In the Mormon Trail’s twenty-three-year history, a handful of years merit special attention because of their historical importance: 1846 for the exoduses from Nauvoo, 1847 for the first companies to Utah, 1849 for the Gold Rush, 1856 for the first handcart companies, and 1861 for the first down-and-back wagon companies.1 To that list, the pivotal year 1852 needs to be added and its story told.
A vigorous Church campaign closed down about forty lingering LDS settlements in Iowa in 1852. Branches transformed into wagon trains, whose pullouts terminated what had been a strong Mormon presence in the Midwest for five years, and brought to completion the Nauvoo exodus process. This Church-ordered evacuation completed a covenant that Saints made in Nauvoo to help all go west who needed assistance. It produced the Mormon Trail’s heaviest traffic in any year before or after. It terminated six years of Winter Quarters and Kanesville being the outfitting point for LDS emigrating companies. It planted handcart seeds that sprouted four years later. And it let Perpetual Emigrating Fund (PEF) assistance shift from Nauvoo exiles to European Saints.
The Nauvoo Covenant and the Perpetual Emigrating Fund
After Utah became Mormonism’s new gathering place, Church leaders diligently tried to fulfill a covenant Saints made in the Nauvoo Temple in October 1845 to assist those needing help to move west.2 In 1849, the Church created the Perpetual Emigrating Fund (PEF) for that purpose. “Shall we fulfil that covenant, or shall we not?”3 asked First Presidency Counselor Heber C. Kimball when presenting the PEF plan in general conference. “We are under obligation by covenant, firstly to apply the Perpetual Funds gathered in this country, to bring home the poor Saints who were driven from Nauvoo,” the First Presidency stipulated, “and as soon as this shall be accomplished, we shall be ready to extend our exertions to other places and countries.”4 Immediately, Bishop Edward Hunter headed east, carrying PEF funds, which he used the next year, 1850, to bring the first PEF-assisted Nauvoo refugees to Utah. Orders said the funds should buy oxen, not wagons, to be resold in Utah, generating replacement funds for the PEF.5
Back in 1846, up to 15,000 Saints left the Nauvoo region, most of them intent on going west to some wilderness home. To survive that first winter, the refugees hunkered down in the Mormon settlements of Winter Quarters, Garden Grove, Mt. Pisgah, and Ponca Camp; in southeastern Iowa villages like Keosauqua, Bonaparte, Bentonsport, and Iowaville; in scores of camps dotting southwestern Iowa Territory; and in St. Louis. When spring came in 1847, a paltry 1,500 headed for the Rocky Mountains. In 1848, when Winter Quarters had to close down, only perhaps half of its residents headed west, while the others relocated east across the Missouri River in and around what became the LDS town of Kanesville, Iowa (today’s Council Bluffs).
Also in 1848, British LDS emigration, halted during the Nauvoo evacuation period, resumed. Those emigrants were told to reach America and, if necessary, stop and work in Iowa or elsewhere before pushing on to Utah. As a result, between 1848 and 1851, when Mormon wagon trains left from Kanesville each spring, newly arriving Saints from Europe and “the States” took over farms and homes of those leaving. During these yearly population rollovers, a sizeable pool of former Nauvooers remained in the area.6
Kanesville and Its Surrounding LDS Settlements
After Winter Quarters shut down in 1848, Kanesville (formerly Miller’s Hollow) grew and became the central community, the hub, for Saints not yet westbound.7 Ringing it were “heavy settlements in all directions on the good land that abounds in the country.”8 Most were small clusters of families settled near a grove or stream, who adopted such place names as Council Point, Carterville, McOlney’s Branch, Zebriskie’s Hollow, Macedonia, Big Pigeon, Upper Keg Creek, Harris Grove, Six Mile Grove, Walnut Grove, and Plum Hollow. At least three score of these settlements have been identified, some but short-lived.9
Kanesville and those other places were meant to be temporary because “abandonment, not establishment, was the watchword.”10 For four years, 1848 to 1852, Kanesville served as the Church’s headquarters for “the States,” most often with Apostle Orson Hyde presiding. Hyde published there an LDS newspaper, the Frontier Guardian.11 Council Point, near Kanesville, was the arrival port for Mormon emigrants coming up the Missouri River. Kanesville served as a stopover place for Saints unable to continue west, an outfitting point for crossing the plains, and a transfer station for people from Utah heading to or through the States. Federal census takers in 1850 tallied 5,058 residents for the Kanesville precinct, and 7,828 for all of predominantly Mormon Pottawattamie County.12 In and after 1849, because of the discovery of gold in California, Kanesville saw more gold seekers outfit there than in any other Missouri River jumping-off point.13 Those argonauts purchased food, supplies, and services, boosting Iowa Saints’ incomes while fueling the Saints’ reluctance to head for Utah.
