Pioneer Women Left Accounts of Hardships Suffered in “Move South” during Utah War

Contributed By R. Scott Lloyd, Church News staff writer


Kenneth L. Alford shares accounts from Mormon pioneer women about hardships endured during the “move south” occasioned by the Utah War of 1857–58.  Photo by R. Scott Lloyd.

Article Highlights

  • In the spring of 1858, 30,000 Utahns displaced themselves from their homes.
  • Brother Alford paints a clearer picture by reading from the journals of the women at this time.

“An army is coming to destroy us, so they say. … President Young has counseled the people to move south, and we are all going. We have been packing up our few belongings; we haven’t much, which is a consolation at this time.” —Ann Howell Burt, Welsh convert, 1857

Characterized by a New York Times editorial of June 17, 1858, as “a mass of blunders from beginning to end,” the “Mormon War” of 1857–58 brought hardship to the Latter-day Saints of northern Utah territory, who were instructed by President Brigham Young to undertake a massive relocation in advance of what they perceived as an invasion by the U.S. Army.

That was a subject of a presentation June 11 by Kenneth L. Alford, professor of Church history and doctrine at Brigham Young University, at the annual Mormon History Association Conference.

“In the spring of 1858, 30,000 people displaced themselves of their own free will … from northern Utah into central and southern Utah,” said Brother Alford, a U.S. Army colonel who retired in 2008 after 30 years of active duty. “That story has been told a little. The story that has not been told is the role that women played and women’s experiences enduring that event.”

Brother Alford said research at the Church History Library and archives at BYU, the University of Utah, and Utah State University “has found a wealth of women’s diaries and journals from this period. So what I want to do is share some of that with you.”

Brother Alford summarized the events of the period: In the spring of 1857, unfavorable reports were reaching U.S. President James Buchanan about the Utah settlers allegedly being in rebellion against federally appointed officials.

“In May, he issues a presidential order … telling the army to march on Utah and to take the new governor, [Alfred] Cumming, with them,” Brother Alford recounted.

This “expeditionary force,” as it was called, amounted to 2,500 soldiers, about a third of the entire national army.

On July 24, 1857, at the celebration of Pioneer Day in Utah, word reached President Brigham Young that the army was coming.

Rather than submit to what they expected would be unjust military rule, the Latter-day Saints sustained President Young in what has come to be known as “the move south.” From as far north as Cache Valley, Utah, and present-day southern Idaho, to as far south as Salt Lake Valley’s Point of the Mountain, the settlers moved en masse, with the majority settling temporarily in the Provo area down to present-day Salem, or the Spanish Fork area, Brother Alford said.

Some settlers were left in the settlements with instructions to burn the structures rather than allow the army to take possession of them.

Eventually, peace negotiations were effected, the army marched peaceably through a largely deserted Salt Lake City and established Camp Floyd to the west, and Cumming was installed as territorial governor. But the massive move for three months obliged the Latter-day Saints to make do as best they could in the wilderness.

Elder Wilford Woodruff, who would eventually be the fourth President of the Church, recorded that the main road from Box Elder County to Provo was lined for 100 miles with horses, mules, ox teams, and loose cattle, sheep, and hogs as well as men, women, and children.

Here are a few of the quotations Brother Alford shared from Mormon pioneer women regarding this experience.

Ann Howell Burt, Welsh convert: “An army is coming to destroy us, so they say. [Johnston’s] army, they call it. They have winter quartered out at ham’s Fork. It may be their intention to destroy us but Providence is over all. I have not fear, yet I know that many are trembling. It looks dark. President Young has counseled the people to move south and we are all going. We have been packing up our few belongings; we haven’t much, which is a consolation at this time.”

Mary Ann Weston Maughn, born in Corse Lawn, Gloucestershire, England: “In March we loaded our wagons to leave Cache Valley for some place in the South. We left 1500 bushels of Wheat in our houses which we think the Indians stole we left our crops on the ground. These they could not steal.”

Henrietta E. C. Williams: “Joseph Swain Williams, my third son, was born on the 10 of March, 1858. … Wile I was in bed word came that we were [to] leave our homes and move south taking everything with us.”

Hannah Isabell Fawcett Nixon: “We were very wet and cold and hungry. We had no food or bedding or dry clothes to change. They gave us one chair so mother sat on it part of the time and held me and part of the time I held her. The boys laid down by the fire and slept. The back part of our skirts were frozen all night.”

Cynthia Jane Park Stowell, whose husband was one of the few prisoners of war taken in the resistance against the advancing army: “In our situation the difficulties … seemed quite insurmountable. … The 14th of April 1858 my child was born. The move was then far advanced. On the 21st of April we left our home with one wagon and two yoke of steers.

“It was necessary that Sophronia [her sister] should travel with me as I was not in a condition to go alone and take care of my little one. In this wagon were myself and four children, Sophronia and her two children, and the six orphan children, in all fourteen souls with no other male assistance than the orphan boys we were raising. We could take nothing more with us than necessary clothing, bedding and food, the latter only enough to last us until we hoped to be able to get more.”

Martha Cox, age 11 at the time: “When we had taken out of the home all that we needed to take father and my brother carried straw into every room and piled tables bedsteads and chairs and other stuff onto these piles of straw. When I asked my father why [he was doing] this maneuver he answered only ‘that the place might burn more easily.’ The mystery worried me. I could see no reason that father should wish to have our home burned.”

Selina Walker Hammond, a 16-year-old English convert who had arrived in Utah in 1853: “We lost our cat at Indian Creek and it came to us again at Pine creek after we got into camp. We never could account for how she came so far, about twenty miles.”