Eugene E. Campbell
Colonizing the Basin
[p.5]According to contemporary accounts, it was a relatively happy group of Mormons that began colonizing the Great Salt Lake Valley during the closing days of July 1847. They had earlier received enough information to anticipate what the area might be like, but nothing could have prepared them for the scene they encountered upon emerging from the mountain canyons. Perhaps the initial reaction was best expressed by Apostle Orson Pratt, who, with Erastus Snow, was the first of the pioneer company to enter the valley. Writing in his diary for 21 July, Pratt reported, “[We] ascended this hill, from the top of which [was] a broad open valley.… We could not refrain from a shout of joy which almost involuntarily escaped from our lips the moment this grand and lovely scenery was within our view.” The next day, William Clayton followed the trail the ill-fated Donner-Reed party had blazed the previous October, observing that the valley appeared fertile. He objected only to the lack of timber.
The Saints’ president and prophet, Brigham Young, had been ill for several days and did not see the valley until 23 July. His manuscript history recounts: “We ascended and crossed over Big Mountain, when on its summit I directed Elder [Wilford] Woodruff, who kindly tendered me the use of his carriage, to turn the same half way round, so I could have a view of a portion of Salt Lake Valley. The Spirit of the Lord rested upon me and hovered over the valley, and I felt that there the Saints would find protection and safety. [p.6] We descended and encamped at the foot of the Little Mountain.”1
Apostle Woodruff penned a more detailed account the following day, when Young and he came in full view of the valley:
We gazed with wonder and admiration upon the vast rich, fertile valley which lay for about 25 miles in length and 16 miles in width, clothed with the heaviest garb of green vegetation in the midst of which lay a large lake of salt water … Our hearts were surely made glad … to gaze upon a valley of such vast extent and entirely surrounded with a perfect chain of everlasting hills and mountains covered with eternal snows … presenting at one view the grandest and most sublime scenery probably that could be obtained on the globe.
But the most memorable reaction was Thomas Bullock’s simple outburst, “I could not help shouting ‘hurra, hurra, hurra, here’s my home at last’—the sky is very clear, the air is delightful, and all together looks glorious.”
True, there were some negative expressions. According to Daniel Tyler’s history of the Mormon Battalion, Samuel Brannan complained that “the Saints could not possibly subsist in the Great Salt Lake Valley, as, according to the testimony of the mountaineers, it froze every month of the year, and the ground was too dry to sprout seeds without irrigation, and irrigated with the cold mountain streams the seeds planted would be chilled and prevented from growing; but if they did grow they would be sickly and fail to mature.” Lorenzo Dow Young, Brigham Young’s brother, remembered that except for two or three cottonwoods along the streams no other trees were in sight. Lorenzo’s wife Harriet lamented, “Weak and weary as I am, I would rather go a thousand miles further than to remain in such a forsaken place as this.” Her daughter added that she “was heartbroken because there were no trees to be seen” and that the other women of the party also “felt a sense of desolation and loneliness—in the new country to which they had come.”
But the general response was enthusiastic, and as they began testing the soil, scanning the towering mountains to the south and east of their new home, the majority was no doubt anxious to begin colonizing the new land.
Since “pioneer” refers to “one who prepares the way for others” or to “the first explorers, settlers or colonists of a country,” the real pioneering did not begin until 23 July 1847 when the main portion of Brigham Young’s company passed through the Wasatch Mountains and chose a spot on City Creek for a settlement. For the Mormon trek from Missouri to Fort Bridger had been made on well-established trails with maps and almost daily contacts with people going to or returning from the West. The trail from Fort Bridger to the Salt Lake Valley was not as well marked, but companies of California-bound emigrants had traversed the route as far as the Weber River during the summer of 1846. One of these, the Donner-Reed party, had actually pioneered the trail the Mormons followed into the Salt Lake Valley. There were still obstacles to remove and better roads to build, but the route had already been pioneered.
Nor were the Mormons the first explorers of the region. Various Indian tribes had lived in the area for centuries and knew virtually every valley, stream, canyon, and mountain. The Spanish missionary-explorers Dominguez and Escalante and their party had entered the region in 1776 near present-day Vernal, Utah, making their way into Utah Valley and south to the Colorado River by way of present-day Nephi, Milford, Beaver, and Hurricane. During the first decades of the nineteenth century, Spanish and Mexican traders had established the Spanish Trail from Santa Fe to Los Angeles by way of Moab, Green River, and the canyon passes through the Wasatch Mountains, and on to Beaver, Mountain Meadows, and Santa Clara Creek.
It is not known if the Spanish and the Mexicans also explored the Great Salt Lake, but some mountain men had. Jim Bridger explored the Bear River to the shores of the salty lake in the fall of 1824, and possibly Etienne Provost and others saw the great body of water earlier that summer. Jedediah Smith, returning from California to his Bear Lake rendezvous in 1827, said that when he saw the Great Salt Lake he knew he had survived the desert and was back in familiar country. Benjamin de Bonneville, whose name was later given to the large prehistoric lake of which the Great Salt Lake was only a remnant, did not visit the region, but some of his party, under Joseph Walker, explored the lake in 1835.
