Saints search for winter camp sites

Sunday, July 26, 1846:

With the Mormon Battalion well under way, the leading brethren continued their search for the best possible spots for the Camp of Israel to spend the winter. There did not need be only one location, but definitely an order to the various camps would be required for safety and for food for the people and animals. A good many of the strongest workers had left the camps and gone with the battalion, so the task became even more daunting.Since about 2,500 had already crossed the Missouri River by ferry, a good spot for them had to be determined. A small group of Saints was about 40 miles away with Bishop George Miller at Pawnee Village on the Niobrara River. That was one possibility. The Grand Island, 130 miles to the west, was still a major option.

Wilford Woodruff chose this day to take his large camp of friends and relatives over the Missouri to the west. It was more than he bargained for. He recorded in his journal: "This was one of the hardest days of my life. We commenced at about sunrise to take our cows over with a skiff." He took five or six cows at a time until he had delivered 20 to the other side. "

IT assisted in ferrying in the hot sun until I was nearly melted. I then drove teams up the hills through the mud and bad roads until I felt exhausted."

The Mormon Battalion, in spite of having virtually no food or flour, marched about 21 miles in the blistering heat. They were now in western Missouri and were wary of former enemies to the Saints in that state.

Monday, July 27:

Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball returned to the west side of the Missouri River. They had personally decided that they and their families would spend the winter on the west side. After arriving, they gladly met two men from the Mormon encampment at Pawnee Village who brought with them several wagon loads of useful supplies. But they also received discouraging news about Grand Island that these men had explored. The island was not nearly as habitable as previously reported, travel getting there was difficult along the Platte River bottoms, and the area appeared to be the center of current warfare between the Pawnee and Sioux Indian tribes.

The Mormon Battalion marched another 13 miles and camped in Oregon, a small town in Holt County, Mo.

Tuesday, July 28:

At 9 a.m. one of the chiefs of the Otoe Tribe came into the Camp of Israel looking for the "Mormon Chief" and for a side of beef. Brigham Young happily met with him and ordered that the beef be delivered to him. The chief wept tears of gratitude.

The Mormon Battalion marched 14 miles. Daniel Tyler recorded: "We found the country poor and broken, the road bad and the inhabitants very miserable. A great many of the settlers in this part of the country were old mobocrats, as several of them admitted. They said that they had been misled by false rumors, and very much regretted having persecuted the Saints. They would have been glad to take their old `Mormon' neighbors back."

At 2 p.m. a heavy thundershower hit Brigham Young's camp, located on the Omaha Nation lands. Heavy streams of water entered into each of the tents and wagons. "No one in camp remembered such a succession of heavy thunder and lightning, and rain in so short a time," states the official history.

Wednesday, July 29:

Everyone at the Camp of Israel was glad for pleasant weather. All the people took out their bedding and other belongings, including their grain, to dry out. Some became ill from exposure to the heavy rain.

The Mormon Battalion reached St. Joseph, a newly important Missouri River jumping off point for the West.

Sgt. Tyler reported that Luke Johnson "met Sergeant Wm. Hyde and informed him that the Missourians were perfectly astonished at the course the `Mormons' were taking. The Missourians had supposed when they heard of the President's requisition, that the Saints would only spurn it. But when they saw the Battalion march through with civility and in good order, they were really dumbfounded."

Thursday, July 30:

Considerable activity continued at the Missouri River ferry because many of the campers at the Mosquito Creek encampment prepared themselves to go to the west side of the river. It was an intensely arduous experience getting the cattle, oxen, wagons, belongings, women and children down to the river and then across it, especially since the Camp of Israel was shorthanded now that the soldiers were gone. The heat and humidity were also unbearable.

Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards went to the ferry to monitor the progress and ascertain the needs of the people. Brother Richards, the Church's historian, also proceeded to the bluffs to meet with Elders Orson Hyde, Parley P. Pratt and John Taylor before they took off for their British Mission. Another heavy thundershower struck the camps in the evening causing the tents to become wet again.

The Mormon Battalion marched 15 more miles. In the evening the storm was even more severe than with the Camp of Israel, 100 miles to the north. A gale blew many of the trees down around the camp. But not one tree fell on the soldiers. "The fact that not one tree fell in our camp proved that God was with us," remarked Sgt. Tyler.

Friday, July 31:

Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and Orson Pratt said "God Be With You" to Orson Hyde, Parley P. Pratt and John Taylor. Parley wrote, "I bid a solemn farewell to my family and friends, then dwelling in tents and wagons on the west side of the Missouri River, and started for England. I met Elders Hyde and Taylor, as agreed upon, and we took passage down the river in an open scow, or flat boat, in company with a family of Presbyterian missionaries [among the Indians]."

The Mormon Battalion traveled about 12 miles marching through the thriving river town of Weston. They camped at a spot only four miles from Fort Leavenworth so they could wash their clothing before entering the installation the next day, as they were exceedingly dirty.

The ship Brooklyn that had been chartered by Saints in the eastern United States earlier in the year docked at San Francisco harbor. It had sailed from New York on Feb. 4, 1846.

Saturday, Aug. 1:

Brigham Young conducted a serious council meeting. The council confirmed the decision not to send hundreds or thousands on to Grand Island. Their first choice for winter quarters at this stage was about 25 miles down the Platte River at the spot where the Elkhorn flowed into the Platte. They had not made a final decision.

The Mormon Battalion arrived at their first destination, Fort Leavenworth. Sgt. Tyler reported, "[We] were nearly five hours in crossing [the Missouri] and making our way to the garrison. We found companies of Missouri volunteers there. We received our tents the same day; these added much to our comfort. . . . Our tents, being new, and pitched in military order, presented a grand appearance, and the merry songs which resounded through the camp made all feel like `casting dull care away.' "

Sources: Journal History; Manuscript History of Brigham Young, p. 277, 285-92; Wilford Woodruff's Journal, 3:63-64; Mormons at the Missouri, pp. 65-66; Exodus of Modern Israel, p. 28; A Concise History of the Mormon Battalion, p. 132-34; The Diary of Hosea Stout, 1:181-84; My Best for the Kingdom, p. 213; Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, p. 345.

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