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Centennial Lessons: Church History for Women — 7. Journey to Winter Quarters; The Mormon Battalion

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 23, 2009

Please see the Introduction to this series for the origins of these lessons, written by Elder A.G. Pack, a missionary to England in 1930.

THE EXPELLED SAINTS OF GOD were fleeing from civilization. They traveled, nothing daunting, through snow, blizzards, rain, cold, mud to the wagon hubs. Cows and horses were hitched to the same wagons. Husbands and sons also toiled at the wheels, the frail wife and mother piloting the obstinate teams, often while holding the reins in one hand and a fretful babe to her breast with the other.

“CAMPS OF ISRAEL”: Temporary settlements were made at Garden Grove and Mount Pisgah, where farming operations were started for the benefit of those who should follow. All was not gloom among these people; indeed, their optimism was outstanding. The practical philosophy of Brigham Young, applied constantly to the changing conditions, and coupled with the great faith of the Saints, did much to carry them through these difficult periods. He well understood the psychology of diversion and relaxation – he did not allow them to think of the hard going – for he assigned to Captain Pitt and his “Nauvoo Band” the duty of providing merry entertainment to make the people forget their sorrows. These faithful brethren gave frequent concerts in the camps and among the citizens along the way.

At night the Saints praised the Lord in song and dance. When the companies stopped a veritable city would instantly spring into existence. After a scanty supper, some of the men would clear away the snow, while others gathered logs for the camp-fire, and soon “the blazing fires would roar, and fifty couples, old and young, would join, in the merriest spirit, to the music of the band, or the rival revelry of the solitary fiddle.”

THE MARCH OF MODERN ISRAEL: Only a body of people having among them the power and authority of God could have maintained so magnificent a march. No incident in history equals it. Of their daily hardships, Sister Eliza R. Snow says:

As we journeyed onward, mothers gave birth to offspring under almost every variety of circumstances imaginable, except those to which they had been accustomed; some in tents, others in wagons – in rainstorms and in snowstorms. I heard of one birth which occurred under the rude shelter of a hut, the sides of which were formed of blankets fastened to poles stuck in the ground, with a bark roof through which the rain was dripping. Kind sisters stood holding dishes to catch the water as it fell, thus protecting the new-comer and its mother from a shower-bath as the little innocent first entered on the stage of human life; and through faith in the Great Ruler of events, no harm resulted to either. [The Women of Mormondom, pp. 307-308.]

Sister Zina D. Young’s experience follows:

On the bank of the Chariton River an incident occurred ever eventful in the life of woman. I had been told in the Temple that I should acknowledge God even in a miracle of my deliverance in woman’s hour of trouble, which hour had now come. We had traveled one morning about five miles, when I called for a halt in our march. There was but one person with me … and there on the bank of the Chariton I was delivered of a fine son. … Mother Lyman gave me a hot drink and a biscuit. What a luxury for special remembrance! Occasionally the wagon had to be stopped, that I might take breath. Thus I journeyed on. But I did not mind the hardship of my situation, for my life had been preserved, and my babe seemed so beautiful. [Ibid., p. 328.]

NOT WILDERNESS WOMEN: Sister Snow continues:

Let it be remembered that the mothers of these wilderness-born babes were not savages, accustomed to roam the forest and brave the storms and tempest – those who had never known the comfort and delicacies of civilization and refinement. They were not those who, in the wilds of nature, nursed their offspring amid reeds and rushes, or in the recesses of rocky caverns; most of them were born and educated in the Eastern States – had there embraced the Gospel as taught by Jesus and His Apostles, and, for the sake of their religion, had gathered with the Saints, and under trying circumstances had assisted, by their faith, patience and energies, in making Nauvoo what its name indicates, “the beautiful.” There they had lovely homes, decorated with flowers and enriched with choice fruit trees, just beginning to yield plentifully.

Many of our sisters walked all day, rain or shine, and at night prepared suppers for their families, with no sheltering tents; and then made their beds in and under wagons that contained their earthly all. How frequently, with intense sympathy and admiration, I watched the mother, when, forgetful of her own fatigue and destitution, she took unwearied pains to fix up, in the most palatable form, the allotted portion of food, and as she dealt it out was cheering the hearts of her homeless children, while, as I truly believed, her own was lifted to God in fervent prayer that their lives might be preserved, and, above all, that they might honour Him in the religion for which she was an exile from the home once sacred to her, for the sake of those precious ones that God had committed to her care. [Ibid., p. 312.]

WINTER QUARTERS ESTABLISHED: On June 14th, the advance body of Saints arrived at the Missouri River, having crossed the State of Iowa, a distance of about 350 miles. Others followed closely; Amos Fielding, returning to Nauvoo, counted 902 west-bound wagons in three days. Later, after President Young gave up the hope of reaching the Rocky Mountains that fall, part of the Saints crossed the river and built Winter Quarters on the western bank. There were now about 12,000 Saints inhabiting the temporary settlements across Iowa.