It remained for another explorer, John C. Fremont, to leave the most accurate observations of Salt Lake Valley and the Great Salt [p.8] Lake. In 1843, Fremont entered the valley from the north and, from his camp near present-day Ogden, explored the lake, tested the water, and made scientific observations of the altitude, soils, and climate which were included in his maps and official reports. Leaving the Salt Lake Valley, he went to Oregon, and then to California, where he spent the winter. He returned to the East in 1844 by way of southern Utah, Utah Valley, and the Uinta region. Mormon leaders carefully studied Fremont’s maps and reports, published by Congress.
Other than Indians, the only residents of the Great Salt Lake area in early 1847 were Miles Goodyear, his Indian wife, and his partner, a Captain Wells, who had established a trading post near the juncture of the Ogden and Weber Rivers in 1846. The pioneers met Goodyear near Fort Bridger and obtained valuable information from him concerning the best route into the region, as well as his assurances that crops could grow there. They then hurried to the valley to begin colonizing the region.
The Mormons realized that the planting season was late and were anxious to begin. Plowing began on 23 July after Orson Pratt led his advance company to the banks of City Creek and dedicated the spot for the new settlement. En route from Emigration Canyon, the pioneers discovered several types of grass. In his diary, Thomas Bullock reported “wheat grass growing 6 or 7 feet high and some varieties stood 12 to 13 feet.” After wading through the thick grass for some distance, Bullock and the others found a place where the grass was only knee deep—bare enough for a camping ground. The soil, William Clayton wrote, was “black,” looked “rich,” and was “sandy enough to make it good to work.”
Clayton was correct, and the pioneers formed a committee to stake off a piece of ground 40 rods by 20 rods for potatoes and also a suitable place for beans, corn, and buckwheat. Bullock wrote, “At 12 o’clock the first furrow was plowed … There were three plows and one harrow at work most of the afternoon. [One] plow got broke. At 2 o’clock the brethren began building a dam and cutting trenches to convey water to irrigate the land. At 4 o’clock the other brethren commenced mowing the grass to prepare a turnip patch.”
Bullock’s account, corroborated by others, indicates that the soil could be plowed without first flooding the land and that the plowing continued despite one broken plow. Dam building began after plowing, and there is no evidence that water was turned on to the fields until 24 July. By then a five-acre potato patch had been plowed and ditches made to convey the water. “During the short space between the 23rd of July and the 28th of August,” Bullock recorded, “we [p.9] plowed and planted about 84 acres with corn, potatoes, beans, buckwheat, turnips, and a variety of garden sauce. We irrigated all the land.”2
The act of turning water onto the land has sometimes been cited as the beginning of irrigation in the American West—an innovation born out of necessity. However, evidence suggests that the Mormons had anticipated this, having observed irrigation methods in various parts of the world. Apostle Orson Hyde, for example, had reported on irrigation in the Holy Land, Lebanon, Syria, and Egypt. Other members, visiting Santa Fe, had seen Mexicans watering the soil. One member of the Mormon Battalion, Samuel Rogers, reported in his journal for 12 October 1846, “In this country the settlers occupy the valleys near the streams so that they can lead the water upon their fields and gardens as irrigating the land.” Another man, Henry G. Boyle, wrote twelve days later that Mexican “land for cultivation is enclosed by ditches, hedges, and adobe walls. On account of the dry seasons, … they have to irrigate all this farming land, all their vineyards and orchards, which is done by leading the water from the river through ditches, through all their grain or anything else that is raised or produced.” And John D. Lee wrote on 5 October 1846, “They cultivate the valley only and are under the necessity of watering all the stuff they raise.”3
Howard Egan’s journals give interesting details about the pioneers’ agricultural activities. On 26 July, he wrote, “At 6 a.m. the [p.10] bugle sounded for the brethren to collect their horses and cattle to recommence plowing and planting, the team to be relieved at intervals of every four hours during the day.” The next day, he continued, “the bugle sounded as usual for the brethren to go to work plowing and planting,” and three and four days later “the brethren were engaged as usual plowing and planting.… Brothers King, Whipple and myself were sowing turnips, buckwheat, oats, etc.”
The soil was fertile, the irrigation program successful. Stephen Markham reported on the evening of 31 July that “thirty-five acres of land have been broken up and planted in corn, oats, buckwheat, potatoes, beans, and garden seeds. About three acres of corn was up 2″ above the ground and beans and potatoes were up and looking well.” This initial success encouraged continual activity in the fields, weather permitting.
Apostle John Taylor, who arrived in the valley on 5 October, wrote two months later,
We have plowed and sown since our arrival here about 2,000 acres of wheat, great numbers of plows are incessantly going and are only prevented by the inclemency of the weather which occasionally is too severe. We have put in about 2,000 bushels of wheat, all of which have been drawn for a distance of about 1300 to 1500 miles; we expect to put in the spring about 3,000 acres of corn and other grain, and we have with us almost every variety of seed or vegetables as well as of shrubs, fruits, and flowers.
