A more accurate perspective on how the

Mormons experienced, the crossing the plains

The first 20 Minutes of the excellent documentary "Struggle for Statehood" makes a great introduction to this subject.
 

Fort Bridger

Jim Bridger informed Brigham Young that it is unwise to bring such a large group into the Salt Lake Valley, until it could be demonstrated that it would be possible to raise grain there.

Jim Bridger supposedly said that he would give a thousand dollars if he knew that an ear of corn could ripen in the Salt Lake Valley.

Other versions have it that he would pay 1000 dollars for a bushel of corn raised in that valley.

Essentials in Church History, By Joseph Fielding Smith Page 366

The story that Bridger offered $1,000 for the first bushel of corn grown in the Salt Lake Valley has altered in the Journal History to read that "Bridger would give $1,000 if he only knew if we could raise an ear of corn."

Utah's History, by Campbell, Alexander... page 123 footnote 3

- What possible interpretations of such a statement would be?

[Most likely, is that Bridger didn't want competition for his trading post, and wanted them to move on to California.]


Raising of the Mormon Battalion.

- The vast majority of the Mormon Battalion did not want to enlist.

- Mormons were not that loyal to the U.S. at that time.

- Their only battle was against wild Bulls.

- This was the longest Military march by US troops up to that point in time.

- Most Mormon's only concept of the Mormon Battalion, is that it gave them much needed cash flow, and that a few members of the Battalion, were involved in first Gold in California.


Other paths to Zion part 2.

By shear coincidence on Feb 4th, the same day the first group from Nauvoo left on their Westward trek, 70 Men, 68 Women, and 100 children, sailed out of New York Harbor aboard the Brooklyn. They were headed for Samuel Brannon.

Elder Orson Pratt of the Council of the Twelve was presiding over the Church in the eastern states when word arrived late in 1845 of the decision to hasten the departure from Nauvoo. Immediately he issued a dramatic call for the Saints in that area to; join the exodus. Angered at the treatment the Church was receiving, he perhaps overstated the case when he declared: "We do not want one saint to be left in the United States" after the following spring. "Let every branch," he wrote, "in the East, West, North and South, be determined to flee out of Babylon, either by land or by sea." (Times and Seasons, December 1, 1845)

Elder Samuel Brannan, publisher of the Prophet, the Church paper in New York, was appointed to charter a ship and direct a company that would go by sea as soon as possible.

The Story of the Latter-day Saints, by Allen page 238


What were they getting themselves into?

The saints could not possibly subsist in the Great Salt Lake Valley, as according to the testimony of the mountaineers, it froze there every month in 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;. . . He considered it no place for an agricultural people, and expressed his confidence that the saints would emigrate to California the next spring. On being asked if he had given his views to President Brigham Young he answered that he had. On further inquiry as to how his views were received he said in substance that the president laughed and made some rather insignificant remark, "but, " said Brannan, "when he has fairly tried it, he will find that I was right and he was wrong, and will come to California."

Utah's History by Campbell Page 116


Entering the Valley, divergent versions.

Near this point Young became severely ill with "mountain fever" and was unable to advance with the company. Orson Pratt, with twenty-three wagons and forty-two men, was sent ahead to lo: locate the Donner-Reed Trail. (See map, p. 728.) After traversing Echo Canyon to present-day Henefer, Pratt and John Brown rode down Weber Canyon for several miles before deciding against that route. Later that day they found the Donner-Reed tracks, and by July 19 the advance party reached the summit of Big Mountain, where they could see over a great extent of country. Pratt and Brown climbed farther than their companions and were able to see portions of Salt Lake Valley. Two days later Pratt and Erastus Snow were the first of the pioneer company to enter the valley, having followed the Donner Trail over Little Mountain, down Emigration Canyon, and over Donner Hill. With only one horse the two men took turns walking and ridding over major portions of the valley before returning to the vanguard camp in the canyon.

On July 22 the first wagons moved downstream toward the mouth of Emigration Canyon. Finding the route over Donner Hill quite unsatisfactory for a permanent road, the Mormons spent four hours cutting a new road around the north end of Donner Hill to rejoin the Donner tracks on the high ground north of present Hogle Zoo. This stretch of less than a half-mile was the only piece of original road the Mormon pioneers were required to build

Utah's History by Campbell Page 123

Of the trip West, James Allen notes.

