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PIONEERING IN THE WEST
Progress during the last century and a half has been so rapid that it is quite literally true that men who live their allotted span are born in one world and die in another. Therefore if we would understand the struggles of our church fathers, we must make an effort to reconstruct the world in which they lived. To do this we should dismiss from our homes the telephone, the telegraph, the phonograph, electricity as a servant, with all its contribution to the comfort of modern life, and of course the radio and television, which were undreamed of by the ordinary person a few years ago.
We must take up all,our railroads, live without our daily paper, let stoves and furnaces be as rare as log cabins today, let our only fuel be wood, for even the river steamboats fired their engines with green cordwood procured on the river banks. We must light our homes by dipped candles, whale oil lamps or a saucer of lard with a bit of rag for a wick.
Into each home we must bring two spinning wheels, one for wool and one for flax, and let the principal industry of the women be the making of homespun, home-dyed and homemade garments for the men, women, and children of the, large families. Shoes must be made by shoemakers to order (both shoes alike, no left and no right). We must tear down most of our colleges, and abolish our high schools and substitute academies, which were private enterprises for pay, and hold our common schools in log cabins with curriculum and length of term dependent upon the caprice or opportunity of the settlers.
We would have to restore slavery with all its inhumanities, local bickerings, and political strife. We must cut down the number of the States of the Union to twenty-four, all east of the Mississippi except Missouri and Louisiana, and count the whole population of the United States at less than ten million. To Mexico must be returned the States west of the Rocky Mountains except Washington and Oregon, which were merely wild wastes where as Bryant intimated, one might "lose oneself in the continuous woods where flows the Oregon and hear no sound save its own dashing." To them also would go States immediately east of the Rockies, except Montana and Idaho and part of Colorado and Wyoming.
We must cover again the gold mines of California and the silver mines of Colorado, and return to the time when the owner of a gold watch was a person of opulence, and the woman who owned a set of silver spoons was in a class set far apart from the common herd.
Having stepped back over the centuries into this world of our pioneer fathers, we might attempt to take a trip to Independence on the wild frontier of the world with Washington Irving and his friend, Charles Joseph Latrobe, the year after the Colesville Branch came to the western wilds. The party was a most eminent one, including Colonel Ellsworth, Indian Commissioner to the Pawnees, Count de Pourtales, a young Swiss nobleman, and Paul L. Chouteau of Saint Louis. Latrobe was an Englishman traveling in America, and found much to amuse and entertain him in the manners of his partly civilized American cousins. He published his observations in The Rambler in North America, and should be competent to be quoted with impunity, as no future complications with the people of Missouri could possibly give him a prejudiced bias.
The town of Independence was full of promise [he tells us] like most of the innumerable towns springing up in the midst of the forests of the West, many of which, though dignified by high-sounding epithets, consist of nothing but a ragged congeries of five or six rough log huts, two or three clapboard houses, two or three so-called hotels, alias grog shops; a few stores, a bank, a printing office, and barn-like church. It lacked at the time I commemorate, the three last edifices, but was nevertheless, a thriving and aspiring place, in its way; and the fortune made here already in the course of its brief existence, by a bold Yankee shopkeeper, who had sold $60,000 worth of goods here in three years--was a matter of equal notoriety, surprise, and envy.1 It is situated about twenty miles east of the Kansas river, and three south of the Missouri, and is consequently very near the extreme frontier of the State. A little beyond this point, all carriage roads cease, and one deep black trail alone, which might be seen tending to the southwest, was that of the Santa Fe trappers and traders. . . . On the morning of one of the days spent here in expectation of our friends' arrival--mounted on Methuselah, an old white horse of the innkeeper, I left my comrades and our horses to their repose at the town, partly for a morning pigeon-shooting, and partly with the purpose of going down to the ferry on the Missouri, to inquire if any intelligence had come up the river with reference to the expected steamboat.
