The little log cabin in Winter Quarters was not quite finished, but Orson Spencer and his six children moved into it anyway. They were anxious to get settled before Father left for England where he had been called by President Brigham Young to publish a newspaper for the Church.
Father had told Ellen, who had just turned 14, and Aurelia, who was 12, that they were to be “little mothers” to the four younger children. The baby, Lucy, was only three years old. Their mother had died soon after the family left Nauvoo, so their father ferried them across the Missouri River and then hurried to build the cabin before he left.
He bought eight cows so there would be plenty of milk to drink and enough to sell. They also owned a horse that was to be sold to buy food.
Two of the girls were just recovering from an illness when late in the fall their father said good-bye to them. Friends in neighboring cabins had agreed to help the children if they were needed.
The winter was long, cold, and lonely. Many people in the little community died. Among them were several friends of the Spencer children.
Aurelia wrote in her diary, “We got through the first part of the winter pretty well but it was uncommon in its severity. Our horse and all our cows but one died. Therefore, we had no milk or butter. Our provisions had also nearly given out so that in the spring and summer following we really suffered for something to eat. Part of the time we had nothing but cornmeal, which was stirred up with water and baked on a griddle. Many a night I went to bed without supper, having to wait until I was hungry enough to eat our poor fare.”
Then one day late in the fall of 1847, President Brigham Young went to visit the Spencer’s one-room log cabin. He found it neat and the children clean. Their father had been gone about a year when the Saints began making preparations to start their move to the mountains in the west the following spring.
The children told President Young that their father wrote often to them, making suggestions as to what they should wear, how to comb their hair, what to do if they became ill, and how to take care of each other. They brought out the last letter they had received. After President Young read it, he told them he had a very important matter for them to think about. He asked, “What would you say if your father stayed in England at least another year? We need him there.”
The children looked at each other and then waited for Ellen to speak since she was the oldest. “If it is thought best,” Ellen said quietly, “we would like it so, for we want to do for the best.”
All the other children agreed. They remembered that Father had once written, “Though He slay us, we should trust in Him, and all will be right.”
They had faith in their father, in his counsel, and in their Father in heaven. And so in the spring of 1848, the Spencer children, with determination and grateful hearts, began their preparations to move west with the Saints.