The Poor Camp


Every Thursday the people in Winter Quarters gathered at the little log cabin that was used as a post office. Their independent mail service had been established by Brigham Young to serve the Saints living in Nauvoo, Garden Grove, Mt. Pisgah, Council Bluffs, and Winter Quarters. Each week a man brought this mail over a private route to Winter Quarters.

On Thursday, Tommy and Betsy, with their mother and Eliza and Elija, were waiting with the crowd for the mail. As Brother Clayton read off the names of those who had letters, Tommy heard his name called. He couldn’t believe his ears! It was the first time in his life he had received any mail. His trembling fingers tore open the envelope. He was so excited, he could hardly read the letter, which was from his friend Joseph, who was still in Nauvoo.

Dear Tommy,

At last we are leaving. We finally sold our house and land for enough money to get a wagon and some supplies. We will cross the Mississippi River tomorrow.

Nauvoo has not been a happy place since you left. Some of the brethren went outside the city limits to harvest their grain. They were captured by a mob and beaten with hickory goads. No one is safe!

Most of the people have crossed the river by now, but they are still camped on the flats because they can’t go on to Winter Quarters. Many of these people are elderly or sick. Some of them do not have provisions. Mother says she hopes that help will come for them.

I will be very glad to see you in a few weeks. We plan to leave immediately for Winter Quarters after we cross the river. Mother says that maybe we can go to school when we get there. I will be glad if we can.

Your friend, Joseph

That night when their chores were done, Elija and Tommy sat talking with Tommy’s mother. “I’ve been thinking about those people who have been driven across the river from Nauvoo. I wish I could do something to help them,” Tommy said.

“Brigham Young will certainly find a way to help them,” his mother answered. “But right now it is time for you to get to bed.”

The next day, while Tommy and Elija were herding their cattle, they saw Betsy and Eliza running toward them. “Is something the matter?” called Tommy.

“No,” answered Eliza. “We have a message for you from Brigham Young. He wants to see both of you in his cabin right away.”

“Why does he want to see us?” asked Elija.

“I don’t know,” Eliza replied, “but Betsy and I will watch the cattle while you find out.”

When Tommy and Elija arrived at Brigham Young’s cabin, Tommy’s mother was there waiting for them. Brigham Young spoke as they entered. “Boys,” he said, “I want each of you to take a wagon to the poor camp on this side of the river from Nauvoo. Some of the Saints there have been driven from their homes and are greatly in need of food, clothing, and shelter. Bring them to Winter Quarters. You are young for so great a task, but I know you will do it well. Brother Allen will have charge of the wagon train, and you will be under his direction. There will be about twenty wagons. You will leave in the morning.”

Tommy’s mother looked at the two boys. “The girls and I will be all right here,” she smiled.

The long trip to Nauvoo was pleasant. As the boys neared the river, Tommy noticed that the sky had darkened, and he heard the sound of rushing wings. Then they saw thousands of quail flying overhead. Many of the birds settled down on the wagon covers, on the wagon seats, and on the heads and arms of the drivers.

When those in the wagon train entered the camp, they found quail on the ground, in the air, in the tents, and on the people. The birds did not move when touched. Even the sick could reach out and catch one without the quail offering any resistance. The joy of the people was boundless.

“It’s a blessing from heaven,” said one of the men from the camp. “The people here were starving, and the Lord has sent them food.”

Suddenly Tommy remembered hearing how the Lord had sent quail to the children of Israel who wandered in the wilderness long ago.

Just then Joseph came running up. He and Tommy threw their arms around each other in greeting. It was good to be together again, and good to know that all the people around them had food. “It’s a miracle!” Joseph exclaimed, and Tommy nodded in agreement.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Virginia Sargent