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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Little Emigrants, Children

Most Mormon immigrating companies included children and infants, and child care was one of the greatest responsibilities and concerns, especially to the mothers." Proper child care was greatly complicated by the constant traveling.

Older children usually had assignments, such as watching the younger ones, driving, herding, gathering fuel, and helping their mothers. Little children, however, tended to wander off, get lost, play too close to the draft animals and wagons, or step on cacti. Little girls wore the same inappropriate clothing as their mothers did.

A favorite, and dangerous, pastime of young boys was hanging on tent poles or extra axles that were stored under the wagons. An even more dangerous pastime of boys was standing on the wagon tongue and balancing themselves by placing their hands on the backs of the oxen.

Children were attracted to fire and boiling water. They were also susceptible to many illnesses and often there was little suitable food for infants. Some mothers tried to keep their children by their sides, or safely in the wagons. Some companies attempted to protect their children by keeping them all together in one group, supervised by one or more adults. Every morning the group would be marched ahead of the main company, and herded like sheep all day long. This was hard on the children and on their parents, but it did prevent many accidents.

Children made pets of cats, birds, prairie dogs, eagles, chickens, and lambs. Some even tried to tame buffalo calves. And all children, it seems, took a great liking to the family oxen, giving them pet names like Rouser, Brindle, Old Smut, Bill, Tom and Jerry, and Buck and Bright. There were few dogs on the trails. Cats were quiet and good mousers, but barking dogs could cause stampedes, attract Indians, or scare game.

Children played draughts or checkers, cards, hide-and-seek, tag, and ball. Some had toys like iron lions or dolls. Boys had pocket knives. They played with crickets and eagerly looked for anthills, for sometimes they could find Indian beads there--the ants picked them up like small pebbles. Despite all the hardships, most children who made the journey reveled in it the rest of their lives.

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.)