18 Letter to Brigham Young, Winter Quarter 1847

                                                           William Warner Major


Jill C. Major, Author

Adopted son of Brigham Young: Meetings on Emigration

Because of William's and Sarah's "adopted" status in Brigham Young's family, they were included in the family meetings. On Tuesday, March 23, 1847 President Young called his family together to discuss "the best way to proceed in business & emigration." 1 John D. Lee was Brigham Young's private secretary and recorded the minutes of this meeting. Mentioned are thirty-eight "adopted" head-of-households that attended the meeting that evening. The men were listed according to their order of adoption and William Warner Major was the 10th in seniority. In this famous family were such great men as Truman O. Angel, the future architect for the Salt Lake Temple, Isaac Morley, President of the High Council and President of Brigham Young’s 1848 emigration company, John D. Lee, who was later executed for his part in the Mountain Meadows Massacre, and, of course, William Warner Major, Utah’s first artist.2

During this assembly it was agreed that some of the men were needed to stay and farm the land in preparation for the next year’s migration. At an earlier meeting, held on March 10, the Major family was one of those assigned to remain behind.3 It was also agreed that arrangements be made to move the advanced division about thirty-five miles west from Winter Quarters to the banks of the Elkhorn, a tributary of the Platte river.

The First Company to head west

A ferry was built there so that wagons and supplies could be floated across the river. There was constant movement between the Elkhorn and Winter Quarters by the leaders of the Church and the advance company of pioneers.4

Brigham Young led the first company of saints which headed west April 16, 1847. It included 143 men, 3 women, 2 children, 93 horses, 52 mules, 66 oxen, 19 cows, 17 dogs, and some chickens. Two of the 73 wagons in that company belonged to William and Sarah Major. They carried the carding machine and the mill stones.5

Elder Parley P. Pratt and Elder John Taylor left a little later in the season for the West. Orson Hyde was called to lead and organize the pioneers who stayed by the Missouri River. In later years the Major family and the Hyde family moved to Spring City, Sanpete, Utah and continued their long association which began in England when Major was President of the Marlebone Branch. In Spring City Orson Hyde’s wife, Mary Ann Price Hyde, was the first Relief Society President and Sarah Coles Major, served as her Treasurer.

Recreation at Winter Quarters

Not all was dreary at Winter Quarters. The leaders knew the need to give the mind and heart a vacation. Louisa Pratt explained, "The most of the Twelve had gone with the first Presidency to explore a country beyond the Rocky Mountains. The leading men who remained did everything in their power to keep life and spirit among the people. Picnic parties were encouraged; the best the place afforded was set before us. We listened to the strains of cheerful music, met and conversed with old friends whom we had known in happier days; our hearts were made to rejoice in anticipation of a time to come when we should greet each other in a goodly land."6


Although Major was busy with family and leadership responsibilities, he continued to sketch portraits. Wilford Woodruff mentioned that on April 1, 1847 he, "set for A Portrait to be taken by Major[ ]to be put in a work with others of the Twelve."7 This painting was apparently never completed. Helen Mar Whitney, daughter of Heber C. Kimball, remembered seeing a group painting of "the First Presidency, B. Young, H.C. Kimball and W. Richards, and the Twelve Apostles sitting in council," at the home of Sister [Brigham] Young, "previous to Sister Young’s death." Whitney mentions that painting "was hanging there in the same unfinished state" as the Kimball family portrait. Apparently, Major died before he could complete them.8

Midwife, Patty Bartlett Sessions wrote that she "went to severl places Br. Mager is taking our portraits." It appears that Major was sketching Patty Sessions and her husband, David, on April 26, 1847.9 The location of these portraits is unknown.  The David and Patty Bartlett Sessions Family









(A replica of a cabin is currently shown at the

Mormon Pioneer Cemetery in Omaha, Nebraska)

Winter Quarters, Florence, Nebraska

Major makes Otoes  Laugh

By the fall of 1846, 2,500 Saints were camping on Pottawattomie Indian lands on the east of the Missouri River and four thousand more Saints occupied lands claimed by Otoe and Omaha Indians on the west side of the River. The Saints negotiated with the Indians, promising to move from their land in two years, leaving all the improvements. The Otoes were a friendly people. According to Hosea Stout, Captain Caw, an Otoe Chief, "had not permitted any of his men to molest anything we had, and many more things said he all as a friend. He manifested a good spirit."10 Hosea Stout recorded one visit from the Otoe Indians in which William Major made them laugh:

Monday, May the 10th 1847. ...while turning our horses out, a large number of Indians were discovered coming towards town and some still in their rear...They were Otoes. There were some 40 accompanied by their head chiefs, in all 4. One could talk English and he told me who they were and I was satisfied that they would do no harm.

In a few moments the whole company came up. Capt Caw [the Otoe Chief] was along who knew me. He was very glad to see me...A church ox was given to them for their supper.

Jim and his brother the war chief came home with me and took dinner. Capt. Caw went with Br. Major who took his likeness [sketched his picture], which amused the rest very much when they saw it. They would laugh and say "Capt Caw."11

Letter to Brigham Young

On 16 June 1847 William Warner Major wrote this informative letter to Brigham Young12 from the camps of the saints:

Dear Brother:

I gladly embrace the present moment of writing to you here at Elkhorn in the hurry and confusion of the coming and going of people and cattle, to tell you how we are and how we are getting along, also to assure you of our affection towards you and love.

We know how we love our friends better when we are separated from them for a while. We received your letters by two Frenchmen, giving us an account of your welfare from about fifteen days travel from Ft. Laramie. We are doing here as well as we can with the various spirits we have to deal with, and helping off as many as can go in wisdom.