Unfortunately, the cattle and horses destroyed the crops except for the potatoes. Luckily, the colonists did not have to depend on these crops for survival, and the mild winter and early spring aided their situation. To be sure, there were skimpy meals during the first winter, but the Saints were confident that they could raise adequate crops in the spring.
However, more than plowing, planting, and irrigating had to be attended to. Homes had to be built, the region explored and evaluated. After resting on Sunday, 25 July, Brigham Young organized the pioneers into various committees, each with its own assignment. Some continued to plow, plant, or build forts and houses. Others constructed a road up City Creek Canyon to procure timber, while a few explored the canyons bordering the valley to determine the amount of timber, water supply, altitude of mountain peaks, and the existence of meadows with grazing possibilities.
Ten men were chosen for an exploring expedition the following Monday. Evidently Young and others wanted to make sure that the [p.11] spot they had chosen was the most ideal. According to Young’s manuscript history, Wilford Woodruff took Young in his carriage and the group traveled two miles toward the mountains then north five miles. They climbed to the top of a high hill they named Ensign Peak. Descending to the foot of the mountain valley, they stopped at a hot sulphur spring, where Ezra Taft Benson and Willard Richards bathed. The same day, Joseph Matthews and John Brown crossed the Salt Lake Valley at its narrowest point. They estimated the valley to be about fifteen miles wide and reported that the land to the west was not fertile, nor was there much water. They found a six-year-old horse which they brought back with them.
The next day, eight apostles were assigned to an exploring party and were accompanied by six other men, including Samuel Brannan who had just arrived in the valley. Their purpose was to visit the Great Salt Lake and the mountains west of the valley. They crossed the Jordan River and traveled twenty miles to a large rock on the south shore of the lake, which they named Black Rock. They stopped and bathed in the salty water. When they found they could float on the surface, they concluded that the lake was one of the wonders of the world. The following day they explored the south edge of the lake and Tooele Valley which they judged to be about twelve miles in diameter. They recognized that the soil was good and that the land was flat but found little water. Returning to their previous camp, they spent the night and continued into the Salt Lake Valley the next day.
As a result of these explorations, Young concluded that they had already picked the best place to build a community. At a meeting that evening, a vote was taken and all agreed to locate Salt Lake City at the site chosen on 23 July. Still, others wished to explore further, and, according to one of his biographers, Young also wanted to “know every hole and corner from the bay of San Francisco” to colonize every feasible location.
Additional explorations were carried out by Samuel Brannan and James Brown, the leader of the sick detachments of the Mormon Battalion. Brown was leading a small group to San Francisco, where he expected to receive the sick detachment’s pay. Brannan, too, was hoping to continue west to join up with the colony he had left in the Bay area. Brannan and Brown were accompanied by Jesse C. Little and three companions who wanted to explore the valleys north and east of the Great Salt Lake. The party first visited Miles Goodyear’s Fort Buenaventura on the Weber River, which they described as consisting of some log buildings and corrals stockaded [p.12] with pickets. There were also herds of cattle, horses, and goats, and a small garden of vegetables and a few stalks of corn. Continuing north to the Bear River, Little’s group parted company with the California-bound party and turned east into Cache Valley. After traversing the valley from north to south they followed Box Elder Creek back into the Salt Lake region.
Preliminary explorations of Utah Valley were made on 2 August by L. B. Myers and two days later by J. C. Little, Samuel Brannan, and Lieutenant W. W. Willis. A week later, Albert Carrington and two companions briefly explored the Jordan River by boat. Viewing Utah Valley from a low divide, Carrington’s party launched their boat toward the Great Salt Lake while one of the men drove the team back to the Salt Lake settlement. They made an enthusiastic report about the appearance of Utah Valley, including the fact that they had caught a number of fish in the Jordan River.
Later, in December, Parley P. Pratt, John S. Higbee, and others more thoroughly explored the valley and lake. They tried fishing with a net but had little success. After exploring the valley for a “day or two,” the main company returned to Salt Lake, while Pratt and a companion rode west into Cedar Valley and neighboring Rush Valley, then north into Tooele Valley. They could see the Great Salt Lake at its southern shore, which Pratt had visited earlier. They spent nearly a week hunting, fishing, and exploring.
Prior to Pratt’s exploration of the region, Captain Jefferson Hunt of the Mormon Battalion and a party of eighteen men had volunteered to go to southern California to secure seed and livestock. Hunt had just returned with several members of the battalion who had been discharged in California that July. They had made their way to the valley by way of San Francisco and Sacramento. Hunt was well acquainted with ranch owners in the Los Angeles area, and church officials decided to accept his suggestion that he approach them. The route to Los Angeles was new to Hunt’s company, and they estimated that they would make much better time than they actually did. Planning on a thirty-day trip, they took forty-five days to reach the Williams Ranch, near present-day Chino. Nearly starved, they were grateful for Williams’s hospitality. After resting and bargaining for the desired cattle and seeds, they began preparations for the return trip.
