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Chapter 2

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
The Year of Decision

by
Bernard DeVoto

published by Little, Brown and Company,
Boston, 1943

The text is in the public domain.

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and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 4
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p67  Chapter 3:
Pillar of Cloud

All through February Congress debated the resolution to terminate the joint occupancy of Oregon, and by its deliberation, Polk thought, informed the British that we were irresolute. The Whigs had a cold choice: they had to oppose termination because it was an administration measure but, except for New England, the country seemed to be approving it. Webster, who was daily galled by seeing Buchanan in the post designed by Providence for Webster himself, felt sure that the President would compromise on 49°, and, brushing away the war talk, John Quincy Adams told his journal the same thing. Well, you could embarrass the President by publicly assuming that he meant to compromise, and the Whigs clamored for the question to be reopened. They found an ally in the Democracy. Mr. Calhoun had taken the election of '44 and even Polk's nomination as a signal that the Democratic Party had now conformed to his desire and become a party of the South, but the President understood otherwise and besides, listed Calhoun high among his distrusts. So Calhoun would use the spur: with his junior, McDuffie of South Carolina, he began to organize a bloc against termination. Senator Haywood of North Carolina panted to the White House with word that Calhoun would demand reopening the negotiations for Oregon, that he favored giving Great Britain anything she might ask. Benton, who knew more about Oregon than all the rest of them put together, said ominously little about it on the Senate floor — that chilly forum where statesmen shook off their shawls and rugs to thrust stately sterns to warm at the hickory fires. Benton worked behind the scenes with a quiet effectiveness and allowed Polk to understand that though he favored termination he would back the claim no farther than he thought it just. The best administration speech was by John A. Dix of New York and, when it was finished, Benton concurred without revealing his position. He told the warhawks that they had no claim to the Frazer River, but no matter: Cass would bleed or die before one inch should be surrendered south of 54°40′, Allen drummed a vast resonance from his chest, and Hannegan rushed off to stiffen Polk's spine whenever there was rumor that he would  p68 compromise or even receive proposals from Great Britain. Or thought he stiffened it — for no one smoked Polk out. His ideas had been plainly expressed in his message, he told everyone, and if the Senators did not abide by them they would ruin the party. McLane's reports from London described an increasing preparation for war, but the Cabinet met it only with discussion and nothing happened.

The Indians had not been notified that they had a new White Father and so the President sat for another portrait. It would be stamped on all the medals distributed to the chiefs by all administrations. Office seekers went on consuming public time, and Polk had to receive the French minister, bearing documents which certified that Louis Philippe had been blessed with two sons, a ceremony that "has always appeared to me to be supremely ridiculous." And one evening Mrs. Polk summoned him from a conference with the erupting Allen to a party in the East Room, where Herr Alexander was performing "tricks of slight of hand." The President's nieces and some forty or fifty guests watched the professor exhibit "his art greatly to their wonder and amusement, but as I think not much to their edification or profit."

But now the President encountered a juggler from the big time. On February 13 a Colonel Atocha obtained audience at the White House. This was a Spaniard who had once lived in New Orleans but whose immediate importance was that he had later been an associate and now was probably an agent of General Antonio López de Santa Anna.

Santa Anna is the set piece of Mexican history, complete with rockets, pinwheels, Greek fire, and aerial bombs. He had been president of Mexico, dictator, commander in chief, much too often and too variously for specification here. He had contrived to persuade a good many different factions that he was their soul, and had never betrayed any of them till he had got their funds. He was enormously rich — on the invasion, Lieutenant Colonel Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Ethan Allen Hitchcock was to inspect his abandoned castle and remark in his journal on the luxurious hangings and fine art it was packed with, and no sign of cloth or furniture or picture that had been made in Mexico. He had the national genius for oratory and manifesto, and a genius of his own for courage, cowardice, inspiration, and magnificent graft. He had massacred hundreds of Texans at Goliad, the Alamo, and elsewhere. He had been well licked by them at San Jacinto and, captured, had conceded their independence. Since then he had procured further revolutions at home, had lost a leg defending his country against a French invasion, had established a new dictatorship, and had been overthrown by the uprising that put Herrera in power. His impeachment for  p69 treason and his banishment had followed. Now he was in Havana with a beautiful young wife, intriguing on a scale not to be matched again, even in Mexico, before the arrival there of Leon Trotsky. Nothing could be of greater interest to Polk than Santa Anna's relations with the Paredes government, which seemed ambiguous.

On behalf of this cosmic scoundrel, Colonel Atocha proceeded to explain Mexican politics to Mr. Polk. Above all things, it appeared, Santa Anna desired tranquillity for Mexico, and he held that peace with the United States was a necessary condition. Furthermore, he recognized the logic of geography and so would concede that Texas extended westward to the Rio Grande — thus handing half of New Mexico to Mr. Polk — and the "Colorado of the West down through the bay of San Francisco could be the Mexican line on the North."​1 Let us frankly face the fact, however, that this cession would necessitate a certain expense: thirty million dollars would probably be required. Any Mexican government that got hold of thirty millions could firmly establish itself. But Atocha made clear that the patriotic Mexicans would not consent to any government's selling them out; the cession must appear to be forced. He would suggest that Washington take stronger measures. Taylor's army should invade Mexico (Polk did not tell him it had been ordered to), the fleet should concentrate off Vera Cruz, and Minister Slidell, then waiting at Jalapa (Santa Anna's home town) for word from Paredes, would go on board a warship and peremptorily demand payment of the American claims. Such action would convince both the clergy, whose interests would be imperiled, and the common people, who needed the discipline of a scare, that the United States was in earnest. Santa Anna would return to power in April or May and, if given such strong measures for a leverage, would conclude the treaty that was as close to his heart as to Polk's. He and Paredes, by the way, could facilitate the business if they had some cash in hand — say half a million dollars. . . . Before leaving, Colonel Atocha put out another teaser: the loyalty of two of the northern provinces, Nuevo León and Tamaulipas, was uncertain and Polk could annex them easily.

Splendid! and an excellent simplification of a tiresome problem. Polk took Atocha to be thoroughly unreliable but nevertheless laid his suggestions before the Cabinet in good faith, got the Cabinet's approval, and from then on believed that he could buy a peace. He proposed to instruct Slidell exactly as Atocha had suggested, but omitted clapping him on the warship when the actual instructions were prepared. Thereafter no matter how many armies he raised, no matter what appropriations he asked of Congress to support them, he kept in mind the chance that he could fight  p70 the war with bribes. . . . With the result that his hope of waging a bloodless war, already sufficiently dangerous to the success of the war, intensified. Neither he nor his Cabinet seems to have appreciated that Santa Anna's proposal was one of the most outrageous in the history of nations. Worse, they were unaware that they were being used as aides to gang politics in Mexico — in plain American, that they were being played for suckers to assist in the overthrow of Paredes. What the Americans of '46 thought of the Mexicans shows quite clearly — and the decay of American statesmanship.

* * *

Jim Clyman watched the California earth swell like a sponge in the spring rains and then burst open with beets, cabbages, radishes, turnips — the peaches beginning to bud, the willows reddening along the creeks, "the native grasses and wild oats ancle high." On February 18 he decided that the rainy season was over. The lower slopes began to dry out and one could find a bottom beneath the valley mud. He heard talk of a party getting ready to go to Oregon, whence he had come, and another one forming for the States. Both journeys must be made over "long, tiresome and somewhat dangerous routs." But Jim had been in California for quite a spell and the spring fret came over him. Might be a good notion to move on somewheres else.

As Clyman's record of it shows, the winter had been near its end when Brevet Captain Frémont asked permission of the authorities to spend it in the San Joaquin Valley. No matter. He settled down to spend the winter on the deserted Laguna Seca rancho near San Jose, two mountain ranges, two valleys, and a good many miles west of the San Joaquin. Still, the bulk of his party, whom he had sent round the mountains (and whom he told the authorities he had punctiliously left at the frontier), were now tramping down the San Joaquin Valley — trying to find him. They joined him near San Jose at last, on February 15. Sixty extremely tough foreigners commanded by a foreign army officer were now where they had no permission to be, where they had promised not to be, and where they had no instructions from their government to be.

Frémont speaks favorably of the spring weather at San Jose, and his command had a good time. Their camp attracted all resident and transient Americans, who talked industriously about this province, its inhabitants, and the rumors of war and revolution. The amiable Californians visited too, pleased by these strange, hairy americanos who were such  p71 miraculous marksmen. They had some prodigies of their own, and were glad to exhibit feats of horsemanship which were amazing even to men who knew the Ute and the Comanche. With ropes also the Californians were unsurpassed. Moreover they had the strangest native cookery, hot with chili but very grateful after the rations of an exploring trip. Amiable, sunny, slothful, in the opinion of the Americans a lot of stinking greasers, something of a sideshow or even a zoo. But their good nature was attractive, so were their women, and the native wines were bland.

