Eugene E. Campbell
[p.25]Although the pioneers had successfully established a base camp by the end of 1847, their survival was not guaranteed. Most immigrants entered the valley in late September or early October, too late to plant or harvest crops, and had to survive on rations. Luckily, the first winter was unusually mild, and no one starved. However, other threats soon developed. A late frost and hordes of crickets would nearly destroy their crops in May and June, while frost, drought, and cattle would destroy crops later that fall. In contrast to their first winter, the winter of 1848-49 would be especially severe. And the discovery of gold in California would tempt many members to leave the valley for richer prospects. Brigham Young, though not present during the cricket attack, would be on hand to face the other dangers and to discourage desertion.
The pioneers had several reasons to feel optimistic as they faced the early spring of 1848. During their first winter several men had built or were in the process of building saw mills to help construct homes and grist mills in anticipation of an early harvest. In their letter of 6 March to Brigham Young, valley leaders reported:
Charles Chrisman has a small grist mill … on City Creek.… Brother John Neff intends to build a good flouring mill to be ready to grind by harvest if possible. Brother Chase has a saw mill in operation on a spring a short distance from the pioneer garden. Archibald and Robert Gardner have a saw mill nearly ready for sawing on Mill Creek.… Brothers Nebeker, Keeler and Wallace are progressing rapidly with a saw mill [p.26] in the canyon some ten miles north of the city. Brother Amasus Russell has put up a frame for the carding machine near Brother Gardner’s saw mills.
Settlers with special skills had been busy making chairs, tables, bedsteads, washtubs, churns, and other items. Others were building fences. Nearly 4,000 rods of fencing had been completed in addition to the wall around the fort. This was especially important since the animals of the companies that had arrived before fences had been built had destroyed nearly all of the crops the previous fall. Still other pioneers were building bridges over the Jordan River and Mill Creek.1
A party from Fort Hall visited the valley in December to explore the possibility of establishing trade with the Mormon settlers. John Smith and his two counselors asked the captain to carry a letter to his board of management, in which they described their settlement and prospects for growth as well as their immediate needs. Listing such needed items as “sugar, coffee, tea, bleached or unbleached domestic or cotton cloth … colored calicos, broadcloth, cassimeres … blankets, iron steel, powder, hardware, [and] leather,” they explained that “in case you saw fit to send your goods direct to this place, we … will use our influence to turn the channel of trade in your favor.” The leaders suggested that the products of their mills could be used as items of trade along with “no inconsiderable share of peltry.” Smith and other leaders apparently believed a trading arrangement could materialize to their advantage.
Another source of food became available in the spring as Battalion men brought provisions from California. Early in May 1848, the Lathrop-Hunt party, which had gone to California the previous November to get cattle and seeds, returned. Lathrop reported on 11 May that he “had purchased 200 head of cows, at six dollars per head, [but] … had lost forty head on the Mojave, that went back to California.” It took the party of nineteen, accompanied by five hired Indians, ninety days to return home. Saying that he had done the best he could, Lathrop presented a bill for $227.91, which the high council agreed to honor. Lathrop’s return brought additional [p.27] livestock to the valley but also twenty more mouths to feed. Less than a month later, on 5 June, Henry G. Boyle, with Porter Rockwell as guide, led into the valley a second contingent of about thirty-five Battalion men (out of eighty-five) who had re-enlisted and served eight additional months in San Diego. They brought wheat and other staples, as well as a band of some 135 horses and mules.
Still, an early harvest was the anticipated remedy to the scanty supplies remaining after the first winter, and the pioneers were quick to take advantage of the mild winter. John Taylor asserted that he had plowed as late as 5 December, and Lorenzo Dow Young wrote on 16 January that “the weather … had been warm and pleasant.” Parley P. Pratt noted in his journal that the settlers began plowing again as early as 24 February, although in a letter to the Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star, published in England, he wrote that “early in March the ground opened and we commenced plowing for spring crops, plowed and planted about twenty acres of Indian corn, beans, melons, etc. My corn planting was completed by 15 May; most of it had done extremely well.”
The previous fall, the pioneers had put in approximately 2,000 acres of winter wheat and expected to plant more that spring. They also planned to plant between 3,000 and 4,000 acres of corn and fresh garden vegetables. The high council’s 6 March letter to Brigham Young reported that “all of the animals that were permitted to run loose are in fine condition. Many of the brethren are busy in their gardens and many have thriving tomato, cabbage, and other plants ready to set out.” As early as 16 April 1848, John Steele wrote that “greenstuff is coming very fast, that wheat, corn, beans, and peas were all up looking grand, grass six inches high that early in the spring.”
