Whether documenting the first leg of the prairie trek, reporting the temporary life in the Missouri River settlements, or transmitting hearsay about the Battle of Nauvoo, Mary Richards’s 1846–48 journals are a superb source on one brief period of Mormon history. For example, the journals make tantalizing reference to a little-known religious reformation and to Winter Quarters’ overzealous police force. Seen through Mary’s eyes, the gradual formulation of plans for going further west was less hierarchy-centered and more communal than previously depicted. Then there are her intimate portraits of sundry Church leaders and her even more fascinating glimpses into the dynamics of the Richards tribe.
In addition, Mary gives picturesque reports on frontiering in general. Sky “very lowery,” one entry reads simply. Another night she could not sleep, the “Misskateos having taken possession of our tent.” She tells of being drenched out of her tent, smoked out of her cabin, and almost chased away from Sunday meeting by a dust storm. But neither her role as travel writer, Mormon scribe, nor frontier reporter is central to these documents. Mary’s real drama, and what makes her story so riveting, is her fate as a Mormon wife.