The Californians were of two factions, a revolution having occurred just a few months before. (California revolution: by proclamation. No unthrifty waste of gunpowder, no indecorous blood-letting, just some heroic marching and a fierce barrage of rhetoric. But it had had the assistance of some Americans on the make. And it was the sort of thing Larkin had been instructed to facilitate.) Excuse the authorities, particularly Don Pio Pico, the nativist revolutionary governor, if they anticipated that Frémont's force, whose presence here violated a formal agreement, might try to make headway by stirring up the outs. Frémont had already shot up some Indians, and no Indians cared in the least what white men they murdered in satisfaction of other white men's deeds. And the authorities were under notice from Mexico City that trouble with the United States was brewing and all foreigners were to be carefully watched. But as yet the governor merely cautioned Don José Castro, the comandante, not to go to sleep.

Frémont was outfitting his party — with, among other things, fresh horses. One of the principal personages of the Santa Clara Valley, Don Sebastian Peralta, believed that he saw some horses from his own great herd at the American camp, and they had certainly not been purchased. He made claim for them and was told to go to hell. He went instead to the alcalde of San Jose and filed a complaint. On February 20 the court summoned Frémont to answer it.

Why, good God! A greaser presume to hold John Charles Frémont to account? (It was the more galling in that Sutter had just written Frémont asserting that some of the horses which Frémont's men had stolen from the Indians had been, perhaps previously, stolen from New Helvetia.) Frémont, a literary man, sat down to express himself. Don Sebastian, he told the alcalde, was lucky not to have been horsewhipped out of camp. The captain of topographical engineers would hereafter not even write a letter, and "you will readily understand that my duties will not permit me to appear before the magistrates of your towns on the complaint of every straggling vagabond who may chance to visit my camp." As for the  p72 alcalde's threat to forward the complaint to the governor if Frémont did not answer it, why, Childe Harold's cloak thrown over one shoulder, let the alcalde make sure, when he should forward it, to "enclose to his Excellency a copy of this note."

A touch of paranoia? Hardly. Just a man great with destiny and labor coming on. Frémont's dignity was always on a hair trigger (he was a South Carolinian) and even an obscure official of a declining power in a far province could discharge it. And he had not had an audience for a long time. His literary batteries were overloaded.

The alcalde sent the complaint on to the governor, obediently forwarding a copy of Frémont's letter with it. And on February 22 (the same day when, at last, Lieutenant Gillespie sailed from Mazatlán for Honolulu) Frémont got his expedition moving. His instructions from Washington were to explore the way to Oregon through the Cascades. (Others with a better sense of practical needs would presently begin doing just that.) And he had suggested to the California authorities that he might want to survey a road out of the country southeastward, by way of the Gila. He neither obeyed his orders nor followed his own suggestion. Instead, without permission or purpose, he moved west across the San Cruz Mountains to the coast and then south in the direction of Monterey.

No reason. But he believed in his star. There was no way of knowing what had been happening in the States — the present status of the contention with Mexico or the contention with Great Britain. But the most recent news in California, Consul Larkin's a month ago, showed both contentions accelerating, and — what is much more important — Frémont had been talking with the resident Americans. The golden shore was, even to a calm eye, a province drifting in anarchy, the Mexican hold on it slackening, the natives divided by factions, wild rumors of European grabs widely believed, and some vigorous, not to say violent, Americans, some of whom had been trying for years to seize it for the flag, worried because more had not happened and eager to help out if anything should start to happen. Frémont's hour might well be on the march; if only he stayed here he might soon be able to do a great deed. The stage was ready, the hero was at hand, and it might turn out to be a very great deed.

* * *

About fifty miles north of Quincy, Illinois, a point of land thrusts out into the Mississippi. It looks across the cocoa-colored water to Lee County, Iowa, twelve miles above Keokuk. It is about a hundred miles  p73 west northwest of Springfield on the Sangamon, where Jim Clyman had run his traverses, where in this winter month a friend of Clyman's, James Frazier Reed, was settling his affairs before moving west, and where an army messmate of both, A. Lincoln, was practising law and moving his pieces toward the Whig nomination for the House of Representatives. On this peninsula, marshy at the riverside but rising to high bluffs with prairie land beyond them, there had been built in 1839 the city of the Lord God Jehovah, King of Kings. It was said called Nauvoo and its name, we are instructed, meant "Beautiful Place." Now in February, 1846, it was fallen — that great city.

Acres of ice floated in the river and a wind out of the north tossed the makeshift ferries about, that first day, February 4. The ferries were jammed with men, women, children, horses, oxen, cows, swine, chickens, feather beds, Boston rockers, a miscellany of families and goods hastily brought together in the fear of death. The boats dumped them on the Iowa shore and turned back for other, identical freights — American refugees fleeing a city under threat from an enemy. They landed, hitched up such equipage as they had, and moved out on the frozen prairie. Nine miles inland they reached a timbered stretch, on Sugar Creek, and here they pitched a camp. The timber made a windbreak; they chinked it with such wagons and carts as they had been able to cross; some tents went up; those who had neither wagon nor tent hurried to raise huts of bed quilts, logs, bark, or brush. Men felled trees to make great fires, the logs sizzling as the hard snow crust melted. Winter night came up beyond the grove. Supper was whatever you had brought with you, cooked in pans held out to the fires.

Afterward, they sang hymns, prayed, and listened to instruction from the elders. They stayed by the fires while they could, then huddled under stiff blankets in the tents or on the snow. Many women, most of the children, were sick — undermined by months of terrorism, by farewells and the bitter crossing, by the unknown. There was need to bring more than one screaming child out from the blankets, to warm him and show him familiar faces at the fires which the men kept going all night. There was more urgent need for the fires: that night on Sugar Creek nine babies were born, their squalling a muted note against the winter wind.

The ferries ran all day when weather permitted. Gales tossed them about, terrified oxen kicked holes in them, unskillful piloting swamped them. Hosea Stout, crossing his family, saw a boat go under, felt that the Destroyer brooded over the land, and "remembered the revelation which Said the Lord had cursed the Watters in the Last Days and Said in my  p74 heart it was verily true." Then on February 13 the river froze clear to Iowa and families could begin crossing on the ice. Some eight hundred such families were on Sugar Creek when Brigham Young, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, crossed on February 15. Five years before, the word of the Lord to the prophet Joseph had told Israel to build a city here and name it Zarahemla, in commemoration of the great city which Israel's precursors, the Nephites, fresh from Jerusalem, had built in Central America ages ago. Trouble and strife had kept Israel from obeying the commandment, however, and this was just a camp on a frozen creek, the first station on a journey west. They did what they could, plastered the bark huts with mud, thickened the brush walls, made some ineffective attempts at sanitation. The temperature fell to twenty below, moderated long enough for great snows to bury the huts, went down again. Lean‑tos and cabins went up, some shelter could be had for the dying, and the camp grew along the creek as people kept coming from Nauvoo. Lee County was settled, if only thinly, and many brethren went out to look for work, splitting rails or chopping firewood mostly, to be paid in grain. However destitute, these were Israel's richest and they did not too greatly suffer for food, though sometimes many fed on no more than a gruel of corn meal, sometimes there was envy when a brother whose heart had hardened tapped a crate of hams and bacon for his private use, sometimes a newborn child must turn crying from a breast gone dry.

Newcomers kept arriving. The Twelve met in council, the bishops anointed the sick and made assignments for the common labor, by night there were prayer meetings and hymn festivals. By night also there were dances to the music of Captain Pitts's brass band, which had been converted as a group in England to praise Israel's God. Blacksmith shops were set up; the wagons and the stock were being readied for the journey. In Brother Markham's buggy, an old‑fashioned foot warmer under her blankets, Eliza Snow, secretly a widow of the martyred prophet Joseph and soon to be a wife of the prophet Brigham, wrote her poetry.

They renamed Sugar Creek the Brook Kedron. Hosea Stout gathered the Temple guards into a new organization and cleared a parade ground for them in the snow. As colonel of this regiment he raised a white flag above his tent. "But it refused to waive in the air notwithstanding there was a light breeze, which seemed to say that it would not proclaim peace in the United States when there was nought but oppression and tyranny towards the people of God by rulers of this government and the Saints fleeing from her borders to the wilderness for safety and refuge from her iron yoke."

 p75  In the East, Elder Priddy Meeks learned that Exodus had begun, and came hurrying home to Nauvoo. He had to pass through Carthage, the seething stronghold of the anti-Mormons. Men shouting obscene oaths surrounded him, took his horse, swore to carve his heart out, and on no charge flung him into Carthage jail. It was a small jail: he had to look at a dark stain on the floor, the unavenged blood of the prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum. A sheriff sympathized with him, procured a doubtful bond, and got him out of town on a borrowed horse. At Nauvoo Brother McCleary had been building a wagon for him on shares, but Brother Meeks now had to trade his interest in it for a barrel of flour. He still had a small, one‑horse wagon in good shape; he swapped it for a larger one in execrable shape. To this he hitched a pair of "three‑year-old, unbroke bullocks" and was able to borrow a yoke of oxen to drive ahead of them till they were gentled.

