Mormon Literature Sampler:

The First Year in the Valley*

Leonard J. Arrington**

The manner in which the advance company was organized to prepare the valley for occupation by the church is of special interest because of the pattern set for future Mormon colonizing activity. That this pattern of central planning and collective labor was ideally designed for the geography and conditions of settlement in the Great Basin was something which came to be appreciated later: It confirmed to the Mormons that their way was God's way. But before this was recognized--indeed, in the first camp meeting held in the Salt Lake Valley--leaders and followers reached a consensus that they would not "scatter" their labors--that they would combine and concentrate their efforts and work cooperatively--that a Kingdom built in any other way was a fraud--a "Kingdom of the world." As one of the pioneers expressed it, they formally agreed to put their "'mites' together for that which is the best for every man, woman and child." In line with this decision, many of the early sermons were devoted to the theme of working for the common good and rooting out selfishness.

Consciously, then, but effortlessly--as if by force of habit-the advance company was divided into cadres or "committees" for work. One group staked off, plowed, harrowed, and irrigated thirty-five acres of land, which was planted in potatoes, corn, oats, buckwheat, beans, turnips, and garden seeds. Another party located a site for a temple and laid out a city of 135 ten-acre blocks, with the Temple Block in the center. Each block was divided into eight home lots of an acre and one-fourth each. The streets--uniformly eight rods wide--ran east-west and north-south, and were named, starting from the Temple Block, First East, Second East; First South, Second South; First West, Second West, and so on. The city was named "Great Salt Lake City, Great Basin, North America," and names were given to various creeks and streams in the valley, and to some of the peaks surrounding it. Regulations were adopted that the sidewalks be twenty feet wide, that the houses be built twenty feet back from the sidewalks, and that the houses be constructed of sun-dried, clay adobes, after the manner of the Spanish. Lots around Temple Block were apportioned to members of the Quorum of the Twelve (the First Presidency was not selected until December 1847), and other lots were distributed by lot. One of the blocks was selected for a fort or stockade of log cabins within which the pioneers would live until permanent structures could be erected on the city lots.

A large group was then assigned to build log cabins and a wall around the fort: "Sixty to hoke, twelve to mould and twenty to put up walls."25 Within a month, twenty-nine log houses had been built in the fort, each eight or nine feet high, sixteen feet long, and fourteen feet wide. A block was set aside for a public adobe yard, and an adobe wall was constructed around the three open sides of the fort.

Another committee of the advanced party located timber in a nearby canyon, constructed a road, extracted logs for the cabins, and dug a pit for a whipsaw. A boat was made for use in the creeks, a blacksmith shop was set up, corrals were built, and a community storehouse was erected. Others were assigned to hunt for wild game, try their luck at fishing, and extract salt from Great Salt Lake. In eight days the hunters had been able to bag only "one hare, one badger, one white wolf, and three sage hens"; the fishing expedition had netted "only four fish"; and the salt committee had made 125 bushels of "coarse white salt," and one barrel of "fine white table salt."26

Other parties were sent on "missions": One group to California to establish contact with members of the church there; another to Fort Hall, Northwest Territory, to obtain pro-visions--at the rate of $20.00 per hundred for flour, and ten cents per pound for beef. Still another group went back on the trail to meet and assist the large company which had followed the advance party from Winter Quarters.

Religious services were held each Sunday in a man-made shelter of brush and boughs, called the "Bowery," built on Temple Block by returning members of the Mormon Battalion. One of the creeks was dammed to form a pool, and most of the camp members were rebaptized. This was done, wrote Erastus Snow, "because we had, as it were, entered a new world, and wished to renew our covenants and commence a newness of life."27

It was in "free and open discussions" in these services that all basic decisions were made. The earliest of these was that none should hunt or fish or work on Sunday. Another placed the government of the colony, for the next year at least, in the hands of a stake presidency of three and a high council of twelve. These men were to be appointed by the members of the Quorum of Twelve Apostles, with the approval of the congregation. Other officials included a clerk, watermaster, surveyor, and marshal. In another decision, the members of the camp agreed to fence in the city as a guard against livestock, and to establish a farming area south of the city, called the Big Field, where common farming practices would be followed.

