Sunday, June 9, 2024

FIFTH SUNDAY BONUS: A Table in the Wilderness

July 24th is celebrated as Pioneer Day in Utah (where I live) because it is the day that President Brigham Young's pioneer wagon entered the Salt Lake Valley. If you have an upcoming 5th Sunday, you may want to share this with your ward or branch, or with your family for a family home evening, wherever you may live. Understanding the intricacies of the migration of the body of the Church to Salt Lake City is a huge testimony-builder with many working parts that were far beyond coincidental.

This blog post is available in PowerPoint form. E-mail me if you want a copy; I'd love for you to share it with your ward or branch or family!

A Table in the Wilderness
A Timeline of the Miraculous Latter-day Saint Migration West

Shortly after the evacuation of Nauvoo, in a pioneer camp on the west of the Mississippi River, a destitute Mormon mother, Sarah Leavitt, was confronted by an antagonistic government officer.

"Why, madam," he said, "I see nothing before you but
inevitable destruction in going off into the wilderness among savages, far from civilization, with nothing
but what you can carry in your wagon…I see nothing before you but starvation.”

Quoting Psalm 78:19, Sarah told him, “The Lord [will] spread a table for us in the wilderness…”

The officer was right: there was no chance of success.
And yet the Mormons triumphed.
Here is the timeline of their story.

A statue honoring Sarah Sturtevant Leavitt is located in Santa Clara, Utah

On the base of her statue, excerpts of her testimony are inscribed.


The first American overland pioneers leave Missouri for the Oregon territory. They follow existing trails to Fort Hall in Eastern Idaho, abandon their wagons when the trail ends but safely reach Oregon.


Congress sends Army Captain John C. Fremont on a series of exploratory expeditions to the western territories. Copies of his maps are given to Mormon Church leaders by an Illinois senator. 


 Large numbers of American pioneers are migrating westward to California and Oregon on the Oregon Trail.

--June 27, 1844--

Joseph Smith is murdered at Carthage Jail. 
Persecutions increase for the Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo.

--October 1845--

The Quincy Convention calls for all Mormons to leave Nauvoo by May of 1846.

A few days later, the Carthage Convention calls for their forced removal by militia, should they fail to meet the deadline.

12,000 saints in Nauvoo and another 2,000-3,000 in the surrounding states will soon be homeless.

--October 11, 1845-- 

President Brigham Young calls team captains 
for the move west and Nauvoo saints begin gathering supplies and making wagons. Saints in other areas are called to gather with them and go west. The plan is that they will all go together in one gigantic 2,500-wagon train in an organized fashion.

--January 1846-- 
John Brown is sent from Nauvoo to collect the families he baptized on his mission three years earlier in Monroe County, Mississippi to join the expedition west. The congregation of saints there includes whites and blacks. Most of the black saints are slaves.

Map & Text color code
Red = Nauvoo saints
Yellow = Mississippi saints
Blue = East coast saints
Green = Mormon Battalion 
(I'm sorry I put the blue star on Boston instead of New York--
by I'm not sorry enough to fix it!)

Meanwhile, a community of converts on the east coast, too poor to make the overland trek, pools its money to charter the Ship Brooklyn. They will take a dangerous voyage around Cape Horn to the west coast, stopping off in Chile and Hawaii on the way. From there, they will travel to meet the saints at their final destination, once President Young decides where that is. Sam Brannan is called to lead the group.

--February 4, 1846--

Because of violence and threats, the first saints leave Nauvoo. The organized plan is abandoned, and there are eventually three exoduses over the following 9 months or so.

--also February 4, 1846--

The very same day, the ship Brooklyn leaves New York City with 238 saints living between-decks in 2,500 feet of space. The lower hold is full of cows, pigs, chickens, sawmills, a gristmill, seeds, tools, a printing press and everything they need to set up a civilization from scratch.

--The Nauvoo Covenant--

Time has not been adequate to prepare wagons and supplies for all the saints in Nauvoo. Many do not have the means, having been unable to sell their homes at fair prices. A covenant is made that those who leave first will stop at a safe spot along the trail and send wagons and teamsters back and forth for all those who wish to come. 

By spring, there are over 10,000 saints scattered across Iowa, obtaining jobs to earn money along the way. The Nauvoo Brass Band plays concerts for pay as they travel. Pioneers build temporary settlements with crops planted for those who follow.

Pres. Young calls Jesse Little to go to Washington, D.C. to petition the government for a contract to build roads and forts on their way west in order to finance the trek.