Elder Meeks was a man of property. He owned an interest in Brother McCleary's wagon shop, which he bade McCleary sell to anyone who would help the less fortunate cross the river. He owned the horse which had been stolen from him at Carthage; he assigned it to Lawyer Edmunds, who was defending him. He owned a small flock of sheep; there was no time to sell them and no one to buy them, so he just let them stray. He owned a house and lot; houses and lots in Nauvoo were selling for whatever a buyer cared to offer and no one was interested in his. He left it there, with furniture and books which any anti-Mormon in a thrifty mood could cart away. His disintegrating wagon packed with as much as it could carry, he and his family crossed the river. He thought that twenty dollars would repair it enough to travel to the Missouri, if not the Rocky Mountains, whither, he knew vaguely, Israel was to travel. They were safe on the Iowa shore — safe at least from mobbers. He did not know what might lie ahead, except that the Lord had said to Joseph the Seer, "Thou mayest go up also unto the goodly land, to possess thine inheritance." Maybe he remembered the goodly land that had been Israel's inheritance in Missouri and now Illinois. But, turning his back on the river, Elder Meeks laid the gad to his unbroken bullocks. They moved off toward Sugar Creek, the rachitic wagon groaning. The road sloped upward and they came to a small hill. He looked back to the ferry landing, across the water, to the roofs of Nauvoo, to the edifice that dominated the city, the temple reared to the Lord God Jehovah.

And send ye swift messengers [the Lord had commanded Joseph], yea, chosen messengers, and say unto them: Come ye, with all your gold,  p76 and your silver, and your precious stones, and with all your antiquities; and with all who have knowledge of antiquities, that will come, may come, and bring the box tree, and the fir tree, and the pine tree, together with all the precious trees of the earth;

And with iron, with copper, and with brass, and with zinc, and with all your precious things of the earth, and build a house to my name, for the Most High to dwell therein.

Israel had begun a house for the Most High and had gone on building and furnishing it with antiquities after the murder of the prophet, during the tumult of the Burnings, and up to now. It was still unfinished but for some months it had been acceptable unto the Lord and the priesthood had been conferring the endowments in it — to Elder Meeks and as many more as there was time for. So he looked back at God's house. His marriage ceremony had been repeated there in the new and everlasting covenant, and there he had been baptized many times, as proxy for ancestors who had lived during the darker centuries when the priesthood was withdrawn from the earth. The tabernacle of the mysteries, built to His holy name on the high hill, Israel's morning star and a beacon to the peoples of the earth. God had promised that it would endure, but Israel had learned in suffering that His ways were mysterious altogether, and Elder Meeks's heart darkened. He looked once more at his home and the altar of his pieties, then went on westward, toward Sugar Creek.

* * *

So came to climax in civil war and the flight of American citizens as other refugees have fled Attila or Hitler — so came to climax thirteen years of contention between the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints and their neighbors on the middle border. The climax had been preceded by two years of terrorism, arson, and gang warfare. It cannot be justified or palliated. But it has to be explained.

In a mob uprising, the citizens of Hancock County, Illinois, had murdered Joseph Smith, Jun., and his brother Hyrum, in Carthage jail, on June 27, 1844, at "about five o'clock, P.M." That was supposed to settle mistrust forevermore but it settled nothing. When the lynchers killed that poor crazed man they had murdered a prophet but had not destroyed a church.​2 Instead they had halted its certain break‑up from within and given it immortality with that surest of fertilizers, the blood of the martyrs. For a while chaos did indeed seem likely to destroy it, as various pretenders reached for Elijah's mantle. Sidney Rigdon told the terrified  p77 Saints of a vision that made him guardian of the Church; a small fragment accepted it as from God and followed him counter-clockwise to Pennsylvania. James Jesse Strang produced a letter from Joseph (not in the Seer's handwriting) and a signed revelation from God, very much like Joseph's, appointing him to rule over Israel. This was a much more serious heresy, which reached its height during the spring and summer of '46 while Israel was actually on the march, and for a while seemed likely to be victorious. But, though it captured many of the Eastern stakes of Zion, it lost the all‑important battle for the missions in England. So it waned and was soon a mere parody of Mormonism with Strang the anointed King of Beaver Island, practising polygamy, announcing the wildest revelations, and making the enemies who finally murdered him in what was, for Mormon martyrdoms, privacy. The nuclei of at least three more schismatic sects formed at Nauvoo between the Martyrdom and the Exodus; still another small one split off as the Saints crossed Iowa; all told these half-dozen, dividing by mitosis, were to form over twenty minute churches, each one the true apostolic succession from the martyr.

They did not matter in the least. While Sidney Rigdon wailed his vision from the back of a wagon in the grove at Nauvoo, a master was listening to him. After a little work behind the scenes, Brigham Young called the Saints together. And the Saints beheld a transfiguration. That pudgy body suddenly became the tall, handsome, commanding body of the martyred prophet; from Brigham's throat came the very voice of Joseph. While Brigham was telling them that the Twelve Apostles, of whom he was the head, would rule over Israel, the Saints believed that a miracle had brought Joseph back from the grave. In miracle they found the courage that united them again, but they had never been farther from the truth. This was a much greater man than Joseph. Instead of a man drunk on deity whose mind swooned on apocalyptic splendors but who could produce no effective leadership, no effective government, no effective social organization, there had come to lead the Church out of the land of Egypt one of the foremost intelligences of the time, the first American who learned how to colonize the desert.

Young had the help of a few first-rate men: George Q. Cannon, Willard Richards, Charles Coulson Rich, Orson and Parley Pratt. He had the help, possibly more valuable, of such more rugged, more tireless, if less intelligent men as Orson Hyde, Heber Kimball, Jedediah Grant, Lorenzo Snow, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, various other dedicated souls. But their sum was small. It was Young who saved the Saints. Without him Mormonism would have become exactly what its heresies  p78 became, a series of dividing sects dwindling to handfuls of gaffers remembering Joseph in their sorrow and waiting for the sky to open and show him come again.

He had to unify Israel, give it courage and hope. He had to defend it against such heresiarchs as Strang. How he achieved these ends is not our present concern but how he saved his people from Illinois and Missouri. The society surrounding the Mormons was anarchy. No court had authority, no peace officer was obeyed, sheriffs were mobbers or Mormons and acted according to their affiliation, the militia was only the mob given leaders. In the fall of 1844, four months after the death of Smith, it was possible for an invitation to circulate through the surrounding counties, summoning fanciers to a wolf hunt. Wolf hunt meant burning the Mormons' houses, running off their stock, and killing a good many of them. The formal hunt did not come that year or the next, but informal terrorism continued. The Saints rode and raided and stoned and shot in turn. The Gentiles (the word means anyone not a Mormon) plundered still more and grew more scared of reprisals, circulated and believed rumors that the Mormons intended to massacre them, called on the state and national governments to subdue them. The demand was, as Governor Thomas Ford says, a demand for a military dictatorship in Illinois. The Mormon counter-demand for the same dictatorship as a protection seems more reasonable.

The Illini were asking the extermination of the Mormons and beginning to achieve it piecemeal. By '45 they had become more realistic and recurred to the earlier compromise of the Missourians, asking only the expulsion of the Mormons. At first Young had stood on the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but he recognized the inevitable, accepted it, and began to prepare his church to move west. Throughout '45 Nauvoo and the lesser stakes of Zion were a workshop making ready the emigration of a people — some fifteen or twenty thousand. But you do not loose such emotions as the Illini had been feeling for nearly two years without paying for them. The Mormons were leaving, were they? — then whoop it up. There was a chance to pay off old scores, to avenge floggings and knivings and murders, to have some fun; to make a profit. To make a profit, most of all. The real and personal property of the Saints now came into a buyers' market, a market systematically made more favorable for buyers.

So the "Burnings" began. System was introduced into an activity that had been haphazard and sporadic. The mobbers "worked quietly and methodically. They would call upon a farmer, state the object of their visit  p79 and would then assist the family in removing their household effects to a safe distance. They would then set the torch to the house and, watching until it burned, they would leave behind them a bed of glowing embers, a jag of furniture, and a weeping family with broken hearts. It was then easy to convince the family that it was time for them to leave Illinois." Such mobbers were well-behaved, if perhaps not quite so courteous as the United States Army moving Cherokees off their lands to accommodate the Georgians. Sometimes the decorous ones encountered opposition, however, and there were others who enjoyed being tough.

If here and there a voice was raised against them and if a genuine outrage was expressed in the press at a safe distance, nothing was done locally to stop them except what the Mormons could do in self-defense. So mob rule, terrorism, expropriation, and occasional murder went on in the soundly American state of Illinois. And precisely the same thing had happened to the Saints twice before in Missouri. They had been driven out of Jackson County, into less settled lands, and in 1838 they had been driven out of those lands with greater violence and bloodshed than they were experiencing now in Illinois. Why?

