Tommy turned over on the straw mattress in the bottom of the wagon box and pulled the patchwork quilt close around his ears. Any other morning the bugle would have blown and he would have been up, but the brethren had decided to stay in Garden Grove, and as a result he could stay in bed this one morning.
But the bugle blew crystal clear after all, right into Tommy’s wagon box. Quickly he put on his shoes, grabbed his coat, and jumped out of the wagon. He met Father coming out of the tent.
“What’s the matter?” Tommy asked.
“I don’t know,” replied his father. “Let’s find out.”
Together they went over to the big bonfire where Brigham Young was waiting for the men of the camp to gather. When they had all arrived, he began. “Today is the twenty-fifth of April and the ground is in condition to plow. We can plant grain now, and by fall there will be a good harvest. If we’re not still here, the Saints coming after us will be able to harvest it. Those who are sick can stay here until they are better. Those who do not have enough food and clothing to go further can stay here until they get what they need. The Saints who come after us can use our houses until they are able to go on.”
He paused and the men were quiet, waiting for him to continue. “I have divided our camp into groups. One hundred will cut logs, 48 will build houses, 10 will build fences, 12 are to dig wells, and 10 will build bridges. The rest, numbering 175, will clear the land of brush, make some wooden plows, and then plant grain.”
As soon as President Young had finished speaking, Tommy ran and told his mother about the new plan. “It’s a wonderful way to help each other,” she said. “Many of our friends in Nauvoo would start out west if they knew there was someplace along the way where they could get food and rest if they were sick.”
“Maybe all our friends would come if they knew this,” said Tommy wistfully, as he remembered the good times with the other boys back in Nauvoo.
“How can we let them know that there will be a house here for them?” asked Betsy.
“I think the brethren will let them know,” Mother answered.
Just then Father came into camp, all excited about his assignment. “I’m going to build houses,” he said, “and Tommy, you’re going to help me!”
“Hooray!” said Tommy. And Tommy’s mother smiled as her two men walked off together.
The weeks that followed were busy ones. Every morning the camp was awakened by the bugle. Everyone started to work as soon as breakfast was over and the morning prayers were said. Within two weeks it was as if the little village, with all its houses, fences, bridges, and wells, had been there for a long time. Around it were acres and acres of land that had been plowed and leveled and planted into wheat. Tommy and Betsy liked to imagine the pies and cakes they might have at harvest time. It had been a long time since they had tasted even a piece of bread made out of real flour instead of cornmeal. They were so tired of corn that sometimes they went to bed hungry rather than eat it.
Tommy was proud of the houses he helped build. They were made of logs stacked one on the other. His job was to fill the cracks between the logs with mud and grass. It was a happy day when Tommy and Betsy moved with their father and mother into one of these houses. There was a fireplace at one end of a large room. Father made a table and some benches for the center of the room and a rough bed frame for one corner. Betsy and her mother made a rope spring by weaving a long, thin rope over the bed rails from front to back and from head to foot until the spring was woven into three-inch squares.
“It makes the bed soft and jiggly,” said Betsy when she sat on it.
“It’s better than sleeping on hard boards,” said Tommy, as he thought of his bed in the wagon box.
When everything was in place, Betsy looked around at her new home. A fire was burning in the fireplace, a pot pie was simmering on the hearth, and a clean cloth was on the table, which had been set for supper. “It’s a beautiful home,” she said. “I hope we can live in it for a long time.”
But Tommy and Betsy only lived in their house for three weeks. On June 1 Father told them, “We must leave in the morning for Council Bluffs. President Young wants us to go there to build houses and plant crops as we have done here.”
Tommy and Betsy looked sad. Mother tried to comfort them, saying, “It doesn’t really matter where we live as long as we’re together. It’s the love that people have for each other that makes a home, not the place they live in. The important thing now is that we show our Heavenly Father how much we love him by doing what he wants us to do.”
When everything was packed and the family was ready to leave the next morning, they sat down for their last meal. Suddenly there was the sound of wagons—many of them. “It must be a wagon train coming to join us,” said Father. And instead of eating, the family went out on the road to greet the newcomers.
Tommy saw some friends in one of the wagons. “Eliza, Elija,” he called. The newcomers turned and shouted for joy and, jumping out of the wagon, ran to meet Betsy and Tommy.
Father invited Eliza and Elija’s family to supper. Mother made a bed so their mother could lie down. Betsy was glad that she and her mother had made the rope springs so the bed would be more comfortable.
That night, before settling down in their wagon-box bed, Tommy said, “I’m glad Eliza and Elija are going to live in our house.”
“I am too,” said Betsy. “It is good they have such a nice house to come home to.”