Pioneer Day

On July 24, an advanced team of the vanguard company had been in the valley for two days. In that time they had already set up a plough forge, ploughed 3 acres, planted potatoes and irrigated from a dam which they had constructed over a creek above their camp. While they ate dinner, Brigham Young and the rest emerged from the canyon. Buckwheat soon followed. Within a couple of weeks Church leaders rebaptized the company and baptized some for their health in the dammed up City Creek. [1]

It was a long and painful road getting there, though. Sickness and death were pervasive aqcuaintances. Brigham Young himself was near death when company leaders took him to the mountain and prayed after the holy order and washed and anointed him for his health. Unlike Brigham, however, many did not survive.

As we remember the triumphal entry, let us also remember those who perished along the way. Consider the account of Hosea Stout and his son:

The weather was still heavy and like for rain There was quite a number of Indians came to camp to day some we fed They were all friendly

Little Hosea was all this time on the decline and the laying on of hands seemed to do but little or no good but to day we concluded to call in all the men & women who had had their endowment and have the ordinance performed according to the Holy order & with the signs of the Priesthood Accordingly we did so in my tent Br Spencer taking the lead which seemed to do some good for the child was better afterwards & we felt incouraged that he thus seemed to appear to be under the influence of the ordinances of the Priesthood and we now had hope again that he would yet be delivered from from the power of the destroyer. But our hopes were destined to be of short duration for in the evening there came one of the hardest rains that had been this summer.

The water came in torrents & the wind blew hard. In a few minutes our tent was down & the water ran through the waggon covers and thus every thing we had was wet almost before we knew it. The beds were also wet and Hosea was soon discovered by his mother to be lying in water so fast did it come in on the bed. He was immediately taken worse and thus our last hopes for him vanished

The rain continued an hour or so and before dark the Nodaway was out of its banks notwithstanding it is a stream That is very deep being about twenty feet banks. The bridge across it is about 8 or nine feet below the surface of the level ground and it was thought by us before this rise that the water would never come up to the bridge. At dark the bottom was like one continued sea and some of the tents and waggons standing in the water.

[1846 June 27] …Clear and warm. My child was still worse The water falling very slowly…My child seemed strangely affected to night after laying hands on him we found him to [be] troubled with evil spirits who I knew now were determined on his destruction He would show all signs of wrath to wards me & his mother and appearantly try to talk. His looks were demoniac accopanied by the most frightful gestures I ever saw in a child. His strength was greater than in the days of his health.

[pg. 171] At times I felt almost to cowl at his fierce ghastly & horrid look and even felt to withdraw from the painful scene for truly the powers of darkness now prevailed here. We were shut up in the waggon with nothing to behold or contemplate but this devoted child thus writhing under the power of the destroyer It was now late in the night & he getting worse when we came to the conclusion to lay hands on him again that the powers of darkness might be rebuked if he could not be raised up. Thus alone my wife & me over our only and dearest son struggled in sorrow and affliction with this last determination that we would not yield with the portion of the Priesthood which we had to the evil spirits After laying hands on him and rebuking the evil spirits he took a Different course He ceased to manifest a desire to talk & his ghastly and frightful gestures and with a set and determined eye gazed at me as if concious of what had been done

We thus beheld him a long time until finally he became easy and went to sleep Late at night we went to sleep also leaving a burning candle in the waggon.

Sunday June the 28th 1846. I awoke very early this morning and immediately discovered my child to be dying. He seemed perfectly easy and now had given up to the struggle of death and lay breathing out his life sweetly. The evil spirits had entirely left him and he now had his natural, easy, pleasant, calm and usual appearance but death was in his countenance and his Little spirit now in the enjoyment of its own body only seemed loth to give it up as almost every one seemed involuntary to observe who was present. He gradually and slowly declined untill forty minutes after seven when its spirit took its leave of its body without any appearant pain but seemed to go to sleep.

Thus died my only son and one too on whom I had placed my own name and was truly the dearest object of my heart. Gone too in the midst of affliction sorrow & disappointment In the wild solitary wilderness. Surrounded by every discouraging circumstance that is calculated to make man unhappy and disconsolate. Without the necessarys of life, Without even our daily bread and no prospects for the future. There in this wild land to lay him where the silence of his peaceful grave would only be broken by the savage yells of the natives seemed to come in bold relief before us. Discouraged, desolate & such frequent disappointments as had lately been my lot and no reason to expect any thing better in future could now only occupy my mind & the mind of my wife the bereaved mother We had now only one child a daughter left & that was born on the road & what was its fate was it to be laid by the way side also & we left uterly destitute & disconsolate I have often heard people tell of loosing the darling object of their heart.