The company suffered little unusual hardship, and the journey some became almost leisurely. This seemed to nurture an attitude of flippancy and light mindedness, which Brigham Young abhorred. On one occasion he roundly criticized the men for playing cards and dominoes and for boisterous dancing, urging them to conduct themselves in a way more befitting their serious mission. According to the camp diarist, there was some tearful repentance, but after that "no loud laughter was heard, no swearing, no quarreling, no profane language, no hard speeches to man or beast "

The Story of the Latter-day Saints, by Allen page 243

[It should be noted that diary entries for the first few years, remarked favorably about the trek west. Only after the disaster of the Willie and Martin handcart companies did the journal entries take a more torturous view of the trek. This became such a common story telling theme, that latter reminiscences contained hardship language that was not contained in the original diaries of those same people.]

The first group consisted of 144 Elders of Israel. One turned back after a few days because of illness. 3 women were also in the first group. One of the wives of Brigham Young, Heber C Kimball and one of the wives of Lorenzo Snow. Also in the group were 3 Negro slaves, (Joseph Fielding Smith in Essentials in church History only referrers to them as coloreds, no indication of their free or slave status at that time).

Utah's History, by Campbell page 122 From his class I remember him indicating that it was ironic that one of the 3 negroes was also an Elder and they made up the Biblical number of 144 Elders, even though it was Brigham Young that restricted the blacks use of the priesthood and not his predecessor Joseph Smith.


Faith Promoting Embellishments of our Faithful Feathered Friends.

Plague of the Crickets. - The season was so far advanced when the pioneers arrived in the summer of 1847 that little resulted from the planting, except to obtain some seed potatoes. Their salvation depended on the success of their crops in 1848. They had built three sawmills in the mountains and one gristmill. Their planted fields consisted of five thousand one hundred and thirty-three acres, of which nearly nine hundred acres were planted in winter wheat.

With the aid of irrigation all things looked favorable and it appeared that there would be a fruitful harvest. The Saints were happy and their prospects were bright. They gave thanks to the Lord and in humility desired to serve him. In the months of May and June they were menaced by a danger as bad as the persecution of mobs. Myriads of crickets came down the mountain sides into the valley, like a vast army marshaled for battle, and began to destroy the fields. From one they would pass on to another, and in a few moments leave a field as barren as a desert waste. Something had to be done, or the inhabitants must perish. The community were aroused and every soul entered the unequal conflict. Trenches were dug around the fields and filled with water, in the hope of stopping the ravages of the pest, but without result. Fire was equally unavailing. The attempt was made to beat them back with clubs, brooms and other improvised weapons, but nothing that man could do was able to stop the steady onward march of the voracious crickets. The settlers were hapless before them.

The Miracle of the Gulls.- When all seemed lost, and the Saints were giving up in despair, the heavens became clouded with gulls, which hovered over the fields, uttering their plaintive scream. Was this a new evil come upon them? Such were the thoughts of some who expected that what the crickets left the gulls would destroy; but not so, the gulls in countless battalions descended and began to devour the crickets, waging a battle for the preservation of the crops. They ate, they gorged upon the pest, and then flying to the streams would drink and vomit and again return to the battle front. This took place day by day until the crickets were destroyed. The people gave thanks, for this was to them a miracle. Surely the Lord was merciful and had sent the gulls as angles of mercy or their salvation.  Since that time the gull has been looked upon by the Latter-day Saints almost as a sacred deliverer. Laws have been passed for the protection of these birds, and the wanton killing of one would be considered a crime of great magnitude.

(September 13, 1913, a monument commemorating this event, was unveiled on the Temple Block, Salt Lake City. The "Seagull Monument," as it is called is the work of Mahonri M. Young, grandson of President Brigham Young.)

Essentials in Church History, By Joseph Fielding Smith, Page 384

Theory verses Practice?

"The chronicler of important events should not be deprived of his individuality; but if he willfully disregards the truth, no matter what his standing may be, or how greatly he may be respected, he should be avoided. No historian has the right to make his prejudices paramount to the facts he should record. For such a writer, to record as truth that which is false, and to palm off as facts that which is fiction, degrades himself insults his readers, and outrages his profession. "

Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. (1906)

The Joseph Fielding Smith Institute for Church History 127 Knight Mangum Building (KMB) Brigham Young University Provo UT 84602 (801) 3784023

Joseph Fielding Smith Jr. Born 19 July 1876, was sustained as Assistant Church Historian 8 Apr. 1906; Apostle in 1910, sustained Church Historian and General Church Recorder in 1921, and a member of the first Presidency in 1969, released as Church Historian to become Church President in Feb. 1970. So he was either Assistant or Church Historian for 63 years, most of which time he was also an Apostle.