CALL FOR MORMON BATTALION: In early July the United States Government delivered a requisition to President Young, calling on the camps for five companies of men to aid in the war with Mexico. Imagine the feelings of those people. This Government, which had so many times rejected their pleas for help, was now calling for 500 of their best men. Did they respond? Were they still loyal? Yes!

President Young called the Saints together, and after an appeal for men, said:

Now, I would like the brethren to enlist and make up a battalion, and go and serve our country; and if you will do this, and live your religion, I promise you in the name of Israel’s God that not a man of you will fall in battle. [Manuscript History of Brigham Young, Susa Young Gates, p. 234.]

Then, turning to Captain Allen, he said:

You shall have your battalion. If there are not enough young men, we will take the old men, and if they are not enough, we will take the women. [Ibid., p. 235.]

WOMEN OF THE BATTALION: In an incredibly short time 549 men were raised. Twenty of the soldiers took their wives along as camp cooks, and the celebrated Mormon Battalion took up its great march toward Mexico, of which Lieutenant-Colonel Cooke said: “History may be searched in vain for an equal march of infantry.” And listen to the loyal woman’s heart:

It was our “country’s call,” and the question, “Can we spare five hundred of our most able-bodied men?” was not asked. But it was a heavy tax – a cruel tax – one which imposed accumulated burdens on those who remained, especially our women, who were under the necessity of driving their own teams from the several points from which their husbands and sons left, to the Salt Lake Valley; and some of them walked the whole of that tedious distance. [The Women of Mormondom, p. 315.]

CONDITIONS AT WINTER QUARTERS were difficult also. Sister Elvira Cole Holmes (General Treasurer of the first Relief Society), was left behind as the sole support of her children, when her husband loyally answered the call of country. Without a murmur she bravely endured the rigours of a severe winter, living “in a small log house, with no doors or windows, except quilts hung up to break the wind or rain. Through this want and exposure, she buried her first child.”

In the fall of 1846, streams of emigrating Saints, many from England, continued to pour into Winter Quarters. There were already about 1,000 wagons encamped; and during the winter 700 cabins and 150 dug-outs – cabins half under ground – were built. Swamp fever broke out among these struggling people. They were deprived of vegetable foods and scurvy also took its toll. There were over 600 deaths in Winter Quarters alone.

PREPARATION FOR THE GRAND MARCH: However, the people did not fail to build, for soon were erected “factories, shops, mills, and a tabernacle for worship, the whole being fortified in frontier fashion. Everybody was kept busy, the organizations of the Church were continued, religious meetings held, missionaries sent abroad, schools established.” [A Brief History of the Church, Anderson, page 109.]

In the spring of 1847, the industrious Saints set about to till the soil; conditions were bettered; the crops sown the previous fall began to produce. Sister Bathsheba W. Smith says:

On the Iowa side of the river we raised wheat, Indian corn, buckwheat, potatoes, and other vegetables; and we gathered from the woods hazel and hickory nuts, white and black walnuts, and in addition to the wild plums and raspberries … We gathered elderberries … we also preserved plums and berries. By these supplies we were better furnished than we had been since leaving our homes. The vegetables and fruits caused the scurvy to pretty much disappear. [The Women of Mormondom, p. 341.]

Meanwhile, on January 29th, 1847, their gallant brethren of the Mormon Battalion had arrived at the San Diego Mission in California, after marching, “half naked and half fed, and living upon wild animals,” over two thousand miles of torrid desert and rugged mountains. President Brigham Young’s prophecy that they would not have to fight, was fulfilled.

Questions.

1. – Was the fleeing multitude happy or miserable? How was it possible that the Saints could be so happy and optimistic under such adverse circumstances?
2. – Explain the conditions under which the Mothers of Zion found themselves in the journey to Winter Quarters.
3. – Locate Garden Grove and Mount Pisgah. Describe your conception of one of those camp cities.
4. – Relate the circumstances leading to the organization of the Mormon Battalion, including the part played by women.
5. – How do you account for the remarkable stability which characterized life at Winter Quarters?
6. – Why did the use of fresh vegetables and fruits cause the scurvy to disappear at Winter Quarters? What is the vitamin which protects the body against scurvy? Where is it found?
7. – How was Brigham Young’s prophecy regarding the Mormon Battalion fulfilled?
8. – What was President Young’s attitude regarding work and play? How did the people find the recreation which rebuilds the body as well as the soul of man?
9. – The hymn, “god Moves in a Mysterious Way,” was sung at the meeting when Brother Brigham called for men for the Battalion. Sing it during closing exercises.



2 Comments »

  1. [...] is Lesson #7: Journey to Winter Quarters; The Mormon Batallion. This is another in the series of Church history lessons that were created in 1930 for the women of [...]

    Pingback by Portraits of Mormon Women: Centennial Lessons: Church History for Women, Lesson #7 | Mormon Women: Who We Are — April 15, 2009 @ 5:48 pm

  2. [...] Lesson #7 [...]

    Pingback by Portraits of Mormon Women: Centennial Lessons — Church History for Women, Lesson #10 | Mormon Women: Who We Are — May 12, 2009 @ 11:48 pm

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