“This Time of Scarcity,” chapter 8 of Saints: The Story of the Church of Jesus Christ in the Latter Days, Volume 2, No Unhallowed Hand, 1846–1893 (2020)
Chapter 8: “This Time of Scarcity”
Louisa Pratt and her daughters arrived in the Salt Lake Valley with Brigham Young’s wagon company on the afternoon of September 20, 1848. They had thought all morning about eating fresh vegetables in the promised land, and finally, after old friends greeted them and shook their hands, they sat down to feast on corn harvested from the valley.
Since Addison’s company had not yet arrived from California, Mary Rogers, the wife of a man who had helped Louisa in Winter Quarters, invited the family to stay with her. Louisa did not know Mary well, but she gladly accepted the invitation. Mary was nearly ready to give birth, and staying with her while they waited for Addison gave Louisa and her daughters a chance to help her and repay the kindnesses shown to their family.
Days passed with no sign of Addison. Mary had her baby, and Louisa took care of her and the child night and day. Then, on September 27, some veterans of the Mormon Battalion rode into the city with news that Addison was a day’s journey away. The girls were elated. “They tell me I have a father, but I do not know him,” eight-year-old Ann told her friends. “Is it not strange to have a father and not know him?”
The next morning dawned bright and clear, and Louisa went to her wagon to dress for the reunion.1 As sixteen-year-old Ellen scrubbed the Rogerses’ floor on her hands and knees, a family friend stepped into the cabin. “Ellen,” he said, “here is your father.”
Ellen sprang to her feet as a rough, sunburned man entered the room. “Why, Pa,” Ellen said, taking his hands into hers, “have you come?” After more than five years, she almost did not recognize him.
Frances and Lois soon burst into the room, and Addison’s unkempt appearance surprised them. They called for Ann, who was playing outside. She entered the cabin, eyeing Addison warily and keeping her hands behind her back. “That is Pa,” one of her sisters said. They tried to get Ann to shake his hand, but she ran out of the room.
“It is not,” she cried.2
Louisa soon came in and saw Addison’s travel-worn face. He looked almost like a stranger, and she hardly knew what to say. Sadness swept over her as she realized how much her family had changed in his absence. Nothing short of building the kingdom of God, she thought, could justify such a long separation.3
Emotion overtook Addison as well. His daughters were no longer the little girls he remembered—especially Ann, who had been three years old when he left. Louisa’s voice had changed as a result of losing teeth to scurvy at Winter Quarters. Addison felt like an outsider, and he longed to get to know his family again.
The next morning, Ann had still not spoken to Addison, so he brought her out to his wagon, opened a trunk, and placed several seashells and other curiosities in a pile beside her. As he set each item down, he told her where it came from and said that he had picked it out just for her. He then poured sugarplums, raisins, and cinnamon candy over the pile.
“You believe now that I am your father?” he asked.
Ann gazed at the gifts and then back at him. “Yes!” she cheered.4
The following month, Oliver Cowdery stepped onto a platform to address the Saints at a conference near Kanesville, on the east side of the Missouri River. He did not recognize many of the people in front of him. The Church had grown rapidly since he left it a decade earlier. His brother-in-law Phineas Young was one of the few people he knew at the conference.
It was partly Phineas’s determination that had led Oliver to meet with the Saints at the Missouri River settlements.5 But Oliver had also concluded that David Whitmer’s new church did not have proper authority. The priesthood was with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Sitting near Oliver on the platform was Orson Hyde, the presiding apostle at Kanesville. Almost fourteen years earlier, Oliver had ordained Orson as one of the first apostles in the latter days. Like Oliver, Orson had left the Church in Missouri, but he had found his way back soon after and reconciled with Joseph Smith face-to-face.6
After collecting his thoughts, Oliver addressed the Saints. “My name is Cowdery, Oliver Cowdery,” he said. “I wrote with my own pen the entire Book of Mormon, save a few pages, as it fell from the lips of the prophet as he translated it by the gift and power of God.” He testified that the Book of Mormon was true and that it contained the principles of salvation. “If you will walk by its light and obey its precepts,” he declared, “you will be saved in the everlasting kingdom of God.”
He then spoke of the restoration of the priesthood and the prophetic call of Joseph Smith. “This holy priesthood we conferred upon many,” he testified, “and is just as good and valid as if God had conferred it in person.”7
As he spoke to the Saints, Oliver longed to have the blessings of the priesthood in his life again. He understood that he would not occupy the same position of authority he once held in the Church, but that did not matter. He wanted to be rebaptized and welcomed back as a humble member of the Church of Jesus Christ.
Two weeks after the conference, Oliver met with Church leaders in the log tabernacle at Kanesville. “For a number of years I have been separated from you,” he acknowledged. “I now desire to come back.” He knew baptism was the doorway to the kingdom of God, and he wanted to enter it. “I feel that I can honorably return,” he said.
A few people, however, questioned Oliver’s sincerity. To them, Oliver replied, “My coming back and humbly asking to become a member through the door covers the whole ground. I acknowledge this authority.”
