1848: Brigham Young's Last Trek to the Valley
(Pioneer Magazine, July/August, 1994)
(Excerpted from American Moses, by Leonard J. Arrington)
By May of 1848, nearly 2,000 Saints were ready to make the journey under Brigham's direction. Thomas Bullock, who had kept a detailed journal of the 1847 trek, again accepted responsibility for chronicling the day-to-day events of the 1848 "camp." He noted that Brigham's 1848 division included 397 wagons, 1,229 souls, 74 horses, 1,275 oxen, 699 cows, 184 loose cattle, 411 sheep, 141 pigs, 605 chickens, 37 cats, 82 dogs, three goats, 10 geese, two beehives, eight doves and a solitary crow.2
After spending several days on horseback between Winter Quarters and Elkhorn assuring that everything was in order, Brigham and his immediate family departed May 26. Brigham's own notation reads: "On the 26th I started on my journey to the mountains, leaving my houses, mills and the temporary furniture I had acquired during our sojourn there [Winter Quarters]. This was the fifth time I had left my home and property since I embraced the gospel of Jesus Christ."3
Brigham organized his company into groups of hundreds, fifties and tens, with corresponding leaders. General camp instructions were: "Not to abuse cattle but take care of them; not to yell and bawl or make any noise nor to be up at nights; but attend prayers and go to bed by nine and put out the fires."4
One disturbing incident occurred almost at the very start. A rule had been established that no wagon in the procession should stop, because this would cause a break in the train and encourage an Indian attack. Lucy Groves attempted to climb out of her wagon while it was in motion. Weak from having given birth just 10 days before, she slipped and fell in front of the front wheel. It ran over her body and broke three ribs. Her husband was standing close by and grabbed her as quickly as he could to prevent the hind wheel from running over her, too. But her leg was broken as well. Brigham went to her immediately, set her leg and gave her a blessing assuring her that she would reach Salt Lake in good condition.
Lucy's children had to walk from then on, as the bed upon which she lay took up all the room in the wagon. Her 13-year old daughter assumed her mother's tasks - cooking, washing, caring for the little children. But on the ninth day out, when it seemed that the leg was knitting satisfactorily and Lucy soon would be up, the daughter accidentally stumbled over her mother's leg, breaking it a second time. This time the pain was so severe that Lucy cried out in agony at every step the oxen took. She finally told her husband that he would have to pull out of the train and stop. When Brigham saw the wagon pull to one side, he stopped the entire train and rode back to where Lucy was. Tears were falling down her cheeks as she explained the situation and urged him to go on without them. Brigham replied that he would do no such thing - he would not leave any of his people alone. Instead, he made camp for the night, sawed off the tops and bottoms of the legs of the poster bed so there was nothing left but the frame around the mattress and the springs, which were laced across pioneer style. He fastened this to the wagon bows so it would swing easily, like a hammock. He then renewed his blessing to Lucy, promising her she would live many years. He rode by her side for several days to make sure that she had no further trouble. "With this gentle kind manner," wrote Lucy's grandson, "he won the love of Lucy and her posterity forever."5
One of Brigham's teamsters, Oliver Huntington, who had just returned from a mission to England, wrote that on the way up the Platte River, through the Black Hills and other desolate portions of the trail, they occasionally made camp early in order to take advantage of good camping grounds.
On such occasions [Brigham] would walk around the great corral formed by the 270 wagons formed in a circle, and when he came to a teamster or others that offered him an inviting occasion to sit down and "chat," down he went on the wagon tongue, ox yoke, or any thing else convenient, not refusing even the earth, where there were a few bunches of grass.