* * *

The answer is not single but multiple, and begins with the cliché which the Mormons have applied to themselves for a hundred and ten years, "We are a peculiar people." Most of that peculiarity was stamped on them by the aberrations of Joseph Smith. At all times the generality of Saints have been sincere, kindly, God‑fearing, hard-working people. But from the beginning they have had the complete smugness of a people on whom a monopoly of truth and virtue was conferred by Almighty God. And in their earlier decades that monopoly was further certified by God's assurance, to a people who would not dream of questioning the least, literal syllable of it, that they would dominate the whole world almost at once. That they would, by divine violence chiefly but not without the co‑operation of human violence, triumph over the Gentiles and possess their "inheritance," in plainer words, their property. This highly inflammable assurance permeated a society which, at the base and in detail, was incompatible with the society it tried to live in. Twice in Missouri and once in Illinois there came into a frontier community a co‑operating group who believed that Judgment Day was close at hand, that it would initiate their domination of the whole earth, that their actions were in obedience to God's commands, that their neighbors were without God and so against God.

 p80  Various payments were being collected on one of history's due bills. American evangelism, from the Great Awakening on, had ended by igniting the vast camp meetings at the turn of the nineteenth century, which burned eastward from Kentucky. From the soil thus burned over had sprung both the thousands of believers who could accept a prophet and the psychotic boy who took his puberty walking in the woods and there talked with God, various patriarchs, journals, and demons. The cheap story of the golden plates and the colonization of the American continent by emigrants from Jerusalem, the mumbo-jumbo of illiterate, semi-Biblical, degraded Masonic rituals, the apocalyptic nonsense of the Mormon metaphysics — such things were in themselves enough to cause trouble on a frontier enthusiastically Methodist and Presbyterian. Communities much less ready to settle a contention by violence than the still early stages of this frontier culture could easily be touched off by the presence of a loud and numerous sect which held that it was in communication with God and that God promised it early, complete, and all too literal triumph. In addition, almost from its earliest year, Mormonism had taught and practised the doctrine of polygamy, if secretly.​3 The sexual mores of the frontier were exceeding free but, as in all the rest of America, the monogamous family was at the core of its institutions. In Putney, Vermont, a much less turbulent society than the Mormons found in Missouri and Illinois, the mere rumor that John Humphrey Noyes's handful of perfectionists were talking beyond monogamy sufficed to expel them to the York State forest. On the frontier polygamy was dynamite with the fuse burning.

There was an even more power­ful explosive in the economic system which the Church was developing. For two things the Mormons of today can be profoundly grateful, that though their forefathers did fall among Missourians and Illini they did not come in conflict with the Texans, and that Brigham Young, who could make the system work, did not rise to power in time to direct it in a settled community. Either event would have insured the extermination they escaped.

Mormonism was a great catch basin of evangelical doctrine. Everything ever preached by any Protestant heresy in America, always excepting celibacy, was at one time or another preached if not adopted in Mormonry. Smith's vertiginous mind wove the total into a crazy quilt of dogma. But also that mind worked on other flotsam that drifted within its reach, including the strivings of the little associations. If the Beehive House,​* Brigham Young's wifery in Salt Lake City, was to see experiments  p81 in "rational dress" and calisthenics, that strain entered Mormonry in its earliest years, and came from the reformers whom Henry Thoreau repudiated. If the streets of Utah towns are true with the compact and so wide that Young seems to have foreseen the automobile, such city-planning floated through the Mormon daydreams long before Nauvoo, and got into them from Owen's New Harmony and other attempts of nature to anticipate Lewis Mumford and the General Motors Futurama. On February 27, 1833, the Lord spoke unto Joseph at Kirtland, Ohio, announcing the revelation still known as the Word of Wisdom, which commands the Saints to abstain from wine and hard liquor, from tobacco (though Young eventually ruled that snuff and chewing tobacco were exempt from the prohibition), from tea, coffee, and hot drinks generally, and in the summertime from animal food. And God was quoting Sylvester Graham, who was reverenced at Brook Farm, and a medley of other American reformers.

In this wise there came into Mormonism — directly from the Campbellites, the Shakers, the Rappites, New Harmony, and other sects and communities, indirectly from several decades of American thought at large — a stream of associative communism. In its earliest hours the Church instituted the United Order, a practical working communism (theocratic model) which was to hold the property and the labor of the Saints in common. Like the Shakers, like Zoar, Oneida, and others. It failed at once — because it was wholly unadaptable to the place and time and people, and for the further reason that Brigham Young had not come to take charge of it. Nevertheless by commandment of God it remained Israel's goal. Theoretically, though the practice was suspended, every Saint lived (and still lives) in the United Order, his labor and property at the disposition of the Trustee, and some day the Order will spread across the world. And though it failed in Missouri it accelerated the developing control of a united people by an oligarchy. Under the priesthood the Church acted far more like a co‑operating unit than anything the middle border had ever seen. As Gentile opposition sharpened, co‑operation increased.

So that in Missouri and Illinois alike, a sizable and growing body of people who obeyed the priesthood and were building up the kingdom in a highly literal way came into conflict with as vigorous and jealous a set of individualists as have ever lived anywhere. Furthermore, the Mormons had the edge. They could strongly influence and frequently control trade, real estate, and finance — in all of which their reputation was already bad. The economic power of masses arbitrarily controlled — a foreshadowing of Young's eventual autarky — was what first turned the Missourians  p82 against the Saints. The emotions of an individualist who has been bludgeoned by a monopoly are not soothed, moreover, when the monopolist explains that God Himself has commanded the assault. In Mormon eyes sharp business practices were as logical a part of the Kingdom being built up against the Terrible Day to come as fasting and prayer. No wonder that their opponents came to make no distinctions among real-estate speculation, the keys of prophecy, co‑operative landholding, and the holy languages of Heaven.

We may also remember the motto of Captain Simon Suggs of the Tallapoosy Vollantares: "It is good to be shifty in a new country." A fixed part of the frontier experience was the inevitable conflict between the "butcher-knife boys" and the elements of respectability, the pitched battle between the lawless of the frontier and the frontier as a developing social stability. It seems certain that, in Missouri and Illinois both, the first violence between Mormons and Gentiles broke out among the butcher-knife or squatter elements, the unstabilized, the incompletely absorbed. It was in a sense close to the action of those Regulators and night riders who are usually to be found at this stage of the frontier, all the way from the Alleghenies to the Indian Territory. The squatter element was present alike among the Saints and their enemies. Unquestionably some portions of Israel spoiled the Gentiles by theft, burglary, and fraud, and found protection in the holy city. There was counterfeiting. There were various kinds of sucker-baiting to the greater glory of God. There were shady banking and shady credit manipulation. And wildcat real-estate operations reached as high as the Prophet Joseph himself, who inflated land prices so systematically that one must not too greatly sorrow over their collapse when Nauvoo fell.4

Finally, the greatest offense of the Mormon system was its political cohesion. The frontier took its democratic elections with the greatest possible seriousness — and Joseph Smith voted his church for whoever would pay most for the vote. The Church was a bloc that could turn the balance of power. It was the foolish use of this power in Illinois — quite as foolishly purchased by both Democrats and Whigs in turn — that finally exploded the dynamite which the other peculiarities of the Saints had heaped up. The one‑party system is what drove Mormonism out of Illinois. (The Saints repeated this mistake blatantly in Iowa, California, and Nevada. It was at least as power­ful an irritant as polygamy in the conflict between Utah and the national government down to statehood. It is the principal source of friction with Gentiles today.)

A note on Missouri, to introduce two persons of our drama. It was  p83 Lillburn W. Boggs who, as governor of the state, had loosed six thousand militia on the Mormons when, in 1838, Carroll and Davies Counties flared with precisely the same mob violence we have seen at Nauvoo. The Gentiles were howling that the Mormons must be expelled, the Mormons howling that the Lord had loosed His people to vengeance. There were night riding, burnings, floggings, lonely murder, and occasional attacks in force. Finally Governor Boggs directed the general of his militia, "The Mormons must be treated as enemies and must be exterminated or driven from the State if necessary for the public peace — their outrages are beyond description." That was the "Extermination Order" of October, '38, and the Mormons have not forgotten it to this day, quite rightly. So in 1842 O. P. Rockwell, one of the Sons of Dan (the "Destroying Angels" of ten‑cent fiction), crept up to a window in Boggs's house and shot him — not quite fatally. Under the charter granted Nauvoo by an Illinois legislature eager for Mormon votes neither Rockwell nor the prophet who had inspired the assault could be held to answer for it — and that immunity helped to keep alive in Missouri the hatred that had been lighted by the guerrilla wars. . . . Boggs was a person moving west in '46, appropriately. He had moved from Kentucky to St. Louis. There he married a sister of the brothers Bent who maintained far up the Arkansas a trading post that was one of the most famous and influential institutions of the mountain trade. He moved again, to the far frontier of Missouri, and set up in business at Independence, outfitting Santa Fe traders and venturers to the mountains. At this far outpost town, which lived on the traffic of the wilderness, his wife died. He married Panthea, a granddaughter of Daniel Boone. She and three of her brothers (their father was also an outfitter at Independence) went with him when he pulled up stakes for California.

