Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Centennial Lessons: Church History for Women — 8. Winter Quarters to Great Salt Lake Valley

Centennial Lessons: Church History for Women — 8. Winter Quarters to Great Salt Lake Valley

By: Ardis E. Parshall - February 24, 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.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR THE MARCH: Early in the year 1847, President Brigham Young made known “The Word and Will of the Lord Concerning the camps of Israel in their Journeyings to the West.” [Doctrine and Covenants, Section 136.]

Very properly President Brigham Young and a chosen cohort of Apostles and elders formed the band of pioneers who bore the standard of their people to the Rocky Mountains. On the 7th of April, 1847, that famous company left Winter Quarters in search of another Zion and gathering place. Three women only went with them. These must be honoured with a lasting record. They were Clara Decker Young; her mother, Harriet Wheeler Young; and Ellen Sanders Kimball. [The Women of Mormondom, p. 331.]

THE PIONEER WOMEN: The number of that first band was 143 men, with the above-named women and two children. The Lord drew these faithful, honest souls from all nations. Harriet Wheeler Young was the wife of Lorenzo D. Young, and her daughter Clara was the wife of Brigham Young. They were both New England women of the best type and were a great blessing to that hardy band of path-finders. Ellen Sanders Kimball, courageous and firm in the gospel was born in 1824 in the parish of Ten, in Thelemarken, Norway. The family emigrated to America in 1837, when Ellen was thirteen years old. She joined the Church in 1842 and became a plural wife of Heber C. Kimball in 1846. She bravely began this perilous journey across the plains when but twenty-three years of age. Sister Kimball and Hans Christian Hansen were the only Scandinavians in this original company. Ellen Sanders Kimball was a true Norwegian, coming from a noble race of people, many of whose sons and daughters have served the Lord well.

Yet the sisters as a mass were scarcely less the co-pioneers of that apostolic band, for they followed in companies close upon its track. It was with them faith, not sight. They continued their pilgrimage to the west early in June. [Ibid..]

DESERT POST-OFFICES: While on the plains astronomical observations were made daily; distances were kept by means of an ingenious odometer, and numerous messages and instructions for the following companies were left in the desert “post-offices” – bleached buffalo skulls. For years the pioneers used these “bone post-offices,” inscribing them with messages which were read with gladness by those who tramped in the rear.

BROTHER BRIGHAM WAS A LOVING FATHER to everybody in the camps. He taught them the rudiments of frontier life. “He provided for the comfort and protection of the women and children with scrupulous care. … He taught the women who were not pioneer-trained as he was, to use the camp-fire crane, the bake skillet and the use of hot ashes. … He taught the fleeing Nauvoo women how to make ‘salt-rising’ bread, as his invalid mother and wife had early taught him that culinary art. He was indeed the father of the stricken multitude.” [Manuscript History of Brigham Young, Susa Y. Gates, p. 195.]

FAMILY PREPARATIONS: At Winter Quarters, each family was faithfully sacrificing and striving to find sufficient means to take them to their new mountain home. Sister Mary Ann Stearns Winters says of this time:

Our hearts and labours were turned to the preparation for our journey to the valleys of the Great Salt Lake. We had no idea how we were going to make the journey, but all were told to get ready, with the promise that the Lord would help, when they had done the best for themselves that they could. I think our hope must have been even greater than our faith, for there was not the least chance in sight for us to make the journey. What we needed was a wagon, team, provisions to last three months, and a driver, and where they were to come from was the mystery before us. [Relief Society Magazine, Vol. IV, p. 131.]

She bears testimony, however, that the necessary equipment was furnished in a very miraculous manner, then relates an experience known to all pioneers:

Our team was considered too light for the journey, and another yoke of oxen was furnished us from the company’s cattle, but they were young and had not been worked much and there was still the problem of managing an unruly team. … We were now coming to the open ground and the cattle saw the opportunity, started on the run and made a big circle like a race track and looked as though they were bound to take the prize. [Ibid., p. 246.]

The wagon careened over ruts and ditches, tins and provisions rattled, canvas flapped, and dust rolled out in volumes.

Brother Murie was still running to keep up with them, with mother following as best she could to look after the things that kept dropping from the wagon in its wild flight, and I following her, for fear she would be hurt or that she would get sick from her long walk, and the hot rays of the sun. [Ibid..] Brother Winters arrived just in time to save the day. He took the reins and whip, and with a gentle whoa-haw, the team started up, and bent their necks to the yoke and walked off in quite a respectable manner. [Ibid., p. 247.]

A WOMAN AS TEAMSTER: The story of Louisa F. Wells also affords an interesting insight into the way our pioneer mothers traveled. Her father was unable to provide a teamster for his second wagon; so Louisa, although she had never driven an ox, and being but twenty-two years of age, heroically undertook the task.

The picture of her starting is somewhat amusing. After seeing that her allotment of baggage and provisions, along with her little brother and sister, had been stowed in the wagon; with a capacious old-fashioned sunbonnet on her head, a parasol in one hand and an ox-whip in the other, she placed herself by the side of her leading yoke of oxen and bravely set her face westward. Matters went well enough for a short distance, considering her inexperience with oxen; but the rain began to pour, and shortly her parasol was found to be utterly inadequate, so in disgust she threw it into the wagon, and traveled on in the wet grass amid the pouring rain. Presently the paste-board stiffeners of her sunbonnet began to succumb to the persuasive moisture, and before night, draggled and muddy, and thoroughly wet to the skin, her appearance was fully as forlorn as her condition was pitiable. [The Women of Mormondom, pp. 336-337.]

