“The Trail of Tears” is how the Mormon Pioneers described the massive hardships and yet miraculous blessings on the trail between Nauvoo, Illinois and what would come to be known as “Winter Quarters” in Nebraska. The Mormon Saints had been forced tearfully out of their homes in the dead of winter.
It was reported by LuAnn and Robert Blakely that before evacuating their homes, the women even swept them so as to tearfully remember the wonderful years of peace the Saints had experienced for those few short years in Nauvoo before the Prophet Joseph was martyred.
The Blakelys served a mission at “Winter Quarters” at the visitors center in the Mormon Trails Mission in Florence, Nebraska. Quoting from journal entries and using pictures and maps, they helped the Sons of Utah Pioneers Settlement Canyon Chapter understand why the trail through Iowa made the trail from Iowa into Utah seem relatively easy. The Winter Quarters to Utah trail, which is three times the distance from Nauvoo to Winter Quarters, was accomplished in about the same amount of time as the “Trail of Tears” from Nauvoo to Winter Quarters.
After temporarily stopping this exodus in Winter Quarters, those road, mud and mosquito-weary travelers still had to find shelter. Many lived in tents, others in their covered wagons, and a few were able to cobble together tiny cabins from trees they cut down. These cabins, not even as large as most bedrooms today, seemed like palaces to those who had survived in tents and wagons, even if they needed to continually mud between the green timbers as they dried. They made fireplaces from prairie sod that interestingly hardly ever caught fire.
The tears of thankfulness flowed because they were finally able to take a break from this most difficult section of the Mormon Trail. Before the Saints were asked to continue on to Utah, there were about 100 different communities scattered around the Winter Quarters area. Some had settled into life there and refused to come west, saying, “ We didn’t leave the church, the church left us.”
Just as things seemed to ease up a bit, the U.S. government, who had done nothing to protect them in Illinois, now showed up wanting 500 men for military service. What at first seemed an idiotic request ended up being a lifesaver for the Winter Quarters people. The army gave each man $42 for uniform allotment. Rather than spend this money on clothing, the 500 men and a few women, used their own clothing, and donated the $42 to the church. This writer doesn’t know what $21,000 in today’s dollars would do, but it ended up being a wonderful blessing, and many tears were shed once again.
The evening ended far too quickly, leaving all with a hunger to learn more of this important piece of history. If learning more about local and not-so-local history interests you, you are welcome to partake of other such presentations the first Thursday of each month starting at 6:30 p.m. in the beautiful Tooele Applied Technology College building in Tooele’s Educational Corridor. The TATC is located just south of Utah State University and northwest of Blue Peak High School on Tooele Boulevard. With a potluck dinner followed by these kind of quality presentations, you are always welcome to join us. — Darrell Smith