One of his militia commanders in 1838 was Alexander Doniphan. He was a famous jury lawyer, probably the best in all Missouri, and it followed naturally that he commanded six militia regiments. He was a mighty man — and a righteous one. So when General Lucas captured Joseph and other leaders of the Church and, in obedience to Boggs's Extermination Order, tried them by court-martial and ordered them to be shot for treason in the public square at Far West, Doniphan took a stand. Called upon to execute the command, he refused. "It is cold-blooded murder," he wrote his general. "I will not obey your order. My brigade shall march for Liberty tomorrow morning at 8 o'clock, and if you execute these men I will hold you responsible before an earthly tribunal, so help me God." His troops marched, the order was not executed, and the  p84 chastened general, after holding the condemned prisoners over the winter, finally arranged for them to escape.5

Even before that, Doniphan had tried to deal justly with the Mormons. When they got into trouble at their earliest Missouri settlement, in Jackson County, Doniphan, as a member of the Legislature, had put through the bill which set off two new counties, Davies and Caldwell, in the unoccupied part of the state and arranged for the Mormons to take one of them. He had also represented Joseph in various suits brought against him; during one of them it had been the prophet's whim to study law under him. . . . He was very much of Benton's type, a crammed, insatiable mind, a conspicuous integrity. This is the image of the leader in frontier democracy, the kind of man who was called an empire-builder before the phrase lost its meaning. He also was to go west in '46.

* * *

By revelation Jackson County, Missouri, from which the Saints were first expelled, was to be the eventual gathering place of the saved in the Last Days. They were commanded to build a city there, and a temple. Others have built the city and they had not even started the temple when they were driven out. (Israel cannot even buy from the tiny, obstinate schism that owns it, the site revealed for it by God Himself.)​a They went to Clay and Caldwell Counties and when they were driven thence, they went to Nauvoo. . . . So that when Joseph was killed in Carthage jail there had been eleven years of fluctuating strife between Mormons and Gentiles. It is a long time for violence to go hunting on both sides of a dogma. The glory of God, revenge, eternal right, economic monopoly, political necessity, mob panic and mob ecstasy — they make a strong brew. Murder in Carthage jail and the Burnings were the climax of a debauch.

But it must not be forgotten that, during the last two years of his life, Joseph's paranoia had increased. He had always been drunk on glory, now he was drunk on power. His fury fell alike on those who questioned him within the Church, the Missouri Pukes, and the Congress and President of the United States. In musical-comedy uniforms, he was lieutenant general of the Nauvoo Legion; its rituals were fantastic but its muskets were just as usable as any the Pukes had. He had announced himself as a candidate for President against Polk and Henry Clay — his platform was mostly apocalypse but included a plank for the seizure of the West — and several hundred missionaries were stumping the East to get him votes. He had dropped some of the secrecy that had hidden the  p85 doctrine of polygamy; he and many of his hierarchy were practising it with a widening range that could not be altogether covered by denials.

All these were blunders; the last was the worst blunder. There had always been dissent in Israel, backsliders, apostates, a sizable if futile bulk of opposition. Suddenly opposition to polygamy crystallized in a revolt led by men of courage and genuine intelligence. They struck hard, establishing in Nauvoo a newspaper which denounced Joseph. He struck back, and the newspaper printed one issue only. Joseph's marshal, assisted by Joseph's Legion, pied its type and pounded its press to pieces in the street. The rebels fled. The Illini, especially the politicians who had been sold out, needed just this to produce their own uprising. Illinois had had enough of the Mormons, the mob rose, and Joseph was killed.

Brigham Young inherited. After some effort to prevent the inevitable, he accepted it. Israel would leave Illinois — would go west. So while mob and Mormons took pot shots at one another and both sides spread rumors of massacre which might easily have come true, Brigham and his counselors met with a commission which Governor Ford named to procure peace. The commission required the Mormons to get out, in return for which it would secure their safety while making preparations to go. If they refused to go, the commission said, it seemed certain that they would be exterminated. The commission included Stephen A. Douglas, the Little Giant, and John J. Hardin, lately member of Congress from Illinois, now canvassing for the same seat in competition with Lincoln, eventually to die in command of the First Illinois Volunteers at Buena Vista. There were no better citizens; if their terms were harsh, they were also realistic. Mormonism could no longer exist in Illinois; if it had tried to, James K. Polk would have had a fair-sized civil war on his hands.

Through 1845, then, the Saints sent broadcast over the world a literature describing their oppression, and memorialized all governing and religious bodies, but also they prepared the Exodus. (Meanwhile, for the fulfillment of prophecy, they rushed the completion of the Temple. Workmen had to keep their rifles near at hand, lest the mob come. But God's pleasure was manifested: sometimes "a flame of fire was seen by many to rest down upon the Temple." By the end of January enough was finished so that the ordinances could begin — sealing in marriage for eternity and baptism for the dead.) They made thousands of wagons — collecting all the seasoned timber they could, hastily kiln-drying more, pickling still more in a half-effective brine. The forges beat out tons of tires and ironwork. Agents bought rifles, pistols, revolvers, shotguns, muskets, and all the supplies they had money for. The Eastern and European missions sent  p86 what cash they could raise to help out. The brethren built and assembled equipment. The sisters made clothes, tents, wagon covers; preserved fruit, corned beef, pickled pork, dried beef, parched corn, put out potatoes and pumpkins to dehydrate in the sun, even parched the crusts left over at mealtime. Everything they had that could not be used on the journey was offered for sale, and the Gentiles picked up excellent bargains in land, houses, furniture, farm implements, and stock. They kept the prices good by means of the Burnings. Guilt mingled with avarice, their consciences were uneasy, and rumors began to run again. Maybe the Mormons weren't going to leave after all, or maybe they intended to work a final bloody revenge before leaving. So, though the peace commission had guaranteed them security till spring, it seemed expedient to get them started earlier. There was some more musketry, an indictment charged Brigham and some of his Twelve with counterfeiting, various marshals and posses came into the city hunting arms and Apostles. It sufficed. On February 4 the first ferries pushed through floating ice and grounded on the Iowa shore.

God had anciently spoken unto Moses: "For Pharaoh will say of the children of Israel, they are entangled in the land, the wilderness hath shut them in."

* * *

When the first wagons started west from Sugar Creek (on March 1), Lorenzo Snow wrote that they "were moving to — we know not where." He was telling the truth — and he was high in the government of the Church. Israel had a marching song, "O Upper California, that's the land for me," but in the States Upper California meant anywhere south of Oregon and west of the divide. Word reached Sutter's that the Mormons might come to New Helvetia, even that Lansford Hastings was acting as their agent, and it scared the settlement badly. Some Saints believed that they would end in Texas, where in fact Lyman Wight's small schism did settle, and some of the Apostles had discussed going there. A more important idea was to settle on Vancouver Island. This seemed likely to be forever outside the jurisdiction of the United States, which throughout 1845 was considered to be leagued with Satan in hostility to the Church. (When Elder Little called on President Polk to ask for help he found that the idea of a Mormon colony at Vancouver Island was a power­ful leverage on the President's goodwill.) Still other destinations were rumored, from Mexico, where the ancient Church had had great cities, to the Sandwich Islands. Yet most Saints believed that Zion was to rise somewhere in the  p87 Rocky Mountains, and they were right. The Twelve knew as much as when the emigration started. Brigham Young could even specify the interior basin.

It was inevitable that the Mormons should go west. Israel's needle had pointed that way from the beginning. It had moved westward from Palmyra to Kirtland and on to Independence, though it had taken the back trail to Nauvoo. Doctrine held that the Indians, or Lamanites, were the decayed survivors of the earlier Church, and the Dispensation of the Fullness of Time, which Joseph Smith had instituted, was required to bring them back to grace. The first mission to Jackson County had gone there to convert the Lamanites. In Missouri the Saints were always in touch with Indians, mountain men, traders, all the traffic and impetus of the far frontier. At intervals, when Satan raged, Joseph dreamed of the Rocky Mountains. The dream flickered in his sermons, so that the Saints were habituated to it — though both the Garden of Eden and the gathering place of the Saints in the Last Days continued to be Missouri. Shortly before his death, he had ordered Brother James Emmett to go to the mountains and find a resting place for Israel, though Emmett did not begin his reconnoissance till after his martyrdom. Joseph had even started west himself, before he decided to surrender to his persecutors at Carthage, and in his panic vision the Church was to follow him. Yet this was as irresponsible as all Joseph's ideas during his last years. The only genuine action he ever took was to ask President John Tyler for authority to enlist a mere matter of "one hundred thousand armed volunteers" for the conquest of the West. Or the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, Lieutenant General Smith of the Nauvoo Legion, at the head of as many troops as Polk raised all told for the Mexican War, and eight or ten times as many as any officer commanded in it.

Brigham Young was a realist. Texas was out of the question; it was square in the path of empire, and if the Saints could not survive among Illini and Missourians, they had still less chance to survive among Texans. California was no better. The notion of settling at or near the mouth of the Colorado (we shall see Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Cooke suggesting it to the Mormon Battalion) was considered and rejected. Israel would not be a buffer state between the Americans and the Mexicans, though the idea of maintaining an outpost there seems to have developed very early. By 1846 it was clear that northern California was also a Gentile terminus; a large emigration was preparing for it and anti-Christ in person, ex‑Governor Boggs, was going to go there. The golden shore, as either an independent republic or a territory of the United States, was certain to fill up with Israel's enemies, and this fact was quite clear to Young before the migration started. The  p88 two hundred and thirty-eight Mormons who sailed with Sam Brannan in the Brooklyn on February 4, the day when the first ferries crossed to Iowa, expected that the main body of the Church would join them west of the Sierra, and many of the Battalion, who started west six months earlier, shared that belief. But even before the Brooklyn sailed, Young was thinking of its company as only an outpost — which, in the San Joaquin Valley, is what it became.

