Helen Whitney was the daughter of Heber C. Kimball and was married to Horace Whitney, the oldest son of Newel Whitney, shortly before they began their journey West. She gives details of the Saints’ dealings with the Native Americans along the way, events at Winter Quarters, the origins of the Mormon Battalion, and general experiences. This account was written after her journey was completed and she refers sometimes to her husband Horace’s journal. This account is taken from Remembering Winter Quarters/Council Bluffs, Larsen and Larsen, 2004, p48–75.
There were certain ones in camp at the early start who received severe rebukes from the Presidency for being dishonest. One was the case of a young man in Bishop Millers’ camp, who undertook to pass counterfeit money in pay for cattle, etc. The Bishop wrote to President Young to excuse the young man, but wished him to make restitution to Mr. Cochran, the man who had been cheated by him—but for which the bishop received an awful rebuke, and was ordered to restore the property. It was soon discovered that such characters were not wanted among us, nor were they to be sustained in the camp, for the most strict laws and rules were laid down in their council held at Chariton [Iowa], where they organized the camp. Here are a few words from President Young’s remarks, made on the following Sabbath:
I told them I was satisfied that the course we were taking would prove to be the salvation, not only of this camp, but of the Saints left behind; but there had been things done which were wrong. Some pleaded our suffering from persecution, and the loss of our houses and property, as a justification for retaliating upon our enemies, but such a course tends to destroy the Kingdom of God.
The following are incidents of our camp life on the Missouri River. Monday, 15th, Horace speaks of going to a stream hard by to assist the girls in washing. Those uninteresting and unpleasant incidents I remember very distinctly, though I might have passed them over had he not made mention of this circumstance. As cleanliness is next to godliness, and having abundance of time when the weather permitted, we had no good reason for neglecting this duty. And we had plenty of boys ready and willing to hitch up a team to take us to the water if any distance away from camp; if so, we would take a picnic or send back for a warm dinner. The boys would spend their spare time fishing or as they felt inclined till the washing was done. Though our washing was not so very extensive, it was hard enough with the sun beating down, and so breathless and sultry that it appeared as though we must melt down under it, and this was not a pleasant thing to anticipate. I was not a strong girl—having grown up like a shaded plant I had little strength, and was what is generally termed lazy; one of the worst ills, I think, that can afflict humanity, if I may judge from my own experience. But we had ample time to do our washing, ironing and mending, also our sewing, besides making our daily toilet. And even our fashionable dressmakers found employment as the warm weather came on. Father had two or three wives who had learned the trade, and he same number who understood tailoring, and one of them had been brought up to the corset making trade, and all of them were trained up to some kind of useful industry, and were virtuous and worthy women, and, as a general rule, they sought the interests of one another. All had their trials and temptations—being new beginners in what might be termed an adverse school, which was calculated to bring into action faculties that might forever have lain dormant—testing every one’s nature, showing up their weak points and bringing them to the surface, to be thrown off, and learn each one to govern themselves, which was the very thing to make them saints or sinners.
The “Mormon” companies were all orderly, and were truly models by the side of those who followed in their trail who were not governed by the same strict rules and religious motives and principles that our people were. Our salvation, both temporal and spiritual, depended upon this course, and our history is a wonder and a marvel to those who have taken the trouble to hunt us and review it in all its ups and downs. And my reasons for writing are to give to the generations that have grown up since, a little idea of the trials and hardships of those long and tedious days and months that were spent by the pioneers in making roads, building bridges and houses and making farms, etc., etc., for the comfort of the ones who were to follow; and our experience, I think, comes nearest to that of the children of Israel after their departure out of the land of Egypt than any other people of whom we have any record, though I believe that we were a more patient people. And who have been as miraculously saved from death in many forms than they were? And the same God has fought for us while we have held our peace, and has brought us deliverance every time; and it is our wish and purpose to trust Him still. . . .
