Fred E. Woods: More Precious than Gold 109
The California gold rush, the first international gold rush in history, turned
the world upside down, reaching its zenith in the years 1849–50.1 As a result of
the rush during these two climactic years, the population swelled our nation’s
Pacific coast, entitling California to receive statehood in the fall of 1850.
During these catalytic years, Latter-day Saints were journeying to the
American West for a different kind of treasure. They gathered from afar to their
Mormon mecca nestled in the Salt Lake Valley to fulfill their dreams of establishing
Zion. Yet the California gold rush had a significant impact on the Latterday
Saint economy as thousands of Argonauts passed through Salt Lake in need
of provisions. As a result, the Saints became able to further stimulate immigration
from abroad, swelling the Mormon population in the West.2 Subsequently,
with the aid of the Compromise of 1850, on the same day California received
her statehood (9 September 1850), Utah was granted official status as a territory
in the United States.3 The story behind these parallel gatherings certainly
deserves sesquicentennial recognition.
LDS Church leaders capitalized on the economic opportunity provided by
the gold rush by creating a revolving fund called the Perpetual Emigrating Fund
(PEF), which the Saints were asked to sustain in the October 1849 conference
in Salt Lake. Heber C. Kimball, counselor in the First Presidency, reasoned with
the congregation then assembled, “Most of you are aware of the covenant made
by the Saints in the temple at Nauvoo, that we would not cease our exertions
until we had brought the poor to this valley. . . . Shall we fulfill that covenant
or shall we not? The vote was unanimous to fulfill that covenant.”4 Having
received the sustaining vote of the Saints and subsequent donations to the PEF,
Brigham Young sent a letter to Orson Pratt, then the presiding officer over the
More Precious than Gold:
The Journey to and through Zion in
Fred E. Woods
FRED E. WOODS is an associate professor in the department of Church History & Doctrine
at Brigham Young University.
110 Nauvoo Journal
LDS British Mission, with the following instructions concerning the Perpetual
This Fund we wish all to understand is perpetual, and in order to be kept good, will
need constant accessions. To further this end, we expect that all who are benefitted
by its operations will be willing to reimburse that amount as soon as they are able,
facilities for which will, very soon after their arrival here (in Great Salt Lake Valley)
present themselves in the shape of public works; donations will also continue to be
taken from all parts of the world, and expended for the gathering of the poor Saints.5
Yet, before the PEF was in place, a priesthood system of immigration had
been established.6 The LDS periodical, the Latter-day Saints Millennial Star, published
in Liverpool, announced when voyages would be made for the various
companies of seagoing Saints. For example, on 1 December 1848, the following
notice appeared to prepare eager converts for departure in the upcoming season:
Emigration: Our first ship will sail after the 20th of January. Those who secure passage
in her [the ship Zetland] will be notified by letter what day they must be in
Liverpool. If all the emigrants who intend sailing for New Orleans, during the season
of emigration, would forward, as soon as convenient, their names, ages, and
deposits, we should have more time, and be better prepared, to make all suitable
arrangements for them.7
During the same month in which the enthusiastic Mormon converts left
England aboard the Zetland to gather to Zion, the New York Herald ran the following
dispatch, which told of another kind of gathering being launched in 1849
from Liverpool and London: “The gold excitement here and in London exceeds
anything ever before known or heard of. Nothing is heard or talked about but
the New El Dorado. Companies are organizing in London in great numbers for
the promised land. Fourteen vessels have already been chartered.”8 The
Millennial Star printed an article from the Liverpool Mercury stating that “the
gold fever is raging more furiously than ever, thousands of people are flocking
from all parts of the United States to the land of auriferous promise.”9 The
Liverpool Mercury reported by the summer of 1849 that in the streets of San
Francisco, people were digging gold by the shovelfuls.10 Such news of a golden
promised land propelled foreigners to gather to California from all over the
world. However, there were faithful British Saints content to gather to Zion,
which they viewed as a far greater land of promise.11
To help them reach their desired haven, Mormon immigration agents were
appointed on both sides of the Atlantic. These agents assisted converts during
their embarkation as well as at their arrival at American ports and frontier outfitting
posts. The port of departure for all LDS companies in 1849–50 was
Liverpool, and roughly thirty-seven hundred Saints set sail for Zion during these
two years.12 By this time, Liverpool was the leading port of emigration in the
world with a population that had reached two hundred thousand by 1840. The
Fred E. Woods: More Precious than Gold 111
late Mormon maritime historian Conway B. Sonne wrote that “the main reason
[for its being a transportation center] was its location, between the British Isles
and Ireland with rail connections to such eastern points as Hull and Grimsby
where emigrants from Europe landed. The harbor with its easy navigable channels
in the Mersey was a convenient base for the larger packets. Furthermore, it
was a day’s sail nearer in distance to America than from London.”13 Liverpool
was a temporary gathering place for both Saint and sinner. By 1840, it contained
more than two thousand drinking dives, which made it a sailor’s paradise.14 Here
priesthood leaders (such as Orson Pratt) protected their flock and selected other
priesthood holders to watch over the company of Saints and made sure each vessel
was dedicated to safely cross the Atlantic.15
A significant challenge facing Mormon converts was the difficult task of
saying goodbye to loved ones. Just before her departure on the ship Zetland, a
touching scene took place at a British train station when Mormon convert Ann
Coope Harvey bid farewell to her mother. She wrote: “I felt so bad my heart