It may have been Stephen A. Douglas who initiated the idea of Vancouver Island. That was a politician's happy solution but Young appears not to have taken it seriously, except that another outpost there would be a good thing and it could be colonized with converts from the British Isles. (As late as November, '46, the Church was memorializing the British government for help in establishing such a colony. Nothing came of it.) Douglas shifted and recommended Oregon, which the Saints had considered much more seriously. But Oregon also was impossible — whether as the United States or as the Republic of the West which Daniel Webster and so many others envisioned. Young had rejected it before 1846. Oregon also was square in the path of empire, it had ten times as many Americans as California, five times as large an emigration was preparing to go there in '46, and it would certainly come under the flag.

Mormon legend has it that when, on July 24, 1847, Brigham Young, weak with mountain fever, came jolting in a white‑top over the last summit in the road down Emigration Canyon and gazed over the sagebrush flat toward the deep sea, he spoke with the power of revelation and said "This is the place." Brigham, however, held it irreligious to call upon the Lord until you had first exhausted your own resources. Long before that day he had determined on Great Salt Lake Valley. He had, in fact, decided on that general vicinity sometime in 1845.

Throughout 1845 the destination of the Saints was constantly discussed by the leaders who would have to manage the emigration, and they made the most minute study of the available literature. It is not clear that Frémont's second report was decisive. They used it with exceeding care to rough out an itinerary, but they could get little more from his account of the Great Salt Lake country than that the lake did not have the mysterious whirlpool which legend attributed to it, that its islands were barren, and that the canyons which ran down to it from the east were well timbered. It seems likely that Young knew more details about Zion by the end of 1845 than Frémont had observed there. Certainly he knew much more by the end of 1846.6

It is clear that Young had decided on the Great Basin, rather than  p89 Oregon or coastal California, by midsummer of 1845. It was an inevitable decision: there was, in fact, nowhere else to go. Israel could survive only if left to itself long enough for Young to organize and develop its institutions. That meant that it must find a place where the migrating Americans would not be tempted to settle. That, in turn, meant the Great Basin. But also, as Young seems to have understood quite clearly, Israel must be near enough the course of empire to sustain itself by trading with the migration. And that meant the northern portion of the Great Basin. It meant, in fact, one of no more than three places, Bear River Valley, Cache Valley, and Great Salt Lake Valley. All three places seem to have been in his mind in '45, and there are still references to Bear River Valley late in the autumn of '46, but the actual choice proved to be between the other two. Later we shall see the choice being made.

In March of 1846, then, Young and the Apostles knew that Zion was to rise somewhere in the Great Basin. They knew that certainly; they were less clear about the site of Zion and still less certain when they could get there. As late as January 1, 1847, at Winter Quarters, Hosea Stout, who was in the confidence of the Twelve, heard that a pioneer company was to push out from the Niobrara River to the headwaters of the Yellowstone to put in a crop. (Faulty information: crops could not be raised there.) Such a pioneer party, to go ahead of the Church proper and select Zion and put in crops, was discussed throughout 1845 at Nauvoo, and actual preparations for it were made, in the expectation that it could start late that summer. After the Saints began leaving Sugar Creek in March of '46, another call for such a party was made. (Actually the company under the unruly individualist Bishop George Miller did pull ahead of the main body with an intention of going all the way, as we shall see.) But neither Brigham nor his counselors could determine, at the beginning, whether any could cross to the mountains this year, or if any could, how many could be spared. It was the principal question to be answered while Israel toiled through the mud.7

* * *

"West Side of the Mississippi, Feb. 19th, 1846," Eliza Snow dated her poem, huddled with a foot warmer in Elder Markham's buggy. And the poetess wrote:

The Camp, the Camp — its numbers swell —

Shout! Shout! O Camp of Israel.

The King, the Lord of Hosts is near,

His armies guard our front and rear.

 p90  Chorus

Though we fly from vile aggression,

We'll maintain our pure profession,

Seek a peaceable possession

Far from Gentiles and oppression.

The ridgepole of Sister Green's tent broke under the weight of snow, and she and the children were half-buried. All their clothes got wet. All the clothes of all the children were wet all the time; fingers, toes, cheeks, were discolored with frostbite; children were lethargic, cried easily, played little in the wind, gave out at their chores. There was so little to eat! Sister Green was pregnant but the family could apportion her a daily ration of less than half as much bread and milk as she needed. There were, however, enough wild onions for them all, chipped from the frozen soil.

The Saints kept arriving from Nauvoo. Tents, wagons, huts, spread over the discolored snow. Great portions of the grove had been felled, Sugar Creek was overcrowded, some of the faint-hearted were trying to return to Nauvoo, and clearly it was time for the Mormons to go. Orson Pratt's thermometer did not fall below zero for several days. So Young organized his people as the Camp of Israel and, on the model of Joseph's nightmare expedition against the Missourians years ago, set "captains of tens" and "captains of fifties" over them. (The entire scheme of organization used here and revealed in January '47 as the Lord's plan for the journey had been worked out in Nauvoo in '45.) Elder Markham, who had succeeded in trading his buggy for a wagon, took a hundred pioneers to prepare the road. "Colonel" Hosea Stout commanded a guard of a hundred riflemen, and "Colonel" John Scott with two more fifties watched over the artillery, which was mostly homemade and had been hidden under lumber piles in Nauvoo. And on March 1, the first detachment started west, between two and three thousand of them, about five hundred wagons of all kinds, in all conditions of repair. The first day they made five miles. Day by day behind them other detachments left Sugar Creek and others arrived there from Nauvoo to follow after, till by late spring about fifteen thousand Saints were on the march.

They were a full two months ahead of the time when, as the mountain men and the Santa Fe traders knew, it was safe for caravans to cross the prairies. Apart from sudden whirlwinds of sleet out of the north the snows were over now, but the rains had come. Rain near every day for about eight weeks — a chill, monotonous downpour that soaked everything and brought out mildew in the center of packed crates. It saturated the  p91 prairies; after saturation, it turned them into a universal shallow lake. Through that slough the horses and oxen, gaunt after the winter, had to haul the unwieldy wagons, frequently with men and women helping at the wheels. The season was significantly known on the prairies as "between hay and grass." Prairie craft forbade you to travel before the grass came, but Israel had to travel and so the stock grew weak. A wagon would mire to the hubs or deeper. Then neighbors must help out, double or triple teaming, perhaps hitching on a couple of the family cows. If there was brush at hand, it could be cut and spread under the wheels. The wagons would be sucked out to a somewhat firmer stretch, the extra teams unyoked, the slow, sodden progress resumed. Babies howled under drenched blankets. Everyone who could walk slithered through the mud, "shoe-mouth deep," boot‑top deep sometimes, clinging in five-pound masses to each foot.

Six miles was a big day, one mile not an uncommon one. Prairie creeks that would be five feet wide in July were now five rods wide, bottomless, swift, and impassable. Reaching one, a "fifty" — or a whole caravan — would have to camp beside it till it should subside or a ford be found, which might be two weeks. If there were no timber, then there might be no fires for two weeks, no cooked food, no dry clothes or bedding except as the sun might come out for an hour or two. No brush, either, to spread a bed on or to build a hut for an obstetrical ward. The historian Tullidge has a tableau: blankets stretched to poles and roofed over with bark, a woman in labor within, and intent sisters holding tin pans to catch the rain that leaked through the bark.

Supplies were scanty, though this first group was better off than any that followed it. They were feeding the stock on cottonwood bark, when they could get it, and they themselves were living on what they had amassed in Nauvoo. Hunters ranged the prairies for deer, turkeys, grouse, but the season was too early. Terror, winter, rain, and malnutrition now assessed their tax and the Saints sickened. Frostbitten feet could become gangrenous, knees and shoulders stiffened with rheumatism, last autumn's agues were renewed. William Clayton's legs pained him so that he could hardly walk; he tried to restore their function by jumping and wrestling but made himself sicker and had to go to bed. Heber C. Kimball, one of the Apostles, caught a fever and took to the swaying wagon, where a sick wife and two sick children, one of them only a few days old, were alternately shaking and burning; an older child could work a little but was too weak to carry a two‑quart pail.

Sister Ann Richards' husband, who had already served five missions in the United States, was called to a mission in England. He had to leave  p92 his family a few miles from Sugar Creek and go "without purse or scrip" to bear his testimony overseas. This was Franklin D. Richards, a nephew of Apostle Willard Richards who had been with the prophet Joseph when he was killed in Carthage jail. A brother of Franklin's had been killed by the Missourians at the Haun's Mill massacre, and another one would die on the march of the Mormon Battalion. He had married Sister Ann four years before, had been sealed to her in the temple in the everlasting covenant, just this January, and a week later had taken Sister Elizabeth McFate as his second wife. Sister Ann had her two-year‑old daughter, Wealthy Lovisa, with her in the wagon — and Sister Ann was big with another child and her hour was near. There was no suitable food for her or Wealthy Lovisa. Many days they could not have a fire, either because night overtook them in the open prairie or because, if they got one started, the rain put it out. But sometimes they managed to keep one going and then Sister Ann could brew a pinch of tea from the pound which a neighbor had given her before she left Nauvoo. The Word of Wisdom forbade it but she could warm her body and cheer her mind with it, and "through sickness and great suffering [it] was about all the sustenance I had for some time."

