Crack of the Whip


Tommy and Betsy were down at the creek scrubbing the breakfast dishes with clean white sand when they heard Brigham Young call the Saints to the central square. They barely had time to rinse the dishes in the boiling water their mother had ready before the five thousand people at Sugar Creek camp gathered to hear what Brigham Young, their leader, had to say. His message was brief: “I propose to go forward on our journey. Let all who wish, follow me.”

Tommy was jubilant. He grabbed Betsy by the hand and whirled her around, saying, “We’re going out west. At last we’re going out west.” Suddenly he stood still and said, “We can’t go out west now! Pa isn’t here.”

Tommy’s mother could see the disappointment in his face. “Your father will probably be here by noon tomorrow,” she said. “He expected to finish up his work in St. Joseph today, and if we have everything ready, we can leave as soon as he arrives.”

Tommy felt better, and by the time President Young gave the signal for the long train of five hundred wagons to start moving, he and Betsy happily waved good-bye to many of their friends and neighbors. When the wagon train was out of sight, they hurried back to ask Mother what they could do to get ready to go.

“You can churn,” Mother told Betsy.

The wooden churn was like a small barrel with a lid on it. Through the hole in the center of the lid Betsy pushed the handle of the dasher up and down until the cream was churned into yellow butter.

While Betsy was churning, Tommy filled the water barrel and secured it to the outside of the wagon so the family would have fresh water to drink when they could not camp by a spring or near a river. As Tommy was coming up from the creek, he saw a wagon drive into camp.

“It’s Pa!” he cried, and he dropped the bucket he was carrying and ran to greet him.

“Can we go out west now you’ve come?” questioned Tommy. “Over half of the people have already gone.”

“I’ll have to finish my churning before we can go,” said Betsy.

“And we must wait until the bread is baked,” added their mother.

Tommy’s father laughed. “I guess we won’t be going this afternoon,” he answered. “I bought another wagon and yoke of oxen in St. Joseph. That’s why I was able to return today; the men I went with won’t be back until tomorrow. The wagon is loaded with corn and wheat, and we must fix a cover to put over it.”

“Who’s going to drive the new wagon?” asked Tommy.

“I think your mother can drive it,” replied Father.

“I could drive it,” said Tommy.

Tommy’s father did not reply for a moment; then he said, “I think you could. We’ll let you try.” And before the oxen were unhitched from the wagon, Tommy’s father taught him how to hold the reins and how to crack the whip so as to startle the oxen but not to hurt them.

Tommy was so anxious to drive the oxen that he worked all afternoon so they could be sure to start early the next morning. He soaked in the creek the six strips of special wood his father had brought from St. Joseph. When they were soft and pliable, he helped Father secure them to one side of the wagon box, bow them over, and secure them to the other side. Together they lifted the big canvas cover up and over the top of the bows and stretched it tightly before securing it to each side.

Afterwards Tommy helped his father make a long deep grub box, and together they secured it to one side of the wagon. The small chicken coop Father had brought from St. Joseph was attached to the other side for the six hens he had brought with him. Betsy hoped that one of the hens would want to set so they could have some baby chicks.

Betsy and her mother packed the grub box with the dishes and the food they would use each day, then hung the big iron kettles on the outside of the wagon. When the dough was ready, Mother rolled some of it into loaves and Betsy made some biscuits to be baked over red hot coals in the dutch oven. When the biscuits were light and fluffy and toasty brown and the family was just getting ready to eat supper, the sound of music filled the air.

“It’s Pitt’s Brass Band!” exclaimed Tommy.

“So it is,” cried his father. “Let’s invite some of them to share supper with us.” He grabbed Tommy’s hand and started running toward the Nauvoo Road. Most of the two thousand people left in Sugar Creek joined them to greet the band.

When the band leader saw Tommy’s father, he handed him a trombone. Tommy was happy when his father started to play, for it reminded him of the good days in Nauvoo when Father was still a member of the band, before he had sold his trombone. The band marched straight to the square and the people followed like a giant parade, keeping step to the music. After the band members had eaten a warm meal, they gave a concert in the square.

The next morning Tommy got up especially early. He was too excited to sleep, thinking about driving the oxen. Finally the wagons were ready and he climbed onto the seat by the side of his mother to wait for the signal that would start the small train of thirty-two wagons toward the West.

At last the signal came. At that moment the band started to play, and with a flip of the reins and a crack of the whip, Tommy’s wagon began to move. The people in the wagons started to sing, and they did not stop until they reached the main camp of Israel ten miles away.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Virginia Sargent