seemed to turn over. I had the impression not to look at my mother again, so I
took my babe in arms stepped into the train, and turned my face toward Zion,
and left the home of my childhood, all my kindred and associates, for the gospel’s
On 29 January 1849, the ship Zetland was designated as the first vessel of the
year to embark from Liverpool carrying a company of Latter-day Saints to
America. Gibson Condie recalled the mixed feelings experienced by the group
as they rejoiced when Elder Orson Pratt promised the Saints a safe voyage to
New Orleans, but Condie also recalled the emotion when farewell hymns were
sung and the departing converts wept as they bid farewell to their native land
and friends.17 Thomas Atkin, a sixteen-year-old convert, remembered mixed
feelings of a different kind: “The large company of 358 Saints on board, presided
over by Brother Orson Spencer, were joyfully singing the songs of Zion, but alas
[in] a few short hours a change came over the spirit of dream, for the most of us
were down with seasickness.”18
Condie recalled another startling change of events when the ship’s galley
caught on fire and it looked as though the company was going to have to jump
into the sea and drown. Fortunately, the fire was brought under control, and the
Saints thanked God for sparing their lives.19 Condie also remembered the sad
scene of children, who had died from disease, being sewn in sheets and thrown
overboard amid sharks.20
Other voyagers relate experiences of both joy and sorrow. The Saints who
sailed in 1849 on the ship Hartley witnessed the baptism of four sailors.21 At the
same time, twenty-eight Latter-day Saints died of cholera aboard the vessel
Berlin during the same year. Such experiences were the reality of life and death
for seagoing Saints in this period.22 Although there were times to sing and dance
at sea, nothing seemed to compare with the joy the Saints experienced when
they came to shore. The voyage from Liverpool to New Orleans was very long,
112 Nauvoo Journal
most ships taking about two months and some longer. The voyage took immigrants
across the Atlantic into the Caribbean, through the Gulf of Mexico, and
to the Belize up river to the port of New Orleans. This was the American port
of arrival for all LDS companies for the years 1849–50.
Some Saints, though previously warned, celebrated to the extreme, and
some at times even succumbed to alcohol. Upon the arrival of the Zetland in
New Orleans in the spring of 1849, Orson Spencer, the appointed Mormon
leader, reported the following:
Two Irish people have walked out of the boat, or from the shore into the river, to
return no more, under the influence of strong drink. One of our own brethren even
walked into the Mississippi upon a plank of moonshine (to use his own expression)
taking the moon’s reflection upon the water for a plank, but was fortunately rescued
from death by brethren at hand. Strong drink was the sole cause of the perilous
At times, the Saints encountered sharks both by land and by sea. Not only
did they face “sharks” in the form of thieves waiting to take advantage of new
arrivals but also they faced the threat of apostates waiting to meet the Mormon
immigrants at the docks of New Orleans. Elder Orson Pratt had warned immigrating
Saints just prior to the 1849 immigration season with the following letter:
“When the Saints shall arrive at New Orleans, they are expressly cautioned
to beware of all such persons as Lyman Wight [former LDS Apostle], or any of
his emissaries, who are endeavoring to decoy the Saints off to Texas, professing
themselves to be Saints, when they are looked upon [by] our church as apostates,
acting in direct opposition to the order of the church.”24
Besides thieves and apostates, there were other things to beware of in this
cosmopolitan city. For example, Mormon immigrant James R. Hall wrote the
following description upon his arrival in New Orleans on Easter Sunday 1849:
I saw the most wicked abominable people I ever saw. I think Sunday seems to be
their favorite day for gambling, dancing, drinking, fire works & I heard murder is no
uncommon things as these men carry knives, daggers, or pistols and not only carry
them but use them to fight with to kill each other. The inhabitants are a mixed race
of French, Spaniards, Dutch, English, Irish, Scotch, blacks, and Indians, but French
& English chiefly spoken. It is a lowland & unhealthy. Elder Scovil came on board
to see the Saints and to give counsel to such as are willing to receive him as their
counselor. Elder Scovil is a good man, one that is sent here by the authorities of the
Under such circumstances, the Saints were much relieved to find immigration
agents like Lucius N. Scovil, who protected and directed them upon arrival.
When the Zetland arrived in the beginning of April 1849, James Bond noted the
Saints’ gratitude for the appointed agent at New Orleans. Bond noted, among
other things, “We are very indebted to Brother Scovil for his prompt exertions
and usefulness in facilitating our progress onward, and in saving our dollars.”26
Fred E. Woods: More Precious than Gold 113
Shortly after the discovery of
gold at Sutter’s Mill in January of
1848, Lucius Scovil was appointed
as the first immigration agent at
New Orleans. While the
California winter miners of ’48
found the ground for digging a bit
rigid, upon his March arrival in
New Orleans, Scovil encountered
a hardened city that was equally
difficult to penetrate.27
Nine months later, as the
1849 immigration season was soon
to begin, Scovil sent a December
letter to Elder Orson Pratt
describing Scovil’s circumstances
and those of the Saints in New
Orleans. Among other things, he
informed Pratt concerning the
prosperity of Sam Brannan in
California. He also told how some
of the Mormon Battalion had
found a gold mine while working
for Captain John Sutter and noted
that some of these brethren had recently come to Council Bluffs with hundreds
and even thousands of dollars worth of “pure virgin gold.” Scovil also noted that
Captain Sutter had recently arrived in New Orleans and had “created quite a
gold fever here.”28
In the same letter, Scovil indicated that he had organized a branch among
the transient Saints in the area and added that New Orleans was still “a very
hard place, and the saints which have stopped have [probably meaning here,
referring to the immigrants] are poor; yet I suppose there will be some way for
our deliverance in the spring.”
