Col. Kane was a member of the U.S. Army who had empathy for the Saints during the march of the Mormon Battalion, when they had lost so many of their men, and endeavored to help them to the best of his ability. During a sickness he contracted while with the Saints, he sent for a physician. His concern was not for his health, but that if he should die his death would be blamed on the Saints. An excerpt from his journal offers a very interesting view of the Mormons from an outsider’s point of view.

Colonel Thomas Kane:

From the first foundation of the camp all its inhabitants were constantly and laboriously occupied. Many of them were highly educated mechanics, and seemed only to need a day’s anticipated rest to engage them at the forge, loom, or turning lathe, upon some needed chore-of work. I have had a piece of cloth, the wool of which was sheared, and dyed, and spun and woven during a progress of over three hundred miles.

kane mormonThe chiefs were seldom without some curious affair on hand to settle with the restless Indians; while the immense labor and responsibility of the conduct of their unwieldy moving army, and the commissariat of its hundreds of famishing poor also devolved upon them. They had good men they called Bishops, whose special office it was to look up the cases of extremist suffering, and their relief parties were out night and day to scour over every trail.

A strong trait of the Mormons was their kindness to their brute dependents, and particularly to their beasts of draught. They gave them the holiday of the Sabbath whenever it came round. I believe they would have washed them with old wine after the example of the emigrant Carthaginians, ahd they had any. The great mass of these pilgrims of the desert were made up of poor folks, who had fled in destitution from Nauvoo and been refused a resting place by the people of Iowa.

It is difficult to fully understand the state of helplessness in which some of these would arrive after accomplishing a journey of such extent, under circumstances of so much privation and peril.

Beside the common duty of guiding and assisting these unfortunates, the companies in the van united in providing the highway for the entire body of emigrants. The Mormons have laid out for themselves a road through the Indian Territory, over four hundred leagues in length, with substantial, well built bridges, fit for the passage of heavy artillery, over all the streams except a few great rivers, where they have established permanent ferries. The nearest unfinished bridging to the Papillon camp was that of the “Cornea Cerf”, or Elk Horn, a tributary of the Platte, distant, maybe, a couple of hours’ march. Here, in what seemed to be an incredibly short space of time, there rose the seven greatpiers and abutments of a bridge, such as might challenge honors for the entire public-spirited population of Lower Virginia. The party detailed to the task worked in the broiling sun, in water beyond depth, and up to their necks, as if engaged in the perpetration of some pointed and delightful practical joke. The chief sport lay in floating along with the logs, cut from the overhanging timber up the stream, guiding them till they reached their destination, and then plunging them under water in the precise spot where they were to be secured. This the laughing engineers would execute with the agility of happy diving ducks.

Colonel Thomas Kane describes the Saints ferrying across the Missouri near the Pottawattamie Village.

A heavy freshet had at this time swollen the river to a width, as I should judge, of something like a mile and a half, and dashed past, its fierce current rushing gurgling and eddying as if thrown from a mill race, or scriptural fountain of the deep. Its aspect did not invite the oxen to their duty, and the labor was to force them to it. The driver’s was the sought after post of honor here; and sometimes, when repeated failures have urged them to emulation, I have seen youths in stepping from back to back of the struggling monsters, or swimming in among battling hoofs, displaying feats of address and hardihood, that would have made Francon’s or the Madrid bull ring vibrate with bravos of applause. But in the hours after hours that I have watched this sport at the ferry side, I never heard an oath or the language of quarrel, or knew it provoke the least sign of ill feeling.

Colonel Kane addressed the hard work of the women as well.

Inside the camp the chief labors were confined to the women. From the moment, when after the halt [for the winter at Winter Quarters] the lines had been laid, the springs were dug out the ovens and fireplaces built, though the men still assumed to see the guards and enforce the regulations of police, the empire of the tented town was with the better sex. They were the chief comforters of the severest sufferers, the kind nurses who gave them in their sickness those dear attentions with which pauperism is hardly poor, and which the greatest wealth often fails to buy. And they were a nation of wonderful wives in etymological strictness, but it was plain they had once been such, and most distinguished ones. Their art availed them in their changed affairs. With almost their entire culinary materials limited to the milk of their cows, some store of meal or flour and a very few condiments, they brought their thousand and one recipes into play with a success that outdid for their families the miracle of the Hebrew woman’s cruse.

. . . The first duty of the Mormon women was through all changes of place and fortune, to keep alive the altar fire of home. Whatever their manifold labors for the day, it was their effort to complete them against the sacred hour of evening fall. For by that time all the outworkers, scouts, ferrymen or bridgemen, roadmakers, herdsmen, or hay-makers, had finished their tasks and come into their rest.

But every day closed as every day began, with an invocation of the Divine favor; without which, indeed, no Mormon seemed to dare to lay him down to rest. With the first shining of the stars laughter and loud talking hushed, the neighbor went his way, you hear the last hymn sung, and then the thousand-voiced murmur of prayer was heard, like babbling water falling down the hills.

There was no austerity, however, about the religion of Mormonism. Their fasting and penance, it is no jest to say, was altogether involuntary. They made no merriment of that. They had the sort of strong-stomached faith that is still found embalmed in sheltered spots of Catholic Italy and Spain. It mixed itself up fearlessly with the common transactions fo their every day life, and only to give liveliness and color.

If any passage of life bear better than others a double interpretation, they are adventures of travel and of the field. What old persons call discomforts and discouraging mishaps, are the very elements to the young and sanguine of what they are willing to term fun. The Mormons took the young and hopeful side. They could make sport and frolic of their trials and often turn right sharp suffering into right round laughter against themselves.

Account quoted from Remembering Winter Quarters/Council Bluffs, Larsen and Larsen, 2004, p61–62.


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