President Young then sent Elder Amasa M. Lyman of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles back to lead the rest of the Pueblo group to Utah. Some of the Mississippi Saints, including African-American pioneers, made history by arriving in the Salt Lake Valley on 23 July. By the time President Young arrived on 24 July, they had already planted potatoes and beans.4 The 275 Pueblo Saints arrived a few days later. President Young thanked the Mormon Battalion for having “saved the people by going into the Army.”5 After spending the first winter in the fort, some of the Mississippi Saints established the area of Holladay southeast of the city, the first settlement outside of Salt Lake City. Not long after, President Young asked them to lead out in the settlement of the San Bernardino area in southern California.