In the meantime, Captain Brown and other members of the battalion had returned from San Francisco. Evidently, the northern route to California was much better known.
[p.13] While some pioneers were exploring and others plowing and planting, a third group of colonists was building a bowery, a row of cabins arranged in the form of a fort, and a wall around the fort. Young’s pioneers were not alone in these tasks. On 29 July, they were joined by approximately 152 Mormon Battalion men from the sick detachments that had wintered in Colorado. They were accompanied by approximately thirty wives and fifty children, and by forty-seven Mississippi Saints who had wintered with the battalion families.
Young addressed a general meeting on the evening of the 30th and expressed delight at having the soldiers in the valley, declaring that their voluntary service had saved the Saints from the federal government. He closed the meeting by requesting that the battalion men build a bowery on the temple grounds. They responded the following day and erected a temporary bowery, 28 feet by 40 feet, covered with brush, which provided a shaded place for meetings during the hot August days. This was the first public building in the new city, and it was here on 1 August that the first Sunday religious services involving the three different groups were held. Meeting in both the morning and afternoon, the Saints, according to William Clayton, heard Orson Pratt assert that their location “in the tops of the mountains” literally fulfilled the biblical prophecies of Joel and Isaiah. They also received practical advice from Heber C. Kimball, who recommended the three camps join together in one large camp and begin working unitedly to build houses, corrals, and a fort.
Within a few days, Orson Pratt and Henry G. Sherwood began surveying the city and laying out the streets. Using the spot Brigham Young had selected for a temple as a starting point, they ran a base line on 3 August, and by 20 August a city had been laid out consisting of 135 blocks of 10 acres each, subdivided into eight lots of 1.25 acres. The streets, intersecting at right angles, were 8 rods wide. Three public squares were provided in addition to Temple Square, which originally was planned to contain 40 acres but was later reduced to conform to the other blocks. A site was selected for a fort, and a large group was appointed to begin building the cabins and the wall around it. Lacking timber, the leaders voted to put up a stockade of adobe houses. They soon modified their plan and used logs when possible.
A large group was next assigned to build log cabins and a wall around the fort, “sixty to hoke, twelve to mold, and twenty to put up walls,” Howard Egan recorded. Within a month twenty-nine log houses had been built in the fort, each 8 or 9 feet high, 16 feet long, [p.14] and 14 feet wide. Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball and their wives moved into their homes on 21 August. A block was set aside for a public adobe yard, and an abode wall was constructed around the three open sides of the fort. Another committee located timber in Emigration Canyon, constructed a road, extracted logs for the cabins, and dug a pit for the whip saw. A boat was made to use on the streams, a blacksmith shop was set up, corrals were built, and a community storehouse was erected. A sense of urgency prevailed, for the Saints were aware that Young and other leaders would be returning to Winter Quarters within a few days and that a large body of new immigrants would soon enter the valley. Anticipating this, leaders sent Apostle Benson with an escort to contact the immigrant company and let them know what they would meet upon entering the valley.
In their 2 August letter, church leaders reported that they numbered “about 450 souls.” This estimate seems accurate, since 156 pioneers, including some Mississippi Saints, had entered the valley on 23-24 July, and the Mormon Battalion detachments with their wives and children, numbering about 240 and accompanied by the 47 remaining Mississippi Saints, came into the valley on 29 July. Samuel Brannan and his two companions from California were there also.4
Young had been too ill to attend the religious services on 1 August, but on the evening of the 6th Heber C. Kimball rebaptized him as an example to the rest of the camp. The other members of the Twelve followed suit afterwards. All were confirmed at the water’s edge and received a renewal of their apostleship. Wilford Woodruff recorded: “We considered this a duty and a privilege as we had come into a glorious valley to locate and build a temple, and build up Zion—we felt like renewing our covenants before the Lord and each other.”
The following day, Kimball took advantage of the dam a few rods above the camp and invited his entire “adopted” family to be [p.15] baptized.5 They, together with a few others, renewed their covenants, making a total of fifty-five who were rebaptized on Saturday, 7 August. The next day, the entire congregation was invited to participate, and 224 men and women responded. Elders Kimball, Snow, Lewis, Goddard, Everett, and Shumway did the baptizing, while Young and the Twelve confirmed. This brought the total number of men and women who were rebaptized by the end of their second week in the valley to 288 out of an estimated 450. Since there were no more than 75 or 80 children in the camp, none of whom would have been rebaptized, some 50 adults apparently did not take advantage of the opportunity to renew their commitment.6 Rebaptism for renewal of covenants had also occurred at Nauvoo, under the leadership of Joseph Smith.
Church organizational structure was still developing. The Quorum of Twelve Apostles, one of several presiding councils governing the church, had received a vote of confidence in August 1844 and had led the church since then. However, the Council of Fifty, a group of men shouldering political responsibilities, had also been organized and assigned to lead in locating a new place of refuge following the death of Joseph Smith. Since the leaders of this council were also members of the Twelve, the two groups tended to work harmoniously.