Relations with the Native Americans
As it was nearly dusk when they concluded to move from the river, and being very weary, I with one or two others, had accepted an invitation from the chief’s daughter to accompany her home; and when returning, finding the wagons gone and not feeling strong, she urged me to return and stop the night, which invitation I accepted, though I spent a somewhat nervous and wakeful night, but when morning came I felt more at ease. I learned that her parents had separated, as her mother was now living with her and did most of the work. Though dressed in her native costume she looked neat, and kept the house tidy, and could cook equal to the white women. This was quite a wooded country, which abounded in blackberries and other wild fruit, and as they were getting ripe we went out in the morning and picked what we wanted to eat, after which she showed her taste and skill in braiding my hair in broad plaits, after the latest French style, and put it up a la mode, and after dinner accompanied me to camp. While stopping at this place I went, by invitation, with one or two of my father’s young wives, to take tea with the wife of the interpreter, who gave us a little of the history, not only of the chief and his daughter, but of the Indian tribes and Sioux and Pottawattamies, who were at war with each other. And it was only the evening of the 6th that a Pottawattamie Indian came to our camp on horse back, bringing a message, which he could only make known by signs. The import of it was that the Sioux Indians had killed a Pottawattamie, and he wanted our people to assist them in fighting the Sioux, and thus revenge their comrades death.
Beginnings of the Mormon Battalion
On the morning of the 3rd father and President B. Young started for Mt. Pisgah on the recruiting business. When the news first came to us of the war between the United States and Mexico we little dreamed of the requirement that the government were about to make at our hands, and congratulated ourselves that being expelled from their midst we should travel undisturbed beyond the Rocky Mountains, where we should hear no more contentions, turmoils and strife, and we had cause to look upon this demand with suspicion, especially after the threat which was thrown out in the letter received from Sam Brannon just previous to starting on our journey. [Before Samuel Brannon sailed from New York to California with a group of Mormons, he sent Brigham Young this warning: “it is the intention of the Government, to disarm you, after you have taken up your line of march in the spring, on the ground of the law of nations or the treaty existing between the United States and Mexico, that an armed force of men shall not be allowed to invade the territory of a foreign nation.”] But our people proved their loyalty by kissing the hand that had driven them into the wilderness, where it was hoped, by the majority, we should utterly perish, and it was thought that by taking from us 500 of our young, able bodied men in that Indian country that it would cripple us so much that it would insure our utter destruction; but there are a few honorable men like Col. Thomas L. Kane, who, like true-hearted countrymen, rendered all the assistance that was possible to the Saints in this, their most trying hour. . . .
After much deliberating and counseling, the requisite number of volunteers were gathered to go to war in Mexico, causing a sad loss for the Saints left to travel to the Salt Lake Valley.
The folks returned home and brought the news that four [Mormon Battalion] companies started from the village that day, and the fifth was to start on the morrow. It is not pleasant to dwell on the dark side, nor is it my intention now to rehearse the scenes of sorrow and additional suffering of wives and children, which was forced upon them by the cruel requisition made upon our people at that time by this government, after suffering, us to be ruthlessly driven out from their midst, I will only mention the case of Sister Ed. Martin, which may illustrate, the pitiful condition under which many more were left with families.
Brother Martin had just buried a new born infant, and left his wife sick, not knowing who was to take care of her, and there was not ime to make any arrangement for her comfort, and they had to leave all in the hands of God and their friends. And who are more capable of singing and sensing the full meaning of the sweet and touching song, “Hard times, hard times come again no more” than the ones who remember those gloomy days and scenes of want and suffering that were experienced by the Saints who were left in Winter Quarters. . . .
More relations with Native Americans
When the Saints realized they would have to stay the winter in Council Bluffs, they spoke with the local Native American tribes to make arrangements for land they could use.
“Thursday, the 29th,” Horace wrote, “misty and cloudy. The haying business going on as usual. Bro. Kimball, Wm. Porter and Brigham got back to-day—council held this evening. Besides the six chiefs there are about 150 Indians in the vicinity, wanting to make some arrangements with the brethren about the possession of the land we are now occupying, on which they are to hold council to-morrow morning.”
Friday morning, pursuant to agreement, a council was called. Horace says,
An aged chief, almost blind, arose and requested that all those who had anything to say about the land business would speak. Accordingly a number of brethren spoke. The amount of whose words were these: That we had been driven like themselves, the Lamanites, and now desired a resting place with them for a little season, and would render them any favor in our power except assisting them to war against other tribes, which would involve the shedding of blood. After the brethren had all got through speaking the old chief arose and said: ‘Have you done?[‘] Refusing to make any reply, until that was the case. On receiving a token of assent, he arose and said: ‘I love your words and will do you all the good I can, for we have been pushed and driven, too, by the nations around us, and should have come out in open war against them long ago had not our grandfather, the president, said, ‘live in peace!’
