I wanted to see this miracle visually, and I wanted to be able to comprehend and remember it, to be able to tell it from memory, so I laid it out in a timeline with maps. I color-coded the groups on the map and in the text (blue for the seafaring saints, red for the main body of overland pioneers, gold for the Mississippi saints, and green for the military group). I filled in more details as I discovered them, and each time, my faith was strengthened. Once I saw the timeline of the Latter-day Saint Migration, it became very difficult to believe that it could have been accomplished without Divine planning. I recalled times in my own life where I was stuck crossing a trackless prairie of problems, entirely unaware of the benevolent machinations of my Heavenly Father in other places and in other people's lives that would all come together to create a miracle that I would later see and comprehend.
My trust and faith in my Heavenly Father has been strengthened through this study, and I hope yours will be as well.
"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.
Persecutions increase for the Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo.
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.
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.
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.
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 killing people 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.
The Mormon Battalion leaves Winter Quarters, the only religiously-based military unit in the history of the United States.
San Francisco immediately becomes an overwhelmingly Mormon community. They start farming while they await instruction from Brigham Young.
--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.
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.
The Mormon Battalion arrives at Santa Fe. Many members have fallen ill along the way. The sick Battalion members are sent to Pueblo, Colorado.
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.
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 are sent east and to Great Britain on ships.
Pres. 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.
Sam Brannan, having made his way back from California, reports to Pres. Young at his camp along the trail.
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 Mormon community in the west, and earn money to take back to Salt Lake.
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.
About 100 Battalion members find work building a saw mill for John Sutter on the American River near San Francisco.
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 Indians and the Mexicans as they toiled through the southwest.
--March 15, 1848--
Many more Mormon families emigrate. To avoid harassment from anti-Mormon 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 Mormons, thanks to the organization and cleanliness of their camps, and the avoidance of cholera contamination left behind
by Oregon Trail travelers.
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.”
Apostle 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, Mormons 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 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.
About 1/3 of the Brooklyn saints eventually leave California to resettle in Utah.
“The Gold Train” arrives in Salt Lake City, and nearly $15,000 is deposited 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.
until 1869 when the transcontinental railroad is completed.
Most of them are converts from the European Mission.
The death rate among the Mormon 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 Mormon 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.
•"The Excitement and Enthusiasm of Gold Washing Still Continues--Increases," California Star, accessed at The Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco
•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