Such contrasting news of the prosperity of Brannan and the gold mined by
the Battalion brethren, coupled with the gold fever that had struck New
Orleans, may have generated in Scovil a sense of wishing for greener pastures for
himself and his New Orleans flock. Yet, as noted above, he mustered the faith
to believe that some form of deliverance was nigh at hand.
As the 1848–49 winter dragged on, Scovil grew a bit despondent as he considered
his own financial circumstances as well as the poverty of the local
Saints, most of whom were immigrants in need of more funding to reach Zion.
This undesirable condition was augmented by the awful fact that although many
had been struck by gold fever, the sting of death had once again attacked the
Daughters of the Utah Pioneers library collection
114 Nauvoo Journal
inhabitants of New Orleans caused by the spread of cholera.
In this trying condition, Scovil recalled that on 2 March 1849, he meditated
on the difficult conditions in which he found himself. While he pondered, he
had the impression that he should go to “Caliboo [Caliboose] Square.”29 He further
explained that he felt he should walk to a nearby bookstore and request to
buy a lottery ticket from a Frenchman there employed. Although he concedes
“the thought was foreign to my natural feelings as anything could be,” he
Yet I walked forward and 15 minutes later I found myself at the book store and when
I entered the store I felt that I had been very familiar with the Frenchman at some
previous time. I inquired if he had lottery tickets for sale. He asked me who told me
he had lottery tickets for sale, as there was no lottery tickets for sale in Louisiana, it
being contrary to law, but, said he “I have lottery tickets for sale and the drawing is
tomorrow.” He then spread out the tickets before me on the counter and I soon discovered
a half ticket of the number I wanted, 9998. I asked him the price of it and
he said $2.50. I took the ticket and paid for it.
Ten days later, Scovil learned that he had won a hundred times his money
and felt gratitude to God that he had opened up the way for him to perform his
appointed task in New Orleans.30 The spring deliverance he anticipated had
actually fallen a few days early for Scovil in 1849, and he faithfully assisted hundreds
of immigrating Saints up the Mississippi during the immigration season
until he was replaced by Thomas McKenize in the fall of 1849.31
During the climactic gold rush years, the next important stop for immigrating
Saints was St. Louis, which lay at an important juncture for steamboat travel
on the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers. Throughout most of this period, immigrants
were assisted at this point by Nathaniel H. Felt, who served as the St.
Louis district president, which calling included his role as the immigration
agent.32 Felt was a convert from Salem, Massachusetts, and was at one time the
first president of the Salem branch (1843–45). He was a wealthy man who benefited
from the Africa and China trade. He and his wife Eliza gave some of their
furniture for the beautification of the Nauvoo Temple. Felt assisted thousands of
foreign converts with his time and resources to allow them to gather to Zion. He
gave priesthood blessings to many Saints when cholera was rampant in St. Louis,
and all the immigrants he ministered to were spared.33
Historian Stan Kimball wrote about the influx of Saints in St. Louis during
the gold rush years when the city had a total population of about sixty-three
So many hundreds emigrants flooded into the city that President Felt took most of
the Mound House Hotel for temporary housing, and rented the larger and more suitable
Concert Hall on Market Street . . . for Sunday services. He divided the Gravois
Branch into four units, one of which was Welsh and found himself by September
1849 shepherding from 3,000 to 4,000 members—the largest district in the
Fred E. Woods: More Precious than Gold 115
The bulk of the
membership consisted of
earlier Nauvoo exiles
and especially immigrants
who were trying
to work their way
Zionward. The immigrating
Saints were again
confronted with cholera
in St. Louis, as well as
the plague of apostates.
Following the martyrdom
of Joseph and
Hyrum Smith, Thomas
Wrigley recorded what
conditions were like for
the Saints gathered in
St. Louis: “It was sometimes
hard work having
to contend with the
prejudice of the people
of the world and every
apostate that left
Nauvoo came here and
did their best to bring persecution on us.”35 Mormon immigrant Charles Dutton
Miller wrote upon his arrival at St. Louis in 1849, “I found St. Louis abounding
with Saints & apostates.”36 In this same year, another immigrant remarked, “I
found the Saints in the sixth ward meeting in Bywardrobe [St. Louis area]. They
locked the door for fear of the apostates.”37 Aside from such prejudice and persecution,
immigrants also encountered dissenters who sought to prevent the
Saints from journeying on to the Salt Lake Valley.
In spite of these obstacles, the Saints continued to move forward. Most who
could afford to travel onward left the Mississippi at St. Louis and then traveled
the Missouri River by steamboat to the Council Bluffs area. Here it was common
for immigrant groups who had crossed the Atlantic to wait for a time in the
Kanesville area before joining with other pioneer companies who were crossing
the plains. William LeFevre, who sailed on the ship Zetland, arrived at St. Louis
on 1 April and had reached the Bluffs by 20 May. However, his pioneer company
did not leave the Kanesville area until 7 June.38 Many would wait much
longer because they were ill prepared or did not have sufficient funds to complete
their journey to the Salt Lake Valley.