As of 1852, Kanesville stood fourth in importance among LDS cities in Church history, behind Kirtland, Nauvoo, and Salt Lake City. As of mid-April 1852, Kanesville had 300 houses, 16 mercantile establishments, 2 drug stores, 2 printing offices, 5 hotels, 4 groceries, 8 wagon shops, 5 boot- and shoemakers, 5 physicians, 9 attorneys, 7 blacksmith shops, and “about 1200 to 1500 inhabitants.”14
Orders to Evacuate
Four letters and two Church envoys sent to Kanesville in 1851 made the 1852 closedown happen. The 1851 letters, their dates when written, and their dates when published in Kanesville’s Frontier Guardian newspaper are as follows:
|Letter||Date written||Date published in Frontier Guardian|
|First Presidency’s Fifth General Epistle15||Apr. 7||May 30|
|Bishop Hunter and eight others16||June 8||Aug. 22|
|First Presidency to Pottawattamie Saints17||Sept. 21||Nov. 14|
|First Presidency’s Sixth General Epistle18||Sept. 22||Nov. 14|
The first letter, the Presidency’s Fifth General Epistle, counseled Saints in the United States and Canada to “arise as one man, and come to Deseret, where they can do more for Zion in one year than they can in many years where they are.”19 Then on June 8, newly sustained Presiding Bishop Edward Hunter and eight other leading Utahns penned a letter directly admonishing Iowa Saints to “sell your farms and houses, and let Kanesville be in the hands of strangers . . . let the cry be that a saint cannot be found, the cities are vacated.” The writers advocated “that there will not be a man who once lived in Nauvoo, and has had five years already to make an outfit, but will have energy of character to fit himself, and some poorer family who have been sick or unfortunate.”20
Either because of or independent from the two first letters, two major Iowa branches decided in 1851 to close down. Garden Grove Saints, some 140 miles east of Kanesville, moved as a company of sixty wagons, one threshing machine, and twenty-one families to Utah in 1851, and a few who had remained departed in 1852. Then in October 1851, the Harris Grove settlement posted a “selling out” ad in the Frontier Guardian. “The Mormon population of HARRIS GROVE wishing to emigrate in mass to the Salt Lake next season offer to sell out their interest to this beautiful section of Iowa.” The settlement, well supplied with water and timber, consisted of twenty farms, each with between five and twenty acres fenced and cultivated and between 160 and 320 acres claimed. They offered to “sell this fall at cost of improvement. Also a part of the crop on the ground. They will take cattle, store goods and money in exchange.”21
Unlike the first two 1851 letters, which urged, the last two letters ordered. Of influence in this change of tone had to be Elder Hyde’s quick visit to Utah. On June 28, he left Kanesville and reached Salt Lake City on August 17. He attended meetings, gave speeches, and “spent hours in discussions with other Church leaders.” He attended a Council of Fifty meeting on August 25 where members “agitated” the question of “bringing all Pottatattamie Saints who wish to come” next spring. Elder Hyde explained that because he had a great deal to do in order to close down his affairs, someone else needed to be sent to direct that mass evacuation. The council then approved sending Elders Ezra T. Benson and Jedediah M. Grant “to gather up the people of Pottatattamie, all who can fit themselves out and send them on here next spring.”22 Their mission was to close down the Iowa settlements.23 During the general conference held September 7–10, the Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company officers were sustained, and Elders Hyde, Benson, and Grant were specially sustained to be agents of the PEF “to gather the poor to this place.” On September 11, the PEF Company officers met “and deliberated upon matters pertaining to the next season’s emigration” and how to help the poor. We lack records of that meeting. After Elders Benson and Grant spoke in the bowery on September 21, President Young told attenders that the two men would “take up every Saint, man, woman and child . . . every officer and every member and bring them here,” and if Saints don’t do it, “soon they will wish they had.”24
The third letter, the First Presidency’s September 21 letter to Pottawattamie Saints, announced that Apostle Benson and Seventy Grant were sent to herd Pottawattamie Saints to Utah. “We desire you to come . . . to this place with them next season; and fail not. . . . We wish you to evacuate Pottawatamie, and the States, and next fall be with us.” The letter instructed that “if you can get one good wagon and team to five families, and five teams to 100 souls; or no teams at all, more than cows and calves to your handcarts, you can come here with greater comfort and safety than the Pioneers came here. . . . Arise and come home.”25 The Presidency took seriously an idea to use handcarts and wheelbarrows (back in April 1850 the First Presidency had advocated that those with sufficient faith could come to Utah using just a wheelbarrow).26
The Presidency reinforced the handcart and wheelbarrow idea the next day in their September 22 Sixth General Epistle, the fourth 1851 letter. In it they issued a “thus saith the Lord” command that the “voice of the good Shepherd” was to “gather yourselves together, come home; and more especially to the Saints in Pottawatamie, the United States, Canada, and the British Isles; come home! come home!” Families could start from the Missouri River, they said, “with cows, hand-carts, wheel-barrows, with a little flour, and no unnecessaries, and come to this place quicker, and with less fatigue, than by following the heavy trains, with their cumbrous herds.”27 On September 23 and 24, two dozen men, including Elders Hyde, Benson, and Grant, headed for Kanesville, carrying the two new letters containing the evacuation orders. They reached Kanesville early in November.28
Why the Closedown
Why such urgency to close down Iowa residences and complete the Nauvoo exodus in 1852? The above letters and their Utah contexts identify five factors:
1. Lingering Time Had Expired. Rather than ask why 1852 became the deadline year, the real question is, why didn’t a deadline come sooner? Gathering to Zion “as speedily as possible” was “the commandment of the Lord.” That Saints must gather to Zion as quickly as possible was a standing commandment, not a suggestion.29 Ideally, all of those from Nauvoo still committed to the Church should have gone west in 1847, or at least in 1848 when Winter Quarters had to close down. But a lack of wagons, teams, and food kept most back. In mid-1850, the LDS First Presidency, feeling that Saints who had stopped temporarily in Iowa were becoming too comfortable, instructed Elder Hyde to “push the Saints to Zion, and persuade all good brethren to come, who have a wheelbarrow, and faith enough to roll it over the mountains.”30 Yet the February 1851 Frontier Guardian, when giving counsel for that year’s upcoming emigration, lacked urgency and sounded not pushy but wishy-washy: “It is the wish and counsel of your brethren in the Valley that you should emigrate there as fast as possible; and consequently, it is our wish and counsel also. But those who cannot go this year, had better begin to repair farms, fences, and to make preparations to go as largely into agricultural pursuits as possible in this county. Every farmer ought to put in a spring crop, whether he goes west or not.”31
So the First Presidency blew the whistle. “We have been calling to the Saints in Pottawatamie ever since we left them to come away,” the First Presidency said in their September 21 letter; “but there has continually been an opposing spirit, whispering; as it were—Stay another year, and get a better fit-out.”32 Lingering now was unacceptable.
2. Labor Needs in Utah. Unlike in Nauvoo, where the doctrine of gathering caused major problems due to job shortages, Utah needed manpower to develop its agricultural base, natural resources, and building projects. Late in 1849, the Presidency had pleaded with Elder Hyde about Utah’s “need of more laborers, for more efficient help, and multiplied means of farming and building at this place. We want men; brethren come from the States, from the nations come!”33 In April 1850, the Presidency hoped that year’s emigration would bring a “host of Saints” because “the labors of the valley are great, compared to the number of laborers.”34 They noted that “the public works are languishing for help, and we want the Saints at home,” and “we shall need double the hands at harvest we have now.”35 Late in 1850, President Young told a Sunday audience in Salt Lake City, “We want to plant colonies from here to the Pacific Ocean.”36 The nine writers of the June 8, 1851, epistle bluntly said, “It is as much a duty binding on every saint to build up the vallies of the mountains, as it is to be baptized for the remission of their sins, or any other commandment given the servants of God to his people.”37
Early in 1851, just prior to the command to evacuate, President Young directed that construction start in Salt Lake City on a badly needed tabernacle (the Old Tabernacle), and the April general conference voted to build a temple. A newly planted San Bernardino colony drew off some five hundred Saints from Utah. New settlements in and around Cedar City (to develop iron manufacturing) and at Manti needed population.38 In that context, the Presidency’s Sixth General Epistle (September 22, 1851), which included a “thus saith the Lord” endorsement, spelled out Utah’s “want of laborers . . . which might be avoided, if a few score of thousands of the Saints who are abroad, would rise up in the name of Israel’s God and come home, and help us to do what is required at our hands.”39
3. Need for Missionaries. The Presidency’s April 7, 1851, epistle lamented, “There is enough for all to do who are here to prepare for the coming of others; consequently, it is not wisdom to send many elders on foreign missions at present.”40 The nine Utahns’ June 8 letter pleaded that “there rests on the shoulders of every faithful elder in the church,” referring pointedly to those in the Midwest, the call to missionary work: “We ask you to come and . . . let us go to the nations of the earth to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ: for as elders of Israel, we feel the responsibility resting upon us, and the Lord requires it at our hands; and as long as you hold back our hands are tied. . . . Come then, brethren . . . for there rests on the shoulders of every faithful elder in the church the burthen of bearing the gospel to the nations of the earth.”41
4. Europeans Needed the Perpetual Emigrating Fund. Church leaders in Europe constantly pleaded for the PEF to assist thousands of European Saints, suffering from hard economic conditions, to emigrate. But that could not happen until former Nauvooers lingering in Iowa had been assisted first. In tandem with the Iowa evacuations in 1852, the First Presidency authorized the first PEF emigrations from Europe.