This optimistic view changed suddenly when a killing frost destroyed almost all of the garden vegetables in late May. The Saints had hardly recovered from that shock when they were confronted with a more serious threat—the invasion of millions of crickets. John Taylor noted crickets in some fields as early as 22 May. Five days later Harriet Young gave the first detailed account: “Today to our utter astonishment the crickets came by the millions sweeping everything before them. They first attacked a patch of beans for us, and in twenty minutes there was not a vestige of them to be seen. They next swept over the peas, then came into our garden and took everything clean. We went out with a brush and undertook to drive them, but they were too strong for us.”
[p.28] The next day Isaac Haight recorded, “Frost again this morning. Things killed in the garden such as beans, cucumbers, melons, pumpkins and squash. Corn hurt some and some wheat killed, and the crickets are injuring the crops.” On the same day, Harriet Young added, “Last night we had a severe frost; today the crickets have commenced on our corn and small grain. They had eaten off twelve acres for Brother Rosencrantz, seven for Charles, and are now taking Edmund’s.” The following day the crickets destroyed “three-fourths of an acre of squashes, our flax, two acres of millet, our rye, and are now to work in our wheat; what will the result be, we know not.” John Steele, summarizing the previous week, wrote, “There is great excitement in camp; there has come a frost which took beans, corn, and wheat, and nearly everything and to help make the disaster complete, the crickets came by the thousands of tons.” The same day, Haight reported, “It was cold and very dry. Crops began to suffer for want of rain. The crickets destroyed some crops eating the heads of grain as soon as the heads are out.” Both Steele and Haight feared that the Saints would be forced to leave the valley, and John Young urged that a letter be sent to his brother Brigham, warning him not to bring any more Mormons into the valley that year for fear of starvation.
The pioneers had noticed crickets when they first entered the valley. William Clayton commented in July 1847 that the ground seemed alive with large black insects. Orson Pratt described crickets the size of a man’s thumb, and others reported mammoth crickets in the borders of the valley. Some pioneers had recognized the potential threat, but nothing of the magnitude they ultimately encountered. For example, on 29 August 1847, John Steele had written that “his daily labors included planting buckwheat; irrigating crops, killing crickets, etc.” Early the next year, John Taylor had noted that crickets and other insects had destroyed much of their spring crops. The pioneers were not entirely surprised to find crickets in their fields in 1848. What they had not anticipated was the effect the mild winter would have on insect survival.
In the face of this threat, the pioneers tried everything imaginable to keep the crickets from destroying their crops. They surrounded their fields with water in irrigation ditches, hoping to drown the insects. When they discovered that crickets were cannibalistic, they piled large mounds of crickets near the borders of their fields to divert others. Sticks, clubs, brooms, branches, and willows were used to knock the black creatures off the plants, and fires were built in long rows in hopes of consuming the insects. Some settlers learned [p.29] that crickets disliked certain noises, so they pounded on pans and rang bells to try to turn them away from the fields. One of the most unusual techniques was that tried by John Young. He and his brother pulled a rope back and forth across the tops of the grain to knock off the climbing crickets before they could reach the heads of the wheat. But these efforts only stemmed the tide temporarily.
Suddenly, flocks of gulls began landing in the fields and devouring the crickets. It is difficult to determine just when the gulls first arrived and how dramatic their impact may have been. Isaac Haight noted on 4 June that some of the Saints were considering leaving the valley because of the crickets and did not mention the gulls.2 But five days later the stake presidency informed Brigham Young, “The gulls have come in large flocks from the lake and sweep the crickets as they go, and it seems that the hand of the Lord is in our favor.” Thus the gulls may have begun arriving sometime between 4 June and 9 June.
John Smith remembered that the gulls came every morning for about three weeks. He first saw them when he heard their sharp cry. On “looking up,” he wrote, “I beheld what appeared to be a vast flock of pigeons coming from the Northwest. It was about three o’clock in the afternoon.… There must have been thousands of them. Their coming was like a great cloud; and when they passed between us and the sun, a shadow covered the field. I could see gulls settling down for more than a mile around us.” After filling their stomachs, the birds would regurgitate the indigestible parts of the insects and return to the fields for more. It appeared to the pioneers that the birds’ main objective was to kill the crickets rather than feed on them. George Q. Cannon, for example, concluded this after walking along the ditches where he “saw lumps of crickets, vomited up by those gulls.” Such actions may have seemed unnatural, but the pioneers were grateful that the birds had such voracious appetites. If John Smith’s account is correct, the gulls destroyed thousands of insects during a three-week period—enough, in fact, to make the difference between disaster and a respectable harvest.