Jedediah M. Grant13 will tell you of the news from the east. About here, the Ottoes and Omahas have joined in a defensive treaty for protection against the Sioux Indians and both parties have paid us a formal visit to make a treaty of peace with us, and since that the Sioux have sent out a strong body of their warriors against them and by this time they have put all their effects, women and children across the river among the Pottawatammes who also are hiding their effects as they threaten all who protect them. The Pottawatammees are also divided among themselves. Half of them are for leaving their lands, the other half are with their chief in not going.

I am now on the south bank of the Elkhorn in sight of the Platte with Father Morley14 together with Elders Taylor,15 Parley P. Pratt,16 General Rich17 and others organizing the company for the march onward.

The famine in Ireland is working its way with giant strides; about 20,000 dead through famine and pestilence; in places they are forced to cover up the inmates (when dead) with their own houses and burn them up together to get rid of the horrid stench, whole families at once are settled in this manner.18

Your family are in good health and little John19 grows a fine fellow, robust and hearty. [According an oral family tradition passed down through the William Warner Major Jr. family, William and Sarah Major were called to care for and watch over Brigham Young’s family at Winter Quarters while he traveled west.]

We had a steamer arrive here from St. Louis, who brought a good cargo and a store keeper hath taken the council house for a few weeks with Br Wooley.20 We have put in a good heap of corn, buckwheat and garden stuff. We expect the stockading will be completed in about a fortnight with the ditching around the big field. I have put in about 12 acres and shall do all I can to move off next spring and help on as many as I can. The ploughing [plowing] extends down, I suppose a couple of miles from the south part of the city, but there are considerable gaps to plough up here and there which we are talking of ploughing for buck wheat.

The negro prophet21 has made his exit and is defunct.

Miller22 is down in Missouri and we are visited off and on by Bro Hyde.23 One Sunday this side and next the other.

We shall all be rejoiced to see you again when the proper time rolls round. The weather keeps still very cold except when the sun is seen without clouds. Cold mornings and nights.

I have the charge of finishing the picketing and overseeing the ditching and keeping accounts of the ploughing. Father Cutler24 has been very busy in getting the cannon put in repair as Scott25 went down to Missouri and got hurt. Brother Morley and myself have been inspecting the wagons and families that are going off, and we are glad to see that all have enough and are comfortable more so than we expected.

I and my family are well and remain yours affectionately.

William W. Major26



Letter used by permission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

At the time this letter was written, Brigham Young and his company of pioneers were camped in Wyoming several days journey west of Fort Laramie where the Oregon Trail crosses the Platte River. It was received at least 10 weeks later. Thomas Bullock, a member of the first emigrating company, wrote that after supper on August 30, some newspapers and letters were read. Several correspondents were mentioned, incuding "W. Major."27 If, however, the letter was carried by Jedediah M. Grant, who Major wrote "will tell you of the news from the east," then Brigham Young received the letter on the 9th of September. This is when Grant's company which was traveling west, met Brigham Young's company which was heading east, returning to Winter Quarters from the Great Salt Lake Valley.28 This suggests the possibility that Major penned several reports to President Brigham Young.



Major’s duties in the Church included preaching at meetings. There are frequent references to this. Hosea Stout recorded in his diary: "Sunday July 4th 1847...Went to meeting at the stand. W. W. Major preached. It rained in the afternoon."29

Isaac Morley called a meeting on July 10, 1847 to reorganize the pioneer company and fill the positions of those who had already gone west. Since John Young, Morley’s councilor had treked west, William Warner Major was called to replace him as a new counselor to Morley. 30

Brigham Young Sustained as President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Because Missouri riverbank proved to be unhealthy, it was decided to establish a new home in Kanesville (also known as Council Bluffs and Miller's Hallow) or other Iowa settlements on the East side of the Missouri River. The majority of the Saints were either moving or already moved when Brigham Young arrived at Winter Quarters on October 31, 1847. The reunion of the pioneers in the returning company with their families was a happy one. "As they drove into the city, the streets were lined with the people who welcomed them with handshaking, exclamations of thanksgiving for their safe return, and with smiles through tears."33 Brigham Young and the Twelve were relieved to find that the saints had enjoyed an abundant harvest and would have ample food for the winter. President Young stayed that winter and supervised the preparations for his second and last trek west in the spring.

During the move to Winter Quarters, then to Salt Lake and back again, Brigham Young led the people as the President of the Twelve Apostles, but on December 5, 1847 during a meeting with the Apostles, Brigham Young was sustained as President of the Church. He was sustained again by 1,000 members of the church in a log tabernacle at Kanesville (named after Thomas L. Kane, a friend of the Saints) on Monday, December 27, 1847. At this meeting Elisha H. Groves stood and called out, "I make a motion that we organize a First Presidency over the Church." W. W. Major seconded it. Then Major added, "I move that President Brigham Young be the First President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints." Henry W. Miller seconded it. It was a clear vote and the day was celebrated by the band playing a lively medley.34

Portrait of Hosea Stout 

As Winter descended once again on the temporary shelters of the Pioneers, there was more time to devote to artwork. Hosea Stout wrote, "Sunday Dec. 5th 1847. Went to council. Nothing of any importance up today. Major the painter took a pull at me for my likeness today..." Then on Friday, Dec. 10th 1847 Stout wrote, "Major took another pull at my likeness again today."35 It is not known if this picture survived the trek west.  The painting below was painted by Sutcliffe Maudlsey in Nauvoo  Sutcliffe Maudsley


Hosea Stout











Hosea Stout in Nauvoo, painted by Sucliffe Maudsley