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The Fall of 1845

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By Bathsheba W. Smith

Nauvoo, Illinois. Daguerreotype dated between 1846-1850. Image source: Wikipedia. Public Domain.

Editor’s Note: This is a first person account from the early westward migration of Mormons from Nauvoo, Illinois. It was originally published in Edward Tullidge’s Women of Mormondom (1877). This book and its excerpt are in the public domain. We have added annotations, links, additional information, and images.

The fall of 1845 found Nauvoo [1], as it were, one vast mechanic shop, as nearly every family was engaged in making wagons. Our parlor was used as a paint-shop in which to paint wagons. All were making preparations to leave the ensuing winter. On the 9th of February, 1846, in company with many others, my husband took me and my two children, and some of the other members of his family (the remainder to follow as soon as the weather would permit), and we crossed the Mississippi, to seek a home in the wilderness. Thus we left a comfortable home, the accumulation and labor of four years, taking with us but a few things, such as clothing, bedding and provisions, leaving everything else for our enemies. [2]

We were obliged to stay in camp for a few weeks, on Sugar Creek [Iowa Territory], because of the weather being very cold. The Mississippi froze over so that hundreds of families crossed on the ice. As soon as the weather permitted, we moved on West. I will not try to describe how we traveled through storms of snow, wind and rain—how roads had to be made, bridges built, and rafts constructed—how our poor animals had to drag on, day after day, with scanty feed—nor how our camps suffered from poverty, sickness and death. We were consoled in the midst of these hardships by seeing the power of God manifested through the laying on of the hands of the elders, causing the sick to be healed and the lame to walk. The Lord was with us, and his power was made manifest daily. [3]

Pow-a-Sheek. A Fox Chief. (Ca. 1838). Lithograph copy after Charles Bird King. Smithsonian American Art Museum.

At the head of a slough [wetland] where we camped several days, we were visited by the Mus-Quaw-ke band of Indians [4], headed by Pow-Sheek, a stately looking man, wearing a necklace of bear’s claws. They were fierce looking men, decorated as they were for war; but they manifested a friendly spirit, and traded with us. The next move of our camp was to the Missouri river bank. The cattle were made to swim, and our wagons were taken over on a flat-boat that our people had built. We made two encampments after we crossed the river, when we found it too late to proceed farther that year. The last encampment was named Cutler’s Park.

The camps contained about one thousand wagons. Our men went to work cutting and stacking the coarse prairie grass for hay. The site for our winter quarters was selected and surveyed, and during the fall and winter some seven hundred log-cabins were built; also about one hundred and fifty dugouts or caves, which are cabins half under ground. This was on the Missouri river, about six miles above the present city of Omaha. My husband built four cabins and a dug-out. Our chimneys were made of sod, cut with a spade in the form of a brick; clay was pounded in to make our fireplaces and hearths. In our travels the winds had literally blown our tent to pieces, so that we were glad to get into cabins. The most of the roofs were made of timber, covered with clay. The floors were split and hewed puncheon [short posts]; the doors were generally made of the same material, of cottonwood and linn. Many houses were covered with oak-shakes [hand-split shingles], fastened on with weight-poles. A few were covered with shingles. A log meeting-house was built, about twenty-four by forty feet, and the hewn floor was frequently used for dancing. [5] A grist-mill was built and run by water-power, and in addition to this, several horse-mills and hand-mills were used to grind corn.

Our scanty and only supply of bread, consisting generally of corn, was mostly brought from Missouri, a distance of some one hundred and fifty miles, where it fortunately was plentiful and cheap. The camp having been deprived of vegetable food the past year, many were attacked with scurvy. [6] The exposure, together with the want of necessary comforts, caused fevers and ague, and affections of the lungs. Our own family were not exempt. Nancy Clement, one of my husband’s wives, died; also her child. She was a woman of excellent disposition, and died in full faith in the gospel.

“View of Nauvoo,” ca. 1848-1850. Unknown artist. Painted after the “exodus” began, this work romanticizes Nauvoo as a lost city, a lost Eden. By showing the steam-powered watercraft in the water, it also celebrates technology and the changing face of the States. The white Temple is in the background. The style of this also harkens back to iconography found in American works like “Peaceable Kingdom.”

Notes:

  1. In 1844, the religion’s leader Joseph Smith was killed. In January 1845, the charters (held by the Mormons) for both the city of Nauvoo and the right for the Nauvoo Legion to act within Illinois were repealed. By September 1845, situations were so dire between the Mormon population and the Illinois populace and government that the Mormons conceded that they would leave the state.

2. According to Roberts, the properties left behind by the “exiles” were sold for “little to nothing.” (Chapter XLI)

3. Miracles on the trail: see here, here, here. “Laying on of hands” and miraculous healing were important in the faith as early as its days in Kirtland, Ohio and continued for the Pioneers.

4. The Meskwaki; The Fox. The Modern Day tribe can be found here.

5. The importance of dancing in the Mormon faith is also covered in Frontline/American Experience “The Mormons (first episode).”

6. One of the leaders of the church, Zebedee Coltrin, contracted scurvy in 1847 en route to the Salt Lake Valley. Coltrin was administered the oil of twelve rattles from a rattlesnake killed by Luke Johnson. The oil was rubbed on Coltrin’s “black leg, which did it a great deal of good.”

Sources:

Brigham Young Vanguard Company

Frontline/American Experience: The Mormons

Religion in America. “First Mormon Temple

Roberts, B.H. The Rise and Fall of Nauvoo

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