He furthermore said that the land that we are now on is in depute [stet] between his tribe (the Omahaw) and the Otoes, who, he said, were a thievish race, but if we would move up the river about ten miles to the old fort of Council Bluffs, where the tribes formerly met in council and transacted business with the agents of the U.S., then we might have peace and liberty with them; we might make fields for them, and they in return would let us have young men to assist us in herding our cattle. He furthermore said we were welcome to build houses and winter there, and remain as long as we chose with them, for they had undisputed title to the land in the vicinity of it, and there were greater conveniences there than here—plenty of water, wood, etc., close at hand. The conclusion of the council was that some of the brethren would go up and see the country before deciding to move.
We had previously heard, through Brother Sherwood, of the death of father Bent, who died at Garden Grove. The hardships and privations of our people were beginning to tell upon the old and the young, and various sized mounds had already marked their lonely trail. The days were still very warm and many of the Saints were being brought into camp in a very sick and distressed conditions. The nights, though, were beginning to be cold, and we had begun to have frequent rains, which increased the sickness among us. . .
On the 3rd the committee sent to confer with the above named tribes brought in their report of the same.
[Quoting from Horace] They had seen the chiefs of the Omahas, Big Elk and Standing Elk, his son, who signed the article which they had drawn up requesting their consent to remain one or two or more years. Both tribes are very anxious to have all the improvements we shall leave behind. The Otoes were anxious that we should not close with the offer of the Omahas and go up the river, because there they would have no clue [claim] to the improvements we shall make, whereas if we stay where we are they consider themselves entitled to every thing we shall leave behind. A committee was appointed by the council to look out a good place for cattle and to see about the removal of the ferry up the river near here.
Life in Council Bluffs/Winter Quarters
After moving to Council Bluffs, many of the Saints were able to begin building houses. Most of them were sod houses, but offered better protection than the wagons. Helen comments on fixing up their house.
On the 8th of Dec. Horace mentions being engaged “muddying up his room,” his brother Orson assisting him. This, like the majority of the houses, was covered with sod, and the chimneys were built of the same. Each room had one door and a window with four panes of glass, but no floor. I was rather unfortunate, first, in having a chimney that seldom drew the smoke, particularly when the weather was cold enough to need a roaring fire in front of a good sized back-log, and then being prostrated on my bed from the 23rd of January till along in March; it gave me the opportunity of cultivating the qualities of patience and calmness under new vicissitudes, from which there was no alternative, only to endure them with as good grace as possible, for many of the Saints were still without a roof to cover them; but I shed many unbidden tears during the smoking period, lasting one month, when finding that our fireplace built of sod was about to tumble down, they had some brick brought from the rubbish of the Old Fort of Council Bluffs, and built a new one. Thus ended our trouble from that quarter. We had been accustomed to trials from smoke, heat, wind and dust, and many other things of an unpleasant nature during camp life, and we took considerable pleasure in fixing up our little homes. Our floors we managed to cover with canvas or pieces of carpeting, which had outlived the storms and the wear and tear while journeying from the States. We made curtains serve as partitions to divide the bedrooms, repositories, etc., from the kitchen. Most of our furniture we had made to order—such as cupboards and bedsteads—they being attached to the house, also tables, chairs and stools, and an occasional rocking chair, relics of other days, graced our ingleside [fireplace]. I was fortunate in having one of the latter, which I had brought with me. And here I received my “setting out” in crockery ware, etc., which, though not very extensive, was deemed quite immense for those times. Our marriage taking place just as we were about starting from the states, the presenting of these needful articles was postponed till a future time, expecting as we then did, to cross the Rocky Mountains before building houses to inhabit.
Scurvy at Winter Quarters
Helen discusses the effects of scurvy on the camp after a group of Saints left in April 1847 to seek their final destination before sending back for the rest of the Saints to join them. Those who stayed behind were to raise crops to sustain them for their final journey. More trials and more miracles ensue during their wait at Winter Quarters.
He [Horace] mentions the black scurvy, which had begun its work, and already many cases had proved fatal. It would commence with dark streaks and pains in the ends of the fingers or toes, which increased and spread till the limbs were inflamed and became almost black, causing such intense agony that death would be welcomed as a release from their suffering. It was caused by the want of vegetable food and living so long on salt meat without it.
