Early on the cold, clear morning of November 21, 1846, John D. Lee “arose from sleep,” dressed, and “walked out” into the streets of Winter Quarters. Struck by his first view in daylight, he wrote:
I was astonished when I looked around and saw what serious enterprise and industry had brought to pass within 6 weeks past. A city of at least 400 houses had been erected in that short space of time, through the ingenuity and industry of the Saints. No other people but the Saints of God has ever been known to accomplish as much in so short a time.
Lee’s astonishment and accompanying pride in his industrious fellow Saints were justified. As if overnight, a city appeared on the western banks of the Missouri River to shelter nearly four thousand Latter-day Saint exiles. It boasted an air of permanence and prosperity as tents and wagon boxes were exchanged for solid log cabins and plows turned the prairie sod. By all appearances, Winter Quarters heralded abundant promise as a new outpost on the American frontier.