I have often heard of people mourning as for the loss of an only son But never untill now did I fully feel and realize the keen & heart rending force of their words. I have once lost a companion for life and left without a bosom friend Left alone to lock sorrow and disappointment up in my own breast. Left to smile in the midst of the merry & happy but to smile only to hide and disguise the effects of an overflowing heart of woe. But not then did I feel the loss or mourn as for an only son. This last loss. This loss of my only son. This my hopes for comfort in my old age. This the darling object of my heart gone seemed to cap the climax of all my former misfortunes and seemed more than all else to leave me uterly hopeless. But I shall ceace to indulge in my feelings any longer

Suffice it to say that every attention and kindness was now proffered to me that I needed on the occasion. There was a good coffin made for him. After which we all moved on and buried him on a hill in the prairie about one mile from the Nodaway where there was the grave of an infant of Br John Smith and then pursued our journey leaving the two lovely innocents to slumber in peace in this solitary wild untill we should awake them in the morn of the resurrection We traveled four miles and encamped on a ridge in sight of one of the Pottawattamy villages. In the evening some of the brethren went to the next creek or river [2]


  1. See e.g., Ronald O. Barney, ed., The Mormon Vanguard Brigade of 1847: Norton Jacob’s Record (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 2005), 215-238.
  2. Juanita Brooks, ed., On the Mormon Frontier: The Diaries of Hosea Stout, 2 vols. (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1964) 1:170-171. This has been typically hard to come by, but UU Press just released a combined paperback volume. It is a tremendous read.


  1. That journal entry is powerful stuff — a great way to commemorate Pioneer Day. Thank you.

  2. John Mansfield says:

    When I’ve read J. Stapley’s items on blessings for health, I’ve generally thought about them mainly as being about the manifestation of the Spirit and priesthood. But of course, there’s the other side of it, that these things would come up when people are suffering terribly.

  3. That’s so sad. I can’t imagine anything worse than losing a child.

  4. Wow, J. Thank you.

  5. I didn’t know Buckwheat was a Mormon pioneer! That’s cool!

  6. For me, remembering the trials and travails, the sickness and death, encountered on the overland trail is not just about being true to some historical ethic concerned with presenting “the rest of the story” (as important as that is). To me, it’s personal. Those that lost their lives, and their relatives who lost their family members, just plain deserve to be remembered. I have to think that they would be gratified to know that they are remembered.

    So, as awful as it is to read, thanks for this, J. Stapley.

  7. Of course, for many readers, reading this post will recall that haunting account at Keepapitchinin about another 19th-century father losing his son.


  8. There is a lot in the Book of Mormon about remembering the captivity of your fathers. I always think about the pioneers in the same way, even though they aren’t my literal ancestors. The suffering that this story conveys is part of the story of their faith.

    Thanks for posting this.

  9. What happened to Hosea and his family after they reached the valley? Did they have more children later?

    That’s a powerful account.

  10. #9: See review.

  11. The Utah History Encyclopedia entry is not shabby.

  12. Thank you for the powerful and moving post – a perfect tribute to our pioneer ancestors.

  13. Thanks, J. An appropriate and moving post.

  14. Wow. Thank you for that post. Lately Pioneer Day is something I haven’t given much thought to, which I guess is a bit too easy to do outside of Utah. I needed a sobering reminder of the heartaches they had to endure.

    And thank you Hunter for the link to the equally heartwrenching journal entries of Lafayette Guymon. That last name caught my eye, and it turns out Lafayette is a half-brother to my great grandmother Harriett Guymon.

  15. Thanks for sharing this J.

  16. This was a heartbreaking story. Two things I found fascinating: I was interested in the perspective that his son was being destroyed by demons. Especially, someone so young. It is easy for me to discount that and likely his son was going through pain and contortions due to his illness, but how widespread was the belief that that was possible? The second was the idea that his son would sleep until the resurrection. Was the idea of a spirit world waiting-place not developed at the time?

    A thought provoking post for Pioneer Day!

  17. Alf O'Mega says:

    I checked some dates on FamilySearch, and it appears that, besides having buried a wife already (“a companion for life . . . a bosom friend”), he had also lost his first daughter as well as little Hosea’s younger brother (just the previous month). As he feared, he would indeed lose his remaining daughter just a year later. Seven years later his wife Louisa and infant son would die in childbirth. She left three children, all of whom survived into the twentieth century.

    He married several other women, one of whom was already pregnant when little Hosea died. She would die in childbirth just three months later. Another plural wife had already deserted him. In 1855 he married the woman who would bear the majority of his children. Of the eleven she bore, three died in infancy, but the rest lived to adulthood. The last of his nineteen children, Charles Stevens Stout, born in 1876 when his mother was 43 and his father 66, lived until 1951.

  18. Steve, those are great questions. Having the sort of training that I do, I tend to view such accounts as misdiagnoses – they simply didn’t have the tools to explain what was going on. That said, similar accounts are not too uncommon and battles with the destroyer [queue Sam] are a definite part of the early Mormon narrative. I leave the possibility that it was as he said, though.

    This was still pretty early in the development and popularization of Mormon spirit cosmology. I would not be surprised if the belief that one slumbered until the resurrection was fairly common.

  19. …Though unpublished, Paul Reeve delivered a wonderful paper that touches on this about ten years ago: “‘The Devil Was Determined to Kill the Babies’: Matters of Communal Health in a Nineteenth-Century Mormon Town,” paper presented at the Communal Studies Association Conference, St. George, Utah, September 25, 1999.

  20. At least they didn’t have to bury him with a spoon.

  21. Robert Pare says:

    Who buried the children of Mountain Meadow?

  22. 21 — AFAIK, their families did when they died a natural death — the children weren’t killed (at least, not the ones seen as young enough to not remember, although they did remember).

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