It was now a year or more since the majority had left their homes and civilization behind, and our trail was marked by the lonely mounds of the dead, who had made a happy escape from the sufferings and want to which we were so many years subjected, through the wickedness and injustice of man. . . .
We had a varied and peculiar experience from the time that we were left, till the return of the pioneers. Things looked rather dark, and to all appearance there was no earthly source to which we could look. When one meal was eaten, how the next was to be obtained was something of a puzzle. But when things looked the darkest, and want seemed most imminent, some way or other we were provided for, and relief came sometimes in a way most marvelous. But to return:
As I have previously mentioned, the scurvy was raging in our midst, and a good many had already died in consequence. Only a very few potatoes could be obtained at that time of the year, and for what we did get we had to pay a high price. . .
On the morning of May 6th I was delivered of a beautiful and healthy girl baby, which died at the birth. Thus the only bright star, to which my doting heart had clung, was snatched away, and, though it seemed a needless bereavement, and most cruel in the eyes of all who beheld it, their sympathies were such that, by their united faith and prayers, they seemed to buoy me up to that degree that death was shorn of its sting, till I could say, “Thy will, not mine, be done.” . . .
Helen was sick for another three weeks. Just before she recovered, though, she was taken ill by scurvy.
. . . the scurvy laid hold of me, commencing at the tips of the fingers of my left hand with black streaks running up the nails, with inflammation and the most intense pain, and which increased till it had reached my shoulder. Poultices of scraped potato, the best thing, it was considered, to subdue the inflammation; it would turn black as soon as applied, and for all they were changed every few minutes for fresh ones, it was all to no effect. By this time I had lost all faith, and patience, too, and, with a feeling of desperation, I arose, and, taking the wrap and everything with it, I threw it with such force that it went into the fireplace on the opposite side of the room, saying, “There you can stay, for I will never do another thing for it!” and to my great surprise I had no occasion to, as the pain and disease had left me, and from that moment I felt no more of it.
. . . The little meetings which the sisters held twice or three times in a week, were begun in the month of May, while we had the privilege of Sisters Eliza R. Snow, Zina Young and a few others who went with the first company that left Winter Quarters in June for the Rocky Mountains. The spirit that began to be poured out while they were with us, continued to burn in the bosoms of those who met often one with another, and the love of God flowed from heart to heart, till the wicked one seemed powerless in his efforts to get between us and the Lord, and his cruel darts, in some instances, were shorn of their sting.
At the time when numbers were laying sick in the terrible scourge that was carrying off so many of the Saints, being made easy prey for disease and death in consequence of the weakened condition to which they were reduced by long privations and exposure, and death seemed determined to lay them low, my mother would go from door to door ministering food and consolation to the sick, and pouring out blessings upon them, during which time she scarcely touched food herself; at meal times she would only take a cup of milk, saying, when urged to eat, that she had no room for it. She seemed to grow stronger in body, and had an abundance of nurse for her babe; in blessing she was blessed, and there were others enjoying a portion of the same spirit, and by their united faith and works, with fasting and prayer, the sick were healed and made to rejoice more abundantly in the mercy of their Lord, that they were numbered among those who were to come up through much tribulation and be made white in the blood of the Lamb.
Some of the group of Saints who had made it to the Salt Lake Valley returned in October 1847 to bring the next group of Saints from Winter Quarters.
When we saw them safe back our joy was equal to our sorrows. We could doubly realize why the Lord had so moved upon us to fast and pray, uniting our faith as one in their behalf, as well as for ourselves during their absence; and that it had been nothing less than miraculous that so many were preserved to meet again, saying nothing of the prosperity which had attended us. Many of our people had previously turned their attention to the manufacturing of various articles, such as willow baskets, washboards, half bushels, etc., which they sold to help themselves to a living and preparing for their journey the coming spring. No picture of despair had been visible, nor were there any doubts entertained of the accomplishment of the journey laying before us, and the building up of Zion in the valleys of the Rocky Mountains. The hand of God had been visible in every trial and to those who sought Him He was ever near.
Account taken from Remembering Winter Quarters/Council Bluffs, Larsen and Larsen, 2004, p48–75.