During the trek across the Great Plains, Young had announced as “the Word and Will of the Lord” that the camps of Israel should be organized into companies with captains of hundreds, fifties, and tens. A para-military organization was then superimposed upon the Israelitish organization which listed Young as lieutenant-general, Stephen Markham as colonel, and John Pack and Shadrach Roundy [p.16] as majors. Cutting across this religious and military organization was a family organization based upon the principle of adoption. Many church leaders, such as Young and Kimball, had “adopted” other adults into their extended family before leaving Nauvoo, and such groups were expected to function as a family unit (see also chap. 10). The situation was complicated further by the fact that the battalion men had not been discharged and were still under the command of commissioned officers. Then, too, the Mississippi Saints had not been part of the original pioneer company and tended to function as a separate camp of close-knit families. Little wonder some confusion existed about roles and lines of authority during the first year in the valley.
However, Brigham Young was clearly in charge. Although illness had kept him from leading the pioneers who chose the spot of settlement, his instructions had been followed, and he assumed command upon arrival. On Sunday, 25 July, the Saints held a sacrament meeting at which they were encouraged to express themselves. At the close of the meeting, according to his manuscript history, Young announced that they must not work on Sunday for they would lose five times as much as they would gain by it, that they must not hunt or fish on that day, and that no man could dwell among them who would not observe these rules. He concluded: “No one should buy any land who came here, that he had no land to sell; … but for every man the land would be issued to him for city and farming purposes, whatever he could till. He might till it as he pleases, but he must be industrious and take care of it.”
Young evidently did not think it necessary to submit his statement on Sabbath labor and land distribution to the Saints for a sustaining vote. Nonetheless, the usual pattern was to seek community support for the leader’s decisions. This was true of the selection of a permanent site for the settlement, for the temple site, and for city planning. It was decided to build one house per lot 20 feet back from the street and in the center of the line so that there would be uniformity throughout the city. One advantage of this plan was security should fire break out at any one point. It was further determined that upon every alternate block, four houses were to be built on the east and four on the west side of the square, but none on the north and on the south. The block intervening, however, would have four houses on the north, four on the south, and none on the east or west. Thus, there would be no houses facing each other on the opposite sides of the street, while those on the same side would be about [p.17] 8 rods apart, having gardens running back 20 rods to the center of the block. It was moved and carried that there be four public squares of 10 acres each, laid out in various parts of the city for public grounds. “But every man,” said Young, “would cultivate his own lot and set out every kind of fruit and shade tree and beautify the city.” This plan was submitted to the camp during an evening meeting on the site designated for the temple. Each proposition had already been submitted to the Twelve, and now the entire camp “passed all of the above votes unanimously as they are recorded.”7
Since the time was rapidly approaching for leaders and others to return to Winter Quarters to prepare for the next pioneer company, a major organizational meeting was held on 22 August. On this occasion Young relinquished his position as presiding officer to Heber C. Kimball. “It is necessary,” Kimball then said, according to Young’s manuscript history,
to transact a few items of business, to have a presidency to preside over this place, and to appoint such officers as are necessary to watch over and to counsel them for their well-being. Also the stockade—shall we continue our efforts and concentrate on that, or scatter and every man work for himself? Shall we cultivate the earth in the vicinity of the city or go three or four miles and make farms and fence them so our crops can be secure? Shall we scatter our labors? One man build his house, another fence his lot, another go hunting, and so on. These are matters for your consideration.
After several comments, Young moved that work on the stockade continue and that the labors of the groups be organized and directed. His motion carried unanimously. Then he said, “I move that there be a president to preside over this place.” Again, his motion was seconded and carried. “That there be a high council.” Seconded and carried. “That all officers that are necessary be appointed for this place.” Seconded and carried. “That we call this place The Great Salt Lake City of the Great Basin, North America. That we call the post office the Great Basin Post Office.” Seconded and carried. Then Kimball moved to call “the river the Western Jordan.” Also seconded and carried. At this point, Young made a classic statement that forms [p.18] the basis for the Mormon church’s theocratic organization. He said, “It is the right of the Twelve to nominate the officers and the people to receive them. We wish to know who is coming in the next company. If Uncle John Smith comes, it is in our mind that he preside.” Later in the meeting, the names of the various creeks were decided. Finally, Young asked if the people were satisfied with the labors of the Twelve, who received a unanimous vote of confidence. With this sustaining vote, Young and his party set out for Winter Quarters on 26 August.