Finally, in these meetings the group expressed approval of Brigham Young's proclamations with respect to land ownership and mercantile policy:

No man will be suffered to cut up his lot and sell a part to speculate out of his brethren. Each man must keep his lot whole, for the Lord has given it to us without price....Every man should have his land measured off to him for city and farming purposes, what he could till. He might till as he pleased, but he should be industrious and take care of it.28

We do not intend to have any trade or commerce with the gentile [non-Mormon] world, for so long as we buy of them we are in a degree dependent upon them. The Kingdom of God cannot rise independent of the gentile nations until we produce, manufacture, and make every article of use, convenience, or necessity among our own people. We shall have Elders abroad among all nations, and until we can obtain and collect the raw material for our manufactures it will be their business to gather in such things as are, or may be, needed. So we shall need no commerce with the nations. I am determined to cut every thread of this kind and live free and independent, untrammeled by any of their detestable customs and practices.29

These tasks being accomplished, and these policies being agreed upon, Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, who had more or less directed the group during its first month in the valley, left on August 26 with most of the men to return to Winter Quarters to report their labors and to prepare the great bulk of the 16,000 persons located there for migration to the valley in 1848 and succeeding years. The major party was preceded by a group especially assigned to hunt for game to sustain them on the return journey.

In September, the main body of emigrants, consisting of some 1540 persons, arrived in the valley to join the remnant of the advance company. Counting the influx from California and other groups, there were some 1681 persons who spent the winter of 1847-48 in the Salt Lake Valley.30 This large group was organized for public labor by the Salt Lake Stake Presidency and High Council, a group which constituted what was referred to as "the municipal council." They were obligated to respect the authority of the members of the Twelve Apostles, as a kind of Supreme Court, and they were expected to exercise the government of the Mormon colony until after the return of Brigham Young and others in the fall of 1848.

Under the leadership of this ecclesiastical municipal council, two additional ten-acre blocks were added to the fort and some 450 log cabins were constructed; the adobe wall around the fort was completed; an eleven-mile pole and ditch fence was constructed around the city to control the movement of livestock; and a number of roads and bridges were built. A Big Field of some 5133 acres of farming land was "taken up" and prepared for planting. Some 872 acres of the field were planted in winter wheat. When Captain James Brown came from California with $5000 in Mormon Battalion pay, the Council appointed a group of persons to take some of the money to California to purchase "cows, mules, mares, wheat, and seeds of different kinds."31 They returned in the spring with 200 cows (less forty lost in Nevada), purchased at $6.00 per head, and with grain and fruit cuttings of various kinds. The Council also appointed Captain Brown to use $1950 of the money in buying the Miles Goodyear ranch and trading post in Weber Valley.32 This purchase removed a possible obstacle to the settlement of that large and productive area.

This "public labor" was largely accomplished through the tens, fifties, and hundreds which had been organized for crossing the Plains. The organization is illustrated by this notation in the church's Journal History for November 28, 1847:

It was decided that Pres. John Smith and his Counselors should locate a road east of the fort and also one south, and build a bridge over the third creek from City Creek, and call on his hundred to do the necessary labor. Pres. Roundy and his Counselors were appointed to locate a road to the north canyon, and call on his hundred to work it.33

The High Council also allocated and regulated economic rights and privileges. Charles Crismon was asked to build immediately a small gristmill (with no bolt) on City Creek. He was to be "sustained" with "labor, good pay and as much grain as the people could be persuaded to spare."34 When the mill began to operate in November, the stake presidency and High Council took under advisement "the regulation of the price of grinding and all things worthy of note," and on December 2 decided "that Bro. Charles Crismon be allowed twenty cents per bushel for grinding and that he keep an account of the number of bushels, who the grinding was done for and the time occupied in grinding, and if the payment agreed upon did not suffice, then the Council would reconsider the matter."35 Later, John Neff was authorized to erect "a good flouting mill" before the next harvest.36 Four sawmills were built or authorized; a carding mill frame was erected; and a water-powered threshing machine was placed in operation that would thresh and clean 200 bushels per day. Regulations were adopted with respect to the conservation of wood and timber: No person was allowed to build with logs without permission; no person was entitled to cut more than he could use quickly; and only dead timber could be used as fuel.37

