From Council Bluffs to Salt Lake City—1849

Ronald D. Dennis, The Call of Zion: The Story of the First Welsh Mormon Emigration (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University, 1987), 56-65.

By 13 July a large segment of the Welsh was on the trail to “the Eden,” “new Canaan,” and “chief paradise of the world” (phrases from the song “Hail to California,” TD1). They had covered about eighteen miles of the thousand-mile, 108-day trek and were headed to the nearby Elk Horn River, the gathering place for the George A. Smith Company.

Of the 370 persons in the Smith Company, the Welsh numbered eighty-four, or just over one-fifth:

From the Buena Vista

From the Hartley

From the Emblem

Native-born American 






The Emblem, a ship which left Liverpool two weeks after the Buena Vista, carried Jane and Claudia Jones, Captain Dan Jones’s wife and infant daughter. The “native-born American” was little Hannah Maria Thomas, the lone breath of hope midst the miasma of cholera along the Missouri. Most of the eighty-four had buried family members prior to embarking on the overland journey. Had all the families remained intact, twenty-eight more Welsh Saints would likely have gone to the Salt Lake Valley in 1849.

Of the total, forty-one were male and forty-three were female. When seen according to age groups, the pattern is not unlike that of the original 326, despite the cholera, the defections, and the division:

Table 7: Age Distribution of the Welsh in the Smith Company























The cholera altered the ratio of complete to incomplete family units significantly; the percentage of those with no apparent family attachment was a bit higher:

Table 8: Family Units among the Welsh in the Smith Company

Part of a complete family unit (husband, wife, and children [if any])





Part of an incomplete family unit (father or mother and children)



No apparent family attachment







Dan Jones continued to be the spiritual leader of the Welsh; however, for purposes of temporal organization, the Welsh were divided into three groups, each of which was under the leadership of a “Captain of Ten,” a person who was responsible for about ten wagons. Daniel Daniels and Thomas Jeremy, both from the Buena Vista, were two of these captains, and Lysander Gee, an American, was the other. In addition to Gee’s family there was one other family, that of Robert Berrett, which traveled with the Welsh. Albert Bowen and the Ricy Jones, two other Welsh lads who had arrived at Council Bluffs some time prior to the Buena Vista immigrants, were also with the group.

The following rules and regulations, used previously by other “Camps of Israel,” were adopted:

1. Each “Ten” was to travel ahead alternately according to numbers.

2. All lost property was to be brought to the Captain of Fifties’ quarters.

3. All dogs were to be tied up at dark to prevent annoyance of the guard.

4. No man was to be allowed to leave the camp by himself or without the consent of his captain.

5. The Captains of Ten were to instruct their men to attend to their family prayers at the sounding of the horn.

6. The Captain of Fifty was to see that the guards were placed around the camp at half past eight o’clock each night to relieve the captain of the herd, whose duty it was at the sound of the horn in the morning, with the men and boys exempt from guard duty, to take charge of the herd until the night guard was again posted.

7. The sounding of the horn in the morning was to be the signal for the camp to arise and attend to the duties of the morning.

8. The camp was to be ready to start each morning at half past seven o’clock.

9. Implicit obedience to the officers was required of every man in the camp.

10. Each man owning horses or mules was required to take them into the corral at sundown and secure them.

11. Each teamster, without fail, when the herd was driven in at night, was to see that his team was on hand or in the herd.

12. Every member of the camp was to be at his quarters at nine o’clock and the guard was to cry the correct time without making any unnecessary noise (Appleby, 1–2).

The statistics of the camp, recorded by William I. Appleby, clerk, were as follows (2):

























Loose Cattle















Driving a team of oxen yoked to pull a covered wagon was something totally foreign to many of the Welsh. John Johnson Davies, a pioneer who crossed a few years later, described the difficulties the Welsh in his group had with this new challenge:

After breakfast was over, we got the cattle together and tried to yoke them up. I can assure you that this was quite a task for us, and after we got them hitched to the wagon, we started out. Now comes the circus, and it was a good one! The Captain was watching us and telling us what to do. He told us to take the whip and use it, and say “whoa Duke, gee Brandy” and so on! Now the fun commenced. Then we went after them pretty lively. When the cattle went “gee” too much we would run to the off side, yelling at them “whoa!” and bunting them with the stock of the whip. Then they would go “haw” too much and we were puffing and sweating. (160)

With respect to how well the Welsh in his group managed, Dan Jones wrote to William Phillips on 12 October 1849:

The Welsh are holding up under the difficulties of this journey, and are learning to drive oxen better than any expectations, and are winning praise from all the other camps of the Saints for their organization, their virtue and their skill, and especially for their singing. (Udgorn Seion, April 1850, 108, TD13)