After missing the path, and an hour's rough scramble in the thick forest, during which I found means to insinuate my steed, gun, and person through many a tangled jungle of ropevine, bush and creeper, much to my own astonishment and that of the grave old quadruped which I bestrode, I descended the bluff, which here rises, precipitously from the bank of the Missouri, and reached the ferry.2 I met with no intelligence, but with an acquaintance from the town above who proposed to me that we should ride together six or seven miles down the river, and call upon one of his friends, whose "clearing" was situated at a point where the current is unusually narrow, and of difficult navigation. To this I readily acceded, as it would give me a better opportunity of observing the phenomenon connected with this stupendous stream than I had hitherto enjoyed. . . . Having rounded a noble, and expanded bend of the river, in about an hour's time, we heard by the barking of dogs, and the clatter of many voices, that we were approaching the farm in question. From the prominent appearance of a long table covered with dinner apparatus, which appeared arranged in the open air, a few steps from the door, a number of dogs sniffing and whining around it, and the unusual bustle among the Negro dependents toiling about a small fire in advance, we suspected that something extraordinary was going on. A young Negro took our horses with that affection of extreme politeness and good breeding, which is so highly amusing in many of his color, and which inclines me to think that they appreciate the character of a "fine gentlemen" more than any other part of the community . . . . We were met by the settler with the frank unceremonious bearing of his race. He informed us that his wife had got a number of her neighbors with her for a "quilting frolic," and made us heartily welcome. The interior of the log hut presented a singular scene. A square table was seen to occupy a great part of the floor. It was surrounded by a compact body of females, whose fingers were occupied with all diligence upon the quilt which lay stretched out before them, and which, though neither the smartest nor the costliest, promised--judging from the quantity of cotton or wool which I saw stuffed into its inside, and the close lozenge-shaped compartments into which the latter was confined by rapid and successful gobble-stitching, to be of real utility and comfort to the matron who presided, during the coming winter.
The meal which followed was plentiful and homely, and was dispatched first by the female and then by the male visitors, with the marvelous rapacity which is generally observable in the West; and, as I sat apart waiting till our turn should come, I was much amused with the bustle of the scene. I watched the plates run the gauntlet from the table to the washing-tub, among a set of little Negroes of all shapes and sizes, who all strove to act as preliminary scourers, much to the disappointment of the dogs, who whined, whimpered, scratched, and pushed their sable competitors, and not less to the annoyance of the fat Negress who acted as cook, and who, with lustrous visage and goggle-eyes, flourished her dishclout over the tub in a fume of impatience.3
While Latrobe amused himself by visiting the typical settlers of this western land, Washington Irving wrote his sister, Mrs. Paris, from the hotel:
We arrived at this place [Independence] the day before yesterday, after nine days' traveling on horseback from Saint Louis. Our journey has been a very interesting one, leading us across fine prairies and through noble forests, dotted here and there by farms and log houses, at which we find rough, but wholesome and abundant fare and very civil treatment. Many parts of these prairies of the Missouri are extremely beautiful, resembling cultivated countries, rather than the savage rudeness of the wilderness.
Yesterday I was out on a deer hunt in the vicinity of this place, which led me through some scenery that only wanted a castle, or a gentleman's seat here and there interspersed, to have equaled some of the most celebrated park scenery of England.
The fertility of all this western country is truly remarkable. The soil is like that of a garden, and the luxuriance and beauty of the forests exceed any I have ever seen. We have gradually been advancing, however, to rougher and rougher life, and we are now at a straggling little frontier village that has only been five years in existence. From hence in the course of a day or two, we take our departure southwardly, and shall soon bid adieu to civilization and encamp at nights in our tents.4
These were the scenes which seemed to eastern-bred Joseph Smith nearly a century behind the times. They depict the original settler as he appeared to his contemporaries. It is a common failing of the American people to place the pioneer upon a pedestal and worship there. The virtues of the father always exceed the virtues of the son; we always sigh for the good old days and the good old ways, which would prove intolerable to us if we could bring them back. Our grandsires are great and noble. It is sacrilege to assign to them the commonplace sins and failings. Our grandmothers are universally virtuous, self-sacrificing, and industrious, possessing virtues we may never attain.