During this interim period, the Saints were exposed to several obstacles,
which again included apostates. Many Latter-day Saints left the Mormon trail in
this area for a variety of reasons, to return to the Church no more, while most
Nathaniel H. Felt
Courtesy of Afton Felt
116 Nauvoo Journal
proved faithful and continued their journey to Zion.39 Again, there was an agent
to guide the Saints through such hindrances, as there had been at New Orleans
and St. Louis.
The agent in charge of immigration at Kanesville during the years 1849–50
was Elder Orson Hyde, who also served as editor of the Frontier Guardian, which
was often flooded with news for Mormon immigrants and eastern immigrants
At the same time as the Saints were marching in, so were the gentiles.
Thousands of travelers heading west for California created a potential hazard for
Hyde and the Saints he presided over. The Guardian issued the following
account as the steamboat Mustang reached the shores of Council Point at the
Bluffs in the spring of 1849: “First Boat This Season. . . . She brought some few
passengers who are on their way to the gold regions, and a large lot of whiskey.
This should go to the gold regions too.”40 Perhaps devout Mormon readers read
a double meaning into these words in the sense that “should go” meant they
hoped the whiskey would move on quickly with the ’49ers. In addition to the
potential cultural threat the whisky-toting boys created, gold fever also struck
Kanesville (both Saint and sinner alike) during this same year. The surge of
’49ers who passed through generated an excitement that caused some Saints to
feel there was gold beneath their feet in the Kanesville terrain. Nelson Whipple
recollected: “Some person . . . found some thing in the bluffs west of Kainsville
that had the appearance of gold this raised a grate excitement of corse. Brother
Hyde went over to the place with some others and saw it and dedicated it to the
Lord. This was all right and in good shape but the stuff turned out to be entirely
worthless and no body could tell what it was.”41
Yet the gold rush proved also to be a blessing, as thousands of Argonauts
poured into the Kanesville area and boosted the economy. Latter-day Saint
Warren E. Foote recalled in May of 1849, “We are crowded with ‘Gold diggers’
as we call them.” One farmer reported, “We are busy every day and night grinding
and the mill is crowded full. . . . We are making money midling [sic] fast now,
but it can’t keep this way long.”42 Yet the following year, even more gold diggers
made their way west through the area; and with the additional resources, many
poor Saints who had been temporarily located in the Bluffs area were now able
to continue their journey west to the Salt Lake Valley.43
The initial fear of the damaging influence of the ’49ers soon subsided in
Kanesville. The Saints in this area were actually surprised at the respectable
behavior of most passing gold- seeking emigrants, as can be ascertained from the
following article published on 16 May 1849 in the Guardian:
We are most agreeably disappointed in the character and appearance of the great
mass of Emigrants through this place, destined for the “Gold Regions.” They certainly
appear to be men of character and wealth, and possess a good share of general
intelligence. We have not seen a drunken man among them—they have good
health so far as we can ascertain, and are generally in fine spirits. If all the emigrants
Fred E. Woods: More Precious than Gold 117
to that country are as fair a specimen of honor, of integrity and uprightness as those
are that pass through our country, (with a few exceptions) there must and will be
order established and maintained in the mining districts of California.44
Two weeks later, the Guardian published the constitutions of several of the
companies that were headed to California to the gold fields as well as the names
of the immigrants in each company. These constitutions further reflect the order
and caliber of the passing immigrants. For example, besides setting up a military
organization for their members of the Wisconsin and Iowa Union Company,
their constitution further required in Article 13 that the members “observe the
Sabbath.” Article 14 specified that “the members of this company shall abstain
from the use of intoxicating drinks as a beverage, and gaming shall not be tolerated
in any form.” Article 15 required that each member “solemnly pledge” his
honor and influence to preserve harmony.45
The Frontier Guardian offered advice to all passing immigrants who journeyed
west. Such counsel included a continual reminder to beware of Indians
who might rob the immigrants on the plains of wagons, animals, etc.46 In light
of this apparent danger, the Guardian counseled the California-bound companies
to travel in “a strict military organization” and to have fifty well-armed men
with fifty wagons.47
Instances are recorded where groups or companies of non-Mormon gold
miners joined LDS companies on the trail to increase their combined numbers.
In June of 1849, a group of gold miners heading west joined the Samuel
Gully/Orson Spencer Company, agreeing to obey the rules and regulations of
their Mormon company.48 Two months later, the company of Captain A. W.
Rathburn from Cleveland, Ohio, joined the Mormon Company led by Allen
Taylor for protection against Indians they might encounter on the plains.49
In an attempt to sell subscriptions to the Guardian, with tongue in cheek,
this Kanesville newspaper alluded to the idea that the ’49ers would be safer on
the plains if they had a copy of the Guardian with them. They also warned,
“Should you leave without this pre-requisite, and after you got well out on the
plains, should there discover, off in the distance, a war party of Indians, following
you up—then think that you neglected to take the Guardian.” The article
also reminded the California-bound miners that “the Mormons found the gold
there.” Finally, the paper noted that the Guardian would “even draw out gold
where there is no mine at all,” while adding, “Our circumstances are such that
we cannot go to the gold regions ourself, but we would like to have a little gold,
notwithstanding, and we know not how to get it, except we say to you, subscribe
to the Guardian.”50
By the time the LDS converts reached Council Bluffs, the Mormon trail
that had begun in Liverpool gradually became crowded with California-bound
immigrants, wagon loads of cargo, and clouds of dust. The Guardian speculated
that about twenty-five thousand immigrants were headed west on the plains by
the spring of 1849.51 Mormon journals indicate that LDS companies passed
118 Nauvoo Journal
many gold hunters on their way to California as well as soldiers who had deserted.