While the colony seems to have been admirably organized to accomplish as much as possible with the limited supply of labor and equipment, it would appear that, under the circumstances, too many persons had been allowed to join the second contingent which left Winter Quarters in 1847. A food problem emerged. In the fall, the cattle and horses had gotten into the planted acreage and destroyed everything but the potatoes. Later in the winter, the Indians, wolves, and other "destroyers" and "wasters" made away with much of the livestock. A special committee was appointed by the High Council "to act in behalf of the destitute and to receive donations, buy, sell, exchange and distribute, according to circumstances, for that purpose."38 Controls were placed on the prices of necessities,39 and a voluntary rationing system was instituted limiting each person to about one-half pound of flour per day.40 The people tried eating crows, thistle tops, bark, roots, and Sego Lily bulbs-anything that might offer nutriment or fill the empty stomach. One or two persons were poisoned by eating wild parsnip roots.41 A typical experience was that of Priddy Meeks, who had been through many trials in his life and found this to be one of the worst:

My family went several months without a satisfying meal of victuals. I went sometimes a mile up Jordan to a patch of wild roses to get the berries to eat which I would eat as rapidly as a hog, stems and all. I shot hawks and crows and they ate well. I would go and search the mire holes and find cattle dead and fleece off what meat I could and eat it. We used wolf meat, which I thought was good. I made some wooden spades to dig seagoes [Sego Lily] with, but we could not supply our wants.

We had to exert ourselves to get something to eat. I would take a grubbing-hoe and a sack and start by sunrise in the morning and go, I thought six miles before coming to where the thistle roots grew, and in time to get home I would have a bushel and sometimes more thistle roots. And we would eat them raw. 1 would dig until I grew weak and faint and sit down and eat a root, and then begin again. I continued this until the roots began to fail.42

All looked forward to the spring harvest. But when the winter wheat and garden vegetables began to show their heads, late frosts injured a considerable proportion. And then, in May and June, hordes of hungry crickets moved upon the land and seemed certain to rob the settlers of the last vestige of food.

Wingless, dumpy, black, swollen-headed, with bulging eyes in cases like goggles, mounted upon legs of steel wire and clock-spring, and with a general personal appearance that justified the Mormons in comparing him to a cross of the spider on the buffalo, the Deseret cricket comes down from the mountains at a certain season of the year, in voracious and desolating myriads. It was just at this season, that the first crops of the new settlers were in the full glory of their youthful green. The assailants could not be repulsed. The Mormons, after their fashion, prayed and fought, and fought and prayed, but to no purpose. The "Black Philistines" mowed their way even with the ground, leaving it as if touched with an acid or burnt by fire.43

Men and women alike fought the crickets with sticks, shovels, and brooms, with gunny sacks and trenches, but with little avail.

Finally, just before the entire crop had been eaten clean, came the announcement from the president of the High Council: "Brethren, we do not want you to part with your wagons and teams for we might need them," intimating that they were considering moving on to California or some other gathering place. But at the moment this announcement was being delivered, seagulls providentially moved in and began to devour the crickets, "sweeping them up as they went along." "I guess," wrote Priddy Meeks, "this circumstance changed our feeling considerable for the better."44

Nevertheless, the combination of disasters discouraged many. One of the settlers, a brother of Brigham Young, wanted to send an express to Brigham, telling him not to bring any more people to the valley, for "they would all starve to death." John Neff, who was building a large gristmill, "left off...for a while, as many expected there would be no grain to grind."45 A few of the colonists went on to California and others returned to the Missouri Valley. Still others went to meet the incoming migration from Winter Quarters. When a partial harvest was reaped in July and August, the pioneers were so grateful for a substitute for green peas, roots, and berries that they held a special Thanksgiving "feast," with prayer, music, dancing, firing of cannon, and shouts of Hosannah.

*Since this excerpt begins on page 45 of Arrington's Great Basin Kingdom, the first footnote shown here is number 25 in that chapter; remaining footnotes follow those in the excerpt both chronologically and verbatim.