Long ago George Washington lost his human semblance and arose to the ratified air of empyrean. The apotheosis of Abraham Lincoln has already taken place before the very eyes of the present generation. Already his long shanks are resting on a throne in the skies beside the divine George. How uncomfortable both these men who were so human in all that made up their characters must feel as they sit there weighed down by their golden crowns and their royal mantles!5
In both secular and church history, we demand perfection in our heroes. We church members may easily fall victim to all the sins and faults to which human flesh is heir, but our church history must possess the unblemished page of faultless virtue and heroism, or our faith is shattered, and we must perforce turn to infidelity. Shakespeare, who more truly saw life whole than any of us probably ever will, said, "Men are as the times are." Turning back the pages of history to the time in which the Saints went to Missouri, we see a state of civilization not very unlike the one pictured by Service in his poems of the far northwest, or such tales of the frontier as existed within our own memories, well-known to be anything but a picture of virtuous simplicity:
On the border the uncultivated, the illiterate, and the desperado rubbed shoulders with the virtuous farmer, the college graduate, and the missionary. Here there were some fine examples of noble selfsacrifice; but here also were instances of selfish greed easily paralleling anything we know today. The frontier afforded a freedom which thrills the imagination of a more stifled generation; it allowed also a lawlessness and license which would be intolerable to the modern man.6
As far as Independence of that day was concerned, if we may trust the pen of unprejudiced writers, conditions were far from ideal. "Around Independence it was not unusual to see whole families dressed in skins; buildings were generally without glass windows and the door stood open in winter for light . . . and this remote region . . . was as innocent of all refinements and even the comforts of life as a Siberian Ostrog."7,8
When the Colesville Saints made their settlement twelve or fifteen miles west of Independence in 1831, there was no Kansas City. That did not come until eight years later. An old settler describes the present site of Kansas City:
A clearing or old field of a few acres lying on the high ridge between Main and Wyandotte and Second and Fifth Streets, made and abandoned by a mountain trapper. A few old girdled dead trees standing in the field, surrounded by a dilapidated rail fence. Around on all sides a dense forest, the ground covered with impenetrable brush, vines, fallen timber, and deep, impassable gorges. A narrow, crooked roadway winding from Twelfth and Walnut Streets, along down on the west side of the deep ravine towards the river, across the public square to the river at the foot of Grand Avenue. A narrow, difficult path, barely wide enough for a single horseman, running up and down the river under the bluff, winding its way around fallen timber and deep ravines. An old log house on the river bank at the foot of Main Street, occupied by a lank, cadaverous specimen of humanity, named Ellis, with one blind eye and the other on a sharp lookout for stray horses, straggling Indians and squatters with whom to swap a tin cup of whisky for a coonskin. Another old, dilapidated cabin below the Pacific depot. Two or three small clearings or cabins in the Kaw bottoms, now called West Kansas, which were houses of French mountain trappers. The rest of the surroundings was the still solitude of the native forest, unbroken, only by the snort of the darting deer, the barking of the squirrel, the howl of the wolf, the settler's cowbell, and mayhap the distant baying of the hunter's dog, or the sharp report of his rifle.9
Westport was not laid out until 1833. Westport Landing was three miles below the city.
Independence was a real town, but its recent emergence from the forest was testified to by a town square thickly studded with stumps of trees.
The typical pioneer was of the rough and ready type. Physical courage was inordinately admired. Deeds of personal valor and strength in the hunt, the Indian fight, or in personal combat were the principal boast of the pioneer. "If two men had a quarrel, they would meet and fight it out, and then make friends and take a drink, thus quickly and easily settling their difficulty,"10 says one old-timer with evident admiration for the system. The same author tells of a very glorious fight that took place on Christmas Day, 1819, when the young men of Franklin crossed the river on the ice for the purpose "of cleaning out Boonville." The author details the scene which though "bloody" had no one "killed or fatally wounded" with evident enjoyment, and ends up the story on a religious note, evidently the product of later years, but showing the absolute lack of malice inspired by the event. "The most of them have left this world of trouble, strife, and turmoil, and gone, it is hoped, to a better and brighter world beyond the vale. Alas, time will tell. It waits for no man. Peace be to their ashes. But these heroes will live in history and in grateful remembrance as long as time shall last."11
There was in those early days a Missourian who has been the hero of more than one singular story. This man was Martin Parmer, who because he so designated himself in moments of extreme gaiety was generally called the "Ring-tailed Painter." This man at one time was sent to Jefferson City as state senator. Like most Missourians he loved a fight, and being on the street one day when Governor Hugh McNair was about to interfere to settle a fight, the "Ring-tailed Painter," although a perfect stranger, promptly collared the Governor and backed him out of the circle. "A governor is no more in a fight than any other man," he later explained, "and he was like to spoil the prettiest kind of a fight."12 This man's great-grandsons, as the famous James boys, would have furnished him plenty of diversion had he lived to see them.