Exercising their “right to nominate leaders,” the Twelve sent the following letter on 9 September, from twenty miles east of South Pass, after having met immigrant parties led by Pratt and Taylor:
It is wisdom that certain officers exist among you to preside and attend to the various branches of business that exist, or that may arise during our absence. We would nominate John Smith to be your president with liberty for him to select his two counselors, and we suggest the names of Charles C. Rich and John Young. We would nominate Henry G. Sherwood, Thomas Grover, Levi Jackman, John Murdock, Daniel Spencer, Steven Abbot, Ira Eldridge, Edson Whipple, Shadrach Roundy, John Vance, Willard Snow, and Abraham O. Smoot for a high council, whose duty it will be to observe those principles which have been instituted in the stakes of Zion for the government of the church, and to pass such laws and ordinances as shall be necessary for the peace and prosperity of the city for the time being, if such there need be. We also nominate John Van Cott to be marshal of your city, and Albert Carrington to be your clerk, historian, and deputy-postmaster, and that he keep the barometrical and thermometrical observations daily. We recommend that General Charles C. Rich be the chief military commander of the city, and that a perfect organization be instituted and sustained in companies of ten, fifty, and one hundred.
This proposal was approved on 3 October. But since John Smith’s company did not arrive until 25 September, the Saints in the valley were left with no designated leaders for about a month.
When the organization of the Salt Lake Stake (or diocese) was finally completed, the colony’s legislative, executive, and judicial affairs were in the hands of a three-member stake presidency and twelve-member high council. Meeting regularly, these fifteen men made laws, provisions for their enforcement, and acted as a court of justice to consider all disputes occurring in the settlement. On 7 November, the city was divided into five wards (or parishes), with [p.19] the following men selected as bishops over each ward: Joseph Noble, Tarleton Lewis, John L. Higbee, Jacob Foutz, and Edward Hunter. These men were in charge of temporal affairs in their wards and with their counselors formed lower courts of justice.
Much of the high council’s time was spent granting permits to build mills and cut timber and attending to the economic welfare of individuals. The first laws established, according to the church’s Journal History, were made on 30 November 1847: Every dog owner should secure him during the night under penalty of a fine ranging from one to five dollars; if a dog was reported as a nuisance, the bishop should decide the case and, if the accusations were right, appoint someone to dispose of the animal. It was also recommended that the people build their chimneys at least 3 feet above the roofs of their houses.
This theocratic system of government served the needs of the isolated community but was not without its problems. One of the first difficulties involved the sick detachments of the Mormon Battalion. When they entered the valley on 29 July, they were still officially in the U.S. Army and were subject to their military leader, Captain James Brown. Some battalion men did not like Brown and also resented the fact that Brigham Young had reappropriated their wages for the benefit of the church. Young acknowledged this but asserted that the men had understood this at the time of their enlistment and that the families had voted in favor of it. He pointed out that he had taken care of their families, then said:
If there are any … who do not feel cheerfully to have their funds appropriated for the greatest possible good, as we have proposed, but choose to receive the money in their own hands … for their own pleasure, they can have their money, but such a course of conduct will release us from all obligations we are under, to see that they are provided for and taken care of agreeably to our pledges with the soldiers.
Later, Young attempted to mollify the soldiers by telling them that their willingness to join the army had kept the government from destroying the Saints on their march west. According to John Steele’s journal, Young then called on the pioneers to share what they had with their battalion brethren. Other soldiers were disappointed that their families had not been brought west with them. On 12 August, William Clayton recorded that several “left the camp secretly [the previous day] to go to Winter Quarters, and this morning others are gone, but it is probable that President Young knows nothing of it [p.20] yet, although about a dozen are already gone, and the others are preparing to follow them.”8
Church leaders finally decided that since the term of enlistment for the battalion men should have ended on 16 July, they could probably be mustered out of service. They appointed Captain Brown and a small company to go with Sam Brannan to California to report to U.S. officials there, taking with them the power of attorney for each member to collect the balance of pay due for their services. When Brown returned, the stake presidency assumed control of the money and authorized Brown to purchase Fort Buenaventura from Miles Goodyear for almost two thousand dollars.
Such actions did not promote unity among the Saints, and some soldiers continued to criticize their leaders. In 1849, for example, Brigham Young declared, “Since returning home from the army, most of the soldiers have become idle, lazy and indolent, indulging in vice, corrupting the morals of young females.” A case in point was the arrest of six former soldiers for riding their horses into the fort with young women sitting in the saddle with them. The high council, John D. Lee recorded in his diary, voted to cut the men off from the church and fined each of them twenty-five dollars. By the early 1850s, however, church leaders recognized the need to acknowledge publicly the contribution of the battalion, and in February 1855 they sponsored a festival honoring the former soldiers. The sponsoring committee chose for its theme, “The Mormon Battalion—A Ram in the Thicket,” recalling Abraham’s near sacrifice of his son Isaac in the Old Testament. At the celebration, Young agreed that past differences should be settled and assured the men that they had always been in his prayers.