Imagine those long wagon trains wending their way, snake-like, over the silent hills and prairies. The heat was terrific. Men sometimes fell by the wayside, crying for water, the women hurrying to their sides to wet their lips with what little they could sacrifice. Often they passed the parched bones of a cow or ox, and sometimes a grave by the trail, telling a grim story of a struggle lost. Here and there could be heard a driver’s encouraging “gee” and “haw” to the plodding oxen. Even the dogs no longer ran off top speed to bark at rabbits, but were content to jog along, panting and tired, in the stifling shade of the wagons.


Death made occasional inroads among us. Nursing the sick in tents and wagons was a labourious service; but the patient faithfulness with which it was performed is, no doubt, registered in the archives, above, as an unfading memento of brotherly and sisterly love. The burial of the dead by the wayside was a sad office. For husbands, wives and children to consign the cherished remains of loved ones to the lone, desert grave, was enough to try the firmest heartstrings. [Eliza R. Snow in The Women of Mormondom, p. 335.]

Margaret, daughter of Jedediah M. Grant, was eaten by wolves on the plains. She strayed too far from camp and was caught by these hungry beasts. Rebecca Winters left Winter Quarters with a strong premonition that she would not live to partake of the joys of life “in the valley.” Halfway across the plains, cholera appeared in the camp. One morning, while attending to her sick loved ones, she entered the hospital tent just in time to witness the dying agonies of a dear friend. Her sympathetic character could not withstand the shock and she too, soon fell ill. Not long after, out there on that lonely road, she died. They had no coffin to shelter her. They dug a deep grave, into which a bed was lowered, and after tenderly wrapping her remains, she was laid therein. The few boards they could sacrifice were taken from the wagon and placed over the bed and the grave was closed. There was no way of marking the last resting place of that faithful one, but nearby they found a broken down wagon, from which they procured an iron tire. On this was carved the name of Rebecca Winters. It was then cut in two, and the pieces arched over the hallowed spot. Nearly fifty years later the grave was discovered by railroad surveyors. It has since been made a shrine for those who would honour these noble pioneer women who gave their all for conscience sake.

THE BLESSING OF SACRIFICE: this was a time of severe trial, yet it was their inheritance – they were to be blessed by it. Again Mary Fielding Smith’s words ring out – through suffering the Saints “are to be made perfect.” And how true! The Lord anticipated the sorrows of His people and told Brigham Young at Winter Quarters:

Go thy way and do as I have told you, and fear not thine enemies; for they shall not have power to stop my work. Zion shall be redeemed in mine own due time.

If thou art merry, praise the Lord with singing, with music, with dancing, and with a prayer of praise and thanksgiving. If thou art sorrowful, call on the Lord thy God with supplication, that your souls may be joyful. My people must be tried in all things, that they may be prepared to receive the glory that I have for them, even the glory of Zion; and he that will not bear chastisement is not worthy of my kingdom. For my Spirit is sent forth into the world to enlighten the humble and contrite, and to the condemnation of the ungodly. [Doctrine and Covenants, Sec. 136: 17-18, 28-29, 31, 33.

MUSIC ON THE MARCH: At discouraging times they gathered and inspired one another with hymns, and joyous songs. While on this toilsome journey the story is told that Brigham Young said to his faithful and gifted friend William Clayton – Camp historian and poet: “Brother William write us a hymn; something that will cheer and encourage the people on this long and difficult journey.” In a few hours Brother Clayton returned with the inspirational hymn “Come, Come, Ye Saints.”

Again we quote from Sister Snow’s journal:

Many were the moon and starlight evenings when, as we circled around the blazing fire, and sang our hymns of devotion, and songs of praise to Him who knows the secrets of all hearts, the sound of our united voices reverberated from hill to hill, and echoing through the silent expanse, seemed to fill the vast concave above, while the glory of God seemed to rest on all around. [The Women of Mormondom, p. 334.]


1. – Describe the march of the first pioneers into the Valley. Tell what you know of the women who accompanied them?
2. – What influences did the sisters have on the success of those mighty caravans?
3. – On your map trace the trail of the pioneers to Great Salt Lake Valley. What was a “bone post-office”?
4. – How did the entrance into “the Valley” fulfill prophecy?
5. – Discuss the importance of President Young’s practical ability.
6. – What is your picture of the movement from Winter Quarters to Salt Lake Valley?
7. – Discuss the verses of Section 136 of the Doctrine and Covenants, quoted in the text.
8. – What means were employed to keep the people from becoming discouraged? Why were they successful?
9. – For the closing hymn sing “Come, Come Ye Saints.” Tell how and why it was written.



  1. Any post that mentions Hans Hansen must have a comment from me. He was Danish; his brother Peter Hansen translated the Book of Mormon into Danish, the first non-English Book of Mormon published. Hans was in the first pioneer company, as the lesson states. He played the fiddle and provided the music. I believe that he never married in much married Utah. He is buried in Salina, Utah and there is a fiddle carved on his headstone. Since he had no family and his brother lived in Manti, priesthood members of his quorum took turns staying with him the last few days of his life.

    Comment by Jeff Johnson — February 24, 2009 @ 3:46 pm

  2. Thanks, Jeff. Now that’s a story that sounds as though it should be an entire post. People without descendants to sing their praises are generally overlooked in Mormon history, and Hans (and his quorum) sound like they should be remembered.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — February 24, 2009 @ 6:35 pm

  3. […] is Lesson #8: Winter Quarters to Great Salt Lake Valley. This is another in the series of Church history lessons […]

    Pingback by Portraits of Mormon Women: Centennial Lessons: Church History for Women, Lesson #8 | Mormon Women: Who We Are — April 21, 2009 @ 1:49 pm

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