The Flag

Tommy’s father was among those chosen to leave Garden Grove and go to Council Bluffs to build up a settlement there. It was early June. The rainy season was over, and the tall grass would open up just long enough to let the wagons pass and then close up behind them. When Tommy looked back, there was no sign of where they had been.

Betsy often picked berries along the way, and sometimes her father caught a wild turkey for their supper. It was a happy time. The wagon train finally camped on the banks of the great Missouri River.

The next day they moved up onto the bluff where Tommy could look straight down into the muddy Missouri River.

They could get good spring water near the tall cliff that rose straight up from the riverbed and then leveled off into the flat prairie country. It was here that the great explorers Lewis and Clark held their councils with the Indians. It was they who named it Council Bluffs.

Tommy and his father were assigned to build the ferry. Brigham Young wanted a group of men to cross the river and go to the valley to plow, plant, and build in preparation for the Saints’ arrival.

By the end of June the ferry was completed. Preparations were being made for the men to leave for the West when four United States soldiers rode into camp to talk with the leaders.

At noon Brigham Young called a public meeting and introduced Captain James Allen of the United States Army to the people. Captain Allen stepped forward and spoke. “The United States is at war with Mexico. The President has sent me to recruit five hundred men to join the army and march to California.” He had scarcely finished speaking when everyone started to talk at once.

Then Brigham Young arose and said: “If we want the privilege of going where we can worship God according to the dictates of our conscience, we must raise the battalion. I say that not one of those who enlist will fall at the hands of the nation’s foe. I will do my best to see that their families are cared for. I will feed them whenever I have anything to eat myself. The pay that the five hundred men receive will take their families to the valley. It is right for us to go, and I know you will.”

After Captain Allen left, the council held a meeting. Following this meeting, some of the brethren left for Pisgah to recruit volunteers.

Tommy looked at his father and his father looked at him. Neither spoke, but in his heart Tommy knew what his father was thinking. After a few minutes he stepped forward. The boy knew his father was to be one of the volunteers. Tommy’s mother knew it too, and she leaned over and whispered, “Don’t you think the flag your father gave you in Nauvoo should be flying from a tall pole rather than lying in the bottom of the wagon box?”

Tommy smiled and ran to get the flag. His father helped him hang it from a tall tree that had been stripped of its branches. When the Saints saw it unfurl in the gentle breeze, it was as if they had met an old friend who was dear to their hearts, one that had almost been forgotten. After a moment someone began to sing a patriotic song, and soon everyone was singing.

Tommy thought of his great-grandfather, who had died for his country many years before. When the song ended, Tommy’s father said, “It is good for us to remember we have a country. I pledge myself to honor, sustain, and uphold that country as long as I live.”

[illustration] Illustrated by Virginia Sargent