--Early Spring 1846--

The Brooklyn has blown nearly to Africa before finding trade winds to blow her back to the Cape. She's made it safely around Cape Horn, chipping ice ahead of her in the water, and she's survived the oppressive heat of the tropical doldrums. Now a huge storm blows her away from Chile, where the passengers had planned to resupply. So instead, the captain steers them to the Juan Fernandez Islands. 
There they are able to obtain fresh water, fish, fruit, potatoes and firewood at a cost hundreds of dollars less than Chilean prices. It ianother “table in the wilderness.”

--April 8, 1846--

The first group of Mississippi saints leaves to join the Nauvoo saints and travel to the west. There are 43 in the company.

--May 1, 1846--

The Nauvoo Temple is finally dedicated, although temple work had ceased in February. Over 
the winter, 6,000 saints had received their endowments in the completed portions of the Nauvoo Temple. The temple is immediately put up for sale, but no reasonable offer is made. (They ask $200,000 and years later finally receive $5,000.)

Even while in this distress, a few men are called on missions to Europe straight from the refugee camps.

--May 13, 1846--

The U.S. declares war on Mexico

--May 21, 1846--
Jesse Little arrives in Washington, realizes the government’s focus is now the war, and petitions U.S. President James Polk to contract a battalion of Latter-day Saint men to fight in the war. It is a very bold move, considering the government had just forced the church members to surrender all their weapons the year before because of the conflict in Missouri. Polk is highly dubious, but amazingly, Little convinces him and wins the contract.

The formation of the "Mormon Battalion" puts Brigham Young and the church on the same team as the U.S. government at last, and ends the very real threat of governmental interference on the trek west.

--May 26, 1846--

John Brown and the Mississippi saints arrive in Independence, Missouri, the jumping-off point for all travel to the west, hear wild stories about Mormons on the trail in the west, and assume that Brigham Young has gone on ahead of them. They decide to head west to catch up, rather than go north to Nauvoo.

--June 20, 1846--

The Ship Brooklyn stops in Hawaii to deliver a load of cargo. 

12 people have died on the voyage. The U.S. Navy is stationed at Pearl Harbor, preparing for war with Mexico.

--June 29, 1846--

The Nauvoo refugees arrive at the Missouri River.

U.S. Army Captain James Allen meets them & musters 540 men for the Mormon Battalion.

Pres. Young delays the journey west for a year to allow time for the Battalion to earn money. He establishes Winter Quarters in Nebraska.

--July 10, 1846--

Meanwhile, the Mississippi wagon train has hurried all the way to Laramie, Wyoming before a passing traveler (it's a busy road these days) tells them that no Mormons are ahead of them on the trail. At the invitation of a trapper, they leave the trail to wait out the winter at Pueblo, Colorado with the group of trappers and their Spanish and Native wives. 

--July 21, 1846--
The Mormon Battalion leaves Winter Quarters, the only religiously-based military unit in the history of the United States. 

Brigham Young promises them that none will die in battle. 

They head south to be outfitted at Fort Leavenworth.

(There's an itty-bitty green line down from Winter Quarters.)

--July 31, 1846--

After a 24,000-mile voyage, the Ship Brooklyn saints arrive at present-day San Francisco, then just a small town, and find out that an American warship had sailed into the harbor just 3 weeks earlier, and planted a flag. They are back in the United States! 

One passenger later writes, “Of all the memories of my life, not one is so bitter as that dreary six months’ voyage, in an emigrant ship, round the Horn.” 

San Francisco immediately becomes an overwhelmingly Mormon community. They start farming while they await instruction from Brigham Young.

--August 7, 1846--  

The Mississippi saints arrive at Pueblo with plenty of summer left to build homes and a log church, earning food by working for the trappers.

John Brown returns east to meet with Pres. Young and then bring more saints from Mississippi. 

--August 1846--

The Mormon Battalion leaves Fort Leavenworth, marching southwest to fight Mexico. They are given a clothing allowance of $42 each ($21,000 total), which they immediately turn over to the Church, opting to wear their old clothes. Through their term of service, they earn $50,000, an enormous sum of money, which finances the pioneer emigration west.

 --September 13, 1846--
The Battle of Nauvoo

Less than 1,000 of the most destitute Mormons remain in Nauvoo, including Hyrum Smith’s widow, Mary Fielding Smith, with her children, as well as Truman O. Angell, the future architect of the Salt Lake, St. George and Logan Temples. These stragglers are attacked by anti-Mormons, and forced to sign the surrender of the city three days later, whereupon they are driven out at gunpoint.

--September 14, 1846--

At Winter Quarters, an 11-man rescue party leaves to bring the last saints out of Nauvoo, knowing nothing about the attack.

