D. M. S., "Early Experience of an Elder," Juvenile Instructor, 15 Nov. 1877, 260-61.
- Related Companies
- Abraham O. Smoot/George B. Wallace Company (1847)
The town of Winter Quarters was established by President Brigham Young, in 1846, shortly after the departure of the "Mormon" Battalion from Council Bluffs. It is situated on the west bank of the Missouri river, five miles above the city of Omaha, in Nebraska, and is now called Florence.
From this place President Young, with the Pioneers, started in search of a home for the Saints, in fulfillment of the predictions of the Prophet Joseph, that the Church should be established in the Rocky Mountains. They were led by the inspiration of the Almighty; for no one of the company knew anything of the country. And here let me remind the children of the Saints in Utah, that they are indebted to God and their parents, not only for their existence and their religion, but for their peaceful, happy homes in the valleys of the mountains.
Winter Quarters continued to be a starting point for the "Mormon" emigrants until the Union Pacific Railroad was built; but, like all other towns built up and abandoned by the "Mormons," it never prospered after the Saints left. It was like the honey bee, largest at is inception. When I arrived there, shortly after the Pioneers left, April 7, 1847, the town consisted of over eight hundred and fifty houses, including log cabins, sod-houses and dug-outs; and they were considered well off who had a board floor and glass in their windows.
There was at this time great suffering among the Saints, for want of the necessaries of life; and many died of the scurvy. There was no breadstuff or vegetables as yet raised in that part of the country. The principal food consisted of cornmeal and meat; and they were content who had sufficient of those particles, partaking of them with thankful hearts, in hope of the "good time coming." The grumblers, as a general thing, had stopped by the way where there was plenty to eat, thinking they could "live by bread alone," and many of them are there yet, in Babylon, with their children growing up in the midst of wickedness, alienated from God and their holy religion.
The men who were left to take care of the families of the Battalion and Pioneers did all in their power to proved for the suffering poor, care for them in sickness and bury the dead, whose resting places on their green hill side, oft watered by the tears of weeping friends, are now nearly obliterated from sight; but in memory they are ever dear.
I was the only man to help in Orson Pratt's family. His children were all little at the time. Sister Pratt's brother, who was left in charge of the family, having gone east on business, I agreed to remain with the family and help all I could until his return, without any compensation, as I deemed it my duty, under the circumstances. But I was amply repaid wile here, for President Joseph Young ordained me a Seventy, because of my faithfulness. I was called by Sister Pratt to take the lead in family prayer, morning and night, and this placed a new responsibility upon me.
My daily business was to take care of the cattle and furnish wood and water; and I was happy and content, because I believed I was where the Lord wanted me to be.
It was here I learned to drive an ox team, and I shall never forget my first effort. We had to get all our drinking water from the Missouri river, as the well water was considered unhealthy. Sister Pratt introduced me to what was called a "lizard," a small sled made from a forked limb of a tree, on which we placed a barrel on end, for holding the water. The upper end being open, a cloth was thrown over the barrel to keep the water from splashing over while hauling it from the river. I got a yoke of young steers hitched to the sled that knew as little about the business as myself, for as yet I did not know the meaning of the words "gee" and "haw." I had passed through a great many trials in my boyhood, but this was the greatest trial I ever had up to this time. Away I went with my "rig," on a trot, to the river, which I reached all right; but to get the cattle to take that barrel of water up the bank from the river, was beyond my ability. They would wheel around when half way up, and tip the barrel over. All the hard words I had ever said came to my mind to say again to those steers; but I had agreed to be a Saint and must not sin; therefore, I tried, with a prayer, to be good, as we always should do in the hour of temptation. But I had tried a dozen or more times, and failed, and patience with me had almost ceased to be a virtue, when a little boy (God bless him) stepped out from a crowd of boys who were laughing at my calamity, and said, "Mister, I will help you drive your cattle up the bank."
I was now humble enough to do anything to accomplish the end desired, and allowed him to take the whip. He drove the cattle to the top of the bank without any trouble, because he knew how. I thanked him , and drove home all right, feeling by the way, that the fault was in myself, and not in the cattle. And from that day to the present, whenever a doubt has entered my mind as to my being able to accomplish what was required of me by the servants of God, something has whispered to me, "If you fail, the fault is in yourself, for God has promised to help you, and all who put their trust in Him."
