- Historic Sites
“here Is My Home At Last!”
When Brigham Young’s party abandoned Illinois to seek a final refuge for the Latter-day Saints, none knew where they would come to rest. But as they entered Salt Lake Valley, they were sure that the long quest was over
February 1963 | Volume 14, Issue 2
At eight o’clock on the morning of Friday the sixteenth President Young had the camp called together at his wagon and ordered a count of those going on the journey. There were 143 men, three women, and two children. The three women were Clarissa Decker Young, a wife of Brigham Young; Harriet Page Wheeler Young, a wife of Brigham’s brother Loren/o; and Ellen Sanders Kimball, a wife of Heber C. Kimball, one of the Council of the Twelve. The two children were Isaac Perry Decker, son of Loren/o’s wife by a former marriage, and Zobriski Young, son of the same woman by Lorenzo. Three of the men were listed as “colored” —Oscar Crosby, Green Flake, and Hark Lay. Inventory of property made at this time showed seventy-two wagons and carriages of many types—some small, some large and covered—(besides a wagon on which a large leather boat served as the wagon box) and a cannon brought along as protection against Indians (who were notoriously afraid of the sound of artillery). Ninety-three horses, fifty-two mules, sixty-six oxen, nineteen cows, and assorted doffs, cats, and chickens went along.
To avoid contact with non-Mormon parties going west, President Young chose to travel on the north side of the Platte instead of on the Oregon Trail along the south bank, which was more distinct and more heavily used. Their road led through Pawnee Indian country.
On Sunday, April 18, the weather was still cold and spring not far advanced. At five o’clock that day the officers met with President Young, who gave them the daily routine. A bugle would sound at five in the morning. Each Pioneer would arise and attend to his prayers before leaving his wagon. Cooking, eating, and feeding the stock would fill the time till seven, when the camp would move. Each teamster was to stay beside his team with loaded gun in hand. The order of encampment was to be a circle, with the mouth of each wagon to the outside and the horses and cattle tied inside. At 8:30 P.M. the bugle would sound again. At this time all were to have prayers in their wagons and go to bed by nine.
The next day was warm, and the Pioneers followed the President’s orders implicitly. William Clayton, suffering from a toothache, walked beside his wagon and thought of “fixing up a set of wooden cog-wheels to the hub of a wagon wheel in such order as to tell the exact number of miles we travel each day.” The next day the tooth still ached, and Clayton asked Luke Johnson to pull it. “He only got half of the original tooth, the balance being left in the jaw. After this my head and face pained me more than before.”
A week went by—a week of hard pulling in soft and sandy loam—day after day of monotonous plodding on a trackless prairie not yet awakened by spring. The brethren nooned one day on the bank of Loup Fork opposite a Pawnee village, and the Indians ran into the water to cross and ask for presents. Young ordered powder, lead, salt, and flour given to them, but they continued to beg. Hastily he ordered the wagons to move. At six o’clock they encamped where Looking Glass Creek flows into Loup Fork. More days followed on the same pattern, and then came a day of rest, Sunday, April 25, with services at four o’clock. “This Earth Was Once a Garden Place” sang the newly formed choir lustily. Then on. The wagons took their own way west across the prairie wasteland. Suddenly April was over. On the last evening of the month the brothers camped beside marshy ground. They were cold and bored and disconsolate. Brother Brigham urged them to dance to warm up, and they did so.
On May 1 the Pioneers caught their first glimpse of buffalo. At once the wagons halted, and those brothers appointed as buffalo hunters raced their horses toward a herd of over seventy. Wilford Woodruff wrote of the chase: “I then saw that Orrin P. (Porter) Rockwell had three bulls at bay on the prairie … Brother Kimball came up at the same time. We surrounded them and commenced firing upon them…” “The meat is very sweet and as tender as veal,” wrote William Clayton. After that the brothers were so often at the kill that President Young forbade them to continue, although both sides of the Platte River were black with buffalo for miles, and as Wilford Woodruff wrote, “It looked as though the whole face of the earth was alive and moving like the waves of the sea.” There were days when Porter Rockwell or Luke Johnson would capture buffalo calves and bring them into the canin for the two little bov Pioneers to romp with.
On some mornings when the bugle blared, the brethren would wake to see flames on the horizon and to feel smoke stinging their eyes. The earth would be black over measureless acres, and ashes blown by prairie winds would make their faces as dark as those of their fellow travelers, Green Flake and Hark Lay.
On May 12 the monotony of their day-after-day marching was lessened by Clayton, who, with the aid of mechanic Appleton Harmon, had put into practice the idea evolved when he had a toothache. He had invented what he called a “roadometer” and attached it to the axle of the carriage in which he rode. Now its wooden cogs ticked oft the miles relentlessly, and at the end of every day he could report how much nearer the brethren were to the Rocky Mountains.