July 24 is an important day for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around the world. We celebrate Pioneer Day, when Brigham Young reached the Great Salt Lake Valley with the first of many wagon trains to cross the plains.
What led up to this arrival is an amazing story.
Members of the Church left their beautiful city of Nauvoo, Illinois, and their temple there, because of increasing persecution. It just wasn’t safe to stay.
The exodus began February 4, 1846, earlier than had been planned. The weather was beastly, and snow soon turned into heavy spring rains that left the rudimentary roads across Iowa impassible from the mud. Hosea Stout wrote on April 29, 1846, “This was an uncommonly wet rainy, muddy, miry disagreeable day. Very wet night last night the ground flooded in water[.]” Many of the people had left in such a hurry that they didn’t have necessary supplies. The majority of the pioneers were not country folk used to roughing it; they were townspeople: teachers, business- and tradesmen, so this difficult cross-country travel was a new and unpleasant experience for them.
Leader Brigham Young set up a daily schedule for the wagon trains to attempt better organization:
- 5 a.m. — bugle wake up, prayers, breakfast, cooking for the day
- 7 a.m. — head out (Each teamster and extra men are to carry loaded weapons at all times.)
- Noon — rest for the animals, cold dinner
- 8:30 p.m. — cold supper, prayers
- 9 p.m. — lights out
Wagons circled at night, with the animals grazing inside the circle. Or if the animals grazed outside, guards were posted.
They set up a way-station at Winter Quarters — near Omaha, Nebraska — to allow the people to rest, purchase wagons and supplies and prepare to make the trek across the plains. They had to carry everything they needed with them; there were no Walmarts or Lowe’s waiting at the end of their trip to resupply them.
In early 1847, the first wagon trains headed out of Winter Quarters. Cooking on the trail was difficult. The women had to poke two forked sticks into the ground to hang the cookpot. Sometimes the sticks were not strong enough and the pot, food and all, would fall into the fire. People got used to eating food with ashes. The pioneers ate food that traveled well, such as bacon, beans, cheese, potatoes, bread, biscuits and dried fruit.
After dinner, wagons were cleaned and bedding set out. This was the only time for washing and mending, too. Each evening, the animals had to be fed and watered and any necessary repairs to equipment made. Work never ended on the trail.