On some of these occasions I enjoyed personally his visit, and there on that old flat wagon tongue with the end resting on an ox- yoke, we sat and talked of the many places we were both acquainted with in Preston, Clithero and other shires and towns in England. Then turning conversation to the West, he related incidents in pioneering his way to the great valley of Salt Lake, the year previous, 1847. Those conversations to me were fairly enchanting. I listened with that attention that never allows the mind to forget.6
It was also Huntington who later commented on the general condition of the camp - and to record an incident that caused Brigham to chuckle: "As yet the camp and - in fine, all the camps had got along well, and with few accidents. Three had been run over in our camp and one wagon turned over which was brother Gates" . He blamed his women severely for it, and what mortified him worse than all, it disclosed a bottle of wine; before unknown. The wagon turned square bottom side up, no one in it. That night he quarreled with his wife . . . The guard about 11 o'clock saw it and when the hour came to cry, he loudly cried 11 o'clock, all is well and Gates is quarreling with his wife like hell."7
Despite the often tortuous physical aspects of the journey, not to mention the weight of his leadership responsibilities, Brigham refused to let himself be burdened unduly. In order that his body could keep pace with his mind, as he expressed it, Brigham joined with his fellow migrants in occasional dancing, songfests and comical readings. One young woman, traveling in a different company from Brigham's, recalled an exasperating visit to Independence Rock: "We heard so much of independence Rock long before we got there. They said we should have a dance on top of it, as we had many a dance while on the plains. We thought it would be so nice, but when we got there, the company was so small it was given up ... We had not a note of music or a musician. I was told afterwards by some of the girls that we had traveled with that they had a party there, but President Young had all the music with him."8
The general attitude of the camp was expressed by one of the travelers, who wrote: "We are as comfortable and happy as most of the stationary communities. For if we have not all that our wants may call for, we have the art of lessening our wants, which does as well."9
About 2 p.m. on July 23, Louisa Beaman Young was delivered of male twins, "which very much delighted Pres. B.Y., the Father of the children."10 Both mother and twins were apparently in good health and arrived safely in the valley less than two months later.
By September 3, the company was traveling in view of the snow- covered Wind River mountain chain. During the day, an incident occurred that served to demonstrate Brigham's blend of compassion and discipline. The camp met two families who had left the valley and were returning to Missouri to live. President Young, according to Bullock, "gave them a very severe lecture on their going to serve the Devil among our enemies. On finishing, he told them to go in peace, but never to return to the Valley, until they knew they were Saints indeed, and their names would be blotted out of remembrance." Then, added Bullock, "he gave them 25 lb. Meal to feed them."
Between September 17 and 19, a "gathering" apparently took place among the Saints preparatory to their entry into the Salt Lake Valley. Throughout the journey various companies had been in the lead position, with others strung out behind them over many miles. In fact, Brigham's company was rarely in the forefront, for the president and his companions were often to be found assisting companies who had suffered illness, injury or mechanical breakdowns. But now, nearing the end of their long march, those ahead of Brigham's group stopped and waited. "This halt," wrote John Pulsipher in his journal, "was in. honor of President Young, the leader of Israel. The companies that have traveled ahead of him, except a few stragglers, stopped and waited until he passed into the valley in his place, at the head of the joyful multitude."11 When Brigham passed, all fell into line behind him.
Having taken the lead, Brigham and his immediate company entered the Salt Lake Valley on September 20. John Taylor, senior apostle in the Salt Lake Valley, started out on horseback to meet the president, astride "a Spanish pony." As they were riding across the fort where most of the people were living, his horse reared, Taylor was injured, and he could not proceed. Upon his arrival Brigham called to see him. According to Mary Isabella Horne, who was present, Brigham remarked that Taylor's horse was like many people, "only the people had the stiffness in their necks and the horses had it in their legs."12
The last wagons rolled into the main fort four days later. That afternoon Brigham addressed a large congregation of Saints at the Bowery (an open-air meeting place covered with limbs and leaves), erected for public meetings on Temple Square. He commended the people for their "industry" and expressed his "joy in being able to come here in safety. That this is the place he had seen before he came here & it was the place for the Saints to gather. 13
At the end of a 1,031-mile journey, Thomas Bullock recorded "86 travelling days at an average of 12 miles per day; 36 days lay still. Total 122 days from Winter Quarters to Great Salt Lake City."14
Brigham had made his long trek to Zion for the last time. He was in his new home, where he would spend the next 29 years.
(Excerpted from Brigham Young: American Moses, published by Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1985.)