52 They also tell of many who died of cholera along the way.53
Although some Mormon immigrants stayed together from the time they
crossed the Atlantic until they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley, many did not.
Throughout the journey by land and by sea, economics was a key factor in
whether Mormon immigrants could make their way to Zion in one season. With
time, the Perpetual Emigrating Fund identified LDS immigrants in one of three
categories. The “independent” group was classified as those who could pay their
entire way to Utah. The second category was called the “ordinary” immigrants,
who had enough money to cross the ocean and then were forced to work at a
port, city, or frontier post before journeying on. The third group was the “PEF”
immigrants, who were assisted almost entirely by funds from the Perpetual
Many Saints lacking means to continue their journey west lodged for
months and sometimes years at New Orleans, St. Louis, or Council Bluffs. For
example, while most of the Mormon immigrants on the ship Berlin (1849) continued
to travel up the Mississippi, some remained at New Orleans, where they
were fortunate to find employment for the winter.55 Some of the passengers on
the James Pennell (1850) remained in St. Louis for years before being able to
afford to continue on to the Salt Lake Valley.56 Gibson Condie, a passenger on
the ship Zetland (1849), “lived in Council Bluffs two years and three months”
before emigrating.57 Condie further elaborated on the process of company organization
by Orson Hyde.58
Regardless of how long it took to reach the Salt Lake Valley, the Mormons
who joined such companies were grateful to finally cross the plains and have
their first glimpse at the heart of Zion. Condie notes after describing his journey
down Emigration Canyon and onto the bench, “We had a beautiful view of the
Valley and its surroundings.” However, the view could not compare with the joy
of friends and family being reunited in the city of the Saints.59
During the peak gold rush years, Salt Lake City was a busy place of commerce.
Historian John Unruh describes this “desert mecca” as the “Mormon
Halfway House.” He notes that at least ten thousand ’49ers stopped at this
unique oasis, while thousands more passed through Salt Lake City in 1850 and
in ensuing years.60 During the summer months, hundreds poured into the valley
While faithful foreign converts who arrived in Salt Lake were always welcome,
the gentile populace was cautiously monitored. Yet the Saints tolerated
the ’49ers and took advantage of what they left behind. Brigham Young and his
associates often counseled the Saints to charge high prices to the passing ’49ers,
who they thought could afford the prices because they were supposedly on their
route to great wealth. On the other hand, there were also reminders not to take
advantage of poor overlanders who were passing through.62
Fred E. Woods: More Precious than Gold 119
Many mining suppliers were eager to get rid of their multiple supplies in Salt
Lake when they received the disturbing news that California had already been
saturated with goods. They reasoned that they would unload their commodities
to the Mormons and head for the mines themselves. As a result, the Saints
cashed in on the precious items at very low prices.63
Some ’49ers were in such a hurry that they had to discard unwanted materials
to lighten the load on the trail.64 Howard Stansbury, who in 1849 directed
an exploration of the Salt Lake Valley for the Corps of Topographical Engineers,
wrote that many items had been left along the trail between Fort Laramie and
the Salt Lake Valley: “Before halting at noon, we passed eleven wagons that had
been broken up, the spokes of the wheels taken to make pack-saddles, and the
rest burned or otherwise destroyed. The road has been literally strewn with articles
that have been thrown away.”65 The Frontier Guardian also noted, “Oh! the
sacrifice of property thrown out and left by the road side by the Californians,
between Laramie and the Valley is beyond calculation.”66
Mormon immigrants who passed by on the trail capitalized on this opportunity
and reaped the harvest. At times, local Saints scoured the area, gathering
the abandoned items and providing additional means to help bring more foreign
converts from abroad.67 Mormon lawyers such as Hosea Stout benefited economically
by those who were on their way to California through trail disputes
that had to be settled in court. Some parties left feeling disgruntled toward the
Mormons. Others expressed their appreciation for Mormon hospitality. The St.
Louis Organ published an article (reprinted in the Guardian) noting that
although the Mormons did not have at the time sufficient supplies for passing
immigrants because of the loss of crops and cattle, they extended their hospitality
in a kind and liberal manner with no compensation.68 Some Californiabound
immigrants chose to stay for the winter season, and several even joined
the Church.69 The Second General Epistle from the First Presidency declared at
the close of 1849, “Many who came in search of gold, have heard the Gospel for
the first time and will go nor farther, having believed and been baptized.”70
One such convert was William Morley Black, who at age 22 caught gold
fever to the degree that he resigned from being sheriff of Cuba, Illinois,and
joined a joint stock company in the spring of 1849 and went west to get rich. He
entered the Salt Lake Valley on 24 July, 1849, two years to the day that the vanguard
Saints had first entered the Valley. There to his surprise he found a well
organized city. He states, “At first I thought we had lost our reckoning and that
this was the Sabbath day, but this could not be as the Mormons were an unchristian
lawless sect and doubtless paid no heed to the Sabbath.” He further notes
that he ate dinner with a friendly Mormon family and was influenced by the
blessing on the food. “This was the first time in my life that I had heard a blessing
asked on our daily food and this prayer fell from the lips of an uncultured
Mormon.” Shortly thereafter at the conclusion of his first day in Salt Lake he
relates the following:
120 Nauvoo Journal
Toward evening I met another Mormon, a Mr. William Wordsworth . . . To my
surprise Mr. Wordsworth invited us to attend their church services the next day. I
accepted the invitation and he promised to call for me.