Twenty days out from Sugar Creek her term was full. The wagons stopped and a midwife was summoned, a Gentile whom the Saints had heard about. The hag demanded a fee in advance; Sister Ann had no money; a woolen bedspread would do, and "I might as well take it, for you'll never live to need it." Little Isaac was born, and he died at once. The priesthood anointed the small body and buried it; the wagons got started again. Little Wealthy Lovisa had been sick when they left Sugar Creek, and week by week her strength failed. Presently she was altogether listless on a roll of blankets in the wagon, and could not be induced to eat. Once, however, they passed a prairie farm and Wealthy revived enough to ask for some potato soup. Her grandmother went to the house, but the farm wife had heard the stories. "I wouldn't sell or give one of your Mormons a potato to save your life," she said, and set the dog on the grandmother. Wealthy lived till they got to the Missouri River, and then died. Brigham told Sister Ann, "It shall be said of you that you have come up through much tribulation."

* * *

But the summer was past and September had come when Wealthy Richards died. Many other children and many men and women had  p93 died too. All this time Saints had been coming across the Mississippi and taking to the trail. And Israel's outlook was not hopeful.

The emigration had begun too soon, was insufficiently prepared and inadequately financed. A family had what equipment it could get, and no matter how much the Saints might help one another, there were the most serious inequalities. The wealthiest among them might have three or four wagons and a sizable herd of cattle. Even such as these suffered severely, and Apostles Pratt, Kimball, and Richards had to see their families weakening with a never-satiated hunger. But also a family might have only one wagon and no cattle, or merely a light cart, perhaps merely a buggy. Many a Saint trundled his entire possessions westward in a wheelbarrow — a sack of meal or flour, a roll of blankets, a change of clothing for the children.

Moreover, this was the migration not of certain individuals coming together in a temporary organization while they crossed the plains but of an entire people. The Camp of Israel was the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter‑day Saints, past, present, and to come. The Mormons carried with them not only their goods but also their church and social institutions — the hierarchy, the various priesthoods, the rituals and schemes, the co‑operative associations, the United Order, the mission system. An Oregon train had no social fabric to preserve, and when it reached the Willamette its members had crossed the country once and for all. No other train had any relation to it; the country closed in behind with no marks except the litter of the nightly camp. But Israel had to maintain its nervous system and could support its venture in the West only by constant accessions. It had to be a continuing emigration.

So for the sake of many who could go no farther, of those still in Nauvoo, and of the as yet unconverted all over the world, facilities of some permanence had to be provided. The problem had to be solved at once; Brigham solved it. His little eyes lacked the gift Joseph's had, of piercing the heavens and beholding the glories there, but it is exceedingly unlikely that Joseph could ever have got his people beyond Sugar Creek.

At Richardson's Point, fifty-five miles from Nauvoo, they built a permanent camp, which would always have a garrison. Companies coming in from the east would find wood, supplies, blacksmithing tools, experienced help — and the priesthood making sure that they "accepted counsel," obeyed, kept discipline, and lived their religion. Another one was established farther on, at a crossing of the Chariton River, and here the first crops were sowed. The first companies planted crops, a permanent personnel cultivated them, later arrivals would harvest them. There were  p94 other farms on the way and other permanent camps on Locust Creek, at Garden Grove on Grand River, and lastly "Mount Pisgah," a hundred and forty miles east of Council Bluffs. At Winter Quarters on the west bank of the Missouri and near Council Bluffs on the east bank much more ambitious camps were built, permanent settlements really, with a vigorous trade, large herds of horses and cattle, and farms of several thousand acres worked by hundreds of the Saints. All these plantations except those on the Missouri made crops in '46. Even before Brigham led his people to the mountains in '47, they were making the land in part support them as they traveled.

The prairies dried out. Clothing and bedding were dry at last, but now there were other plagues. The prairie mosquitoes settled in solid layers on men and oxen. The prairie rattlesnakes terrified everyone and killed many cattle. If there was now purchase for the wheels there was not yet fodder for the oxen, which grew still weaker on a diet of buds and twigs. The hunters could not get game enough; they were hundreds of miles east of the buffalo that the other movers could count on. Each permanent camp was a hospital, its garrison composed of those who were too weak, too sick, or too poor to go farther.

But this was the Church of Christ. They were escaping from their oppressors, Moses had led them out of the land of Egypt, they were going to establish Zion and build up the Kingdom. Eliza Snow's heart was merry, and in Brother Markham's wagon she easily flowed into song.

And it matters not where or whither

You go, neither whom among,

Only so that you closely follow

Your leader, Brigham Young.

Captain Pitts's band was a great solace — and a help with the Gentiles. One day, after traveling eight miles, it split a hundred and thirty rails before dark and traded them to a farmer for corn, then gave a concert in the evening. Through the settlements it played wherever Gentiles would gather and for any fee, a pail of honey, eight bushels of corn, seven dollars in one place where the parsons opposed it, twenty-five dollars and meals for everyone at another place, and once for ten dollars and ten cents contributed to it by a village of awed, admiring Indians. Still more helpfully, it played for the Saints — Israel's hymns, the current balladry, quadrilles and minuets and hoedowns. For Israel danced every night. The wagons made their rough park, the fires blazed up and supper was prepared, then the band got out the instruments and by firelight and after  p95 prayer the pudgy, rubicund prophet clapped his hands and sashayed up to some favored sister, while Israel formed sets under the stars.

This was the English band, the largest one. Behind it smaller ones did the same service for other parts of Israel. (There were so many Saints and they were so far from the Indian country that there was no need to organize the trains tightly.) There were many fiddles too, and their music might rise above the wheels' shrieking on the march. There were glee clubs, quartettes, choirs. Parties freckle all the journals, at night when the wagons halt in the rain, in the huts of the permanent camps, and in "boweries" or arbors when there is a few days' pause. News came from the other divisions, from Nauvoo, from the European missions. The "teachers" called great groups together to study the everlasting mysteries, praise Joseph, and curse his murderers. The priesthood quorums met for their rituals. And the vigilant mothers in Israel extemporized their schoolrooms; many a Mormon child learned his alphabet to the turning wheels and practised it in a hornbook at night, scrawling the misspelled word ten times over before he was permitted to crawl into the blankets.

They were prodigious, the mothers in Israel. They trudged through mud or dust or, a sick child on their knees, drove teams when father had been drafted to build a bridge or cut grass. They sewed, knitted, patched, spliced, while the wagons bumped and swayed. They spun and wove, and even found time to make the dyes and color the homespun. They learned to let the wagon's jolting churn a pail of cream to butter. They learned to identify edible prairie roots and make them palatable. They learned to extemporize a household economy in wagons and to maintain family order on the march. And if by night father left them after a patriarchal prayer, to visit another wagon or go back ten miles on the trail to where another, younger wife prayerfully awaited him, why that also was their portion and they learned to live their religion.

And the brethren also were performing prodigies. Universal human cussedness, pricked by hunger and doubt, had Brigham and his lieutenants thundering at them a good part of the time. They would not accept counsel, they would fight for position and advantage, they kept tumbling by scores into the stupidest predicaments. But, spread out over Iowa, they were laboring strenuously if not concertedly for the Lord. They prepared the permanent farms and wagon shops, dug wells, got the crops planted. They found time to make nails, burn charcoal, shape oxbows, and manufacture harness and even wagons as they traveled. At farms and little settlements they would hire out for any job at any wage. Some Gentiles were friendly, some suspicious, some hostile. Some had to be overawed by  p96 a show of pistols; but the Lord moved others to pity and contributions. Sometimes the brethren held instruction for them, expounding the holy mysteries. . . . And always there were the endless harangues and reorganizing that Israel had found essential. A brother might prove false in that he outbid another brother for corn or refused the use of a team which a Seventy wanted to borrow. Then Brigham or some minor prophet opened the floodgates of exhortation. Much refreshed, this particular division of the Camp of Israel accepted counsel and got going again.

And Brigham and his staff were learning to manage an emigration while doing their other jobs. The journal of William Clayton, who was clerk of the Camp, shows the headquarters at work. An immense bookkeeping, a constant dispatch and arrival of couriers, an almost nightly convocation of the counselors, the prophet's fingers on the controls of an organization that stretched from the Missouri River all the way eastward across America and halfway across Europe. The largest mission, the one in the British Isles, was reorganized while the Camp crossed Iowa. Treaties and arrangements with local officials had to be made. Nearly half the Camp were sick; they must be ministered to somehow, medicine and care must be got for them, they must be buried when they died.​8 Supplies dwindled; they must be replaced somehow, bought, bartered for, worked for, begged, freighted endless miles going and coming. Weak, shoddy, and ill‑built equipment was giving out; it must be restored or replaced somehow, more wagons brought up, more stock, more tools, bedding, ammunition.