--September 25, 1846--

Reports of the "Battle of Nauvoo" reach Winter Quarters, and another rescue party is sent with 20 wagons.

--October 6, 1846

The rescue party arrives at the "poor camps" outside Nauvoo to find the situation much more desperate than they are prepared to meet. The rescue captain, Orville Allen, sends some of his men into the surrounding area to purchase more supplies. Meanwhile the people are starving.

--October 9, 1846--

Thousands of exhausted quail suddenly fly into the refugee camp, flopping onto the ground all around the wagons and tents, and even onto the arms and the heads of the pioneers. 
Even the sick can easily pick up a bird with no resistance at all. The suffering saints eat well that day at a “table in the wilderness.” The quail stop coming at 3:00 p.m. The men arrive back with the supplies and the rescue team heads back with the first group at 4:30.

--October 1846--

The Mormon Battalion arrives at Santa Fe. Many members have fallen ill along the way. The sick 
Battalion members are sent to Pueblo, Colorado, not knowing there are other saints already there.

--October 1846--

John Brown arrives back at Winter Quarters. Pres. Young requests that he enlist several strong Mississippi men to join his advance team and wait to emigrate the rest of the Mississippi saints the next year.

The sick Battalion members arrive at Pueblo to find the Mississippi saints waiting there--surprise! To add to the reunion, the leader of the sick contingent is James Brown, another missionary who served in Monroe, Mississippi. 

--October 24, 1846--

Sam Brannan 
publishes an early edition of The California Star newspaper, printed on the Mormon press.

--January 9, 1847

The first subscriptions are delivered by hand, or hawked on street corners in San Francisco, and copies 
are sent east and to Great Britain on ships.

--January 1847--

John Brown arrives back in Mississippi. He selects four white men with four Black enslaved men for the journey. Two of the Black men die before reaching Winter Quarters. The other two are brothers, Oscar Crosby and Hark Lay, who are "owned" by different masters.

--January 22, 1847--

The Mormon Battalion arrives at San Diego, having walked 2,000 miles, the longest military march in history.  It has been an almost unimaginably difficult journey. The war is over, so they are assigned to garrison duty and civic improvement. 20 men have died on the journey due to sickness or injury, and all the men are nearly starved to death, but they have seen no armed conflict.

--April 5, 1847--

The advance pioneer party leaves Winter Quarters, led by Pres. Young. There are 148 in the party, including the four men from Mississippi and an additional Black enslaved convert from the south already there (a friend of the other two) named Green Flake. Green remains faithful all his life, and later works in the home of Brigham Young.

(Green Flake)

--May 1847--

Seventeen saints from the group waiting at Pueblo travel north to Fort Laramie to watch two weeks for Brigham Young’s arrival on the trail.

--June 3, 1847--

Young’s advance team arrives at Fort Laramie. Those waiting from Pueblo join the group, and one of the apostles in the team, Amasa Lyman, goes to Pueblo to bring the rest to the Great Basin.

--June 30, 1847--

Sam Brannan, having made his way east from California, reports to Pres. Young at his camp along the trail. 

--July 16, 1847--

The Mormon Battalion 
is mustered out of service at Los Angeles and the men begin to make their way north.
Some head straight to the Salt Lake Valley to get on the trail back to Winter Quarters to get family.
Others go north to San Francisco to join with the Brooklyn saints in the biggest Latter-day Saint community in the west, and hope to earn money to take back to Salt Lake. 

--July 22, 1847--

Happily surprised to find the cut-off from the Oregon Trail down to the Great Basin has already been blazed (by the Donner party, who were following bad advice about it being a great shortcut to California), the first advance party (including the three Black men) arrives in Salt Lake Valley far ahead of schedule and immediately plants crops.
Two days later, on what is now celebrated as Pioneer Day in Utah, Pres
. Young’s party arrives in Salt Lake Valley. Sam Brannan teaches the Saints to make adobe bricks for houses, a skill he learned in California.

--September 8-11, 1847--

About 100 
Battalion members find work building a saw mill for John Sutter on the American River near San Francisco.

--Autumn 1847--

The first Battalion 
members arrive in the Salt Lake Valley from
Los Angeles. They are able to teach the saints invaluable skills for desert farming and irrigation which they learned from the Pueblo Natives and the Mexicans as they toiled through the southwest.

--January 24, 1848--

Gold is discovered at Sutter's Mill. The location of the biggest find is dubbed “Mormon Island” because of the church members who worked there. Word travels quickly by mouth and ship first to Oregon, Hawaii, and Latin America. 