When the situation seemed to be under control, John Smith reported to Brigham Young on 20 July, rating the gulls as helpers but not as rescuers.
[p.30] The crickets are still quite numerous, but between the gulls and our own efforts and the growth of our crops, we shall raise much grain in spite of them. Our vines, beans, and peas are mostly destroyed by frost and the crickets, but many of us have more seed and are now busy replanting. Feel assured that we will still raise many pumpkins, melons, beans, etc. Some of the corn now is growing very fast, as the days and nights are warmer on the whole.
Smith also reported that the fences were nearly up, that the health of the people was good, and that the harvest would probably be much better than anticipated. He concluded, “Everything is as well as could be expected, considering our ignorance of the climate and the crickets and so on. But we are gaining a fund of knowledge and from all such points, and a large majority feel encouraged and well satisfied.” Smith’s cautious report places things in perspective. Frost, drought, lack of fencing, and irrigation problems, as well as the cricket attack, were all factors in determining the success of the crops. The gulls helped to solve the cricket problem, “along with our own efforts,” but they could not aid in solving the pioneers’ other difficulties.
When Brigham Young reported to church members in April 1849 on agricultural progress during the previous year, he did not note the gulls at all.
Most of the early plots were destroyed in the month of May by crickets and a frost which continued occasionally till June while the latter harvest was injured more or less by drought, by frost, which commenced its injuries about October 10, and by the outbreak of cattle. The brethren were not sufficiently numerous to fight the crickets, irrigate the crops, and fence the farm of their extensive plantings; consequently they suffered heavy losses, though the experience of the past year is sufficient to prove that valuable crops may be raised in the valley by attentive and judicious management.
Although little was said about the role of the gulls in saving the crops at the time, the inspirational aspects of the episode were emphasized over time until it came to be regarded as a unique incident in Mormon history. Such an interpretation ignores the fact that gulls and other birds returned regularly each spring to Mormon settlements, devouring crickets, grasshoppers, worms, and other insects. But the episode was providential to the colonists who needed food.
The pioneers had psychological needs, as well. They had committed themselves to building their concept of Zion, believing that God had inspired their leaders to choose this location. To have been forced to leave would have challenged their faith and perhaps the [p.31] unity of the church. Even though the gulls “came late and left early,” their presence made a difference and seemed to confirm God’s blessings. Little wonder that the church later commissioned the Sea Gull Monument on Temple Square and that the gull is Utah’s official state bird.
By August 1848 the cricket threat had abated and leaders were able to send a favorable report to Brigham Young and other church officials who were leading a large contingent of Latter-day Saints from Winter Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley. They reported:
There were some 5,000 acres plowed, planted, and sowed, but owing to the destruction by crickets, grasshoppers, and other insects, we are not able to state how many acres will finally mature their crops. Wheat harvest is over, and the grain is splendid and clean, being mostly in shock and stack.… We can raise more and better wheat per acre in this valley than any of us have ever seen and the same with all the other grains and vegetables, etc., that we have tried. The corn looks extremely well, but as in most new countries the worms eat some in the ears though we judge they will injure but little.… Green peas have been so plentiful for such a long time that we’re becoming tired of them. Cucumbers, squash, onions, peas, carrots, parsnips, and green corn are on our tables as harbingers in their respective departments, and no one has starved, and few have been much shortened for bread and meat, therefore, we feel that the trying time has been passed, and that, too, without any tax on provisions, which some anticipated in the winter.
Other local leaders were equally optimistic. In a 5 September 1848 letter to his brother Orson in England, Parley P. Pratt reported that corn and other crops had done well: “Many of the ears are as high as I can reach. I had a good harvest of wheat and rye without irrigation, though not a full crop, those who irrigated their wheat raised double the quantity on the same amount of land. Wheat harvest commenced early in July, and continued until August. Winter and spring wheat have both done well, some ten thousand bushels have been raised in the valley this season.” Likewise, Thomas Bullock reported that Levi Hancock, one of the returning members of the Mormon Battalion, had sown “eleven pounds weight of California wheat on the 14th of April and had reaped twenty-two bushels the latter part of July and had sown half a bushel of English common wheat on an acre and a half, and reaped upwards of twenty bushels. The land,” Bullock continued, “then irrigated and produced from the roots a fresh crop, four times the quantity of the first crop. Peas first planted, a good crop ripened, gathered; then planted the same peas, yielded another crop; again a third crop is now growing.”