Orson Hyde put the decision to a vote. “It is moved,” he said, “that Brother Oliver be received by baptism and that all old things be forgotten.”
The men voted unanimously in Oliver’s favor. One week later, Orson baptized him, welcoming him back to the gospel fold.8
Meanwhile, in cities and towns across the globe, rumors about gold in California spread like wildfire, luring people away from homes, jobs, and families with the prospect of easy wealth. In the fall of 1848, thousands of people—many of them young men—swarmed to the California coast, hoping to strike it rich.9
Knowing the gold would tempt the impoverished Saints, Brigham Young addressed the matter soon after he arrived back in Salt Lake City. “If we were to go to San Francisco and dig up chunks of gold,” he told the Saints, “it would ruin us.” He urged them to stay on the land the Lord had given them. “To talk of going away from this valley for anything,” he said, “is like vinegar to my eyes.”10
Resolved to stay in the valley, come what may, Brigham began putting the Church and city in order. At the October 1848 conference, the Saints once more sustained him, Heber Kimball, and Willard Richards as the First Presidency of the Church.11 A short time later, he reconvened the Council of Fifty to manage the city while the Saints petitioned the United States Congress to establish a territorial government in the area.
As part of the treaty ending the recent war with Mexico, the United States had acquired Mexico’s northern territories. Soon, settlers and politicians were eagerly planning to form new territories and states from the land, with little regard for the situation of Native peoples or former Mexican citizens in the area.
Wanting the Saints to have the freedom to govern themselves, Brigham and other Church leaders hoped to organize a territory in the Great Basin. Establishing a territory came with risk, however. Unlike states, which granted citizens the right to elect their own leaders, territories relied on the president of the United States to choose some of the most important government officials. If the president appointed officials who were hostile to the Church, the Saints could face more persecution.12
The Council of Fifty met regularly that winter to discuss the needs of the Saints and to draft their petition to Congress. The territory they proposed covered much of the Great Basin and a portion of the southern California coast—a vast area that provided ample space for new settlements and an ocean port to aid the gathering. The Saints called the proposed territory “Deseret,” after the Book of Mormon word for honeybee, a symbol of hard work, industry, and cooperation.13
The council completed the petition to Congress in January while the Salt Lake Valley shivered under severe winter weather.14 In some places, the Saints endured three feet of snow and sharp, bone-chilling winds. Deeper snow in the mountains made collecting firewood difficult. Grain supplies were again running low, and cattle were succumbing to hunger and cold. Some Saints seemed to be surviving on faith alone. Others talked again about going to the warmer climate of the California goldfields—with or without the First Presidency’s blessing.15
On February 25, 1849, Brigham prophesied that the Saints who stayed would prosper and build thriving settlements. “God has shown me that this is the spot to locate His people,” he testified. “He will temper the elements for the good of His Saints. He will rebuke the frost and the sterility of the soil, and the land shall become fruitful.”
Now was not the time to dig for gold, Brigham told the Saints. “It is our duty to preach the gospel, gather Israel, pay our tithing, and build temples,” he said. Wealth would come later.
“The worst fear that I have about this people,” he said, “is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and His people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell.”16
“I am not troubled about your poverty,” Heber Kimball agreed in a sermon to the Saints a short time later. He prophesied that goods would soon be cheaper in the valley than in the large cities of the eastern United States. “If you are faithful,” he promised, “you shall have every desire of your hearts.”17
That winter, twenty-eight-year-old Eliza Partridge Lyman lived in a small log room in the fort with her infant son; her widowed mother, Lydia; her sisters Emily, Caroline, and Lydia; her brother Edward Partridge Jr.; and sometimes her husband, apostle Amasa Lyman, who divided his time among her and his other wives. Nine-year-old Francis Lyman, Amasa’s oldest son from his first wife, Louisa Tanner, also lived in the room so he could attend school in the fort.18
Around four thousand Saints had settled in the valley, and many of them still lived in wagons and tents.19 Eliza’s room provided some shelter from the bitter winds, even when the roof leaked during rain or snow. But it offered no safeguards against sickness and hunger. That season, Eliza’s son and her brother came down with whooping cough, and every day the family’s food supplies got smaller.20
Scarcity was a problem everywhere, and the Saints had to eat sparingly if they wanted to survive the winter. The Timpanogos, their Ute neighbors in nearby Utah Valley, were hungry as well. The Saints’ arrival had strained the area’s natural resources, especially the fishing waters the Timpanogos relied on for food. Though the Saints and the Timpanogos had tried to maintain good interactions, a few Timpanogos soon began raiding the Saints’ cattle to relieve their own hunger.21 Eager to maintain peace, Brigham urged the Saints not to seek vengeance and to instead preach the gospel to the Indians.22
Eliza’s stepbrother Oliver Huntington sometimes worked as a translator and scout among the Utes. As the raids persisted, Little Chief, a leader of the Timpanogos, asked Oliver and Brigham to punish the raiders before their actions turned the Saints against his people. Brigham responded by sending Oliver and an armed company to Utah Valley to stop the raids.