5. Dangers of Disaffection. It is clear the First Presidency wanted to stanch disaffections that happened when LDS emigrants stopped to work in St. Louis and in Iowa. Pockets of apostates aggressively tried to dissuade those who stopped to not go on, some claiming Brigham Young was not Joseph Smith’s rightful successor. Thus, the June 8 Utahns’ letter admonished Saints in Iowa and the Eastern States to shun those “who would counsel you not to come to this place as you would a rattlesnake; for the gathering of the Saints is as true a doctrine now, as it was when the Prophet Joseph lived.” Anyone lacking the spirit of gathering “is not of us.”42
To reduce disaffections, the evacuation ultimatum included a major emigration policy change. Until then, leaders had designated the “Pottawatamie lands” as the best place where Saints could “speedily better their condition for their further journey.”43 At times the Presidency said they wanted European converts to halt in the States for a while so that those who would otherwise apostatize in Utah would do it before coming.44 But the First Presidency canceled the stopover option. British Mission President Franklin D. Richards counseled Saints early in 1852 that emigration no longer would be on the old plan, and that during such stopovers “some have lost the Spirit and apostatized, and many, when they get there, become lukewarm and indifferent.” Saints should stay in England “until they can go through to the Valley.”45
Related to the problem of disaffections was a concern, minor if not major, to get converts west before plural marriage practices in Utah became publicly announced, which happened in August 1852, two months after the last LDS evacuees had left Iowa.46
Elder Benson Spearheads an Organized Evacuation
Elders Benson, Grant, and Hyde arrived in Kanesville on November 5, 1851, after a speedy forty-day trip.47 Immediately, Elder Hyde convened a special conference on November 5. Elder Grant was too ill to attend.48 “The Elders and friends from the Valley, all spoke freely to a very large and attentive audience” urging all to prepare to emigrate the next spring.49 Elder Benson spoke and no doubt read his and Grant’s credentials from the First Presidency: “We have sent Brs. Benson and Grant to bless you, and counsel you and relieve Br. Hyde. Therefore we wish you to evacuate Pottawatamie, and the States, and next fall be with us.”50 The Utah arrivals bore “united testimony . . . for the Saints to prepare for emigration to the Valley in the Spring.”51 They shared sentiments close to if not the same as what the First Presidency said in its September letters:
Have you any good excuse for not coming? No! you have all of you, unitedly, a far better chance than we had when we started as Pioneers to find this place; you have better teams and more of them. You have as good food and more of it; you have as much natural strength as we have had to come; our women and children have walked here, and been blessed in walking here, and barefoot, too, only as they could occasionally get a skin from the Indians to make a moccasin, and can you not do the same? You can. And we say again, come home!52
Elder Benson told the conference he would spend the winter with them, organizing them into wagon companies. At the meetings’ end, one report said that “every face seemed looking westward.”53 One of those Utah arrivals, Samuel W. Richards, saw a “hearty response” to the call to gather, and “their hearts seem Zion ward.” He noted that “the subject of the hand-carts and wheel-barrow trains, seem to be, by many, of rather a novel introduction.” That option’s intent was to get the departure fires “well kindled.” But, he added, “In order that the fire may not be crowded too hard at first, the present call or proposition for arrangements only consists of 1,000 wagons, 2,000 hand-carts, and 1,000 wheel-barrows, and measures to be taken immediately for getting out timber for manufacturing purposes.”54 Elder Grant left on November 14 to do Church public relations work in Washington, DC, related to the controversies of the “runaway” Utah officials.55
Unknown to Elder Hyde, Brigham Young had given Elders Benson and Grant a private, written, sealed instruction. If Elder Hyde hindered or obstructed their mission in any way, they were to read in public the private communication, which authorized the two to assume the presidency of the Church at Pottawattamie and in the United States, removing Elder Hyde from that position.56
The postconference issue of the Frontier Guardian, published on November 14, promoted evacuation. In it Hyde published the First Presidency’s September 21 letter to the Pottawattamie Saints, to which he appended his own advice: “Cease to murmur or repine, and do the best and all you can, and you will be prospered, and the hand of Providence will work for your good.”57 Under the headline “Pottowatamie County for Sale,” another article said in part, “The Mormons are about to make a general move from this place in the Spring; and now is the time for speculation and investment, for all such as wish to increase their wealth. It is the best point for producing, in all the West, and the best market on the Frontier. Now is the time for purchasers:—Strike while the ‘Iron is hot’ and secure a fortune while you can.”58
Going on circuit, Elder Benson visited the different branches and preached evacuation.59 He “commenced immediately to organize them into companies” to march “enmass,” taking their poor with them.60 On November 28, he met with and organized the Council Point Branch and made a remarkable observation: “This call for the Saints to come home has been the greatest ever since the Church has been in existence.” Those wanting to be blessed “must give heed to this call.” He left no room for excuses.61
On November 28, the Frontier Guardian published Elder Benson’s schedule for meetings in nineteen locations to organize the departures. It listed two or three visits each day from Monday, December 1, through Tuesday, December 9. The visits were scheduled for 10:00 a.m. and either 3:00 p.m. or 6 p.m., depending on distances between the meeting places. At some locations, representatives from more than one branch attended.62
Difficult to Uproot
Elders Benson and Hyde’s crusade worked. By late 1851, according to Mormon Jonathan Layne in Iowa, “nearly all of our people in Pottawattomie County prepared to go the next year to Salt Lake Valley.”63 But emigrating was not easy or cheap. For Saints to head west meant giving up jobs, selling or trading farms and homes, procuring wagons, obtaining teams to pull the wagons, collecting clothing and provisions sufficient for the hundred-day trek, and in some cases regaining health.