This attitude of the fighting Missourian was as inexplicable to the staid New England Latter Day Saints, as their tendency to reason things out without the aid of fists was to the Missourian. To the majority of pioneers, there could be but one reason for not fighting out a quarrel, and that was cowardice. To the early Saints, Lyman Wight's tendency to refuse to turn the other cheek was a grievous fault. Old settlers invariably spoke well of him. Other "Mormons" might be cowards, but "Old Wight was brave as a lion." They would have let him go free, if only he would renounce "Joe Smith" and his "Mormon religion." Such a fighter was too good to waste.13
These rough old settlers did not tolerate "drunkenness," they said, but one who refused to drink as did the rather effeminate "Mormonites" was anything but a good fellow well met with them. "Just before Christmas," in the year 1818, says one of them, reminiscing, "the boys of the school had determined to turn the teacher out, and force him to treat the scholars, by taking him to the creek and ducking him. This proceeding, though showing little respect for the dignity of the teacher, generally had the desired effect. The fear of it, in this case, had the desired effect, for the teacher, hearing of the plans of the scholars, voluntarily gave them a week's holiday, and on New Year's Day treated them to a keg of whiskey. This no doubt will sound strange to most of our citizens at this day, but it is nevertheless true. It must not be thought that this was a terribly demoralized community, for it certainly was not, but on the contrary one of the most refined in the country."14
Racing and gambling were two other manly sports of those years, nor were they confined to the western wilds. Gambling was as universal as drinking. Even the nation's capital was not immune.
The racing on the national course near the city made it difficult to maintain a quorum in Congress, and the statesmen mounted their horses to ride to the track to cheer their favorites and bet their money. Even the President entered his horses and lost heavily on his wagers. There Jackson and a goodly portion of the cabinet, and a formidable sprinkling of the leaders of the opposition from Clay to Letcher, might be seen backing their judgment as to horse flesh with their purses. And when it was not horse racing it was cock fighting, with the President entering his own birds from the Hermitage and riding with his friends to Bladensburg to witness the humiliation of his entries. It was a day of gambling, when statesmen, whose names school children are now taught to reverence, played for heavy stakes for days and nights at a time, with Clay and Poindexter losing fortunes and an occasional victim of the lure blowing out his brains.15
And the Latter Day Saints as time went on had a "Word of Wisdom" and insisted on their members obeying it. Could anything appear more wild and fanatical to the men of the time who considered themselves properly red-blooded!
Almost everybody realized the importance of learning from books, but in the press of other and seemingly more essential things education was often neglected. Some of the wisest and most common-sense judges of western Missouri in that day were unable to read or write. Now and then some person started a school and charged each pupil a reasonable amount for tuition, such as perhaps a dollar a month. The schoolhouses, when an enterprising community did build one, were quite often without any floor but earth, or puncheon, with no window sash or glass, merely a hole cut in the log wall which was covered by a plank at night, not as a precaution against thieves--there was nothing in a schoolhouse anyone would wish to steal--but as a protection against wild animals. There were even schools consisting of two logs in the woods, the pupils occupying one, and the teacher another, facing them.
The Saints immediately started schools, the first in Jackson County. Oliver Cowdery and Parley P. Pratt were both teachers, the first schoolteachers in Jackson County. Ziba Peterson is reported to have opened a school at Lone Jack.
