Salt Lake City in the winter of 1848-49

“Some of the inhabitants were living in log cabins, others in dugouts, and still others in wagons, while some who did not have the latter, had built brush sheds; almost everybody was living on short rations, crickets and grasshoppers having destroyed most of the crops. The whole face of the country was brown and dry, except small streaks along the water courses. There was no “provinder” for our stock, and we could only turn them out upon the range and trust them and ourselves to a kind providence. Timber for fuel was in the mountains, and higher up in these there was timber for fencing and building purposes. In order to get either, we had to make roads at great expense, building bridges and cutting dugways, sometimes going in armed companies to protect ourselves from the threatening Indian tribes. A long brush bowery was built in the town; we met there for religious services, and for all other purposes that made it necessary for people to be called together. On October 6th, 1848, a general conference of the Church was held, and the people as a rule felt blessed, although a few were very much discouraged, as rations grew short and the cold weather pinched more closely.” (Autobiography of James Brown, p. 118).

Early in December snow began to fall, and continued until there were drifts, “from three to five feet deep.” Isaac Haight, who was here has left us his record of that winter:

“On the 9th of December snow fell in the valley about ten inches deep. The weather continued cold, with but little variation during the month of December, and snow fell from one foot to a foot and a half in depth, which made it very hard to get a living, as but very little fodder had been cut. Some of the poorer cattle died. The faith of many of the Saints was sorely tried and some of them grew weak and wanted to return to the states. Others wished to go to the gold mines in California to dig gold, while many were willing to suffer the loss of all things for the Gospel’s sake, and for the testimony of Jesus.”

Brigham heard the complaints and the murmurings and immediately took his stand opposing any who wanted to withdraw from the Salt Lake Valley. Under date of December 7th, he writes:

“Some few have caught the gold fever. I counseled such, and all the Saints to remain in these valleys of the mountains and make improvements, build comfortable houses and raise grain against the days of famine and pestilence with which the earth would be visited.”

James Brown’s autobiography tells the story to give us enough of an idea what it was like this winter:

Captain James Brown 1801-1863 Founder of Ogden, Utah

Captain James Brown 1801-1863

The winter of 1848-49 was quite cold. Many people had their feet badly frozen. For one, the writer suffered so severely from this cause that he lost every nail from the toes of both feet. In February and March there began to be some uneasiness over the prospects, and as the days grew warmer the gold fever attacked many so that they prepared to go to California. Some said they would go only to have a place for the rest of us; for they thought Brigham Young too smart a man to try to establish a civilized colony in such a ‘God-forsaken country,’ as they called the valley. They further said that California was the natural country for the Saints; some had brought choice fruit pips and seed, but said they would not waste them by planting in a country like the Great Salt Lake Valley; others stated that they would not build a house in the valley, but would remain in their wagons, and in the spring would be going on to California, Oregon or Vancouver’s Island; still others said they would wait awhile before planting choice fruits, as it would not be long before they would return to Jackson County, Missouri. . . . .

“It was at this time of gloom that President Young stood before the whole people, and said, in substance, that some people had misgivings, and some were murmuring, and had not faith to go to work and make their families comfortable; they had got the gold fever and were going to California. Said he: ‘Some have asked me about going. I have told them that God has appointed this place for the gathering of his Saints, and you will do better right here than you will by going to the gold mines. Some have thought they would go there and get fitted out and come back, but I told them to stop here and get fitted out. Those who stop here and are faithful to God and his people will make more money and get richer than you that run after the god of this world; and I promise you in the name of the Lord that many of you that go thinking you will get rich and come back, will wish you had never gone away from here, and will long to come back, but will not be able to do so. Some of you will come back, but your friends who remain here will have to help you; and the rest of you who are spared to return will not make as much money as your brethren do who stay here and help build up the Church and Kingdom of God; they will prosper and be able to buy you twice over. Here is the place God has appointed for his people.

“‘We have been kicked out of the frying pan into the fire, out of the fire into the middle of the floor, and here we are and here we will stay. God has shown me that this is the spot to locate his people, and here is where they will prosper; he will temper the elements for the good of his Saints; he will rebuke the frost and the sterility of the soil, and the land shall become fruitful. Brethren, go to, now, and plant out your fruit seeds.’

“Stretching his arms to the east and to the west, with his hands spread out, he said:

Brigham Young 1801-1877

Brigham Young 1801-1877

“For in these elements are not only all the cereals common to this latitude, but the apple, peach and plum; yea, and the more delicate fruits, the strawberry and raspberry; and we will raise the grapes here and manufacture wine; and as the Saints gather here and get strong enough to possess the land, God will temper the climate, and we shall build a city and a temple to the Most High God in this place. We will extend our settlements to the east and west, to the north and to the south, and we will build towns and cities by the hundreds, and thousands of the Saints will gather in from the nations of the earth. This will become the great highway of the nations. Kings and emperors and the noble and wise of the earth will visit us here, while the wicked and ungodly will envy us our comfortable homes and possessions. Take courage, brethren. I can stand in my door and can see where there is untold millions of the rich treasures of the earth—gold and silver. But the time has not come for the Saints to dig gold. It is our duty first to develop the agricultural resources of the country, for there is no country on the earth that is more productive than this. We have the finest climate, the best water, and the purest air that can be found on earth; there is no healthier climate anywhere. As for gold and silver, and the rich minerals of the earth, there is no other country that equals this; but let them alone; let others seek them, and we will cultivate the soil; for if the mines are opened first, we are a thousand miles from any base of supplies and the people would rush in here in such great numbers that they would breed a famine; and gold would not do us or them any good if there were no provisions in the land. People would starve to death with barrels of gold; they would be willing to give a barrel of gold for a barrel of flour rather than starve to death. Then, brethren, plow your land and sow wheat, plant your potatoes; let the mines alone until the time comes for you to hunt gold, though I do not think this people ever will become a mining people. It is our duty to preach the gospel, gather Israel, pay our tithing, and build temples. The worst fear that I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and his people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty, and all manner of persecution, and be true. But my greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth.‘” (Autobiography of James Brown, emphasis added, pp. 119-123).

Historian Preston Nibley writes: Thus by the strength of his great personality, and by the inspirational words which flowed from his lips on this occasion, Brigham was able to stem the tide of discontent, to hearten the weary, to encourage the heavy-laden, to bless and comfort the believer, and to keep his people permanently in Salt Lake valley. On no other occasion in his lifetime did Brigham Young show his striking qualities of leadership to more startling effect than on the 29th day of February, 1849, in the bowery in the Old Fort, while his audience stood before him in the snow, poorly clad, shivering in the cold weather. (Preston Nibley, Brigham Young: The Man and His Work, p. 128-29)


About LDS Scripture Teachings

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