Singing, something which was far more natural for the Welsh than driving a team of oxen, became the trademark of the Welsh as they gathered around their campfires at night. William Morgan accompanied them the first few days of the journey and commented with pride to William Phillips and John Davis:

As we sang the first part of the verse . . . we saw the English and the Norwegians and everyone, I would think with their heads out of their wagons. With the second part the wagons were empty in an instant and their inhabitants running toward us as if they were charmed. . . . Some asked me where they had learned and who was their teacher? I said that the hills of Wales were the schoolhouse, and the Spirit of God was the teacher. Their response was, “Well, indeed, it is wonderful; we never heard such good singing before.” (19 July 1850, 6, TD21)

Most likely John Parry directed the singing. After reaching the Valley, he was asked by Brigham Young to organize a choir with his compatriots as the nucleus. His choir gained in fame over the years and evolved into what is now known as the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Another talent the Welsh were noted for was poetry. Numbered among the Welsh in the George A. Smith Company was William Lewis, a poet who had won several prizes for his verses in the old country. The muses inspired him to compose the following poem during the trek westward:


Some of the sectarians insist,—that to sell us

In shame, like animals,

Across the sea, our leaders would do:

Such was the group’s cry.

“The Captain,” they say, “enticed,-in the area

Of Merthyr a huge number of Wales’s children,

That they might be sold,—

Yes, a shipful from among the host.”

Oh! blind men, poor souls,—if they continue

In their course of an angry disposition,

When the judgment and the plague come upon them,

Their false tales will be as the wind.

Our Moses and mighty chief—he is Jones,

Our supreme and heavenly teacher;

Full of the energy of holy wisdom

To lead us into the land of praise.

(Lewis, 12, TD22)

The first three hundred miles of the journey was through mud and mire, brought about by the frequent rainstorms. The task of the neophyte teamsters offered daily discouragement as the wheels inched forward with great reluctance. The heavy sand which was encountered next was a change, but not much of a rest. On the positive side, however, were two factors: as far as Laramie the grazing was abundant and the loss of cattle was minimal.

The company was following in the tracks of groups of gold diggers who had crossed the previous year. The bones of hundreds of cattle which lay along the path served as a reminder that the animals should receive only the best treatment and that the traveling should be paced according to their capacity.

After gaining two months’ experience and completing about two-thirds of the journey, these pioneers wished to impart their new knowledge to others who would travel the same path later on. At this point George A. Smith, Ezra T. Benson, and Dan Jones sent an informative letter back to William Morgan in Council Bluffs with a request that Morgan translate it into Welsh and send it on to John Davis, who was then to publish it in the Udgorn Seion. Morgan complied with their request; Davis, however, judged the instructions of such importance that he published them as a separate pamphlet, together with William Morgan’s letter containing additional suggestions. William Lewis’s verses were also included in the twelve-page pamphlet.

After reading through the long list of Christian virtues which Brothers Smith, Benson, and Jones recommended to all in the forepart of their letter, one would suspect that love and harmony did not always prevail among the pioneers. Following these initial observations, they presented many suggestions of a pragmatic nature: the oxen should be between five and ten years old; wagon wheels should be six inches larger than normal for keeping supplies dry while crossing rivers; wagon loads should not exceed two thousand pounds with three yoke of oxen; spare parts for the wagons should be brought along; animals should not be expected to cover more than sixty miles each week; “Russian duck” canvas should be purchased in Liverpool as the best covers for the wagons; provisions should be obtained in New Orleans or in St. Louis instead of relying on the merchants of Council Bluffs, who had disappointed others with unfulfilled promises; the service of a few good American teamsters who were gentle with animals should be enlisted.

An item which received special emphasis concerned the use of strong drinks:

Our brothers come from a distant country where liquor is scarce and hard for anyone to get except for the wealthy, and so they are seldom used by the poor. But when they come to America where liquor is so cheap, and they not being accustomed to the drunkening effect, they are very likely to make too much use of it, to their own harm and great loss. For that reason, we counsel everyone under your care to abstain completely, and refrain from making use of it, only except when necessary in the case of illness. (Jones, 21 September 1849, 4–5, TD12)

One must allow for a bit of exaggeration on Jones’s part in this rosy depiction.

In his letter, William Morgan gave a number of recommendations which complemented those given by Brothers Smith, Benson, and Jones. Morgan directed himself specifically to the farmers and gave them American prices of items such as iron ploughs, iron harrows, files for sharpening saws, scythe handles, hay spikes, wheel rim iron, milk pitchers, pottery, billhooks, axes, tongs, fire shovels, bellows, knives, forks, and spoons. He ended by reiterating the counsel which had been given previously by Dan Jones for individuals to either break engagements or get married before leaving Wales.