[p.32] Not all reports were so favorable. Henry Bigler noted that the “corn crop was light and the fodder short,” and Isaac Haight wrote that his final wheat harvest was poor. John Steele lamented that his harvest consisted of a “mess-pan full of corn ears,” and A. J. Allen produced only five bushels of wheat from his two acres. Apparently the degree of success varied from pioneer to pioneer, depending on irrigation and the impact of the crickets. But the overall harvest enabled valley leaders to fulfill the promise of a harvest festival they had announced the previous Christmas. In a report to the Millennial Star, Parley P. Pratt wrote, “On the 10th [of August] we met to a number of several hundred under a large awning to celebrate our first harvest in the Great Basin. We had a feast which consisted of almost every variety of food, all produced in this valley. We had prayer and thanksgiving and music and dancing and firing of cannon together with loud shouts of hosannas to God and the Lamb.”
Despite the leaders’ optimism, there was reason for concern given the expected increase in population. Approximately fifty-five Mormon Battalion veterans had come into the valley from southern California in May. An even larger number were expected from northern California by early fall, although the recent discovery of gold made it uncertain just how many would arrive. (Eventually, forty-five men and one woman met near Placerville on 1 July and, after two days’ preparation, began the long trek to Salt Lake Valley, arriving in mid-October, along with Addison Pratt, who had been serving as a missionary to the Samoan Islands and had joined this group in San Francisco.)
The return of these battalion men caused only a minor increase in population compared to the large groups on their way from Winter Quarters led by Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Willard Richards. Young’s company included 1,229 immigrants, while Kimball’s and Richards’s were smaller, containing 662 and 526, for a total of 2,417. Fortunately these companies were well supplied with domestic animals as well as a great variety of seeds and plants. Having been in the valley a year earlier, Mormon leaders knew that they could use every plant and animal they could bring. These numbers, plus the Battalion men on their way from California, added to the nearly 1,800 already in the valley as reported by John Smith on 8 August, would total approximately 4,250 valley residents to be provided for during the coming winter.
The Ute Indians, led by Chief Walker, brought several hundred horses for sale into the valley, and some Mexican traders added to the supply. Parley P. Pratt reported that the horses could be used for [p.33] food, if necessary, and asserted that “our cattle and sheep increase fast.” A more welcome source of food was that provided by Captain Grant of Hudson Bay’s Trading Post at Fort Hall. Grant kept his earlier promise and brought a train of pack horses into the valley laden with skins, groceries, and other goods.
Despite these attempts to increase the supply of food, the colonists barely survived the winter because of the severity of the weather. Whereas the previous winter had been mild, the winter of 1848-49 was intense. In their first general epistle to the Saints abroad, Brigham Young and his counselors described the weather as follows:
Excessive cold commenced on the 1st of December, and continued till the latter part of February. Snow storms were frequent, and though there were several thaws, the earth was not without snow during that period, varying from one to three feet in depth, both in time and place. The coldest day of the past winter was the 5th of February, the mercury falling to 33 degrees below freezing point, and the warmest day was Sunday, the 25th of February, with the mercury rising 21 degrees above the freezing point Fahrenheit. Violent and contrary winds have been frequent. The snow on the surrounding mountains has been much deeper, which has made the wood very difficult of access, while the cattle become so poor through fasting and scanty fare that it has been difficult to draw the necessary fuel and many have had to suffer more or less from the want thereof. The winter commenced at an unusual and unexpected moment and found many of the brethren without houses or fuel. Although there has been considerable suffering, there have been no deaths by the frost. Three attempts have been made by the brethren with pack animals or snow shoes to visit Fort Bridger since the snow fall but have failed.