On March 16, Elder Hyde advised Saints not to dispose of their farms and cabins “for trifles,” but to “try for a good price in cash or its equivalent.”64 Two months later, Elder Benson reported that the uprooters were selling a “goodly number” of their farms and improvements and “some are getting pretty good prices.”65 Albert Dickson said that in the spring of 1852 he “sold his place and bought 2 yoke of oxen and 2 yokes of cows” in order to go west.66 Young marrieds Lewis and Susan Whitesides traded their 160-acre farm for an ox team in order to be able to leave.67
This mass pullout created great demand, and hence shortages, for wagons, cattle, and provisions. That winter witnessed large-scale wagon constructing in the branches. A typical outfit consisted of a wagon, two yoke of oxen, two cows, and provisions. Early in 1852 the cost for a yoke of oxen was $60 to $75, “and still advancing.”68 Add to that about $75 for two cows, and $125 or more for provisions, and the expense neared $350 (equivalent to roughly $8,000 to $10,000 in 2013 dollars).69 The Macedonia Branch records provide a rare insight into what the wagons carried. Member David Bowman’s load weighed 2,069 pounds and included beds (weighing 67, 32, and 37 pounds each), a bucket (12 pounds), a stove (89), a boiler (22), pots (23), flat irons (11), soap (21), containers of meal (23, 76, 87, 115, 103), boxes (88, 46, 47, 21, 120, 53), sacks (75, 75, 26, 32, 42), and iron (36). His wagon also carried bacon, crackers and cheese, sugar, and ginger, but weights were not stated.70
People obtained outfits or else tried to go with others who did. By 1852, Zadock and Sarah Bethers, who had known Joseph Smith well, had lived in the Kanesville area for six years. They left for Utah (as a family of nine) on June 4 with three yoke of cows, three oxen, and three new wagons.71 Mary Ann Frost Pratt headed out in 1852 with two children and with Mary Ann Stearns, age 19, in a wagon that Hiram Winters gave to them—“one of the best that has been made in our shop,” Winters told them. The family had lived in Nauvoo and at Winter Quarters.72
As late as April 20, 1852, a report said that “the Saints are generally poor, and the way looks dark and gloomy.”73 Sellers and traders became desperate. Oren Jefferds “staid on my place this summer  and prepared for gitting toem [team] and outfitt for the Mountains.” He sold an old ox, a mare, and a one-horse wagon and bought “one more cow.” That fall he went into Missouri and bought two yoke of steers. He “broke them and my cows” and in June 1852 started west.74 The George B. Hicks family sold their home for a “song,” and on June 5 “we bade adieu to our home where we had toiled for 5 years preparing for the journey.” They had but one ox team, a couple of cows, and “great faith.”75 The Gibson Condie family could not sell their farm, and, Condie said, others could not either, so they just “left their places.”76
Those with oxen but no wagon agreed to hook up, literally, with a wagon owner who needed more oxen. Those with outfits and space took others with them in return for labor on the plains, such as cooking, tending children, being teamsters, or driving cattle. The Isaac and Adah Phippen family had participated in the Nauvoo exodus, stayed two years at Winter Quarters, and then moved back to the Iowa side and farmed. Through “hard work and economy,” they came up with two wagons for the 1852 move. Then, to help the poor, “my father had a widow and three children in one of his wagons,” a Phippen child recalled. The family “never got one cent” for their farm and its contents, and they “left everything only that which they could put in two wagons.”77 Former Nauvooers John and Alice Ellison spent five years in St. Louis, and then in 1851 sent two cows, two yoke of oxen, a wagon, and tools up to Kanesville. They arrived too late to emigrate that year, so John rented a farm at Pigeon Grove. A neighbor’s boarder who had a team but no wagon joined his team to the Ellisons’ wagon and journeyed with them.78
Organizing the Mass Migration
In each branch or group, Elder Benson appointed “the best financeer” as captain, with two counselors. He said he “lost no time night or day until [he] had ridden all over this section of the country and organized forty companies.” When he met with the Lake Branch in November, the branch agreed that its president, Joseph H. Tippetts, should be their wagon company captain. Elder Benson gave Tippetts orders to organize the company and inventory the members’ livestock.79 On November 25, Elder Benson met with the Buoye/Rocky Ford Branch and nominated branch president William Meeks to take charge of making wagons and preparing for the exodus.80 He visited the McOlney Branch on December 4 and organized it with a president and two counselors.81 By the end of 1851, “some [of the companies] were prepared and some were not, and the latter class I instructed to get out their timber and make all necessary preparations for the journey.”82
Captains or representatives of forty branches gave readiness reports to Elder Benson during March 6 and 7, 1852, meetings at the Big Pigeon Tabernacle.83 In a March 16 letter, Elder Benson provided the following tallies drawn from eight branch/company reports:84
|Big Pigeon||230 people||20 wagons||46 yoke of oxen|
|Totals||1794 people||295 wagons||364 yoke of oxen|
His sampling shows an average of six people and just over one yoke of oxen per wagon. Big Pigeon Branch reported it had twenty surplus wagons for sale. Harris Grove had ten new wagons for sale. Rocky Ford had twenty-four other wagons being constructed, and Kanesville had ten “being built by subscription expressly for the poor.” Each of the eight branches said they could take their poor with them, although Council Point had forty people who needed help to complete their outfits.85 Elder Benson said that “from all appearances there will be about ten thousand of our people cross the plains this season,” a projection that other wagon estimates support.86
This report meeting, he felt, was a “good meeting” with “not a dissenting spirit in the house,” and the branch reports were “beyond my most sanguine expectations.” However, the reports do show that in the North Pigeon Branch one or two families offered “excuses for tarrying,” and in the Welsh Branch one or two families were “rather indifferent about going.” Overall, however, those willing to leave “rejoiced in prospect of the day when we shall rise up en masse together and leave the gentile nation.”