Sunday, July 25, 1849 is the day ever to be remembered by me. Mr. Wordsworth
called early and after chatting ten or fifteen minutes with members of our company
and again extending an invitation to us all to attend their church, he and I walked
to the bowery. We secured seats near the front of the congregation. On the west was
a raised platform of lumber on which were seated some twenty of their leading
Elders, including Brigham Young. Under the shade of the bowery seated on neatlymade
slab benches were the choir and congregation. Services opened with singing
and prayer, and the sacrament (bread and water) of the Lord's supper was blessed and
passed to all the people. Then a man of noble, princely bearing addressed the meeting.
As he arose Mr. Wordsworth said, “That is Apostle John Taylor, one of the two
men who were with our Prophet and Patriarch when they were martyred in
Carthage jail.” The word “Apostle” thrilled me, and the sermon, powerful, and testimony
that followed filled my soul with a joy and satisfaction that I never felt
before, and I said to Mr. W., “If that is Mormonism then I am a Mormon. How can
I become a member of your church?”
“By baptism,” he answered.
“I am ready for the ordinance.”
He replied “Do not be in a hurry. Stay here and get acquainted with our people.
Study more fully the principles of the gospel. Then if you wish to cast your lot
with us it will be a pleasure to me to baptize you.” That night I slept but little, I was
too happy to sleep. A revelation had come to me and its light filled my soul. My
desire for gold was swept away. I had found the Pearl of Great Price, and I resolved
to purchase it, let it cost what it would.
After a few days rest the company pushed on for California, but another man
drove my team. I gave them my all, and in exchange received Baptism at the hands
of Levi Jackman. I had lost the world and become a “Mormon.” “He that putteth
his hand to the plow and turneth back, is not worthy of me.”71
As the LDS immigration season of 1850 drew to a close, the Millennial Star
reported the following news from Salt Lake City:
Quite a number of gold diggers come from the States with their knapsacks on their
backs: hundreds have taken the Hasting’s cut off: numbers are being baptized and are
remaining here. Our city has been filled with lawyers, doctors, priests, merchants,
mechanics, &c. &c., who, after cursing Joseph Smith all their lives as a money digger,
are marching, half distracted with excitement and gold fever, to quickly lay
down their honorable, legal, or sacred professions for the honorable calling of money
The following month, the Star, in a article titled “Great Sufferings of the
Overland Emigration To California,” outlined the demise of the Californiabound
immigrants and noted the stark contrast between the life of the
Argonauts and the Saints: “It is lamentable indeed to reflect with what eagerness
the children of men pursue after the treasures of the world which perish
with the using, while the revelations of Jesus Christ, and the gifts of the Holy
Spirit which testify of the remission of sins, and give the knowledge of God
Fred E. Woods: More Precious than Gold 121
which is eternal life, are lightly esteemed or counted a vain thing.”73
While living in Salt Lake on 30 August 1850, Hosea Stout wrote of the
immigrants he witnessed in the streets of the city of the Saints: “This evening
Milo Andrus and a company of about 50 wagons of saints arrived here all in good
spirits it seems. Capt. Andrus waggon bore a large flag with Holiness to the Lord
inscribed on it.”74 In an earlier diary entry, Stout wrote that the ’49ers were “selling
out and going on to the Gold Regions.”75
During these peak gold-rush years, Stout’s diary provides a wide contrast
between Mormon immigrants, who arrived peacefully in the valley, and most
’49ers, who were anxious to move on. Most of the California miners burned out
from gold fever and never found the treasure they were seeking. Although some
Saints did not find the riches they were seeking and returned the the East, most
immigrating Saints “struck it rich” in a spiritual sense as they sought to build the
kingdom of God with their fellow Saints. In their abode they called Zion, they
found a jewel they considered more precious than gold.
1. J. S. Holliday, The World Rushed In: The California Gold Rush Experience (New
York: Simon & Schuster, 1981), 42. See pages 25–44 for an overview of how extensive
the international gold rush to California really was.
2. Leonard J. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day
Saints 1830–1890 (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1858), 64.
3. Richard O. Cowan and William E. Homer, California Saints: A 150-Year Legacy in
the Golden State (Provo, Utah: BYU Religious Studies Center, 1996), 166.
