“here Is My Home At Last!”

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Spring finally came to the wagon train in the last week of May. On Monday the twenty-fourth the brethren saw across the river a band of about thirty-five Indians, also riding west. After the Mormons had made camp, some of the savages rode across the river toward them, one of those in the lead carrying a United States flag. They were well-dressed and impressive people, handsomely adorned. President Young fed them and entertained the chief and his wife overnight. The chief was fascinated by the camp telescope. Through it he looked long at the moon. He may well have been puzzled by a wild dance in which the brethren indulged themselves later.

Now the wagons were rolling into the land of western wonder. For three whole days the high thin tower of Chimney Rock was constantly in sight, and beyond it rose Scotts Bluff like the tumbled walls of a ruined temple. They were almost at the present-day Nebraska-Wyoming line.

Life in the camp had become lax in the springtime. The Pioneers played cards and checkers and dominoes in their wagons. Some of them played musical instruments, and their hearers cavorted to fiddle tunes, the men dancing with each other and cutting pigeonwings and other figures in the joy of the warming spring season. On the cold, rainy morning of May 29 after the bugle sounded at ten, President Young summoned the camp to gather about the boat-wagon and there spoke his mind. His speech was emphatic and earnest, and it ended in burning words of rebuke:

Joking, nonsense, profane language, trifling conversation and loud laughter do not belong to us. Suppose the angels were witnessing the hoe-down the other evening, and listening to the haw haws the other evening, would not they be ashamed of it? I am ashamed of it.… Now let every man repent of his weakness, of his follies, of his meanness, and every kind of wickedness, and stop your swearing and profane language, for it is in this camp and I know it, and have known it. I have said nothing about it, but I now tell you, if you don’t stop it you shall be cursed by the Almighty and shall dwindle away and be damned…

Here are the Elders of Israel, who have the priesthood, who have got to preach the Gospel, who have to gather the nations of the earth, who have to build up the kingdom so that the nations can come to it, they will stop to dance as niggers. I don’t mean this as debasing the negroes by any means. They will hoe down all, turn summersets, dance on their knees, and haw, haw, out loud; they will play cards, they will play checkers and dominoes, they will use profane language, they will swear! … If we don’t repent and quit our wickedness we will have more hindrances than we have had, and worse storms to encounter. I want the brethren to be ready, for meeting to-morrow at the time appointed, instead of rambling off, and hiding in their waggons at play cards, etc. I think it will be good for us to have a fast meeting to-morrow and a prayer meeting to humble ourselves and turn to the Lord and He will forgive us.

The Sunday morning of May 30 on the Platte River bottoms was still, but high above the circle of Mormon wagons clouds were scattering in a windy sky. Wakened by the early bugle, the travelers could still see Chimney Rock, forty miles behind them, lifting an admonitory finger. The Black Hills northwest of the encampment had turned a deep blue, laying grotesque and portentous patterns on the horizon.

At eight o’clock the whole camp gathered near their leader’s wagon and raised their voices in Brother William Phelps’ hymn. “The Spirit of God like a fire is burning,” they sang. “The latter-day glory begins to come forth.”

Brother Brigham’s rebuke had accomplished its purpose. Wilford Woodruff later wrote of this day: “In the morning I shaved, cleansed my body, put on clean clothing, read a chapter in the Book of Mormon, humbled myself before the Lord…”

Soon Woodruff and other chosen leaders followed President Young into a little valley where they “clothed themselves after the manner of the Priesthood.” That afternoon they trudged in picturesque procession across the plain for more than two miles to climb a high, sandy point. From this they could see to the west a long aisle of bluffs towering on both sides of the river. As they knelt in prayer upon the highest ground they had yet stood upon, Thomas Bullock, who had expected to join them, made note in his journal that he had not been asked to do so. Feeling rejected and sick at heart, he wrote: “I have been deprived of my greatest and most sacred privileges. O my God look down upon my tears and suffering and have mercy on me; wherein I have offended thee, make it manifest to me, that 1 may repent, whatever it may be.”

When the robed priests again entered the circle of their wagons, campfires were spotting the dusk. Somewhere out on the plains a drift of cloud loosed a shower, and light from the moon, quick-risen on the eastern rim of the valley, penetrated the falling drops to arch a rainbow above the westward road they would travel on the morrow. Many who had that day promised themselves a holier life saw the gleaming, many-colored gateway as a sign of welcome to the country they were seeking.