15 Winter Quarters 1846

                                                           William Warner Major


Jill C. Major, Author

Winter Quarter, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Major family loaded their wagon in late July and traveled during the warmer part of summer and early fall. They apparently departed from Nauvoo about the same time as Joseph Fielding and his sisters, Mercy Fielding Thompson and Mary Fielding Smith, wife of martyred Hyrum Smith,1 Before he traveled west, Joseph Fielding witnessed the Battle of Nauvoo. "The Cannons roared tremendously on both sides for several Days..." Joseph wrote. The Mormons signed a treaty with the mob on September 16.2

In the fall of 1846, the weary travelers from Nauvoo made the grueling trip to Winter Quarters in about six weeks. Journal entries of pioneers who traveled at about the same time often noted the weather conditions. Although there were many beautiful warm days, there was also some torrential down pours, prairie winds, and hard frost. The wagon wheel carved road was pocked by large ruts and mud holes and the streams were sometimes swollen, making travel laborious and slow.

Among the immediate causes that may be assigned for this slow progress, I would name the fact that the roads and bridges were made new as we advanced and the almost unparalleled rains which swelled the streams and otherwise rendered the roads impassable for weeks at a time and the consequent exposures of men, women and children to the contamination of the atmosphere by the overflowing of the waters which spread disease and death through all our camps and greatly weakened our hands (Erastus Snow, autobiography, typescript, BYU, pg 99).


Brigham Young arrived at Council Bluffs on the east side of the Missouri River on June 1, 1846. There, plans were made to establish Winter Quarters (present-day Florence, Nebraska, north of Omaha). In September a site was selected three miles west of the Missouri River. By the end of that month 820 lots were laid out with organized streets running between blocks.

The Fielding family arrived the day before the Major family on October 21, 1846. Joseph Fielding observed:

...it was dark before got to the Camp, the Light of the Camp of the Saints as we saw the Lights at a Distance was very interesting, it reminded us of Israel of old in the Wilderness this was not long after the Saints removed to the River there were but a few houses nearly all were in their Tents upon a square half mile...we also pitched our Tents and the next thing was to obtain Food for our Cattle our Horses especially had become feeble, and we were too late to cut hay, the grass was killed by the Frost...3

The Major family were greeted with the same sights and confronted with the same challenges. Brigham Young and Willard Richards recorded in their journals that on Thursday evening, October 22, William Warner Major, portrait painter, arrived at Winter Quarters.4 At this time there were close to twelve thousand saints camping out or in the process of building sod or log homes across the state of Iowa.