4. Millennial Star, 12:9 (1 May 1850), 132. In October of 1845, Elder George A.
Smith reminded the Saints assembled in the Nauvoo Temple of the Missouri covenant
and said, “When we were to leave Missouri [fall and winter of 1838–39] the saints entered
into a covenant not to cease their exertions until every saint who wished to go was
removed, which was done.” He added that it was now time to help the poor to move out
of Nauvoo by making a similar covenant. Brigham Young then asked the saints to vote
on the proposal, and the motion was sustained unanimously. President Young promised
blessings upon the heads of the saints who would use their property and influence to the
best of their ability to accomplish the task. See William G. Hartley, “How Shall I
Gather?” Ensign (October 1997), 7. This request for influence and property to allow others
to gather to Zion with the subsequent blessings became part of Latter-day Saint scripture
as a result of Brigham Young’s instruction received 14 January 1847. (See D&C
5. Millennial Star, 12:9 (May 1, 1850), 141. Two standard works that deal with the
Perpetual Emigrating Fund are Gustive O. Larson, Prelude to the Kingdom (Francestown,
New Hampshire: Marshall Jones Company, 1947) and chapters three and four of Leonard
J. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press,
6. David H. Pratt and Paul F. Smart, “Life on Board a Mormon Emigrant Ship,”
World Conference on Records (1980), 2. They note that during the first year of LDS international
immigration to America (1840–41), “the first Mormon emigrants were booked
individually on ships. However, by the time the Tyrean sailed in September 1841, the
Church had settled on the more economical system of chartering ships.” This was done
122 Nauvoo Journal
under the direction of priesthood leaders who had their headquarters in Liverpool. The
first company of Saints to gather to America came under the direction of John Moon in
June of 1840. Although much is not known about the role of the priesthood in this organization
of this voyage on the Britannia, by the time the second voyage of Saints left
Liverpool, a more systematic priesthood system was already in place. Pratt and Smart also
point out that Brigham Young had picked the leaders to oversee this voyage on the
Sheffield and that by the emigration season of 1848–49, the Church authority in England
would select a president to preside over subsequent voyages (ibid., 3).
7. Latter-day Saints Millennial Star, 10:23 (1 December 1848), 361.
8. Holliday, 55–56. See Oscar Lewis, Sea Routes to the Gold Fields (New York: Alfred
A. Knopf, 1949) and Octavius T. Howe, Argonauts of ’49 (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1923) for the story of voyages made during the California gold rush.
9. Millennial Star, 11:2 (15 January 1849), 28.
10. Cited in Brigham D. Madsen, Gold Rush Sojourners in Great Salt Lake City 1849
and 1850 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1983), 5.
11. Frederick S. Buchanan, A Good Time Coming: Mormon Letters to Scotland (Salt
Lake City: University of Utah, 1988) points out that not all the Saints viewed Zion as
12. Significantly, between 1840–90, about 80 percent of all Saints who voyaged to
America embarked from Liverpool. For a list of all the LDS voyages for 1849–50 and for
this entire fifty-year period of the Saints’ immigration to America, see 1997–98 Church
Almanac (Salt Lake City: Deseret, 1996), 159–67.
13. Conway B. Sonne, “Liverpool and the Mormon Emigration,” unpublished paper
presented to the Mormon History Association Conference in Liverpool on 10 July 1987.
This article has been placed in the Conway B. Sonne papers, which are at the Merrill
Library, Department of Special Collections, Utah State University.
15. Between 1840 and 1890, there are no known ships that sank crossing the
Atlantic carrying a company of Mormon immigrants.
16. Autobiography of Ann Coope Harvey, Historical Department, Archives
Division, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah, 5, hereafter
cited as LDS Church Archives.
17. Reminiscences and Diary of Gibson Condie, (1849) LDS Church Archives, 23.
18. Autobiography of Thomas Atkin, LDS Church Archives, 4.
19. Condie, Reminiscences and Diary, 24.
21. Reminiscences of John Ormond, Utah Pioneer Biographies, 22:59.
22. Thomas McKenize, “Letter to the Editor,” Millennial Star, 12:1 (1 January 1850),
23. Orson Spencer, [letter] Millennial Star, 11:12 (15 June 1849), 184.
24. Orson Pratt, Millennial Star, 10:16 (15 August 1848).
25. Reminiscences and diary of James R. Hall, LDS Church Archives, 48–49.
26. James Bond, [letter] Millennial Star, 11:10 (15 May 1849), 154.
27. Journal History of the Church, 14 March 1848, LDS Church Archives, hereafter
cited as Journal History.
28. Millennial Star, 11:4 (15 February 1849), 54–55. Orson Spencer, Millennial Star,
11:12 (15 June 1849), 184 wrote upon his arrival in New Orleans, “The gold excitement
is the most common topic of conversation here. It is thought that 40,000 persons will
cross the mountains to New Orleans this season. The price of wagons, provisions &c.,
&c. Are all affected by this great rush.” See Cowan and Homer, California Saints: A 150-
Year Legacy in the Golden State, 105–26 on the role of the Saints in relation to the disFred
E. Woods: More Precious than Gold 123
covery and advertisement of gold in California. For an overview on the subject of the
Mormons and the California gold rush, see J. Kenneth Davies, Mormon Gold: The Story
of California’s Mormon Argonauts (Salt Lake City: Olympus Publishing Co., 1984).
29. Caliboose means “jail house” and was located in the French Quarter of New
30. Journal History, 12 March 1849, 2–3.
31. While Scovil was a Connecticut Yankee, McKenzie was a Scotsman. During
McKenzie’s tenure as agent in New Orleans (fall of 1849–52), the New Orleans branch
rented two rooms for church meetings. During the 1849–50 zenith gold rush years, very
complete church records were kept at New Orleans. These records describe the worldly
conditions that challenged the local Saints. See David Buice, “When the Saints Came
Marching In: The Mormon Experience in Antebellum New Orleans, 1840–55,” Louisiana
History, 23:3 (1982), 221–37.
32. Stanley B. Kimball, “The Saints and St. Louis, 1831–1857: An Oasis of
Tolerance and Security,” BYU Studies, 13:4 (Summer 1973), 507. Kimball later notes (p.
509) that Felt was replaced in 1850 by his first counselor, Alexander Robbins.