The Mormons, after a fashion, prayed and fought, and fought and prayed, but to no purpose. The 'Black Philistines" mowed their way even with the ground, leaving it as if touched with an acid or burnt by fire.

(Thomas L. Kane, The Mormons (Philadelphia, 1850), p. 66.)


Men and women alike fought the crickets with sticks, shovels, and brooms, with gunny sacks and trenches, but with little avail.

Finally, just before the entire been eaten clean, came the announcement from the president of the High Council: "Brethren, we do not want you to part with your wagons and teams for we might need them," intimating that they were considering moving on to California or some other gathering place. But at the moment this announcement was being delivered, sea gulls providentially moved in and began to devour the crickets,

"sweeping them up as they went along. "I guess," wrote Priddy Meeks, "this circumstance changed our feeling considerable for the better." ("Journal of Priddy Meeks," p. 164; "History of Brigham Young,", 1848, p. 30. As a result of this "miracle" the seagull came to be held in sacred remembrance in Utah. Laws were enacted prohibiting anyone from killing them. Later a statue was erected on Temple Block in their honor. Finally, in this century, the state legislature officially named the seagull to be the state bird of Utah.)

Nevertheless, the combination of disasters discouraged many. One of the settlers, a brother of Brigham Young wanted to send an express to Brigham telling him not to bring any more people to the valley, for "they would all starve to death." John Neff, who was building a large gristmill, "left off . . . for a while, as many expected there would be no grain to grind." (45 "History of Brigham Young,", 1848, p. 30) A few of the colonists went on to California and others returned to the Missouri Valley.

Great Basin Kingdom, Page 49 - 50 by Lenard J. Arrington. (Born 2 July 1917, at Twin Falls, Idaho. Appointed Church Historian on 14 Jan 1972 at the age of 54. Joseph Fielding Smith was president at the time, all previous Church Historians were sustained to such offices, rather than "appointed".)


The Saints were baffled. All they could do was continue to pray. And so at the point, after three weeks of invasion, when all seemed lost, the sea gulls came. At first the Saints thought a new foe had come, but they soon discovered the gulls were devouring only the crickets. They withdrew from the fields and left the gulls at work; at the end of another three weeks the gulls had consumed the crickets and left the fields.

Ensign to the Nations, A History of the LDS Church form 1846 to 1972. By Russell R. Rich.


The spring planting of grain and garden crops also showed promise. Unfortunately, late frosts destroyed a con able portion of the spring wheat and vegetables, and at the same time millions of crickets began to invade the fields. Harriet Young wrote:

[May] 29th: Last night we had a severe frost. Today the crickets have commenced on our corn and small grain. They have eaten off 12 acres for Brother Rosacrants, 7 for Charles and are now taking Edmunds.

Today 29th: They have destroyed 3/4 of an acre of squashes, our flax, two acres of millet and our rye, and are now to work in our wheat. What will be the result we know not.

In the circumstances, some Saints despaired of surviving in the valley. After two weeks of fighting the voracious insects, the pioneers somewhat relieved to gain an ally in their battle when thousands of white-winged gulls landed in the fields and began to devour the pests. The gulls helped stem the tide of cricket devastations their coming been regarded as a miracle by many, although little was said about it at the time. Perhaps the fact that the frost had destroyed so much and that the gulls the gulls left before the crickets were eliminated muted the Saints' enthusiasm. Similar aid by the sea gulls in subsequent years has all but been ignored in Utah folklore.