That winter President Young sent at least two letters containing names of Iowa Saints to be helped with Church PEF funds, for whom Utahns had paid the travel expenses.87
In Utah, meanwhile, during the April 1852 conference, President Heber C. Kimball voiced concerns about Saints who would cross the plains that year using wheelbarrows and handcarts. In response, ninety-three men volunteered to donate their services “to go out with their teams to carry provisions and assist them on the road.”88 On May 3, President Willard Richards wrote that “several hundreds are coming across the plains with hand carts and wheel barrows and Pres. B. Young intends to go out and meet them.”89 That day Richards wrote to Elder Benson urgently requesting a count of how many were coming with handcarts and wheelbarrows, “so that we could know what to do in regard to giving assistance” and so that President Young could know if he was to go out to meet such nonwagon emigrants.90 The May 3 mail brought the First Presidency word from Elder Benson “giving glorious accounts of the prosperity of the saints in removing” but no handcart count.91
In Kanesville, relations with “Gentiles” passing through or living in southwestern Iowa became testy at times. In September 1851, several federal appointees in Utah Territory had chafed at Church control of territorial operations and deserted their posts. In the States, they were spreading “highly colored” stories about the Mormons. Their reports triggered “a tirade of abuse and falsehood that is going the rounds of eastern newspapers” and newspapers in St. Louis and St. Joseph.92 “Our situation has been critical indeed and we were forced to walk as though we were treading on eggs,” Elder Benson admitted on March 16. “The report of the returning officers raised a storm that for a while threatened to burst with fury upon our heads, but the Lord has helped us; the storm has been stayed.” He discerned that “we shall now be allowed to enjoy a calm long enough to get away from our enemies.”93
By mid-March, Elder Hyde had sold his Frontier Guardian press, its building, and features for $2,000. Indications were that “emigration to the land of gold” would be greater that season than in 1851.94 On April 7, during Kanesville’s final LDS conference, Elder Benson “spoke to the Captains of Emigrating companies,” saying “the word from the mountains was to all to come along, if they had to come 100 souls to 5 wagons.” He promised those who went that they would be blessed “in the name of Israel’s God, but if they remained here and turned away from God and forgot their covenants woe! woe! be to all such.” Elder Hyde also spoke and said he would not counsel which side of the Platte River to travel, but “to get ready to start as early as possible.”95
The Emigration Season Opens
On May 1, the first of the Church-organized Iowa wagon companies ferried across the Missouri. Others followed when ready and as fast as flatboat ferries could transport the wagons, oxen, horses, sheep, dogs, cats, men, women, and children. Crossings primarily were at the Upper or Mormon Ferry connecting to where Winter Quarters once was. But some used a Middle Ferry near Kanesville or the one farther downriver at Bellevue. After the ferry crossings, wagons followed trails that converged about twenty-seven miles into Nebraska, north of where the Elkhorn River flows into the Platte River. From there they followed the same general route the 1847 Mormon Pioneers took, along the Platte River’s north side. However, five companies that year did cross south of Iowa and Nebraska and use other routes to Fort Laramie (see below). A May 13 newspaper report said Kanesville was “literally crowded with emigrants from all parts of the Globe, who are wending their way to California, Oregon, and Utah.”96 By then, seven or eight different steamboats had brought passengers to Kanesville, including about two hundred Saints, with more expected daily.97 That day, Elder Benson estimated that from three-fourths to seven-eighths of the Saints in the “Pottawattamie Purchase” would leave that season.98 On May 19, Elders Hyde and Benson told those who had not sold their properties or who had been unable to buy wagons and teams to prepare to use wheelbarrows and handcarts.99 By May’s end Hyde and Benson had appointed Joseph E. Johnson as a general agent in Kanesville for handling the departing Saints’ properties and claims.100
“The Oregon and California Emigration is beyond calculation. The like was never known before,” Elder Hyde wrote to Brigham Young on May 27. “The tens of thousands of head of cattle, aside from the teams that are swarming on the plains, are truly alarming. . . . I fear that the trip may be disastrously ruinous to many for lack of grass. . . . The plains are literally covered and crowded with emigrants and their wagons and stock. For the last six weeks, and even eight weeks, the streets of Kanesville have been regularly blockaded by the throng and multitude.”101
Kanesville clogged with traffic. Early in June the Frontier Guardian and Iowa Sentinel reported that “our streets are still thronged with emigrants bound for Oregon, California and Salt Lake. Although thousands have crossed the river at this point, still thousands are yet remaining to be crossed.”102 On July 1, Elder Benson wrote to Brigham Young to report that he had organized 18 companies with 50 to 75 wagons in each, some 1,200 wagons total, and all were then across the Missouri and taking up their line of march. They were “well rigged out” with teams, clothing, and provisions—as well fitted out, with a few exceptions, as any who had crossed the plains. He still had two or three companies to start, containing a number of the poor that probably would have weak teams. He urged President Young to send relief teams and provisions to meet and help those last companies. He said he would get to Utah as fast as a horse could carry him, but he would check on every company along the way. “Miracles have been wrought here in getting off the Saints, and this to my astonishment, ” he exulted. “I never took more satisfaction in my life on a mission, than I have in this.” He would travel west with Elders Grant, John Taylor, Erastus Snow, and Franklin D. Richards. He estimated the Pottawattamie companies already included 6,000 souls and 1,200 wagons, and he believed that the total would reach 10,000 Saints headed to Utah. None were handcart or wheelbarrow companies, he noted, because “before we could get one started, they would turn into wagons and teams.”103
When the recruiting and organizing dust settled, twenty-one LDS companies of “fifty” (meaning about fifty wagons) left Pottawattamie County, each one specifically numbered. Elder Benson had organized at least eighteen of them.
