CORRESPONDENCE WITH JEFF ANDERSON OF THE CHURCH HISTORY LIBRARY IN SALT LAKE CITY
Jeff Anderson and I are friends. He is a career employee of the Church History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, working in acquisitions. I met him in June of 2009 about the same time that the current Church History Library was dedicated by President Thomas S. Monson, an event that my wife Dianne and I attended.
As a senior missionary assigned to the library, I worked under Jeff’s mentorship in acquisitions, and under the tutelage of library employee Matt Heiss in the recording of oral histories from emeritus general authorities and other notable persons connected to the Church in some way. Dianne worked as a volunteer nurse and accompanied me on the oral history gatherings. We voluntarily served for a year.
I have had a keen interest in studying early Alabama Mormon pioneers since I joined the Church in 1973. Little has been written about them, although there were seven small congregations in Alabama prior to the exodus from Nauvoo. There is basically a forgotten wagon train of Mormons from Alabama and Mississippi who hold some fabulous historical records. Their story is basically unknown, untold, and certainly unappreciated. In 1997, the Church went through the 150th anniversary celebration of the Saints entry into the Salt Lake Valley without mentioning them. Now the Church has published an official multi-volume history of the Church without mentioning them. [Saints Volume I and Volume II have been completed and published. Other volumes are in the writing stage at this time.]
Keeping it brief, this group of about 85 members of the Church, men, women, and children from Alabama and Mississippi (and they are not the only early members from Alabama who migrated to Nauvoo and/or the Salt Lake Valley) holds the record for the longest wagon train journey to the Salt Lake Valley, traveling about 2,400 miles. That distance is almost twice the distance traveled by those who left from Nauvoo in 1846, endured the winter layover in Winter Quarters, and then made the trek to the Salt Lake Valley in 1847.
Furthermore, this southern group reached Ft. Laramie in 1846, a full year ahead of Brigham Young and the vanguard company.
Furthermore, this group was the first pioneer company to arrive in the valley following the vanguard company. The first non-vanguard group to arrive in the valley did not come from the ensuing companies originating from the Winter Quarters area. The Alabama/Mississippi sojourners arrived in the Salt Lake Valley less than a week after Brigham Young.
This southern contingent to which I make reference also cared for and helped to nurse back to health about half of the roughly 500 members of the Mormon Battalion. Those assisted by the Alabama/Mississippi Saints consisted of three separate sick detachments from the Santa Fe area that were not able to make the arduous trek across the remainder of the arid Southwest to California.
The Alabama/Mississippi Saints accomplished many “firsts” in Colorado and in the Rocky Mountain west as they built cabins and other buildings while wintering in Pueblo near a mountain-man settlement—more than 700 miles west of the Saints who were still wintering in Winter Quarters.
The Alabama/Mississippi Saints, along with a sizeable contingent of the battalion soldiers, were in the very wake of the vanguard company under Brigham Young when their final destination was achieved in July of 1847.
Here follows my email communication of July 15, 2021, to my friend Jeff Anderson, who had been working from home much of the time due to the COVID pandemic:
I hope all is going well with you and the family. Are you back in the CHL building daily yet?
I hope to be in Salt Lake in mid-October and would like to drop by for a short visit. I cherish my memories of working in the library as a senior missionary under your mentorship.
I have read Saints 1 and the first several chapters of Saints 2. I am past the point in Saints 2 where the First Presidency was reorganized in Winter Quarters, so I think I have probably read that part of the book which covers the original migration west.
I really enjoy reading the books, and they are well written and interesting overall in my opinion. I know that a lot of difficult choices had to be made about what to include and what to omit.
With a personal hope that a future edition might allow for amendments, I have some suggestions for consideration which I set forth below.
Would you please pass this along to those persons at the library who might be in a position to give serious consideration to that which I have to say below?
Thanks and best wishes.