In an effort to conserve their food and to protect their animals from predators, and apparently to promote social life as well, the high council decided to sponsor a massive hunt to eliminate the “wasters and destroyers”: “The citizens of this Great Salt Lake City suffered so much annoyance from howling at night, and depredations committed by the foxes, catamounts, ravens, and other animals, that it was considered advisable for rival companies to be organized and destroy the same.” John D. Lee wrote that one thousand dollars worth of grain and stock had already been destroyed by the animals. Lee and John Pack were chosen captains of the one-hundred-man teams, and it was agreed that the losers would treat the winners and their wives to dinner. The hunt opened Christmas morning. A point system was established with Isaac Morley and Reynolds Cahoon as judges. Thomas Bullock kept record and was instructed to publish a list of the successes of each individual. The first of February was the [p.34] deadline for producing evidence of the kill, but this was later extended to 5 March. Animals and birds killed by both companies included two bears, two wolverines, two wildcats, 183 wolves, 499 foxes, 31 mink, 9 eagles, 531 magpies, hawks, and owls, and 1,026 ravens. John D. Lee’s team was declared winner, and Thomas Williams was designated individual champion.
Such diversions helped to improve public morale, but as the winter continued, other measures to insure survival and social cohesion were needed. Most important was the institution of a voluntary rationing and community storehouse system. The five city wards were further divided into nineteen, and the newly appointed bishops were instructed to provide for the poor in their ward. Each person with a surplus of food was asked to turn it in to his bishop for distribution among the needy. Brigham Young chose to persuade and appeal to conscience rather than invade homes and wagons to secure the equitable distribution of existing supplies. When members of the high council suggested “passing a law regulating the price of eatables,” Young objected and advocated letting “trade seek its own level.” Apparently Young did not feel that the situation in January was desperate enough to warrant forced sharing. By 5 February, when the temperature fell to 33 degrees below freezing, however, it was decided that the bishops should “go to every man’s house to ascertain the true amount of breadstuff, seed, grain, cows and calves and report at the next session of the Council.”
Parley P. Pratt recalled the next year that people suffered from fear more than from hunger and that many who had little or nothing to sell gave to those who had none so that no one starved. Thistle tops, roots, and sego roots “lengthened out the bread,” and when winter finally broke, “grass soon came, [and] milk and butter increased.”
At a 9 February high council meeting, it was reported that there was a little over three-fourths of a pound of breadstuffs for each person every day until 9 July. Brigham Young said that he felt safe and believed there was more grain in the valley than was turned in. He commented, “If those that have do not sell to those who have not, we will just take it and distribute among the poor and those that have and will not divide willingly may be thankful that their heads are not found wallowing in the snow. There is some of the meanest spirits here among the Saints that ever graced this footstool. They are too mean to live among the Gentiles [non-Mormons]. The Gentiles would be ashamed of them.”
[p.35] After venting his emotions, Young remarked, “Still, if the day should [be] fine next Sabbath, I will talk to the people in public. I know the strongest side are willing to do right.” One man, after hearing his leader preach, was reportedly so moved that he confessed to having charged more for an ox than it was worth and offered to make amends.
As the winter progressed, many settlers satiated their hunger with rawhides, sego roots, and thistles. Apparently none, however, followed the Indians in eating grasshoppers and crickets. A number of measures were adopted to cope with the situation. The high council prohibited the use of corn for making whiskey and stipulated that any intended for such use was to be taken and given to the poor. Church officials also wrote to the leaders in Winter Quarters not to send any company west during the summer of 1849 unless they could depend entirely on their own resources and unless they would bring with them enough provisions to last the following winter.
Some members advocated more drastic measures. They believed that it had been a mistake to settle in the Great Basin and that they should move to California, which they believed to be superior. The discovery of gold made California even more alluring. A petition from Robert Crow with nine names attached to it was considered by the high council on 24 February. Asking for permission to go to the gold mines, the petitioners promised to pay tithing on all gold they obtained. Brigham Young denied the request and gave the men a scolding, but the idea of moving continued to gather popular support. James Brown remembered:
In February and March, as the days grew warmer, the gold fever attacked many so that they prepared to go to California. Some said they would go only to establish a place for the rest of us; for they thought Brigham Young too smart a man to try to establish a civilized colony in such a “God-forsaken country,” as they called the valley. They further said that California was the natural country for the Saints; some had brought choice fruit pits and seed and said they would not waste them by planting them in a country like the Great Salt Lake Valley; others stated that they would not build a house in the valley, but would remain in their wagons, for certainly our leaders knew better than to attempt to make a stand in such a dry, worthless locality, and would be going on to California, Oregon or Vancouver’s Island.… This discouraging talk was not alone by persons who had no experience in farming and manufacturing, but by men who had made a success in their various avocations where they had been permitted to work in peace before coming west. Good farmers said, “Why, wheat was so short we grew here last year, [p.36] we had to pull it. Their heads were not more than two inches long. Frost falls here every month of the year, enough to cut down all tender vegetation.”