With help from Little Chief, the company tracked down the band of raiders, surrounded them, and ordered their surrender. The band refused to give up and instead attacked the company. A skirmish broke out, and the company killed four raiders.23
The raids ended with the skirmish, but hunger and scarcity remained. “We baked the last of our flour today and have no prospect of getting any more until after harvest,” Eliza wrote in her journal on April 8. Around this time, the First Presidency called her husband on a mission to San Francisco to oversee the California branches and collect tithing. He would then lead a company of California Saints to the valley in the fall.24
Amasa left five days later, too poor to buy more flour for his family. On April 19, Eliza and some of her family moved out of the fort and set up house in tents and wagons on a city lot. She spun candlewicks and sold them for corn and meal, which she divided among the large Lyman family.25
Others helped her as well. Her sister Emily, who was a wife of Brigham Young, brought the family fifteen pounds of flour after Brigham heard that they were out of bread. On April 25, Jane Manning James, who had known Eliza and Emily when the sisters lived in the Nauvoo Mansion as plural wives of Joseph Smith, gave Eliza two pounds of flour—half of what Jane had herself.26
Eliza spun more candlewicks, planned a garden, and had fruit trees planted on her lot. Wind and snowstorms continued to plague the valley well into May, and Eliza’s tent burned down one day while she was visiting her mother. But by the end of the month, she found reason for hope in the Saints’ ripening fields.
“Saw a head of wheat,” she wrote in her journal, “which looks encouraging in this time of scarcity.”27
Through the harsh winter of 1848–49, Louisa Pratt watched her husband struggle to adjust to life after his mission. Much had changed in the Church while he was away. The Saints had received the temple endowment, embraced the doctrine of eternal marriage and exaltation, and created new covenant relationships with God and each other. Plural marriage, practiced privately among the Saints, was also new to Addison.28
Sometimes Addison disagreed with Louisa about the newly revealed principles. What was familiar to her seemed peculiar to him. He was also bothered that Saints in the valley did not strictly heed the Word of Wisdom’s warnings against hot drinks and tobacco. Still, Louisa was happy to have him home. He attended Sabbath meetings with the family and served as a president of his seventies quorum.29
The Pratts passed the winter in the fort. Louisa’s sister and brother-in-law Caroline and Jonathan Crosby lived with them until they had a home of their own. Addison worked to support his family and taught Tahitian language classes to prospective missionaries.30
When spring arrived, the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve called Addison and his family to the Pacific Islands with eleven other missionaries, including six families. The Pratts were excited to go, and they prepared to leave after the fall harvest. On July 21, Addison received the endowment on the top of Ensign Peak, which Church leaders had consecrated for that purpose in the absence of a temple. The family then began to dispose of goods and property they did not need.31
Thousands of gold seekers from the eastern states, meanwhile, scrambled over the Rocky Mountains on their way to California. Soon Salt Lake City became a favorite spot for them to rest and resupply before continuing on to the goldfields. Most gold seekers were young farmers, laborers, or merchants. Many of them had never ventured far from their hometowns, let alone crossed an entire continent.32
Their arrival fulfilled Heber Kimball’s prophecy much sooner than anyone expected.33 The gold seekers had flour, sugar, groceries of every kind, shoes, clothing, fabric, and tools. Desperate for fresh vegetables, lighter wagons, and pack animals, many of the gold seekers stopped at the fort to barter. Often they sold hard-to-find goods to the Saints at bargain prices. Sometimes they simply discarded or gave away items they were tired of carrying.34
The gold seekers boosted the economy in Salt Lake City, but they also exhausted grazing lands between Salt Lake and California when they left, making overland travel almost impossible late in the season. And stories circulated that dangerous men preyed on the travelers, making the road unsafe for families.35 The stories did not scare Louisa, but Brigham worried about the safety of the departing families, and soon Church leaders decided to send Addison without Louisa and the children.
The family was heartbroken. “Pa will not be so safe,” Frances insisted. “The robbers would be more likely to plunder a lone man, and take his team from him, than they would if he had his family.”
“Poor child,” Louisa said, “you know but little about robbers.”
Louisa understood that the gospel required sacrifices, and if anyone asked her, she said she was perfectly willing to let Addison go. But she thought her family was in no condition to be separated only a year after their reunion.36
Brigham planned to postpone the mission until the spring, when the grazing would be better and fewer gold seekers would be on the road. That fall, however, a wagon train passing through Salt Lake City hired Captain Jefferson Hunt, a veteran of the Mormon Battalion, to conduct it safely to California by way of a less-traveled route to the Southwest. When Brigham learned of the company, he asked Addison and two missionaries to go with them to assist Captain Hunt and then sail for the islands once they reached California.37
Louisa felt like heaven and earth had turned against her. She and Addison hardly spoke to each other. When alone, she prayed, freely venting her grief and pain to God. “Will my sufferings never come to an end?” she groaned.38
The day Addison left the valley, Louisa and Ellen rode with him to his campsite and stayed the night. In the morning, he blessed them and they said goodbye. Although she had been dreading the farewell for weeks, Louisa felt comforted as she rode back to the fort, her heart much lighter than it had been for some time.39