A more serious problem developed when several former soldiers decided to leave the valley for California with Miles Goodyear. They were apparently led by a man named Weeks, who had become disaffected the previous winter but had accompanied the Saints because he wanted to get to California. When informed that no one would be permitted to leave until the Twelve returned, Weeks rebelled. John Van Cott reported to the high council on 26 December, “Weeks, Gardner, and Babcock had all stated that they would go in the spring, or spill their blood and Babcock had remarked that if it was in his [p.21] power he would destroy every Mormon on the earth. Weeks and company said they were getting all the documents they could [against the Mormons] and would get them published.”9 Apostles Parley P. Pratt and John Taylor, who had remained in the valley, both recommended that the men be excommunicated to strip them of all influence and power.
Not all pioneers were devoted, self-sacrificing Saints. But the scribe of these events hastened to add in the Journal History, “As a general thing, the people here are disposed to do right and hearken to council and uphold the authorities, but as is natural under new and untried circumstances, there are few exceptions.” Such difficulties prompted the immediate enactment of a number of laws to deal with people who had immigrated with the Saints but were not converted to the church or dedicated to its program of establishing “Zion in the tops of the mountains.”
A committee (consisting of Henry Sherwood, Albert Carrington, and Charles C. Rich) that had been appointed to draft laws presented five ordinances for approval on 27 December 1847. The final ordinance concerning vagrants asserted the right of the community to force every person to be employed. The other ordinances concerned disorderly or dangerous persons and disturbers of the peace as well as those accused of adultery and fornication, drunkenness, stealing, robbing, or maliciously destroying property by fire. Persons convicted of such crimes could receive up to thirty-nine lashes on the bare back as well as fines of up to $1,000, depending upon the crime. However, persons convicted of drunkenness, cursing, swearing, foul or indecent language, the unnecessary firing of guns within or about the forts, unusual noise or noises, or any disturbance of the quiet or peace of the community, were required only to pay a fine of not less than twenty-five dollars.
Later, in January, two other ordinances were passed addressing violations based on greed and carelessness and reflecting developments in the new community. Ordinances VI and VII read:
Be it ordained that no person is entitled to more fuel than will last him to the first day of October, 1848, or to more poles of timber than will answer his present fencing or building, unless by permission of the [p.22] council, under a penalty of a sum not less than five dollars nor exceeding five hundred dollars, at the discretion of the judge or judges.
Be it ordained that no loose cattle, horses, mules, or sheep shall be permitted to run upon the wheatland, or be driven on the road passing through it; and that the marshal, or any person he deputizes, shall take up every animal thus trespassing; and that the owner of every animal thus taken shall pay twenty-five cents per head to the person who takes them up, and two cents per head a day, for herding, if they require to be herded for the wheatlands and the road through it shall be kept clear of loose animals.10
Since there were no jails, the high council had to base penalties on some other form of punishment such as whipping and loss of property. The penalties were severe enough to discourage impeding the peace and progress of the settlement, and violations were infrequent during the first winter. In fact, many of the hearings before the high council were based on incidents that occurred during the trek west.
Perhaps the most perplexing problem to confront council members was their relationship to apostles Pratt and Taylor. According to the Journal History, Pratt was once criticized during these months for cutting green wood. He appeared before the council voluntarily, not as a transgressor, he said, since he had not been legally notified, but “as moved upon by the Spirit of the Lord and an Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ,” and asked for the privilege of teaching the council about the order of the church. He then asserted that as senior apostle in the valley, he presided over the stake presidency and that it was his “duty to warn, exhort, and admonish” the Saints.
Pratt told the council that they had been in darkness all winter and called them to repent. “There had been more jarrings this winter than he had ever known,” he reported. “If the Spirit of the Lord had governed the council, he and Elder Taylor would have been referred to more.” Regarding the charge of cutting green wood, he admitted that he had done so and fully expected to do so again—that, with only two little boys to help them, he was not able to sustain his fires with dry wood. He acknowledged that he was subject [p.23] to the law but felt that the timber law should be altered. John Taylor then rose and said, “I do know that Brother Pratt’s teachings this day are true.”11
Although blessed with a relatively mild winter, the pioneers’ life was not easy. There were few diversions, and the people lived austerely. At Christmas, some members felt they should enjoy a little dancing, but Brigham Young and others decided that “it was not proper to engage in dancing at that time, and thus it was not permitted.” John Taylor did entertain friends with a dinner and dancing on New Year’s Day, but he was careful to clear the festivities with the high council first. Lorenzo Dow Young, who attended the party, reported in his diary, “Our visit was pleasant. The day was spent in [social] chats, and singing and prayer.… President [John] Smith blessed our little Lorenzo.”
As the winter wore on there was little excess food for entertaining and insufficient strength for dancing. Lorenzo Young recorded that he shared his last bit of flour with a destitute battalion veteran, then traded a pair of oxen for three-quarters of beef which kept his family alive for several weeks. After the beef was gone, he decided to eat the hide: “To prepare a meal, a piece of it was boiled and until it became a glue soup, when salt was added.” The thick soup filled their stomachs, but Harriet Young grew weak. Bishop Edward Hunter, learning of Harriet’s plight, gave Lorenzo seven pounds of flour which helped her survive until spring.