|The 1852 LDS Emigrating Companies|
|Company Number & Name||Number of People||Number of Wagons||Departed Iowa||Arrival in Salt Lake City|
|1. James W. Bay/ John S. Higbee||190||—||5/30||8/13|
|2. James J. Jepson||*225||*32||5/29||9/10|
|3. Thomas C. D. Howell||293. |
|4. Joseph Outhouse||*230||50||6/10||9/6|
|5. John Tidwell||*340||*54||6/4–9||9/15|
|6. David Wood||*288||*58||6/6||9/20|
|7. Henry B. M. Jolly||*340||*64||6/4||9/15|
|8. [No company name, probably same as #17]|
|9. Isaac M. Stewart||*245||*53||6/19||8/28|
|10. Benjamin Gardner||241||45||6/2–10||9/24|
|11. James McGaw||239||54||6/24||9/20|
|12. Harmon Cutler||262||63||6/27||Sept late|
|13. William Morgan||—||—||6/22||9/25|
|14. John B. Walker||*258||—||6/26||10/2|
|15. Robert Wimmer||*230||—||Early July||9/15|
|16. Uriah Curtis||*365||51||6/28||9/29|
|17. Isaac Bullock||*175||40||*7/4 |
|18. James C. Snow||250||*55||7/5||10/9|
|19. Eli B. Kelsey||*100||—||7/4||10/14|
|20. Henry W. Miller||*229||63||7/8||9/10|
|21. Allen Weeks||*226||—||7/13||10/12|
|Smaller Companies from Iowa|
|Wm. Morley Black||—||*20||late May||10/2|
|Joel Edmunds||53||12||6/10 |
|William West Lane||*34||*15||6/24||9/24|
|Crandall Dunn |
|Companies Leaving from Points South of Iowa|
|John Parker||31||11||4/14 |
|Udall family and others||—||4/27 St. Louis/Leavenworth||9/5|
|Thomas Marsden||—||10||6/4 |
|Abraham O. Smoot||*250||*33||6/1 |
|Philip De La Mare (freight)||80||7/4 Leavenworth||11/10|
* indicates estimated
Case Study: The Council Point Branch (Fifth) Emigrating Company
Not without patience, pain, disagreements, and hard work did branches transform into wagon companies properly equipped to convey everyone, including those lacking outfits and necessities. Excellent records for the Council Point Branch, located near the steamboat landing two miles from Kanesville, document the difficulties.104 On November 28, Elder Benson visited the branch to organize it. All should fit up their wagons, he said, and “those that could not get wagons was to get hand carts, and those that could not get hand carts was to get wheelbarrows or a cow to carry a pack upon and so make their way unto the Valley.” Members approved branch president John Tidwell to be the company president/captain. He chose John M. King and Thomas Robins as counselors. During the next weeks, the presidency polled the members and drew up lists of those who were going, the wagons and teams that were available, and those who needed assistance. They sent men to find lumber and to construct wagons. Tidwell cautioned that the poor must not expect the others to haul loads with more than what the haulers were taking. He struggled to learn who “wants assistance and how much they want.” On March 2, thirty-four families reported they could go on their own, ten needed “whole assistance,” and two needed some assistance. “Some say it looks dark and that they will stay another year to be better prepared,” counselor John M. King said, then called such thinking wrong. Grumbling caused Tidwell to request a vote of support, which he received.
He tallied wagons, teams, supplies, those who needed help, those who could take an extra person or extra baggage, and those still figuring out their situations, person by person. For example, Telemachus Rogers said he could take one person, John Andrews needed to sell his things in order to go, William Watts said it would be a “pretty good push” for him to get away, Sarah Allen needed to “join teams” and lacked some provisions, and Andrew Whitlock needed help transporting some of his family of ten but disliked having their names “on the poor list.” Tidwell calculated that “we shall be under the necesity of deviding families in different wagons” and hoped not to hurt the feelings of any involved. Members pledged to donate items for the poor, including whips, lathes, gloves, blacksmithing, groceries, corn, potatoes, and small amounts of cash ranging from fifty cents to a dollar. No one would take one sister because of her “spirit of contention,” but she repented in time. Tidwell noted that “in this branch there is a portion that is willing to do right and there is others that is eternally fault finding complaining and barking like a dog.” He asked for and received a renewed sustaining vote for his presidency.
On April 27, Tidwell grouped his branch into four companies of “ten,”105 each with a captain. In May the branch agreed to sell its schoolhouse to raise travel funds. His company waited at the North Ferry “untill the crowd of Californians have passed over.” On June 8, Elder Benson visited the company’s campsite near the upper ferry and organized them as the Fifth Company. According to the company’s clerk, George Bowering, it contained 329 people, 61 wagons (or 5.4 people per wagon), 217 oxen (or 3.6 per wagon), 164 cows, 25 sheep, 14 horses, and 77 men fit for duty. Elder Benson read rules for the company to observe on the trail: prayers night and morning, a meeting each Sabbath, no swearing, guards kept every night who called out every half hour, horses corralled at night for safety, but cattle kept outside, not corralled. No one could leave the camp without the captain’s permission, every man needed to have a “good gun and ammunition,” and guns must be put in the wagon “with a cap on to avoid accident, and put a piece of leather over the tube.” They were also instructed to treat their animals “with the utmost kindness.”
Aggravated by high winds and drunk ferry operators, the Tidwell tens needed five days to cross the river, June 11–15. Then, when they tried to start west, heavy rains fell, a blacksmith died of cholera, and an elderly woman’s runaway horses crashed her wagon and killed her. Finally, on June 16, the season’s Fifth Company started its journey.
Other Branches as Companies
In preparation, the Lake Branch Company paid men to haul lumber and construct wagons and voted that “every man shall give his tenth days labour untill we start for the valley or all the poor supplied.” They agreed that “any requiring help of teams wagons or provisions etc. shall give his promissory note to pay as soon as he is able to return the property with interest on his or her arrival at the Valley.”106 They joined Henry Jolley’s Seventh Company. Elder Benson organized that Seventh Company for the Macedonia Branch nineteen miles east of Kanesville. Some unsuccessfully voted against Jolley as captain, wanting Washington Lemmons instead. Passengers included residents from the Six-Mile Settlement (Barney’s Grove).107
In November 1851, Elder Benson organized the North Pigeon Branch, with Benjamin Gardner as captain and with two counselors.108 Some disaffected members stayed behind and on July 11 organized their own branch. In that meeting, one spoke “harsh things” about Brigham Young, and another said Young was the “beast Daniel saw,” while a third called Brigham Young a usurper of authority. The stay-backs continued to meet in the North Pigeon tabernacle.109 The Plum Hollow Branch chose Louis Zabriskie as their captain, organized into tens, and traveled in the small Warren Snow (unnumbered) Company.110 The Welsh Branch (Thirteenth Company), located on bottomlands between Kanesville and the Missouri River, had 113 or more members, most of whom had arrived there in 1849. In late June 1852, the branch, augmented by new arrivals from St. Louis, formed a “fifty” that included some English and French. Branch president William Morgan served as captain.111
Members of the McOlney Branch (Fourteenth Company), a few miles north of Kanesville, made up most of the two hundred passengers in the John B. Walker Company. In an unnamed branch, George Mason recalled that ten or twelve families, location not stated, “all started together” and became part of the Henry Miller (Twentieth) Company on July 8.112 The bishop of the Harris Grove Branch organized it into tens, and with assistance from the Perpetual Emigrating Fund, they traveled with the Allen Weeks (Twenty-first) Company.113 Bishop William West Lane of the Church’s “Poor Farm,” or Lanesborough Branch, far north of Kanesville, led his members across the Missouri but died soon after, causing the company to merge into another one (unidentified).114 In 1852, the Mt. Pisgah settlement, about 100 miles east of Kanesville, broke up, and its people headed west.115 Late in May, a William Morley Black wagon group from Burlington, Iowa (on the Mississippi River), linked up with the James C. Snow Company, then traveled alone. Later, twenty wagons from the Wimmer Company joined them, making forty wagons total.116
Hundreds from St. Louis, including newly arrived European emigrants, journeyed up to Kanesville and joined the Iowa companies.117 The Eli B. Kelsey (Nineteenth) Company consisted of many newly immigrated Europeans who had left St. Louis on the steamboat Saluda and survived its deadly explosion at Lexington, Missouri (see below).118 As the table above shows, at least five groups of Saints went partway up the Missouri River from St. Louis, then crossed through Kansas to reach Fort Laramie, rather than go up to Kanesville.