Apparently this deterioration in morale led to an increase in profanity. On 18 March 1849 the Saints agreed that “every man caught swearing should allow his ears to be bored [i.e., required to make a public explanation].” Then in March one diarist reported that about a dozen wagons and families moved to California. Another said that quite a few of the “tares had gone to the gold mines, and some of the wheat had probably gone with them.” Many of those already in California elected to remain there rather than join their brethren and sisters, and many in Winter Quarters and Kanesville were skeptical of the future of the Great Basin. There is no doubt that the winter and spring proved trying.
Brigham Young countered this pessimism with powerful rhetoric: “God has shown me that this is the spot to locate His people, and here is where they will prosper. He will temper the elements for the good of His Saints. He will rebuke the frost and the sterility of the soil and the land shall become fruitful. Brethren go to now and plant out your fruit seeds,” he declared. “We have the finest climate, the purest water, and the purest air that can be found on earth, and there is no healthier climate anywhere. As for gold and silver and the rich minerals of the earth, there is no other country that equals this, but let them alone and let others seek them. We will cultivate the soil.” Such preaching won the day, and with the coming of spring, the people took heart and worked with renewed vigor to make Young’s prophecies come true.
An atmosphere of permanence and stability began to prevail when many of the Saints left the fort as early as 19 February to build homes on their city lots. A “February thaw,” which caused the collapse of a number of adobe houses on the fort, may have precipitated the early move. The Saints also took advantage of the warm weather to begin work on the Council House. Shortly thereafter, the congregation voted to build a tabernacle, 120 feet by 60 feet, to replace the brush bowery. Enough settlers had established themselves on individual lots by 5 April to request that bishops organize groups to cut ditches and build small foot bridges. Each ward of nine square blocks—90 acres total—was enclosed by a common fence.
Anticipating that more Saints would be coming to the valley in 1849, Brigham Young sent a general epistle to the scattered church on 9 April, in which he reviewed the Saints’ accomplishments. He [p.37] wrote that the inhabitants of the valley would depend completely on the coming season’s crops for support but pointed out that there was “an abundance of nutritious roots in the valley so we have no fear of starvation.” He continued:
The scarcity of grain since the settling of this valley has caused the slaughter of a multitude of cattle which leaves room for a fresh supply as fast as opportunity shall present and the emigrating brethren will do well to remember that they are liable to lose many on their journey. Also their cattle are good property after they arrive. There is no fear of their bringing too many cows, young cattle, sheep, oxen, or the choicest breed of stock of any kind to this place. For any of these articles here are better than gold for they will purchase what is to be purchased here when gold will not do it.
There is an extensive variety of grain and seeds already in the valley. That should not prevent the saints from bringing choice seeds from many parts of the earth, for everything good that can grow here is wanted. A large amount of osage orange, cherokee rose tree, and English hawthorne seeds is needed this year for hedges, potatoes for hilling and eating, also lobelia, mulberry, and black locust seed, any amount of unadulterated selesia or French sugar beet would be useful here this season.
In addition to livestock and plants, Young listed other items he considered more valuable than money in the valley, including dry goods, nails, dyes, paints, turpentine, paper, boots, saws, files, screws, sheet tin, cutlery, farming equipment, sheet iron, copper, brass, looking glasses, shoe leather, harnesses, cupboards, and padlocks. Always practical, Young suggested that glass and crockery could be packed in cotton, and that the cotton “would be very useful here.” Although there was no danger of starvation in early 1849, there was a shortage of “breadstuffs and there will be a scarcity till harvest which we hope for early in July.” Leaders reported that “great preparations were being made for farming the coming season, and more than ten thousand acres will be enclosed and cultivated this summer.” A heavy snow fall on 23 May, followed the next day by a severe frost, caused the loss of much of the garden crops, but the settlers simply planted more seeds. By 24 July, food in the valley was abundant.
Because 24 July 1849 marked the second anniversary of the pioneers’ entrance into the valley, Mormon leaders decided to stage a mammoth celebration and community-wide dinner. Details of the celebration are worth noting, because they provide a window into the values, attitudes, and concepts of the new settlement.
