It was the great unknown, this vast wilderness the Saints needed to pass through in order to reach their new home. And what then? What would they find? And what could they make of this place the Lord would give them?
“Brigham Young knew that he would probably lead the people into the deserts of the Great West, and into the Rocky Mountains, and as a wise and cautious leader, he did not propose to go until he was instructed by the Lord; nor would he go without full and adequate preparation,” wrote the leader’s daughter Susa Young Gates, as recorded in "The Life Story of Brigham Young" by Gates and Leah D. Widtsoe. “Many counsels were held in the temple rooms.”
The last dictated entry in Brigham Young’s Nauvoo, Illinois, office record might well be the clarion call — the mission statement of this “peculiar people” — of the trials they had overcome and the epoch experiences that lay ahead: “Our homes, gardens, orchards, farms, streets, bridges, mills, public halls, magnificent temple and other public improvements, we leave as a monument of our patriotism, industry, economy, uprightness of purpose and integrity of heart, and as a living testimony of the falsehood and wickedness of those who charge us with idleness, dishonesty, disloyalty to the Constitution of our country” (see "The Life Story of Brigham Young").
Following a long winter and spring in Winter Quarters — where 700 homes had been built and the camp of 12,000 members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints divided into 22 wards — the first company was readied to make the journey. Some of the most seasoned and reliable brethren were selected, and at first the 148 in number were to be men only.
But Brigham Young gave way to entreaties, especially those of his brother Lorenzo, who wished his unwell, asthmatic wife, Harriet, to be allowed to accompany him. Eventually, it was decided that she and her two sons could join the group, as well as Brigham’s wife Clara Decker (who was Harriet’s daughter by her first marriage), and Ellen Sanders, one of Heber C. Kimball’s wives (see "Brigham Young: An Inspiring Personal Biography" by Susan Evans McCloud).
Surely their presence made a difference to the men. Unless otherwise noted, information about these women has been compiled from familysearch.org, the Deseret News archives, each woman's listing on findagrave.com and history.lds.org.
Harriet Wheeler Young was born in 1803 in New Hampshire and was of Welsh ancestry. She married Isaac Decker at age 18 and bore him six children. The couple joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Ohio and experienced all the sufferings of that place and of Missouri. While in Nauvoo, Illinois, she separated from her husband and married Lorenzo Young, having two additional children with him.
Harriet brought to the Salt Lake Valley her cow and some chickens, which laid three precious eggs a day. She churned some of the cream of the cow’s milk by putting it in a lidded bucket and letting the jolting of the wagon churn it into butter.
Harriet was both fiercely determined and quietly capable. With skill and insight, she kept Lorenzo’s books for years while seeing to her own work as a housewife. These two were the first to move out of the old Salt Lake fort with their infant son, who was born on Sept. 26, 1847, and who was the first male child born in the Salt Lake Valley.
He was delivered by the skilled and well-loved Patty Bartlett Sessions, who had only just arrived in the valley and recorded in her journal: “It was said to me more than five months ago that my hands should be the first to handle the first born son in the place of rest for the Saints, even in the city of our God. I have come more than one thousand miles to do it since it was spoken" (see "Women of Faith in the Latter-Days," 1775-1820, p. 314).
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