The settler did not have to raise meat. Buffalo, bear, and deer were plentiful, and Wild turkeys were to be had in abundance. Bread was oftenest made of ground corn mixed with water and baked. No other grain was grown. The process of making meal before mills were erected is described by one of the pioneers as follows:
We first made mortars, by burning or cutting out the end of a log twelve or fifteen inches deep, bringing it to a point at the bottom, then making a pestle by putting an iron wedge in the end of a stick, with a band or cord around the end to keep it from splitting where we drove in the wedge; then we had what we call a hominy mortar, in which we pounded our corn as fine as we could, then sifted it, and took the finest for bread, and the coarse for hominy, which did very well, though the process was slow and hard. We soon invented another style for making meal--took two flat stones about four inches thick, dressed them up, mill-stone style, fitted the bedstone into a hollow gum, cutting the upper stone, or runner, about an inch less than the bedrock, so there would be room for the meal as we turned to be carried around the spout, drilling a hole in the top stone so as to put in a handle, to turn the mill with one hand and feed with another. This was much better than a mortar. But the rock or mill stone was too soft, so our meal had more or less grit in it, which made it rather unpleasant, yet we preferred it to the mortar and pestle. We were not destitute of inventive talent, we soon had another fitted up in a frame with trunnel head, cogs, and wheels, which was run by a crank on each side of the frame, with a hopper and shoe to take the corn to the runner.16
This was all very well for settlers who had been used to nothing better, but among the Colesville Saints were some particularly good millers. Old Joseph Knight and his sons had made flour on rather a large grist scale in Colesville, and they soon were operating a mill which was patronized by the settlers as well as the Saints.17
Far from being dissatisfied with their pioneer fare, most of the pioneers looked back to those days with longing. Perhaps in memory the wild turkeys seemed fatter, the honey sweeter, and the bear's oil less pungent, but a prominent judge of Clay County, looking backward says:
The turkeys certainly surpassed all other birds. They were very large and fatter than I ever saw tame ones on the farm. They were truly delicious when properly prepared for the hunter's table, which was a blanket spread upon the ground. The best way to prepare them is to dress them nicely and stick them on a stick stuck in the ground before a good camp fire, turning them around until they are browned, but not burned, salt well rubbed in them before you begin with a little bear's oil poured over while roasting. This with a trough of honey is better than a king's table affords. Of all the dishes I ever ate, give me venison stewed in a camp kettle or spit before the fire with bear's oil, and plenty of good honey in the comb for bread.18
Even in the matter of money the Yankee and the Southerner counted differently. The Yankee reckoned by shillings and pence but in the South and West, and hence in Missouri, the Spanish dollar and its fractions were used. In this locality the eighth of a dollar was a bit, and the large Spanish dollar often circulated in the literal form of its fractions, although all too often could the dollar ever have been reassembled there would have been found to be nine "bits" in it instead of eight. Prices were almost invariably given in the form of two bits, four bits, or six bits, and the settlers it has been said would refuse seventy-five cents for an article and insist upon "six bits." So the Saints who came West had to drop the fo'pence and ninepence for the bit and the picayune. The eighth of a dollar was also known as a New York shilling, because in the Revolutionary War, the credit of New York State fell so low that eight shillings equaled a dollar. In 1844, the post office department started demanding postage in its own coin, and banned the use of foreign coin.
The usual wear for men was buckskin with fringe on the seams, but in the very earliest days after the homespun trousers and calico dresses of the original settlers wore out, clothing was made of nettles. "The low flats along the rivers were covered with a thick growth of nettles about three feet high, sometimes standing in patches of twenty acres or more. These were permitted to remain standing until they became decayed in winter, when they were gathered. They were broken up, spun into long strings, and woven into cloth, from which the garments were made."19 "Little children generally wore a leathern shirt (long) over their tow shirt...... The lint [from the nettles] was bright, fine, and strong, and made splendid shirts and pants for summer wear."20
As time went on, it was possible to import fashionable clothes from the East. Two of the Latter Day Saint missionaries had been tailors, and were kept busy supplying the men of the new town of Independence and the vicinity for several miles around with fashionable apparel. It was the thing in those days for "gentlemen" to wear high, stiff coat collars, padded with buckram, reaching half way up the back of the head, with five or six cravats covering the neck, and tall "stove-pipe hats," wide at the top and tapering downwards. The ladies wore long sunbonnets, projecting about ten inches in front of their faces, or if they really wished to reflect the eastern styles, "leghorn" hats and with tortoiseshell combs making a semi-circle on the back of the head.
