Monday, July 23, 2007

What Pioneers Kept and Left Behind

When the Mormon pioneers left to cross the plains, they could take very little with them. They left behind most of their worldly possessions and packed their wagons and handcarts with clothing, bedding, and provisions. But there were a few things tucked away in the corners that were too valuable to leave behind. It's interesting to see what what was taken and what was left behind, and to speculate on what is revealed about their characters by the items they just couldn't live without.

The first 1847 Pioneer Company included Orson Pratt. He took with him some specially ordered scientific instruments which had been brought over from England by John Taylor. The elite, fast-moving, well-equipped, exploring band of pioneers were not just taking themselves to the valley, they were charting a road that the Saints and others would use for more than twenty years. For this they needed sextants, a circle of reflection, artificial horizons, barometers, thermometers, and telescopes. The Mormons became a part of what is now known as the "Great Reconnaissance" of the Far West. (O. Ned Eddins)

When one pioneer woman, Bathsheba Smith, packed her trunk for the journey into western territory, she carefully selected what to take and what to leave behind. Deep in the corner of her single trunk she placed her paints, paper, and brushes wrapped in cloth. She added her lace-making tools and fibers to make the beautiful delicate lace for which she was famous. These tools of art she placed beneath the folds of a quilt made by her mother for her wedding day. In a concrete sense, Bathsheba Smith was blending the old and the new by preserving the past and welcoming the future. When she once again took up her paints, this time in Utah, she would paint the story of the journey. (Martha Sonntag Bradley)

Bathsheba Smith kept a diary and sketchbook for most of her life, including drawings of prominent members of the Latter Day Saint community. Among the best known is a profile of church president Joseph Smith, Jr. Bathsheba impresses me with her determination to take the tools of her art with her. There were others who brought blacksmith tools and other items to facilitate everyday living, but Bathsheba's effort to preserve culture seems to go beyond this.

Other women seemed to have a similar desire. Sometimes at night, camp women would place their scanty domestic belongings around their campfire to approximate their "parlors" back home. They also arranged the interiors of their covered wagons to be as homelike as possible. They hung mirrors, pictures, and lamps, spread carpets, and placed other belongings to this end. In fact pioneer women generally did everything they could to preserve their traditional role and image and the niceties of civilization, domesticity, and a semblance of home while westering. (Wallace Stegner, The Gathering of Zion)

Though the Saints were forced to leave their beautiful Temple in Nauvoo, they took some things from the Temple to remind them of that sacred edifice. The Nauvoo Bell originally hung in the temple in the 1840s. The Saints removed the bell in 1846 when they were forced to leave and placed it in a local Protestant Church. One stormy night in 1847 a group of men gathered in secret and without horses pulled a wagon to the Church and lowered the 1500 pound bell. They pushed and pulled the wagon by hand to the edge of the Mississippi River and carefully concealed it in the water. Andrew Lamoreaux and his brother, David, were chosen to bring the bell to Utah with their families, concealing it in their wagon with their provisions. During their journey, they rang the bell to signal daybreak and departure and to warn that night sentries were on duty. Today it hangs on Temple Square in Salt Lake City and signals the top of each hour and special occasions. (Melanie Cooper)

Are you aware of any other items that the Mormon pioneers brought with them on their journey across the plains?


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Ana said...

My ancestor Sarah Crossley brought a rocking chair and a trunk across the Atlantic and then across the plains in her handcart (Willey company). Her disabled brother, Joseph, also rode in the cart until he died in Wyoming. Maybe he sat in the chair.

Both items are still in my parents' home in Murray.