**Leonard J. Arrington (1917- ), a prominent figure in scholarship of the American West, is historian of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and director of the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies at Brigham Young University, where he holds the Redd Chair in Western American history. He has published many articles in professional magazines, has been editor of The Western Historical Quarterly, has served on the board of editors of Pacific Historical Review, has been advisory editor to Dialogue and a contributing editor to the Improvement Era and the Ensign, and is presently on the board of editors of Arizona and the West. His books include Great Basin Kingdom, a portion of which is represented here, Beet Sugar in the West, and Changing Economic Structure of the West, 1850-1950. A native of Twin Falls, Idaho, Dr. Arrington has been a professor of economics, a visiting professor of history, and a Fulbright Scholar.

25. JH (Journal History of the Church), August 8, 1847.

26. HBY {History of Brigham Young), 1847, pp. 11-13.

27. Erastus Snow, "From Nauvoo to Salt Lake...,"Improvement Era, XV (1912), 551, entry for August 8, 1847.

28. William Clayton's Journal, p. 326, entry for July 28, 1847; Journal of Wilford Woodruff, July 25, 1847, cited in Roberts, Comprehensive History, III, 269; "Norton Jacob's Record," July 25, 1847. These words were similar to Brigham Young's instructions of September 9, 1847: "We have no land to sell to the Saints in the Great Basin, but you are entitled to as much as you can till, or as you need for your support, providing you pay the surveyor for his services, while he is laboring for you;...none of you have any land to buy or sell more than ourselves; for the inheritance is of the Lord, and we are his servants, to see that everyone has his portion in due season." JH, September 9, 1847.

29. Remarks of July 28, 1847, as reported in "Norton Jacob's Record," p. 74.

30. Fox, "The Mormon Land System," pp. 159-161; JH, March 6, 1848.

31. HBY, 1847, p. 17; JH, November 16, 1847. Actually, the committee left before Captain Brown arrived with the money, but they seem to have spent Mormon Battalion money.

32. JH, November 9, 20, 1847, March 6, 1848.

33. JH, November 28, 1847. On October 17, 1847, Albert Carrington was appointed "to foot up papers of public work." JH, that date.

34. JH, October 13, 1847.

35. JH, November 28, December 1, 2, 1847. In September 1848 Crimson's toll was legally raised from one-sixteenth to one-tenth of the grain. JH, September 30, 1848.

36. JH, March 6, May 15, 1848.

37. Roberts, Comprehensive History, III, 269.

38. HBY, 1848, p. 22; JH, March 27, 1848.

39. The genesis of price control in 1847-1848 is described by Levi Jackman, a member of the High Council, in his journal at BYU, as follows: "January 1848....It having cost the people so much to fetch provisions so far, some appeared to be disposed to make the necessities of the destitute their opportunity, and sold things I thot, rather high. I feared that such a principle if not checked might prove our destruction. I went to Father John Smith who was then the President of the place and recommended that prices should be set by the council for labor, provisions, etc. The proposition was opposed but it was finally carried into effect and the results were good. Some few were not pleased with the arrangement but it changed the drift of things much for the better. The most of the people were desirous to do right and were kind and did all they could to help the poor and needy and to build up the Kingdom of God on the earth. I had expected that we had left the thieves behind, but in this I was disappointed for we found they were in this place. But as fast as they were detected they were dealt with according to law."

40. "There was a little corn cracker mill on City Creek, built by Charles Crismon; there was no smutter and no bolt to this mill; we took some of our wheat, there was some smut in it, and some of the leaves and seeds of sunflowers; the result was a little of the worst flour I ever saw." Journal of Jesse N. Smith, p. 14.

41. George Q. Cannon, "History of the Church," Juvenile Instructor, VIII (1873), 203.

42. "Journal of Priddy Meeks," p. 164.

43. Thomas L. Kane, The Mormons (Philadelphia, 1850), p. 66.

44. "Journal of Priddy Meeks," p. 164; HBY, 1848, p. 30. As a result of this "miracle" the seagull came to be held in sacred remembrance in Utah. Laws were enacted prohibiting anyone from killing them. Later a statue was erected on Temple Block in their honor. Finally, in this century, the state legislature officially named the seagull to be the state bird of Utah.

45. HBY. 1848, p. 30.

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