33. Andrew Jenson, L.D.S. Biographical Encyclopedia, 2:380–83.
34. Ibid., 508.
35. Ibid., 499.
36. Reminiscences and diary of Charles Dutton Miller, LDS Church Archives, 19.
37. Autobiography and diary of David D. Bowen, LDS Church Archives, 18 July
38. History of William LeFevre, LDSCA, 2; for others who left between 5–7 June
1849, see 1997–98 Church Almanac (Salt Lake City: Deseret News), 168.
39. Richard E. Bennett, Mormons on the Missouri, 1846–52, “And Should We Die .
. .,” (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1987), 227, suggests that such
reasons for apostasy could be either “economical, social, doctrinal or personal.” He also
notes, “The exact dimensions are difficult to ascertain, but certainly substantial numbers
were involved—at least two thousand during the six-year period from 1846–52.”
40. Frontier Guardian (18 April 1849), 1:6, 2.
41. Journal of Nelson W. Whipple, Spring 1849, cited in Bennett, 222.
42. Journal of Warren E. Foote, 15 May 1849, cited in Bennett, 222.
43. Bennett, 222–23.
44. Frontier Guardian 1:8 (16 May 1849), 2.
45. Frontier Guardian 1:9 (30 May 1849), 3.
46. Frontier Guardian 1:7 (2 May 1849), 2.
47. Frontier Guardian 1:8 (16 May 1849), 2.
48. Journals of Reuben Miller, LDS Church Archives.
49. Reminiscences and journal of Silas Richards, LDS Church Archives, 6.
50. Frontier Guardian 1:7 (2 May 1849), 2.
51. Frontier Guardian 1:8 (16 May 1849), 1:83.
52. An Autobiography of Peter Olsen Hansen, 1818–1895, comp. by Leland Hansen
Ashby (second printing, 1988), 55–64 and variant account in Journal History, 7 August
53. See autobiography and journal of Nelson Wheeler Whipple, LDS Church
Archives, 88; Autobiography sketch of Edward Phillip, LDS Church Archives,
Reminiscences of James Fisher Madison, 1906, LDS Church Archives, 9.
54. Richard L. Jensen and William G. Hartley, “Immigration and Emigration,”
Encyclopedia of Mormonism, 5 vols., ed. Daniel H. Ludlow et al. (New York: Macmillan
Company, 1992), 2:674.
55. Millennial Star, 11:23, (1 December 1849), 364.
124 Nauvoo Journal
56. Church Emigration Book, 1850.
57. Reminiscences and diary of Gibson Condie, LDS Church Archives, 33. The
Frontier Guardian, 1:2 (21 February 1849), 1:2. Page 2 indicates that when fifty wagons
could be brought together, they could be organized into a company.
58. Orson Hyde organized many pioneer companies in Council Bluffs during the
peak gold rush years. For a list of these companies of 1849–50, see 1997–98 Church
Almanac (Salt Lake City: Deseret News, 1996), 168.
59. Ibid., 35.
60. John D. Unruh Jr., The Plains Across: The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-
Mississippi West, 1840–60 (Urbana and Chicago, 1993), 302–3.
61. Ibid., 308.
62. Ibid., 307.
63. Leonard J. Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom: An Economic History of the Latter-day
Saints 1830–1900 (Lincoln, Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1958), 67.
64. Merrill J. Mattes, Platte River Road Narratives (Urbana and Chicago: University
of Illinois Press, 1988), 120–317, provides a wonderful list of overland accounts to
California in 1849–50. John D. Unruh Jr., The Plains Across, gives an excellent overview
of the overland experience. Finally, George R. Stewart, The California Trail (Lincoln,
Nebraska: University of Nebraska Press, 1962) is a helpful source to interpret the journey
to California during the gold rush years.
65. Ibid., 70.
66. Frontier Guardian 1:16 (5 September 1849), 2.
67. Although more Saints benefited from the ’49ers who passed through Salt Lake
City, the Church did not overlook the opportunity to benefit from the California gold.
In public sermons, Brigham Young strongly discouraged the Saints from rushing to
California, as they were needed to build Zion; and he was concerned for their spiritual
welfare. However, after the gold was discovered, he did authorize private gold-mining
missionaries, as he recognized the economic benefits the gold would have on Deseret. As
a result, with California gold and tithing gathered from the California mining Saints,
Brigham Young was able to gather $80,000 for the Church between 1848–51. Davies,
Mormon Gold, xii–xv. See also Arrington, Great Basin Kingdom, chapter three, “The
Harvest of 49,” 64–95.
68. Frontier Guardian 1:20 (31 October 1849), 3.
69. An excellent monograph that provides more detail on this topic is Brigham D.
Madsen, Gold Rush Sojourners in Great Salt Lake City 1849 and 1850 (Salt Lake City:
University of Utah Press, 1983). See also Madsen’s unpublished article, “Social Relations
between the Mormons and the 49er’s,” paper presented at the Salt Lake Community
College, 14 April 1999.
70. Frontier Guardian 1:24 (December 26, 1849), 1.
71. Autobiography of William Morley Black, courtesy of L. Brent and Mareid Black
Horton. Mareid is a great-granddaughter of William Morley Black.
72. Millennial Star 12:22 (November 15, 1850), 350.
73. Millennial Star 12:24 (December 15, 1850), 377.
74. Juanita Brooks, ed., On the Mormon Frontier: The Diary of Hosea Stout 1844–61,
2 vols. (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1964, reprint, 1982), 1:379.
75. Ibid., 1:354 (for date of 26 June 1849).