Richard Bennett painted a pitiful picture of suffering and cruelty in describing the Nauvoo poor camps of 1846 during his May 3 presentation at the Iowa Mormon Trail History Symposium.
He is head of the Archives and Special Collections Department at the University of Manitoba, Winnipeg.The wretched scene among those left behind in Nauvoo, he said, was described to Brigham Young by Daniel H. Wells and William Cutler, two emissaries who left Nauvoo and raced across the 327 miles that the advanced pioneer companies had taken almost four months to cover. They brought news that the city was in a state of siege and surrender, that in serious jeopardy from armed mobs were the lives of at least 600 poor, sick and homeless left behind in Nauvoo or across the river in Montrose, Iowa.
A sheaf of letters they carried included this account from Thomas Bullock to Willard Richards: "I've been shaking every day for the last month and can scarcely write. Even my little boy says `Dada, I wish we were out of this country.' . . . There have been many Saints who are preparing as fast as they could to go west who have gone to the grave, many literally dying for want, two or three dying in a house. Great difficulty in getting coffins, and then to be buried by strangers. There appears to be more sick now than when Nauvoo was crowded with Saints. . . . The mobs threaten to get in the city to kill the men, women and children."
Nauvoo was not supposed to have ended this way, Dr. Bennett remarked. "Plans had been drawn up to avoid this very scenario, though in reality, given the intense, anti-Mormon feelings in Hancock County, the surprising thing is that the Mormons averted an even greater tragedy."