Sugar Creek

Distance: 7 miles from Nauvoo

This first major campsite in Iowa, about seven miles inland from the Mississippi River, served an estimated 2,000 people in February 1846, including most of the Church leadership. This first company of pioneers was known as the Camp of Israel. The Sugar Creek camp also served as a portent of things to come. Bone-chilling cold, wind, snow, and ice plagued the refugees with sickness and death. Uncertainty about routes and destinations to the West, in addition to mounting problems with supplies and equipment, kept the advance party from departing Sugar Creek for nearly a month.

Journal Entries

Joseph Fielding

February 1846

“The Camp Ground is by Sugar Creek where they have plenty of Wood and Water, a good Place for such a Purpose. On the night of the 13th the Snow fell and covered the Ground and the 14th was a very Rough Day, snowing all the day long.

“I felt much for them. Some had Tents and some Wagon Covers and some, neither of them; This day is also rough, snowing all the Day from the North but it is not very cold, when I think that Men, with some Women and Children, should be so exposed.”

Joseph Fielding, in Andrew F. Ehat, “‘They Might Have Known That He Was Not a Fallen Prophet’—The Nauvoo Journal of Joseph Fielding,” BYU Studies Quarterly, vol. 19, no. 2 (1979), 161; punctuation standardized.

Courtesy Church History Library and Archives

Brigham Young

February 26, 1846

“The fact is worthy of remembrance that several thousand persons left their homes in midwinter and exposed themselves without shelter, except that afforded by a scanty supply of tents and wagon covers, to a cold which effectually made an ice bridge over the Mississippi river which at Nauvoo is more than a mile broad. We could have remained sheltered in our homes had it not been for the threats and hostile demonstrations of our enemies, who, notwithstanding their solemn agreements had thrown every obstacle in our way, not respecting either life, liberty or property, so much so, that our only means of avoiding a rupture was by starting in midwinter.”

"Our homes, gardens, orchards, farms, streets, bridges, mills, public halls, magnificent Temple, and other public improvements we leave as a monument of our patriotism, industry, economy, uprightness of purpose and integrity of heart; and as a living testimony of the falsehood and wickedness of those who charge us with disloyalty to the Constitution of our country, idleness and dishonesty" (History of the Church, 7:603).

William Pace

February 18, 1846

“Our camp was made in the snow about 8 inches deep and was a rather uncomfortable introduction into camp life without tent or any shelter save it be a wagon cover made from common sheeting. Here we stayed for some time waiting the arrival of all those who could possibly supply them selves with teams.”

Diary of William Bryan Pace and Biography of his father, James Pace, typescript, n.d., 9, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah.

Helen Mar Kimball Whitney

“Camplife in February [1846] was quite a novel experience. . . . The band played every evening. I there took my first lesson in the Danish waltz. The weather was so cold that it was impossible to keep warm with exercise.”

A Woman’s View: Helen Mar Whitney’s Reminiscences of Early Church History, ed. Jeni Broberg Holzapfel and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (1997), 339–40.