And Satan was hard at work. While Israel plodded westward the recreant William Smith was rousing the Gentile wolf pack and the Strang heresy was winning the Eastern stakes. Strang had cozened away important leaders and was filling the land with abuses, as a heresiarch's demonic energy carried him raging through the undefended sheepfolds. Even in the Camp itself there was apostasy. Just as February ended and the migration began Apostle John E. Page had to be disfellowshiped for obstructing counsel; a small group followed him to Strang's kingdom at Voree, Wisconsin. Halfway across Iowa, another apostate group split off and headed toward Texas, where another Apostle, Lyman Wight, had set up his community. If two Apostles, why not another one? Why not, indeed, any casual enthusiast who might tap the source of private revelation after a night of hunger and ecstasy, and convince others that his inspiration was superior to Brigham's? Why not a really formidable, perhaps fatal secession? There was much grumbling, quarreling, and despair, many were obstinate, many on the verge of open rebellion, many were terrified by the unknown ahead, many were too selfish to share their goods, many too wilful  p97 to accept counsel. Israel had not shaped into an obedient instrument, the Saints were not welded together.

All this tried Brigham's genius and dismayed his counselors. Moreover, the news from Nauvoo grew ominous: the mob was more demanding and seemed likely to close in for the kill. Also rumors about the Missourians to the southward grew urgent. They were said to be raising armies and posses, determined to seize this chance to wreak the extermination they had been refused eight years ago. There were repeated alarms; the guards were always turning up some fancied spy or outpost; there was always some new plot on foot. Young took the rumors so seriously that he ordered the Saints never to fire a gun except when hunting, never to flourish or even display a rifle, pistol, or sword in the presence of Gentiles but to keep them hidden in the wagons. They were to be kept charged while hidden, however, and Hosea Stout was ordered to drill his command in the old Danite tactics.

All this made a sufficient test of leadership, organization, and public control, not to mention prophecy. But there was a still greater anxiety, the finances. At the sacrifice of their property the Mormons had raised all the money they could. The Eastern and European stakes had sent all the money they could raise. Missionaries and special couriers went about the land gleaning their petty pence, stripping the faithful still further, calling on all Gentile agencies that could be moved to contribute. The sum was short of what Israel must have in order to reach the mountains. Brigham held fast to his intention of getting an advance party to Zion in this summer of '46. But it became increasingly clearer to him that he could not get the main body of the Church farther than the Missouri River this year. There was before his mind the possibility that he might not get them beyond it in '47 or even in '48. On reaching the Missouri they might truly find that the wilderness had shut them in.

Well, he would get them to the Missouri. Richardson's Point, the Chariton, Garden Grove, Mount Pisgah, and at last Council Bluffs.​9 The pioneer company reached the river on June 14, the last refugees from Nauvoo on November 27. Through eight months, continuously across more than four hundred miles, the Iowa prairies witnessed such a pageant as no one had seen since the Goths moved on Rome — and moved on it inward from the frontier, not outward toward it. Between fifteen and twenty thousand people uprooted from their land and seeking a new land. Thousands of wagons, tens of thousands of oxen, horses, mules, milch cattle, beef cattle, neat cattle, sheep, goats. Chickens, geese, turkeys, guinea fowl, ducks, pigeons, parrots, love birds, canaries. Seedlings with their roots bound in sacking, slips from the shrubbery back home, seeds for the harvest to  p98 come, the disassembled machinery of flourmills and sawmills, a college, the mysteries of Heaven, the keys to eternity, the Dispensation of the Fullness of Time. Through sleet and rain, through drouth and prairie summer, half-starved and half-sick, dispossessed, believing and faithful unto the last, Israel traveled the unknown, toward the land of Canaan, in God's faith and for His glory and under the shadow of His outstretched hand, to build Zion and inherit the earth.

Before they got to the Missouri a pattern began to shape out of the undetermined, the filings formed along the lines of force. On June 28, Clayton, who was traveling in the rear of the headquarters, noted in his journal that some United States Army officers had come up the trail from the east and gone on ahead to find Brigham at Mount Pisgah, eight miles farther on. They — or rather he, for there was only one, though he had three troopers with him — had roused terror and rebellion all along the emigration, for the Saints supposed that the army had been ordered to head them off, perhaps to massacre them. But the truth was far different. Mr. Polk's war had caught up with the Mormons and they were going to be solicited, ever so courteously, to take a patriotic part in it.


The Author's Notes:

 (p485)  1 This map-reading, from Polk's Diary for February 13, is substantially repeated on February 16 and exhibits Polk's — but by no means Atocha's — ignorance of the country he was trying to acquire. The Colorado, of course, flows west only through a part of Arizona; mainly it flows south. The description could be given meaning only by concluding that Atocha meant to offer Polk everything he wanted except the southern half of the present state of California.

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2 For a discussion of Joseph Smith's psychosis, see Bernard DeVoto, "The Centennial of Mormonism," in Forays and Rebuttals, 71 ff.

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3 Certainly from 1833.

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* The beehive, which is a device of Mormon iconography and appears on the state seal of Utah, was a Fourierist symbol.

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4 Speculation in real estate was a strong part of Mormonism from the very beginning. Under Young in Utah fictitious land values came to be capitalized as the society developed on its strong base, and so they were a  (p486) legitimate instrument of colonization. But in the earlier periods in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois, the Mormon enterprises in real estate were, quite simply, a theocratic phase of the westward-marching land boom of the frontier. Remember that the promise of landownership was always the strongest appeal the Mormon missionaries had to make to Europe's poor.

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5 Sterling Price, who also enters the narrative later on, was in charge of them.

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6 Leaving the lake after his brief exploration of it, Frémont says nothing about the country thereabout as a place of settlement but does highly recommend the Bear River Valley. "The bottoms are extensive; water excellent; timber sufficient; the soil good and well adapted to the grains and grasses suited to such an elevated region. A military post and a civilized settlement would be of great value here; and cattle and horses would do well where grass and salt so much abound. . . ." Practically everyone who had ever written about the Bear River had said the same thing, including Jim Clyman (who met the Mississippi Saints on his way east in '46). No one, in fact, could help making that observation the moment he saw the oasis of Soda Springs. Coming back to the Great Basin the following summer, Frémont got to Utah Lake but did not go back to Great Salt Lake. His report says, "In the cove of mountains along its eastern shore the [Utah] lake is bordered by a plain where the soil is generally good, and in greater part fertile; watered by a delta of prettily timbered streams. This would be an excellent locality for stock farms; it is generally covered with good bunch grass and would abundantly produce the ordinary grains." A couple of pages later he sums up his judgment of the entire Great Basin in a properly celebrated passage which accurately predicts its future.

A later controversy between Frémont and Brigham Young deals with an ambiguous passage (p273 of the report) in which Frémont seems to mistake Utah Lake for an arm of Great Salt Lake. It was certainly foolish of Frémont not to make the two‑day ride which would have settled the matter. He answers Young's accusation in Memoirs of My Life but with the same mingling of vagueness and dishonesty that characterizes so much else of that book.

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7 There is no dependable evidence whatever to support the attractive speculation that the hard-headed Young did in fact send out a small exploring party to the Great Basin in '46. I have always considered such a party one of the musts of American history, and between Young's arrival at Council Bluffs and the closing in of winter there was plenty of time for such a party to go to Salt Lake Valley and return. In Coutant's History of  (p487) Wyoming the statement is made (and it has been repeated in newspapers and elsewhere) that such a party was in fact sent out under the guidance of two veteran mountain men, Jim Beckwith and O. P. Wiggins. Coutant's authority was two letters by Wiggins which are now in the library of the Nebraska State Historical Society. Not one of the six Mormons whom Wiggins names as composing the party can be identified in any of the Mormon rolls open to me, however, and various students who have access to the Church library are unable to identify them there. The same students assure me that there is no allusion of any kind to such an exploration in any of the records of the Church. The idea must be dismissed as speculation. It remains true, however, that no man was ever more skillful than Young at keeping his left hand, even if that hand were the Quorum of the Twelve, from knowing what his right hand was doing. I shall not be altogether amazed if eventually it appears that someone did go to the valley in '46, like the six whom Joshua sent into Canaan, to spy out the land. The idea is herewith tendered to those who are making novels about the Mormons a leading American industry.

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8 There were many respiratory diseases. Strain and exposure made the Saints an easy prey to pneumonia. An epidemic of whooping cough traveled with them across Iowa, killing many children. The "black canker" which so many journals mention was probably sometimes scurvy, sometimes diphtheria, and sometimes septic sore throat. Scurvy and other ailments resulting from malnutrition were, of course, extremely common.

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9 This is the true Council Bluffs of Lewis and Clark, fifteen miles up‑river from the present Iowa city of that name.


Thayer's Note:

a The land — Temple Lot — has remained in Mormon hands, although not without incident. It is currently owned by a small splinter Mormon denomination, the Church of Christ (Temple Lot), but no temple has yet been built on it. A temple was built nearby in the 1990's by another Mormon denomination, the Community of Christ.


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