For several years volunteers have collected and digitized information on individuals that crossed the plains in the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel Database, 1847–1868. Not only a rich tool for family history, by transcribing thousands primary source documents the website is an astonishing and accessible window to many facets of our history. We all owe our thanks to the workers who have devoted significant time and talent to this project. Judy and David Wood are, I understand, on their fourth mission consecrated to it and many, many others have participated unsung.
As an example of the bounty proffered by these volunteers’ dedication, I have gathered some excerpts to share. There are many accounts of ritual healings in the database, something of an interest for me; but I was particularly moved by a certain genre of healings that are perhaps more common during this period than others. The anointing of feet. More than a decade before the great migration west, the priesthood gathered in the Kirtland Temple, having been washed, anointed and sealed. Church leaders then knelt and washed their feet, absolving them from the culpability of their time and place. I have always been moved by Jonathan Hales’ description of his participation in these rituals, “April the 6th, which was the solemn assembly, then I received the washing of feet by Elder Heber C. Kimball and he pronounced me clean of the blood of this generation. I had traveled up to this time 2740 miles mostly on foot.” 
Jonathan’s juxtaposition of his feet being washed and the mileage of those same feet spent itinerating is deeply poignant to me. I also find great beauty on the trail, as a similar contrast was common. Latter-day Saints walked and rode their way west. Many suffered and the ministry to feet of the afflicted ensured that they reached the mountain with good tidings.
James Willard Bay wrote on July 3, 1852:
day warm[.] was mooving my loading and getting watter for my wife to wash[.] some of the Brethren went a hunting[.] Br. Isaac Perrey [Perry,] Br. Josiah Hardy and Br. John P. Hide [Hyde] in the morning[.] I annointed a foot of Wm. Wesley Swadley[.] it was bitten by a spider[.] it sweled quite much but was relieved. and at night I[,] Br. Perrey [Perry] and Br. Hardy annointed and laid hands on it[.] 
Accidents were also common. A wagon wheel rolled over John Johnsen Davies foot, but he “took Some oil and anointed my foot and in a Short time it was all right.”  Mosiah Hancock wrote that “While we were going down East Canyon Creek, mother’s foot got caught in between the box and wagon tongue and broke the toe at the upper joint; but the skin was not broken. So father anointed her foot there and administered to her and it was healed quite soon.” 
Some of the scenes reveal a familiarity with mortality that I doubt many of us can easily comprehend. On June 21, 1853, George Sims of the Christopher Arthur Emigration Company, wrote in the official journal:
Tuesday. Very fine morning[.] Started 9 oclock – Willy very Bad – died at ½ past 11. With [w]Hooping Cough and inflammation – at 2 oclock was Buried at White Thistle Prairie – in a Box of Bro Till. – Travelled about 22 miles – and camped at 7 oclock at a Branch of Grand River[.] an abundance of Wood[.] Watch appointed[.] (Bro Lyon superintended – the Burial of Wm Davies. age 2 ys & 2 months.) Had a Bath. groin Better through using Salt Water to it. anointed my feet with Con[secrated] oil as ministered to Julia. 
Anointing the area of affliction, though not practiced today, was standard ritual practice among the Latter-day Saints from Kirtland on. And healing along the Trail functioned to instruct the Saints and to solidify ritual practice. As with many other types of studies, the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel Database, 1847–1868 is an important and underutilized resource. I’m grateful for the hard work of all those who dedicate themselves to the project.
- Aroet Lucious Hale, Journal, 3, Writings of Early Latter-day Saints, BYU Special Collections.
- Bay, James Willard, Diaries, 1850-1853, vol. 2 in the Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel Database, 1847–1868. (MPOTD)
- Davies, John Johnson, Transcription of journal, 9-14. Trail excerpt transcribed from “Pioneer History Collection” available at Pioneer Memorial Museum [Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum], Salt Lake City, Utah, reprinted in In the MPOTD.
- Hancock, Mosiah, The Mosiah Hancock Journal, 25-26 in the MPOTD
- Christopher Arthur Emigrating Company, Journal, 1853 Feb.-Oct in the MPOTD
- Stapley and Wright, “The Forms and the Power: The Development of Mormon Ritual Healing to 1847,” Journal of Mormon History 35 (Summer 2009): 42-87. Anointing the entire body was also common. See for example the August 13, 1849 example from the Isaac Clark Emigrating Company, Journal, 1849 July-Oct, in MPOTD: ” Travelled only about 5 miles, and encamped near Skunk Creek Crossing. did not leave until late—as Elder Benson was very sick, with Cholie [cholera], and had been sufron [suffering.] Saturday evening, However, he was anointed from head to feet, and administered to in the name of the Lord and before Elder G A Smiths Camp left[,] he was better[.] Elder Bensons Camp tarried behind, and did not move.”