The Camps On The Missouri





Mormon accounts of the westward movement from Nauvoo represent

that the delay which occurred when they reached the Missouri

River was an interruption of their leaders' plans, attributing it

to the weakening of their force by the enlistment of the

Battalion, and the necessity of waiting for the last Mormons who

were driven out of Nauvoo. But after their experiences in a

winter march from the Mississippi, with something like a base of

supplies in reach, it is inconceivable that the Council would

have led their followers farther into the unknown West that same

year, when their stores were so nearly exhausted, and there was

no region before them in which they could make purchases, even if

they had the means to do so.



When the Mormons arrived on the Missouri they met with a very

friendly welcome. They found the land east of the river occupied

by the Pottawottomi Indians, who had recently been removed from

their old home in what is now Michigan and northern Illinois and

Indiana; and the west side occupied by the Omahas, who had once

"considered all created things as made for their peculiar use and

benefit," but whom the smallpox and the Sioux had many years

before reduced to a miserable remnant.



The Mormons won the heart of the Pottawottomies by giving them a

concert at their agent's residence. A council followed, at which

their chief, Pied Riche, surnamed Le Clerc, made an address,

giving the Mormons permission to cut wood, make improvements, and

live where they pleased on their lands.



The principal camp on the Missouri, known as Winter Quarters, was

on the west bank, on what is now the site of Florence, Nebraska.

A council was held with the Omaha chiefs in the latter apart of

August, and Big Elk, in reply to an address by Brigham Young,

recited their sufferings at the hands of the Sioux, and told the

whites that they could stay there for two years and have the use

of firewood and timber, and that the young men of the Indians

would watch their cattle and warn them of any danger. In return,

the Indians asked for the use of teams to draw in their harvest,

for assistance in housebuilding, ploughing, and blacksmithing,

and that a traffic in goods be established. An agreement to this

effect was put in writing.



The arrival of party after party of Mormons made an unusually

busy scene on the river banks. On the east side every hill that

helped to make up the Council Bluffs was occupied with tents and

wagons, while the bottom was crowded with cattle and vehicles on

the way to the west side. Kane counted four thousand head of

cattle from a single elevation, and says that the Mormon herd

numbered thirty thousand. Along the banks of the river and creeks

the women were doing their family washing, while men were making

boats and superintending in every way the passage of the river by

some, and the preparations for a stay on the east side by

others--building huts, breaking the sod for grain, etc. The

Pottawottomies had cut an approach to the river opposite a

trading post of the American Fur Company, and established a ferry

there, and they now did a big business carrying over, in their

flat-bottom boats, families and their wagons, and the cows and

sheep. As for the oxen, they were forced to swim, and great times

the boys had, driving them to the bank, compelling them to take

the initial plunge, and then guiding them across by taking the

lead astride some animal's back.



Sickness in the camps began almost as soon as they were formed.

"Misery Bottom," as it was then called, received the rich deposit

brought down by the river in the spring, and, when the river

retired into its banks, became a series of mud flats, described

as "mere quagmires of black dirt, stretching along for miles,

unvaried except by the limbs of half-buried carrion, tree trunks,

or by occasional yellow pools of what the children called frog's

spawn; all together steaming up vapors redolent of the savor of

death." In the previous year--not an unusually bad one--one-ninth

of the Indian population on these flats had died in two months.

The Mormons suffered not only from the malaria of the river

bottom, but from the breaking up of many acres of the soil in

their farming operations.



The illness was diagnosed as, the usual malarial fever,

accompanied in many cases with scorbutic symptoms, which they

called "black canker," due to a lack of vegetable food. In and

around Winter Quarters there were more than 600 burials before

cold weather set in, and 334 out of a population of 3483 were

reported on the sick list as late as December. The Papillon Camp,

on the Little Butterfly River, was a deadly site. Kane, who had

the fever there, in passing by the place earlier in the season

had opened an Indian mound, leaving a deep trench through it. "My

first airing," he says, "upon my convalescence, took me to the

mound, which, probably to save digging, had been readapted to its

original purpose. In this brief interval they had filled the

trench with bodies, and furrowed the ground with graves around

it, like the ploughing of a field."



But amid such affliction, in which cows went unmilked and corpses

became loathsome before men could be found to bury them,

preparations continued at all the camps for the winter's stay and

next year's supplies. Brigham Young, writing from Winter Quarters

on January 6, 1847, to the elders in England, said: "We have

upward of seven hundred houses in our miniature city, composed

mostly of logs in the body, covered with puncheon, straw, and

dirt, which are warm and wholesome; a few are composed of turf,

willows, straw, etc., which are comfortable this winter, but will

not endure the thaws, rain, and sunshine of spring." * This city

was divided into twenty-two wards, each presided over by a

Bishop. The principal buildings were the Council House,

thirty-two by twenty-four feet, and Dr. Richard's house, called

the Octagon, and described as resembling the heap of earth piled

up over potatoes to shield them from frost. In this Octagon the

High Council held most of their meetings. A great necessity was a

flouring mill, and accordingly they sent to St. Louis for the

stones and gearing, and, under Brigham Young's personal direction

as a carpenter, the mill was built and made ready for use in

January. The money sent back by the Battalion was expended in St.

Louis for sugar and other needed articles.



* Millennial Star, Vol. IX, p. 97.





As usual with the pictures sent to Europe, Young's description of

the comfort of the winter camp was exaggerated. P. P. Pratt, who

arrived at Winter Quarters from his mission to Europe on April 8,

1847, says:--



"I found my family all alive, and dwelling in a log cabin. They

had, however, suffered much from cold, hunger, and sickness. They

had oftentimes lived for several days on a little corn meal,

ground in a hand mill, with no other food. One of the family was

then lying very sick with the scurvy--a disease which had been

very prevalent in camp during the winter, and of which many had

died. I found, on inquiry, that the winter had been very severe,

the snow deep, and consequently that all my four horses were

lost, and I afterward ascertained that out of twelve cows, I had

but seven left, and, out of some twelve or fourteen oxen, only

four or five were saved."



If this was the plight in which the spring found the family of

one of the Twelve, imagination can picture the suffering of the

hundreds who had arrived with less provision against the rigors

of such a winter climate.





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