Elder Hyde, one of the last to leave Kanesville, gave a Fourth of July address there, then left the next morning. His family group, three wagons, and two teamsters traveled in the Henry Miller (Twentieth) Company.119
The Mormon Trail’s Largest Traffic Year
Diary and reminiscent accounts by people who traveled the Oregon, California, and Mormon trails in 1852 describe extra dust, regular competition for campsites, grass and buffalo chips being already used up, and other wagon trains often being in sight. John Unruh, in his landmark study The Plains Across, estimates that in 1852 on the overland trails 50,000 people went to California, 10,000 went to Oregon, and 10,000 went to Utah, making that year the trails’ busiest traffic year of all time.120 Elder Benson estimated 10,000 LDS emigrants, and so did eastbound traveler Thomas Margetts. Margetts and five men with him traveled from Fort Laramie along the north side of the Platte, the Mormon Trail side, and passed “one perfect camp from starting in the morning till we stopped at night” and also saw “as many wagons” on the south side. By mid-Nebraska they encountered westbound LDS companies “nearly every day” and met in total “about one thousand four hundred ‘Mormon’ teams, and not less than ten thousand Saints on their way, that is, including those waiting to cross at the ferry” near Kanesville.121 Although the LDS Church’s constantly updated Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel website currently identifies by name only 5,659 LDS 1852 trail travelers, its lists are admittedly very incomplete. But even its undercount is the largest yearly total in any Mormon Trail year before 1852 or after. More LDS emigrants crossed the plains in 1852 than in any other year.
Iowa LDS wagon companies rarely saw travelers bound for Oregon or California because those wagon trains, having farther to go, left earlier than those going to Utah. But they regularly passed, camped with, or were passed by their fellow westbound Mormon companies. Companies 10 (Gardner), 11 (McGaw), and 12 (Cutler) “traveled together for several hundred miles for mutual protection,” Ada Phippen later recalled, often leap-frogging each other in July.122 On August 19, the McGaws passed the Gardners and two days later passed the Stewart (9th) Company. Near Chimney Rock, on August 20, the Kelsey (19th) and Weeks (21st) trains camped about ten miles apart, and near Fort Laramie the Kelseys passed the Weekses on August 26. On August 28, the Snow (18th) Company’s clerk noted that “for the past week we have passed and repassed several companys,” including the Wimmer (15th) and Curtis (16th) companies, and two “tens” from other companies.123 Beyond Pacific Springs, the Kelsey Company traveled with or near Captain De La Mare’s big Deseret freight wagon train. On October 6, the Kelsey Company overtook the Weeks train again, and the next day both companies crossed the Bear River and headed down Echo Canyon, nearly home.124
Cholera, rampant on the trails in 1849 and 1850, also plagued the 1852 companies, most of which suffered cholera outbreaks mainly between the Loup Fork and Fort Laramie. Several had rather high death tolls, such as Smoot’s European PEF train from St. Louis that lost eleven to cholera.125 Trail scholar Mel Bashore estimates that ninety-nine Mormon emigrants died of cholera in 1852, making it perhaps the Mormon Trail’s worst cholera year.126
Most of the 1852 LDS emigration left Kanesville in June and for about three months progressed an average of two miles per hour, ten to twelve miles per day. They arrived in Great Salt Lake City between mid-August and November. The twenty-one companies averaged 98 days to reach Salt Lake City, or twelve weeks. By contrast, the famous first 1847 pioneer company took 111 days; in 1856, the first three handcart companies needed 65 days and three wagon trains required 77 days (from Florence); and in 1861 the thirteen LDS wagon trains averaged 73 days.127 According to the First Presidency’s Eighth General Epistle, dated October 13, 1852, many of the companies “were late in their emigration this year” such that “for the last two or three weeks, have suffered from occasional snow storms in the mountains, which retarded their progress.” Because delays and snow “helped to make them short of provisions . . . some two hundred or more teams and wagons went from the Valley to their assistance, taking to the various camps some forty or fifty thousand pounds of flour, and large supplies of vegetables, which enabled them to come in, in safety.”128
Because Utah became a territory late in 1850, it took that year’s federal census count late, completing it on April 1, 1851. It showed 11,354 inhabitants.129 That year, 1851, trail emigrants added perhaps 5,000 to Utah’s population. Thus, in 1852, the arrival of between 6,000 and 10,000 newcomers increased Utah’s population by nearly 50 percent.130
Successful Evacuation Campaign
On August 20, 1852, Elders Benson, Grant, Taylor, Snow, and Richards reached Salt Lake City. One company had arrived before them. Eight days later, President Young conducted a special conference for more than one hundred men called on missions, the biggest wave of missionaries yet sent out from Utah. To these men he praised the Iowa evacuations that now made it possible to boost missionary numbers: “There are a great many coming; bro. Benson says all are coming, even the great grand daddies, and great grand mammies; uncles and aunts, all are coming, and I am glad of it; I rejoice for it puts us in a position that we can send out elders from this place into all the world; whereas, before, our circumstances needed all the men we had here to prepare for the gathering of the saints.”131
That same day, President Young wrote to John Bernhisel, “We are now prepared to send out Elders to the nations.” The next day in the special conference, August 29, Elder Orson Pratt publicly announced for the Church its practice of plural marriage, which announcement the missionaries would take with them to their fields of labor.132
The Presidency considered the orchestrated 1852 emigration effort a success. They rejoiced that “Israel is coming home in crowds, like doves to their windows.” They explained to readers churchwide that “Elders Ezra T. Benson and Jedediah M. Grant returned . . . from their mission to Pottawatamie, which they left almost entirely vacated by the Saints, who are now in the Valley; many of whom began to prepare to come over the plains, with hand-carts and wheel-barrows, but when the Lord saw they were determined to come home, at all hazards, He opened their way to have wagons and teams, even to the last family that wanted to come.”133
As fast as the emigrants arrived, the Deseret News noted, they were “generally desirous of obtaining information concerning their friends, and the settlements and locations in these valleys.” Newcomers received advice from several specially appointed bishops: Nathaniel H. Felt at the Public Works, Abraham Hoagland of the 14th Ward, Seth Taft of the 8th Ward, Devid Pettegrew of the 10th Ward, Alfred Cordon at the Pottery, Abraham O. Smoot of the 15th Ward, and John Banks in Battle Creek in Utah County.134