When the company was about three hundred miles east of their destination, they were met by a group of teamsters, wagons, and about sixty yoke of oxen which had been sent by Brigham Young from Salt Lake City. Such assistance was gratefully welcomed by the travel-weary Saints and gave them new life with which to complete the last leg of their seemingly interminable journey.

A major setback came during the first week of October as they approached the summit of the South Pass with the Wind River chain of mountains on the north. At this seven-thousand-foot elevation the snow and the wind suddenly became severe and the temperature dropped, forcing the travelers to make a hasty encampment without being able to form their wagons into the customary corral. George A. Smith and William Appleby described the ordeal in their 18 October 1849 letter to Orson Hyde:

We turned our cattle loose, and drove them into the willows near by, to do the best they could, and share their fate; and such a storm of wind and snow as we experienced, we think was never superseded in Pottawatamie. For thirty-six hours, it continued to howl around us unceasingly, blowing nearly a hurricane, drifting the snow in every direction, and freezing fast to whatever it touched. Being unable to keep fires, (except a few who had stoves in their wagons,) we had to be content without them, and do the best we could. Many were the mother and infant that was obliged to be in bed under their frail covering that sheltered them from the pitiless blast, to keep them from perishing with nothing perhaps, but a piece of dry bread, or a few crackers to subsist upon, while the winds spent their fury upon our camp of canvass, covering it with a mass of ice, the snow drifting around us in some places to the depth of three or four feet. (Millennial Star, 15 April 1850, 126)

First thoughts when the storm abated, after it was verified that no human life was lost, were of the animals: “As we wended our way down the stream among the willows; indeed it was a sorrowful sight to behold our perished cattle, one after another, cold and stiff, lying in the snow banks food for wolves, ravens, catamounts, magpies, etc., that inhabit these mountainous regions in countless numbers, and live on prey” (Millennial Star, 15 April 1850, 126). They found that upwards of sixty head of cattle in George A. Smith’s camp, as well as in the two camps immediately ahead, had perished. Some others died within a few days from the effects of the storm while still others were some time in recovering. Notwithstanding the loss, the pioneers rejoiced that it had not been worse.

During the entire journey, George A. Smith reported that “not a solitary death . . . occurred of man, woman, or child (Millennial Star, 15 April 1850, 127). One birth, however, did occur-that of little Robert Dan Parry, born 15 October, thirty miles east of Fort Bridger, to the widow Ann Parry. Ann’s husband had died on the Missouri River. Also there was a marriage-that of William Clarke, widowed while on the Mississippi, and Eliza Thomas, a servant girl to the Jeremy family. They were married on 14 September by Isaac Clarke, president of the company (Appleby Journal, 14 September 1849).

Upon arriving at Little Mountain shortly after the storm, the Welsh gathered for a meeting at which an extraordinary proposal was presented. According to Isaac Nash, Dan Jones told the Welshmen that they needed to stick together as a nation, inasmuch as they had been discriminated against. The wagons, animals, onions and potatoes sent by Brigham Young, Jones explained, had come primarily for Brother Smith and the Americans and would not have been sent at all had the company been entirely Welsh. Because of this perceived unfair treatment, Jones proposed they all go across the Jordan River and settle there as an independent nation with Elizabeth Lewis as their queen. [1] All who were willing to declare their independence and become subject to their new queen were asked to raise their hands. All hands went up except for those of Isaac Nash and Edward (Ned) Williams. When asked why he had not raised his hand, Nash replied that he had had enough of the Welsh and was going to try Americans for a while. When Jones threatened that Nash would be cut off “from the Book of the Nation and never be restored,” Nash went and reported the entire incident to George A. Smith, who accompanied Nash immediately back to the meeting. Jones was still speaking when they arrived. Brother Smith, when invited to address the Welsh who had just upheld Jones’s unique proposal, made a very conciliatory speech to the “rebels.” He said that the wagons, animals, potatoes and onions had been intended for them as much as for anyone else and that there was no need for them to become an independent nation (Nash, 8). Apparently Smith’s appeal for unity was successful, as there is no record of any further attempts to set up an independent Welsh nation across the Jordan River. Feelings, however, between Jones and Nash were considerably strained after the incident.


[1] Elizabeth Lewis was called the “Welsh Queen” for many years afterwards. Some thought that she actually was a Welsh queen; few knew, however, how the title had arisen.