Even the language used by the settlers differed from that the "Yankees" had learned in their native State. No one ever said "there," but "thar." If a sick neighbor was very ill, she was "powerful weak," or "mighty sick." They heard their neighbors speak of a "right smart chance"; toothache was "misery in the teeth." It was never quite comprehensible to eastern minds, why a bridegroom of less than twenty spoke of his sixteen-year-old bride as "my old woman," and she called him "my old man." When school was dismissed, the children shouted, "School is broke." Forenoon was all "morning," and anytime after midday dinner was "evening."
But perhaps all might have gone well in spite of so many differences in temperament had it not been for slavery. The gentry of New York had slaves, a few even in Fayette had a bond servant or two, but the keeping of slaves in large numbers was new to the Saints. They would have indignantly denied they were that hated thing known as an "abolitionist," but at the same time these eastern people were Yankees; they owned no slaves, and in spite of denials, they were suspected of being abolitionists, whether they were or not. There was an attitude of almost fraternizing with the blacks, of treating them much as they treated white people, which was to say the least, enough to make any slave-owner distinctly uneasy.21
And the Saints heard the stories that were passed about. There was one of a runaway Negro man who was chained overnight to an anvil in a blacksmith shop as he was to be publicly whipped the next day, and in the morning he was dead, still chained to the anvil, with no marks of violence, perhaps died of terror.
The Saints could not help but shudder a bit when they met the patrol on the village streets after nine o'clock at night.
1 Very probably referring to Algernon S. Gilbert, as he was in all
probability the only Yankee merchant. And the attitude expressed is typical.
2 Wayne City Landing near Liberty, previously known as Duckers Ferry.
3 Quoted from Centennial History of Independence, W. S, Webb, author and publisher, pages 95-98.
4 Letter of Washington Irving, written September 25, 1832. See Centennial History of Independence, Webb.
5 Clarence W. Alford, in The Centennial History of Illinois, State Historical Society of Illinois, 1918, page 81.
6 Clarence W. Alford in The Centennial History of Illinois, Illinois Historical Society and Transactions, 1918, pages 81, 82.
7 Warren Watson in Kansas City Globe Souvenir, reprinted in Saints' Herald, Volume 37, page 203.
8 Ostrogoth--East Goth.
9 J. C. McCoy at an Old Settlers' Reunion, December 30, 1871, as published in History of Jackson County, by W. Z. Hickman, page 243.
10 History of Cooper County, by Levins and Hyde, page 120.
11 Ibid., page 129.
12 History of Clay County, by W. H. Woodson, page 89.
13 The impetuous Lyman Wight, with whom I was well acquainted, wanted to fight the mob, giving it as his opinion that it would be only a breakfast spell to whip the Missourians. Lyman was a brave and good man, knowing not what fear was. When told by one of the mobocrats that he would be shot the next morning if he did not betray Joseph Smith, he replied, "Shoot and be damned, for that is what you will get anyway." It is to be hoped that the recording angel dropped a tear on the little swear word and thus blotted it out forever. Testimony of Elder Levi Graybill, Journal of History, Volume 4, page 106.
14 History of Cooper County, by Levins and Hyde, page 193.
15 Party Battles of the Jackson Period, by Bowers, page 18.
16 Judge Josiah Thorpe in Early Missouri Days, Letter No. 4.
17 Newel Knight's Journal in Scraps of Biography, Salt Lake City, 1883.
18 Early Missouri Days, by Judge Josiah Thorpe.
19 History of Cooper County, by Levins and Hyde.
20 Early Missouri Days, by Judge Josiah Thorpe.
21 There is evidence to intiniate that after extensive missionary campaigning in the South, a few slaveholders with their slaves moved into Nauvoo, perhaps even in Caldwell County, Missouri. Slavery existed in a limited degree in the Utah Mormon church previous to the Civil War. But it may safely be said that the predominant sentiment was against it. Doniphan cites it as the chief cause of the Jackson County troubles.
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