--March 15, 1848--

 The Californian newspaper publishes the first article proclaiming the discovery of gold. 

--June 10, 1848--

Sam Brannan's California Star publishes the cautiously optimistic opinion that there is room for another 50,000 prospectors without ruining the area. This news is dispatched back east by Mormon Battalion express riders. Four days later, they suspend publication so that the staff can rush to the gold fields themselves. Eventually tens of thousands around the world rush to California to get rich.

--Summer 1848--

Many more Latter-day Saint families emigrate. To avoid harassment from other hostile pioneers, they travel on the north of the Platte River, rather than on the Oregon Trail to the south. This separation contributes to a better survival rate for the saints, thanks to the organization and cleanliness of their camps, and the avoidance of cholera contamination left behind
by Oregon Trail travelers.

--Summer 1848--

Insects, frost, and drought destroy much of the crop in the Great Basin. The saints nearly starve through the 
winter. In the midst of this crisis, Heber C. Kimball, a counselor in the First Presidency, prophesies that “States’ goods would be sold in the streets of Salt Lake City cheaper than in New York, and that the people would be abundantly supplied with food and clothing.”


The tools of the settlers in Salt Lake City are wearing out with no chance of replacement. 
The California Gold Rush brings many fortune-seekers out west. Merchants race from the east to make a profit off the prospectors; hearing that merchant ships have beat them to San Francisco, some overlanders change their minds, head down to Salt Lake City, and sell their wares at extremely low prices in order to lighten their loads and rush ahead to prospect for themselves. The prices are lower than in New York City by half. 
The presence of the prospectors also greatly inflates the prices the Salt Lake City retailers and tradesmen can charge. 
In addition, prospectors drop tools and supplies all along the trail near Utah in order to lighten their loads and speed their journey, knowing they can buy more in California. Latter-day Saint men go along the trail and pick up amazing amounts of tools, wagons, stoves, even food like beans and bacon. It’s another “table in the wilderness.”

--May 25, 1849--

Amasa Lyman arrives in San Francisco and encourages the Brooklyn saints to come to the Salt Lake Valley. Increasing lawlessness in California provides additional incentive. Besides gold-prospecting, members have made money from the prospectors themselves. Alondus Buckland sells his Buckland House hotel situated on a corner lot in downtown San Francisco for an estimated $10,000, donating some to the church and using some to emigrate his extended family and the rest of his hometown back east.

--July 14, 1849--

The California saints' wagon company later known as “The Gold Train” leaves for Utah, heavily loaded with gold. It is a dangerous journey, as the company dodges would-be thieves on the busy road.

bout 1/3 of the Brooklyn saints eventually leave California to resettle in Utah.

--September 28, 1849--

“The Gold Train” arrives in Salt Lake City, and deposits nearly $15,000 in the church’s bank account. With this money, Pres
. Young establishes the Perpetual Emigration Fund which funds the emigration of an additional 100,000 saints over the following years, mostly from Europe.
60,000-70,000 Mormon pioneers eventually emigrate over land
1869 when the transcontinental railroad is completed. 

Most of them are converts from the European Mission.

death rate among the Latter-day Saint pioneers is unknown, but is estimated at less than 10% (including the Martin/Willie handcart disaster, and the deaths at Winter Quarters). This is about 5% lower than other pioneers, despite the fact that the church wagon trains consisted of many more inexperienced travelers; old, disabled, or ill people; and families with young children.

Sarah Leavitt was right. The Lord did prepare a table in the wilderness.


Stewart R. Wyatt, sacrament meeting talk, Boise, Idaho, 22 July 2012
Sarah Sturtevant Leavitt (my great-great-great-grandmother), personal history
William G. Hartley, “The Pioneer Trek: Nauvoo to Winter Quarters,” Ensign, June 1997
Joan S. Hamblin, “Voyage of the Brooklyn,” Ensign, July 1997
Leonard J. Arrington, “Mississippi Mormons,” Ensign, June 1977
Mormon Battalion Fact Sheet,
Susan Easton Black, “I Have a Question,” Ensign, July 1998
William G. Hartley, “On the Trail in September," Ensign, September 1997

•"The Excitement and Enthusiasm of Gold Washing Still Continues--Increases," California Star, accessed at  The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco
Clair L. Wyatt, The True Story of Nancy Laura Aldrich: Ship Brooklyn Pioneer, 2000

•Richard E. Bennett, We’ll Find the Place: The Mormon Exodus, 1846-1848, Deseret Book

•Margaret Blair Young and Darius Aidan Gray, One More River to Cross, Deseret Book

•Leonard J. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom, Deseret Book