John E. Enslen
There is an important connective chain of events that seems to have been totally omitted, thus perhaps giving some false impressions. The book gives the impression that all members of the Mormon Battalion successfully made the trek to California. In fact, half or more of the Mormon Battalion never made it to California. They wintered with the Alabama/Mississippi Saints in Pueblo. That half or more were the combined three separate sick detachments sent from the Santa Fe area to Pueblo for care and recoupment—a difficult mountainous journey in itself. There were several deaths among them seldom mentioned, although not from enemy combat. The battalion had learned of the saint’s existing settlement on the Arkansas River in Pueblo from an encounter with John Brown and others who had left Pueblo to return to Mississippi.
There is a failure to mention that the Alabama/Mississippi pioneers (about 85 in number), who took care of the sick members of the battalion, entered the Salt Lake Valley less than a week after Brigham Young’s entry, thus being the actual first wagon train of pioneers to enter the valley behind the vanguard company and providing a large contingent of women to the early settlers of the valley. A reading of Saints 2 would lead one to believe that the first pioneer group behind the vanguard company came from the Winter Quarters area.
The leader of the Alabama/Mississippi Saints from Pueblo to Salt Lake was John Holladay, the namesake for Holladay, Utah. He replaced John Brown. The southern group’s original leader from Mississippi to Pueblo, John Brown, had served multiple missions to Mississippi and Alabama and had married a Mississippi convert. John Brown is the one who transported the three African-American slaves to the vanguard company staging area where John Brown himself became a member of the vanguard company. He and the Alabama/Mississippi Saints had already migrated as far as Ft. Laramie a full year AHEAD of Brigham Young, not knowing that the originally planned 1846 migration had been delayed by slow travel through Iowa and the loss of the men to the Mormon Battalion. That experience made John Brown especially valuable to the vanguard company.
It would have made a wonderful story line to have followed one of the families in the Alabama /Mississippi Saints group traveling from Mormon Springs, Mississippi, to Independence, Missouri, where they were to meet up with Brigham Young and the vanguard company. The Alabama/Mississippi Saints assumed they had missed Brigham Young, erroneously believing that Brigham Young had gone on ahead of them. The southern saints learned at Ft. Laramie from a mountain man named Reshaw that Brigham Young had not been through the area, so the saints followed the mountain man 300 miles south to Pueblo, suffering a bear attack along the way.
As was his custom, Reshaw stayed the winter with other mountain men in Pueblo, such being their regular winter rendezvous and trading destination. The Saints stayed a mile away to avoid bad influences. There they built cabins that were later shared with the sick battalion members. It was a mild winter and the soldiers were mutually beneficial to the southern saints with their deer hunting skills.
When Brigham Young and the vanguard company reached Ft. Laramie, he dispatched an apostle to go to Pueblo and lead the battalion and southern saints into the Salt Lake Valley. Most of the soldiers traveled faster, but all were in the wake of the vanguard company and arrived in the valley less than a week after the vanguard company.
The southern saints were not only the first group to arrive following the vanguard company. They were the pioneer group that traveled the longest distance by far to reach the Salt Lake Valley.
I do not know why this episode and all parts of it are entirely omitted from the narrative and storyline. I could state other reasons that would verify its historical significance, but the jest of it has been presented. Thank you for your consideration. John E. Enslen
[End of email to Jeff Anderson]
Jeff kindly replied that my comments had some merit, and he had forwarded my information to the Saints writing team, now heavily focused on writing Volumes 3 and 4 for publication. As Jeff observed, the Saints team was now consumed with the work on the future volumes and no changes could be expected, with which observation I easily and understandably agreed. Perhaps the digital version of the historical work can be altered at some future time to make for a more correct and balanced presentation of the migration west. That is my hope. I am not related to any of the southern saints whose faithful labors and accomplishments I am revealing. I simply have a feel for their sacrifice and devotion, and they have been an inspiration to me. Their direct descendants in the Church now number in the tens of thousands.