Going Out West

Betsy was six years old. All her life she had been happy in Nauvoo with her father and mother and her big brother Tommy, but lately she was troubled. Almost every day someone would say to her, “We are going west when the grass grows and the water runs.” She did not know exactly what this meant, but she thought it meant that someday soon they were going to leave their big beautiful home in Nauvoo and go away, and she did not want to go away!

She looked at the clock hanging on the wall, watching the pendulum swing back and forth. Would the clock go with them, and the chair with the big round back? In the kitchen Mother was getting supper. Would they take the stove, the table, and all the chairs?

Where would they put all these things? Yesterday she had gone with her father to the blacksmith shop to see the wagon the blacksmith was making for them to take out west. She knew it was not big enough to take everything.

Betsy’s kitten looked up at her and meowed. She stooped down and picked it up and sat down in front of the fire in the fireplace. Out of the window she could see snow settling on the fence posts like big marshmallows. “It’s too cold to go out west now, kitty,” she said. “Maybe we’ll just wait until it gets warmer.”

For an answer the kitten curled up on her lap, stuck its little nose in the crook of her arm, and went to sleep. The clock on the wall seemed to say, “Sleep-Betsy, sleep-Betsy,” and soon Betsy, too, was asleep.

When she awoke, everyone seemed to be talking at once. Tommy reported that he had tied a halter around old Nell’s neck. Mother said that the flour would have to be brought up from the cellar. Father was hurrying in and out of the open door, carrying supplies to the covered wagon.

“Where are we going?” asked Betsy, but no one stopped to answer. She was cold, so she put on her coat and then just stood and watched. She was standing near her father when he said to Tommy, “It’s too bad you can’t take your pet ram, son. If we could have waited until spring, it would have been different. Then there would have been plenty of grass and water, but now the ground is frozen and there won’t be very much of either. We’ll have to give all of the grain we can get to the oxen.”

“But why do we have to go now? Why can’t we wait until spring?” asked Tommy.

“Because it isn’t safe to stay,” replied Father. “Last night one of the brethren was kidnapped and whipped. We don’t know yet whether or not he will even live. Three weeks ago two families were driven from their homes in bitter cold weather and had to watch their houses burn to the ground.

“This morning Brigham Young met with all of the men who hold the priesthood, and we decided it would save a lot of trouble if we started at once. That’s why we’re going now, son.

“Of course, food will be scarce and the cattle will suffer, but President Young asked everyone to raise his hand and promise to share whatever he had with others. ‘When what you have is gone,’ he said, ‘the Lord will bless you and help you get some more.’ As for your ram, Tommy, someone will find him and care for him.”

Betsy saw Tommy put his hand to his throat as if he were trying to rub away a sob. Father saw too, and put his arm around Tommy as he said, “This is a time when even eight-year-old boys must act like men.”

“But I wish there were something I could take that would be my very own,” said Tommy.

Tommy’s father was quiet for a minute, and then he said, “I guess none of us can take anything that belongs just to us. What we have must all belong to each other. But there is something you can take care of for us, and that is the old flag in the top bureau drawer. Your grandfather carried that flag while fighting for liberty in the Revolutionary War. Go get it, son, and take care of it for us. I think we’ll have need of it someday.”

Betsy knew now where they were going. She picked up the kitten, fearful her father would not let her take it with them. She held it so tightly that it started to meow. It dug its claws into her shoulder, but she wouldn’t let go. Mother saw the tears Betsy was trying to hold back and asked, “What is the trouble, dear?”

“I want to take my kitten out west with us,” Betsy replied. “May I?”

Mother looked troubled. She glanced out of the window at the cow, then out of the door at the wagon, and her eyes seemed to go far beyond the wagon itself. “You know, Betsy,” she answered at last, “we are taking a cow. If there were only going to be our family, I’m sure we would have enough milk for your kitten. But there will be many children with us whose parents won’t have a cow, and these children will all need milk. You wouldn’t want a little baby to go hungry just because you had taken your kitten along, would you?”

Betsy’s eyes widened. “I don’t want to go west. I want to stay here with my kitten, my clock, and my bed.” She sat down in the big chair with the round back where her mother had so often held her when she was only a baby. She tried so hard to keep from crying that her throat ached and her jaws hurt.

Finally she looked up and saw that her mother’s eyes were filled with tears. Suddenly she knew Mother wasn’t happy about leaving their home to go west, either. Betsy was sorry she had acted like a baby. She was six years old now, and that was old enough to act like a woman!

Quickly Betsy got up from the chair, straightened her shoulders, and said, “I want to help, Mother. What can I do to get ready to go out west?”

Her mother smiled, gave her a quick hug, and answered, “You can put all these bars of soap into a box. It will be a long time before we can make soap again.”

At last they were ready to go. Father and Mother sat in the wagon seat; Betsy and Tommy sat in the back on top of the feather mattress, which had been thrown over all the supplies that had been piled into the bottom of the wagon. Old Nell was tied to the back axle and seemed to accept it as her part to walk along at the pace the oxen set.

Tommy and Betsy looked back on their old home. The sheep were still in the pasture. The pet ram was standing still near the gate. Betsy could not see her kitten and hoped it was in the house where it would keep warm. All along the streets they waved to friends and neighbors who were also packing their belongings and who would follow in their tracks before the sun cast its evening glow on the frozen waters of the Mississippi River.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Virginia Sargent