On August 22, Apostle John Taylor, who had just returned from a mission to Europe, told a Salt Lake audience, “It gave me great joy, on my way home, to find the Saints leaving Kanesville. It seemed as though they were swept out with a besom [broom] almost.” While there, between May 28 and July 4, “I rode out in my carriage one day to a place called Council Point. I thought I would go and visit some of the folks there, but, when I got there, behold, there were no folks to see.” He found a stranger who had just come to town. “And the people have all left?” he asked the stranger. “Yes.” Taylor saw three people total. “When I first reflected upon this removal,” he said, he felt amazed that the poor and decrepit also were gone. “Thank God, they are coming, nearly all, old and young, rich and poor.”135
During the October 1852 general conference, President Young called for one hundred families to go to Iron County to assist with the iron works there, and one hundred families to go to Millard County, the territory’s new capital. This invitation was open to all, including those fresh from Iowa. He told newcomers that Salt Lake Valley was pretty much taken up with farms, and the wood used up, so they should, as Elder Hyde said, “go where neighbors are few and get the best places for farms. . . . The word is, go south and fill up the vallies.”136
Nauvoo Covenant Fulfilled
When set up in 1849, the Perpetual Emigrating Fund’s primary purpose was to fulfill the Nauvoo covenant to help “bring home the poor Saints who were driven from Nauvoo.”137 How much PEF help the 1852 emigrants received cannot be determined because surviving PEF records for the early 1850s are of mixed types, are not filed together by year, and are very incomplete. However, the PEF was deeply involved. Included in Perpetual Emigrating Fund Company documents are several passenger lists and scraps related to most of the 1852 companies (but lacking PEF accountings), and two PEF promissory notes signed by 1852 emigrants upon reaching Utah.138 Evacuation directors Benson and Grant were PEF officers. Historian Gustive O. Larson observed that when the 1852 emigration season closed, “all the exiles from Nauvoo who wished to come had been removed to Zion,” which meant that “the obligations of the Nauvoo pledge of 1846 had been faithfully discharged.”139 After that, PEF funds were directed to helping European Saints.
Historians lack the thorough demographic research necessary to do more than guess how many ex-Nauvooers did not go to Utah. Possibly 2,000 Nauvooers never participated in the exodus across Iowa. Of those Saints who spent time by the Missouri River, which includes non-Nauvooers, Richard Bennett has estimated that about 2,000 might have disaffected between 1846 and 1852.140 In southwestern Iowa, among the LDS “remnants” who remained and the “go backs” who left Utah, many became receptive to the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (RLDS, now called the Community of Christ) message by and after 1860. In 1870, at least thirty-seven RLDS branches dotted southwestern Iowa.141
Other 1852 Emigration Developments
With authorization from the First Presidency, Apostle Franklin Richards sent from Liverpool in 1852 the first two European emigrant ship companies funded at least partially by the PEF. Of the 700 passengers, the fund helped 251, of which 226, as prearranged, joined the Smoot wagon train (see chart above). Captain Smoot’s 33 wagons, 24 of which were PEF wagons, and 55 yoke of PEF oxen received a warm welcome in Utah for being the first European PEF emigrants.142 That year also saw the first LDS party from Scandinavia, some twenty-eight souls, come to America. They joined the Kelsey Company.
When Saints pulled out of Kanesville, remaining residents renamed the place Council Bluffs. After 1852, LDS wagon trains no longer outfitted in that Winter Quarters–Kanesville region, ending a five-year practice, but instead outfitted in Keokuk (1853); the Kansas City area (1854); Mormon Grove, Kansas (1855); and Iowa City (1856).
As already noted, after 1852 the Church adopted a new “straight-through” emigrating policy whereby emigrants had to “accomplish the entire journey to the Valley without detention.”143 This change required that ships be booked to leave Liverpool in January and February instead of in the fall.144
On April 9, 1852, the Missouri River steamboat Saluda, carrying nearly one hundred Saints, exploded at Lexington, Missouri, killing twenty-nine Mormons on board. Many survivors reached Kanesville and went west in the Kelsey wagon train.145
Also notable in 1852 was the near-use of handcarts, a plan that came to fruition between 1856 and 1860 when ten handcart companies rolled west and one (of missionaries) went east.146
Rebecca Winters’s Grave: An 1852 Trail Memorial
Other than Elders Orson Hyde and Ezra T. Benson, perhaps Rebecca Winters is the best known 1852 Mormon Trail traveler, because of her grave. A convert to Mormonism in 1833 and an ex-Nauvooer, in 1852 she and husband Hiram and family left Kanesville in the Snow (Eighteenth) Company. On August 15, near Scotts Bluff, Nebraska, cholera killed her. A friend chiseled her name and age on an iron wheel rim. Later, Burlington Railroad surveyors discovered her grave and, to not disturb it, relocated the tracks. As one of but few surviving marked graves of all who died crossing the plains, the “Rebecca Winters Grave” is a major site that all trail guidebooks laud.147 Her wheel-rimmed 1852 marker serves as a quiet memorial to the Mormon Trail’s busiest year.
With the arrival of the last Iowa company on October 16, a notable case closed of a difficult assignment given and a difficult assignment capably fulfilled. Had the First Presidency held a “mission complete” celebration, several who made the successful evacuations happen could have been honored. The four 1851 letters that provided orders and encouragement deserve a “motivators’ award.” Elder Benson’s individual work with branch after branch, appointing company leaders, insisting that the poor be assisted, and then overseeing the wagon train departures, merit an “outstanding leadership” honor. The Iowa Saints’ willingness to respond deserves accolades, too, because so many, in order to obey the Presidency and Elder Benson, sacrificed cabins and good farms, struggled to come up with wagons and teams, and reached out to assist those unable to go on their own resources. Finally, toasts and ovations hardly do justice to the men who changed their branch president hats for “wagon captain” boots. Despite no such celebration, the arrival of the last Iowa company let Church emigration history close one vital chapter and turn the page to a new one, the large-scale emigration from Europe that characterized the 1850s and 1860s.