Best Prepared Pioneers In The West
Ably led by Brigham Young, the Mormons made an orderly march to Utah and created ‘Zion” with smooth efficiency
October 1956 | Volume 7, Issue 6
As Saints poured into Camp of Israel through that spring of 1846, another stream moved out of the camp to begin the march westward. In this journey across Iowa, Brigham Young first displayed the organizing genius that endowed the Mormon migrations with an order and roml’ort unrivaled in the history of overland trails. He explained his system on Februarv 17, 1846, when he called his followers together. They would move, he told them, not as a group but in a series of small parties. He would start westward with the first band at once, with others following at regular intervals. All must keep strict order and live in peace with the people they met; young men must seek work along the way to buy food and equipment. Then, with iioo wagons, he started westward toward the Missouri.
As this pioneer group moved across Iowa, Brigham Young ordered halts at set intervaJ.s to build rest camps for those who would follow. At Garden Grove. 155 miles from Camp of Israel, a major way station was constructed; when the party moved on, some were left to plant crops so that later migrants would have food. Again, in the valley of the Lewis River, they stopped to build Mount Pisgah, with buildings, planted fields, a gristmill and shops. By June 14, 1846, Young and his pioneers were at the Missouri, where ihey laid out a third principal encampment. This was christened Winter Quarters, because here the Mormons would spend the winter before moving on to the Far West.
So well had Brigham Young and his pioneers labored that the caravans which followed their trail experienced few difficulties. The first left Camp of Israel on March 1, 1846, “without confusion, without hurrying or even discord”; others followed at regular intervals until they formed a giant procession 300 miles long. Each wagon train, following Young’s instructions, was divided into “hundreds” or “fifties” under a captain; these in turn were subdivided into “tens” controlled by a lieutenant who kept order, settled disputes, and supervised the day’s march and nightly encampment.
Rarely in history had a mass migration been accomplished with so little difficulty. Of hardship, of course, there was plenty; not even Young’s genius could control the weather or ease the pangs of hunger among those too poor to buy food. But scarce a word of complaint was heard. By autumn all 15,000 were safe in Winter Quarters, or in one of the way stations of Iowa.
The winter tried their patience. Huddled in drafty cabins or tents, they seldom had enough fuel or food, while a plague that spread among them carried oft no less than 600 before spring. Yet little heed was paid these discomforts, for all were too busy planning the migration that would begin in April. Few emigrants began their journey westward as well versed in the arts of travel as did the Saints.
The first group started west on April 9, 1847—a “pioneer band” of 143 men, three women, and two children, led by Brigham Young. All had been carefully selected for endurance and skills; most were between thirty and fifty years of age, while a proper proportion of farmers, artisans, and craftsmen assured efficiency in founding their settlement. As they moved out of Winter Quarters they followed a rigid schedtde. Each morning a bugle sounded at five o’clock, to be followed by prayers and breakfast while draft animals grazed. Another bugle blast signaled the start of the day’s march. The caravan moved forward in single file except, in dangerous Indian country, when a double column was used. At 8:30 each evening the train halted alter wheeling the wagons into a circle; after supper and prayers, the whole camp was asleep.
With such an efficient organization, the pioneer band moved rapidly. As they passed through South Pass they heard disquieting news; first an old trapper and then the mountain man Jim Bridger warned them that the valley of the Great Salt Lake was an arid desert that would support nothing but cactus and sagebrush. Near the Green River they met Elder Samuel Brannan, a Mormon leader who had taken 238 Saints to California by sea the year before, and who had come eastward now to urge them to follow him into the San Joaquin Valley. Once more Brigham Voting refused to be deterred. “God has made the choice—not Brigham Voting,” he patiently explained. Nor did a single Saint raise his voice in protest.
In the Wasatch Mountains, on July 12, Brigham Young took to his bed with mountain lever, but he ordered Oison Pratt to take 23 wagons and push on. Hy July 14 this advance party was wending its way between the red-walled cliffs of Echo Canyon; it climbed steadily upward, then crossed the summit to plunge into the narrow defile of Emigration Canyon. As this broadened near its western outlet, the Saints had their first glimpse of their lutine home. There was little in the sight to gladden their hearts. They saw only “a broad and barren plain hemmed in by mountains, blistering in the burning rays of the midsummer sun. No waving fields, no swaying forests, no verdant meadows … but on all sides a seemingly interminable waste ot sagebrush.”
Orson Pratt and eight others entered the valley on the morning of July 22, 1817. Turning northward, they camped on the banks of a dear stream which they called City Creek. The sun-baked earth shattered their plows at first, but when they flooded the ground they could plant with ease. By the time Brigham Young and the rest of the pioneer band arrived on July 24, all were busily planting potatoes or building a dam across the creek to turn more water onto the land.