Hungry pioneers used thistle roots growing along the banks of the Jordan River bottom lands, sego lily roots, and cowslip greens to augment their meager diet. By the end of the year they were looking forward to spring and an early harvest of the garden plants and wheat they had planted the previous fall. [p.25]
1. In his Comprehensive History of the Church, B. H. Roberts, an early twentieth-century Mormon historian, notes that Wilford Woodruff reported a similar incident occurring at the mouth of Emigration Canyon on 24 July. Woodruff’s account is important because it apparently is the source for the famous “This is the place” statement, attributed to Brigham Young. According to his biographer Matthias Cowley, Woodruff wrote in his journal on 24 July 1869, “Twenty-two years ago…I drove the team which brought President Brigham Young into this city. He lay upon a bed sick in my carriage. As soon as his eyes rested upon this beautiful yet desert scene of the valley before us he said, “This is the place; for the Lord has shown it to me in a vision.’” Unfortunately, Woodruff does not include such an event in his journal for either 24 July 1869 or 24 July 1847, and no contemporary account has yet been found that records Young saying, “This is the place” on 24 July 1847.
2. The traditional story of dry land probably came from Clara Decker Young who remembered that the pioneers “found it necessary to irrigate [the land] before plowing.” Later, Orson F. Whitney, in History of Utah, added, “There was little to invite and much to repel….A broad and barren plain…blistering in the burning rays of the midsummer sun. No waving fields, no swaying forest, no verdant meadows to refresh the weary eye, but on all sides a seemingly interminable waste of sagebrush…the paradise of the lizard, the cricket, and the rattlesnake.”
3. The Mormons even discovered that certain Indians were irrigating parts of the Great Basin. If nothing else, they recognized that their need for water would be constant. With this in mind, they studied irrigation and with their effective organization, cooperative spirit, and program of community control of water resources, effectively used this limited resource on a large scale.
4. Some confusion exists about the total number entering the valley in 1847. Church historian B.H. Roberts, basing his calculations on Thomas Bullock’s reports, asserted a total of 2,095, but he did not take into account the battalion members from California. Leonard J. Arrington estimated that 1,681 pioneers spent the first winter in the valley, and a church letter of 6 March 1848 reported that the total population stood at “1,671 persons living in 423 houses.” There were also some births and deaths, and a few battalion men decided to go back east to their families. In addition, some 250 people who came into the Salt Lake Valley in 1847 returned soon afterwards to Winter Quarters or to California. Thus about 1,930 people could claim the title “Pioneers of ’47.”
5. Kimball had a number of adopted sons—men who had been “sealed” to him as their spiritual and temporal father. According to Howard Eagan’s journal, after the 25 July meeting, Kimball told his adopted sons, “Most of you here present have become adopted into my family…and what is mine is yours and what is yours is your own.” Brigham Young evidently used this system of extended families in organizing the contingent that followed the first pioneers into the valley in 1847, and which resulted in Young’s sharp reprimand of Apostle Parley P. Pratt when they met near South Pass. Pratt and John Taylor had changed the marching order from family groups to large companies and, of course, had had no way of consulting Young.
6. This may account for some of the difficulties that developed later that year and may have been one of the motives Young had in suggesting rebaptism initially. Certainly Young was upset by the attitudes of some members of the battalion and their wives, who criticized his handling of monies that had been sent by battalion members to their families. Realizing that the church members in the valley were far from united, Young attempted to bring greater harmony by calling their attention to their religious commitments.
7. While this appears democratic, it is typical of church leadership in which a council determines a policy, acts on it, and then presents it for an approving vote. It should also be noted that the Mormon leaders did not slavishly follow Joseph Smith’s own ideas of city planning but modified them according to their particular circumstances and experiences.
8. Young evidently felt that the wives of some battalion men were responsible for the dissatisfaction. According to John D. Lee, he once claimed that “they had lied and tattled about me…and thereby poisoned and soured the feelings of their husbands.” Young even told one man that his wife “possesses a nasty, whining, devilish spirit” and asserted that women should not counsel their husbands.
9. According to the “History of Brigham Young,” for 6 March 1848, both Babcock and Gardner, with one son each, left the valley to join a Mr. Walker’s party on its way to California. In addition, a Mr. Pollack, who had been excommunicated “on the road,” and Hazen Kimball and their families were hoping to intercept Walker’s company near Fort Hall.
10. The law concerning animals may have been prompted by an incident involving Albert Carrington’s cow. The animal had been found dead by haystacks belonging to two men, both of whom denied any knowledge. High councilmen Sherwood and Grover asserted that “the priesthood had certain power in discovering hidden things” and encouraged the men to tell all they knew about it. Finally John Smith pronounced a curse on the persons who had killed the cow until they came forward and made restitution. According to the Journal History, “it was moved and seconded that the curse stand until restitution was made.”
11. Relations between the two apostles and the high council were usually good, but such incidents indicate that lines of authority were not clearly established during the Saints’ first winter in the valley. Certainly, the day-to-day struggle to survive in a new location caused some tensions and disagreements, even among men of good faith.