Utah's History, by Richard D. Poll / Thomas G. Alexander / Eugene E. Campbell / David E. Miller Brigham young University Press 1977. Page 126 - 127


But 1848 was a dry year, and late spring frosts damaged many crops. Late in May the black crickets observed in the foothills the year before descended in swarms upon the winter wheat and maturing spring crops. Efforts to drown, mash, or burn the invading horde seemed futile. On Lorenzo Young's farm, he wrote in his diary on May 29, they destroyed in one day "3/4 of an acre of squashes, our flax, two acres of millet and our rye, and are now to work in our wheat. What will be the result we know not." The was grim, but it would have been much worse had it not been for the flocks of sea gulls from the islands of the Great Salt Lake that swept in and began gorging themselves on the crickets. The hungry gulls ate all they could, regurgitated the indigestible portions, then ate again and again. This continued for several weeks, and much of the crop was saved. Though the harvest was greatly reduced, the Saints were grateful for what was spared and for the proof that the untried soil of the valley could indeed produce crops.

The winter of 1848-49 was especially severe, and both settlers and livestock suffered heavily. Firewood was difficult to obtain and food supplies dwindled. Some turned to boiling rawhide for nourishment "glue soup," it was called by one family. Those who had surplus shared with those who were less fortunate; and to prevent excess profit-making, voluntary controls were established on the price of such necessities as beef and flour. The colony survived, but empty stomachs, frostbitten feet, and an unfamiliar environment discouraged many pioneers. For some, California's milder climate became an increasingly attractive lure.

The Story of the Latter-day Saints, by James B. Allen and Glen M. Leonard. Page 251

[Note no mention of miraculous answers to prayer.]


The crops planted on July 24th had barely sprouted before untended animals grazed them to the ground. Indians and wolves decimated the livestock herds.

Charles C. Rich, [the next apostle to be chosen in 1849] cautioned the pioneers not to dismantle their wagons "for we might need them." He may have been contemplating a move to California. At this point flocks of sea gulls from the Great Salt Lake appeared over the fields and began devouring the crickets. Many witnesses saw the intervention as providential;...

The Mormon Experience, By Leonard J. Arrington and Davis Bitton, Knoff 1979, twenty one years after "Great Basin Kingdom". Page 104


In conclusion, I think we should have a monument on temple square, rather than to the Sea Gulls, we should have a monument to the Donner party. After all, many the Donner party died, in part, as a result of time spent paving a new trail used a year later by the Mormons, and indicating what canyon NOT to take, while all the Sea Gulls did was what comes natural to them, eat a free lunch.

We should remember that people are more important than birds, even if they are not LDS.


 The following is 2 pages of outline notes that I used to give a talk in Sacrament Meeting in 1984.
(some day I'll check out that excellent book, re-read it and fill in the details.)

LET US NOT FORGET OUR HERITAGE

Heritage;  Something transmitted by or acquired from a predecessor.

"Those civilizations that do not study the mistakes of the past are condemned to repeat them."

[I have heard this attributed to many people, if you have the source and it's background, email me, plporter@pobox.com]

Some of the great people of our past were not always the leaders of our church and some were not even members of our church, yet they are a part of our heritage.

For example most people are unaware of the miles of trail blazed by the first company of Mormon Pioneers.

Why did the saint move to Utah and what factors forced them out?

What was the Donner party?

The tragedy of the Donner party comes not in the long remembered tales of cannibalism, but in the suffering of the children that were in a situation they did not create themselves, nevertheless they had to live with (or die because of problems caused by  adults)

If blame were to be place on just one man, it would have to be the greedy aspiring Lansford Hastings.

However blame cam not be placed on just one man.

One mother selfishly hid a large peace of bear meat and secretly fed it to her family at night. While another mother in the same cabin watched her daughter die of malnutrition from eating only boiled cow hides. When the secret was found out, that same woman would later suffer more hardship than the precious meat had eased.

Greed and selfishness caused the Donner- Reed group to split up into small feuding groups that loosely traveled together.

Lack of a common tie, and a lack of a greater purpose in life took them straight away to that which they tried to avoid the most, death.

The significant point of this tale is not one of  scoundrels. In fact a very inspiring example was demonstrated by some such as Tamson Donner and  William Eddy

Eddy had no family or  relatives yet volunteered twice to go on ahead to get help and supplies for the whole group.  Other rescue efforts were forced to turn back, many died, and other resorted to eating of the dead in order to survive to return to camp to live on cow hides eventually dying, including Eddy.

Tampson Donner stayed with dyeing husband instead of going on with rescue party, but left a diary as significant as that of Ann Frank.


I have recently had a very forceful Epiphany, a major paradigm shift, yea even a change of heart! See Disclaimer.

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