On 23 July, dinner tables were set up in the bowery, which was extended about one hundred feet on each side to accommodate the [p.38] “vast multitude at dinner.” Brigham Young’s flag, which had once flown from the Nauvoo Temple, was hoisted on the east side of the bowery. Captain Daniel Tyler and the artillerists made cartridges for the cannon with seventy-five pounds of powder furnished by some California-bound immigrants. On the morning of the 24th, the settlers were awakened by the firing of nine rounds of artillery accompanied by martial music. Brass bands were then carried on carriages throughout the city. At 7:30 a.m., a large national flag, measuring 65 feet in length, was unfurled at the top of a 104-foot pole. The flag was saluted with the firing of guns, the ringing of the Nauvoo bell, and the playing of airs by the bands.
About 8:00 a.m. the multitude was called together by more music and the firing of guns. Ward bishops arranged themselves along the aisles, each unfurling a banner with an appropriate inscription. Fifteen minutes later, the Salt Lake stake presidency, the bishops, and the bands went to Brigham Young’s home to escort the church leaders. The procession started from the President’s Home about 9:00 a.m. Marshal Horace S. Eldredge led, followed by the bishops and the brass band. Next followed twenty-four young men, dressed in white, with white scarfs over their right shoulders and coronets on their heads. Each carried a copy of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and a sheathed sword. One of them carried a banner, reading “The Zion of the Lord.” They were followed by twenty-four similarly attired young women, each carrying a Bible and a Book of Mormon. One of them held a banner inscribed, “Hail to our Chieftain.” They were followed by other groups, each carrying a symbol of loyalty to church and country.
The young men and women sang hymns as they walked, the cannons pounding, the artillery firing, and the Nauvoo bell ringing. When the procession reached the bowery, they were greeted by shouts of “Hosanna to God and the Lamb,” and Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Willard Richards, who comprised the First Presidency, were cheered and invited to sit on the stand. Jedediah M. Grant called the congregation to order, Erastus Snow offered an opening prayer of thanksgiving, and Richard Ballantyne, one of the twenty-four young men, read out loud the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Brigham Young led the crowd in responding, “May it live forever and ever!”
Later, Young addressed the group:
Why do we not celebrate the 4th of July? The Declaration of Independence is just as precious to me today as it was twenty years ago! Has [p.39] it not the same validity that it had in 1776? Is it not as good today as it was twenty days ago? We chose this day that we might have a little bread to set on our tables; today we can see the bread, cucumbers, and beets, that we could not have seen twenty days ago. Inasmuch as there are some strangers in our midst, I want you to give them their dinner, for they rejoice to see us happy, and I say they are welcome, heartily welcome.
Several thousand Saints then dined “sumptuously on the fruits of the earth, produced by their own hands, [and] invited several hundreds of the emigrants [to eat with them] even all who were in the valley.” While they were eating, a new company of pioneers arrived and were immediately seated at a table. In addition, between forty and sixty Indians joined the festivities.
After dinner, toasts were offered, songs were sung, and the band played several musical numbers. Finally, Young said, “We have had a day of gladness and joy long to be remembered by our children, by the youth, and by the middle-aged.… I say to this congregation, be ye blessed in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Go your way and never sin no more. The anger of the Lord is only kindled against the wicked.” The band then played “Home Sweet Home,” followed by more singing. John Taylor offered the benediction, and the pioneers returned home.
In all, it was an impressive celebration. In this way Brigham Young gave public notice that the Saints’ two-year struggle for survival in the Great Basin had succeeded and that the Mormons intended not only to stay but to flourish. [p.41]
1. Apostle Parley P. Pratt thought about adding to the Saints’ meager supply of food by tapping the rosources of Utah Lake, which “abounds with trout and various kinds of fish.” He volunteered to lead twenty men into Utah Valley to negotiate with the Indians to fish in the lake or to purchase fish. Although the high council authorized Pratt to establish a camp in Utah Valley if he could obtain a satisfactory treaty with the Indians, there is no record that he ever attempted to do so.
2. Other diarists who did not mention the gulls include Eliza R. Snow, John Steele, Patty Sessions, and Harriet Young. This is also true of Parley P. Pratt, who wrote a detailed account of the summer’s events fro the Latter-day Saints’ Millennial Star and also sent a descriptive letter to his brother Orson, who was presiding over the church’s British mission.