I soon learned to drive the cattle for wood and water without any trouble, and had but one mishap while I remained at Brother Pratt's, that was letting the cattle break the wagon tongue. One evening, after having got home with a load of wood, I was in the act of unhitching the oxen from the wagon, when they wheeled around and broke the tongue short off. Sister Pratt was standing by, and saw I was crestfallen. Instead of finding fault, as some people would have done, she said, "Never mind; you must learn at some one's expense to drive a team, and I can afford to foot part of the bill. We can get a new tongue put in the wagon." I have never forgotten that kind expression. If left a lasting impression on my mind for good, and taught me to bear with others in their ignorance while under my watchcare.
I remained at Brother Pratt's until the month of June, when I bade them good by, and started west with the first emigration after the Pioneers. I drove team for John Benbow, under the direction of his nephew, Thomas Benbow, in Bishop Smoot's company. We carried with us everything we needed to colonize a new country: agricultural implements, seeds and domestic animals, even to pigs, chickens, dogs and cats; for we were leaving the civilized world to establish the kingdom o God in the wilderness.
We traveled like ancient Israel, in companies of hundreds, fifties and tens, with a captain over each company, and ever man following his file leader while traveling. We camped in two semicircles, leaving a space between for the cattle to pass in and out. A guard was kept up by night. All the way, over the cattle and wagons, as a protection from Indian raids. When a wagon broke down the company stopped until it was fixed up. The blacksmith set up his shop on the prairie in a few minutes, having his tools along. The wagon maker was at his bench; in fact, a company, in its order, was like a city on wheels, and the whole emigration, a traveling nation, like Israel of old. We always rested on Sundays, and had public worship. The plains, when we crossed, were black in places with buffalo; but we were strictly forbidden to destroy animal life, only for food, and that this order might be observed, a hunter, by the name of George W. Hill, was appointed for the company. He was a splendid marksman, and brave to a fault; that is, he was sometimes too venturesome. I remember on one occasion, a grizzly bear and her cubs were discovered on an island in the North Platte river. Bishop Smoot, our captain, stopped the wagons on the bank of the river, so as to take the bear. He was mounted on a gray horse, armed for the fray, and accompanied with a crowd of brethren on foot. As soon as they reached the island the bear came out of the brush with a growl and a bound. Away went the horses and his rider, "John Gilpin" like. Away went the men on foot, in a general stampede, like a flock of scared geese, into the river, leaving Brother Hill all alone to fight the bear. He stood his ground firmly, nerved for the fight. It was a sight to be admired and feared, for it was an issue of life or death to one or the other of the combatants. The whole of the company stood in breathless silence, looking at Brother Hill with his gun to his shoulder. His life depended on that shot. The bear came bounding, on three legs, raising a paw at ever bound to strike down its foe. When within about twenty yards of Brother Hill, "crack" went his gun, and the maddened brute fell on her back, shot through the heart (as was ascertained afterwards); but in a moment she bounded to her feet and rushed to the brush where she had concealed her cubs to protect them, as we supposed, in her death struggle. A cheer went up from the camp for Brother Hill, who was calmly loading his gun as if nothing of importance had happened. A number of the boys went back over the river when the danger was over, and shot at the old bear in the brush (some said after she was dead). The cubs made their escape across the river, and were captured by the dogs near the camp, and finally shot. Captain Smoot, who was beloved by all, and very indulgent, camped for the day, so that we might have a feast of fat things. The wagons being formed into a corral, the cattle were unhitched, the cows were milked and turned on the grass, under the care of the herdsmen, the fires were lighted, the supper was prepared, the song of praise resounded all around the camp, the heart-felt prayer was said, the guard was set, and all in camp hushed to repose for the night, under the protection of heaven.
We met the Pioneers on Sweet Water, returning to Winter Quarters. This was a meeting and a greeting never to be forgotten. Here I saw President Young and heard him speak for the first time. The spirit burned in my bosom at hearing him declare, by the spirit of inspiration, that they had found the place where the kingdom of God would be established in the last days, and where temples should be built to His most holy name, wherein sealing ordinances would be performed for the living and the dead; and that all nations should flow unto our mountain home; for there alone would be peace. I believed every word the Prophet Brigham spoke, for I knew, by the sprit within me, he was inspired of God. Yet I did not think it possible that I should live to see his words verified. But I have lived to see them fulfilled to the letter, and found him to be a prophet of God.
On arriving in Great Salt Lake Valley, as it was then termed, a thrill of joy ran through my soul and filled me with delight. I wept with gratitude to God, and wiped the tears away to weep again, that I was privileged to stand among the sons of God in holy places, where His kingdom would be established, and His people dwell in peace far from the reach of mobs.