Heritage Gateways

Official Sesquicentennial K-12 Education Project
sponsored by the Utah State Board of Education, the BYU-Public School Partnership and the Utah Education Network

Life On The Trail

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Routine, Rules Discipline, Constitutions

The basic trail routine, more or less observed throughout the migrating period, might be summed up as follows: arising, praying, cooking, yoking up, pulling out, "nooning" (when people ate [usually cold] lunches and draft animals rested and grazed), pushing on, selecting camp, gathering fuel, cooking, washing up, mending, recreating and socializing, rounding up stray livestock, milking, grazing the animals, praying, retiring, and standing guard. To this routine should be added washing, repairing wagons and equipment, hunting, dealing with Indians, conducting or attending religious services, and occasional births, accidents, sickness, deaths, funerals, marriages, and quarrels "

Discipline was set and maintained by church leaders and, as previously noted, was based on the belief that Mormons were modern day saints, led by living prophets, carrying out God's will. Thus, discipline was generally preserved on the trail. Mormons, like most other westering Americans, usually had some basic trail rules and constitutions, but they were seldom elaborated or written down. Generally Mormon companies felt they were led by the Lord, or at least by His designates, and that they were to follow orders and rules without question. A member of the Mormon ruling priesthood was always in charge of the companies, usually assisted by one or two counselors. Mormons were supposed to be the Lord's work and were expected to conduct themselves in a saintly manner and follow simple, common sense, paramilitary rules.

Such rule by the priesthood usually sufficed. When serious troubles arose, company councils were called and a rough and ready trail-side justice was meted out. Those in the wrong were expected to apologize, make amends, and repent. Men were occasionally flogged. (For improper sex matters emasculation was hinted at, although there is no record it was ever carried out.) Men and women could also be expelled from the company -- a serious punishment on, or beyond, the frontier.

The more experience the Mormons gained in westering, the less important rigid rules and regulations became, but sometimes constitutions were written down. A typical one of the period was drafted by a company of English Saints at West Port, Missouri, in 1854. It reads:

Camp Ground, State of Missouri, 14 July 1854 At Council Meeting this evening Elder Empey presiding, it was resolved: That Bro. Robert Campbell be president of this company. That Bro. Richard Cook be his first counselor and Bro. Woodard be his second counselor. That Bro. Brewerton be captain of the guard. That Bro. Charles Brewerton be wagon master and Bro. Wm. Kendall to assist him. That Bro. Richard be captain of the first ten. That Bro. Fisher be captain of the second ten. That Bro. Bailiff be captain of the third ten. That Bro. Thos. Sutherland be clerk and historian of this company. That no gun shall be fired within 50 yards of the camp under a penalty of one nights guard. That the captain of each ten shall awaken the head of every family at 4 o'clock in the morning and be ready to roll out at seven, if circumstances will admit. That all go to bed at 9 o'clock in the evening. That every man from 16 to 60 years of age be eligible to stand guard. The above resolutions have been afterwards laid before the whole company in camp and have received their unanimous sanction. Robert Campbell, Pres.; Thomas Sutherland, Clerk."

Source: Historic Resource Study - Mormon Pioneer National By Stanley B. Kimball, Ph.D., May 1991. (The study focuses on the history of the trail from its official beginning in Nauvoo, Illinois, to its terminus in Salt Lake City, Utah, during the period 1846-1869. During that time, thousands of Mormon emigrants used many trails and trail variants to reach Utah. This study emphasizes the 'Pioneer Route' or 'Brigham Young Route' of 1846-1847. The sections on Mormon beliefs and motivations for going west have been omitted. Interested persons can find ample sources for that information. The footnotes, bibliography, maps, pictures, pioneer companies by name and dates for the 22-year period, and historic sites - about 2/3 of the book - have also been left out for space considerations. Thanks to Dr. Kimball and the National Park Service for the availability of this information.)