Lesson 148

The Trek across Iowa; Doctrine and Covenants 136:1–18

“Lesson 148: The Trek across Iowa; Doctrine and Covenants 136:1–18,” Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Manual (2013)


In February 1846, the Saints began leaving Nauvoo and traveling west across the territory of Iowa. Brigham Young received the revelation recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 136 at Winter Quarters, Nebraska, in January 1847. This lesson discusses Doctrine and Covenants 136:1–18, which includes the Lord’s counsel to help the Saints organize themselves and prepare to continue their journey west.

Suggestions for Teaching

Latter-day Saints cross Iowa and establish headquarters at Winter Quarters

Blindfold a student and place him or her on one side of the room. Then rearrange some objects in the room, making noises so the student can tell that the objects have been moved. Ask the blindfolded student to choose a classmate to provide verbal directions to help him or her get to the other side of the room. When the student chooses someone, ask:

  • Why did you choose that person?

  • How does our trust in another person influence how closely we follow their directions?

Ask the guide to give directions so the blindfolded student will be able to walk safely to the other side of the room. Then instruct the two students to return to their seats.

Invite a student to read aloud the following paragraph about the Saints’ exodus from Nauvoo. Ask the class to listen for ways the Saints’ experience may have been like the experience of the student who was led across the classroom.

Under threats of violence from local mobs, the Saints began leaving Nauvoo in February 1846, journeying west across the state of Iowa. “Leaving Nauvoo was an act of faith for the Saints. They departed without knowing exactly where they were going or when they would arrive at a place to settle. They only knew that they were on the verge of being driven out of Illinois by their enemies and that their leaders had received revelation to locate a refuge somewhere in the Rocky Mountains” (Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 2nd ed. [Church Educational System manual, 2003], 309).

  • How was the Saints’ experience of leaving Nauvoo similar to the experience of the student who was led across the classroom? (Both relied on the vision and direction of someone they trusted to help them reach their destinations.)

  • What can we learn from the Saints’ experience of leaving Nauvoo? (Students may use different words, but they should express the following principle: We exercise faith when we follow the counsel and direction of our Church leaders.)

Invite a student to read aloud the following account about William Clayton. Ask students to listen for examples of Brother Clayton’s faith.

“William Clayton was called to be in one of the first groups to leave Nauvoo and left his wife, Diantha, with her parents, only a month away from delivering her first child. Slogging through muddy roads and camping in cold tents wore his nerves thin as he worried about Diantha’s well-being. Two months later, he still did not know if she had delivered [her baby] safely but finally received the joyful word that a ‘fine fat boy’ had been born. Almost as soon as he heard the news, William sat down and wrote a song that not only had special meaning to him but would become an anthem of inspiration and gratitude to Church members for generations. The song was ‘Come, Come, Ye Saints’” (Our Heritage: A Brief History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints [1996], 71).

Invite the class to sing together the first three verses of “Come, Come Ye Saints” (Hymns, no. 30). (Or contact a student or group of students in advance and invite them to prepare to sing the first three verses of the hymn.) Before the hymn is sung, ask students to look for or listen for phrases that illustrate the Saints’ faith in Jesus Christ and trust in their leaders.

After the first three verses have been sung, ask:

  • How does this hymn illustrate the Saints’ faith in Jesus Christ and trust in their leaders?

Invite a student to read aloud the following account of Orson and Catherine Spencer. Ask the class to listen for examples of the Spencers’ faith and trust.

“After leaving Nauvoo, [Catherine], ever delicate and frail, sank rapidly under the ever accumulating hardships. The sorrowing husband wrote imploringly to the wife’s parents, asking them to receive her into their home until the Saints should find an abiding place. The answer came, ‘Let her renounce her degrading faith and she can come back, but never until she does.’

“When the letter was read to her, she asked her husband to get his Bible and to turn to the book of Ruth and read the first chapter, sixteenth and seventeenth verses: ‘Entreat me not to leave thee or to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest I will go, and where thou lodgest I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people and thy God my God’” (Memoirs of John R. Young: Utah Pioneer 1847 [1920], 17–18). Catherine Spencer died shortly thereafter.

Invite students to sing the fourth verse of “Come, Come, Ye Saints.” Ask them to think about how the words in the verse relate to Catherine Spencer. After they have sung the verse, ask:

  • How do the words of this verse relate to Catherine Spencer?

Invite students to set a goal to exercise faith in Jesus Christ and to better follow the counsel and direction of their Church leaders.

Invite students to turn to Map 6 (“The Westward Movement of the Church”) in the Church History Maps section of their scriptures and locate Nauvoo and Winter Quarters. Explain that because of excessive rain and insufficient supplies, the Saints who left Nauvoo in February 1846 spent four months making the 300-mile journey across Iowa. The group’s pace was slowed because of these conditions and because they lost the services of more than 500 able-bodied Latter-day Saint men. These men, who became known as the Mormon Battalion, had heeded the call of President Brigham Young to enlist in the United States Army to earn money to help poor Church members make the journey west. This sacrifice helped in many ways, but it also left many families without husbands and fathers for part of the journey. Considering this slow pace, Church leaders decided not to continue west to the Rocky Mountains until the spring of 1847. They counseled the Saints to settle for the winter. One of the largest settlements, Winter Quarters, was located on the west side of the Missouri River, in the modern-day state of Nebraska.

Invite a student to read aloud the following description of Winter Quarters and the other temporary settlements:

Many of the Saints lived in log houses and in dugouts made of willows and dirt. Many people were inadequately sheltered from the cold weather. Diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, tuberculosis, cholera, and scurvy resulted in widespread suffering and death. More than seven hundred people died in the camps by the end of the first winter. (See Our Heritage, 71–72; Church History in the Fulness of Times Student Manual, 319–20.)

  • If you had been with the Saints at Winter Quarters, what feelings might you have had, realizing that you would still have to travel hundreds of miles?

Doctrine and Covenants 136:1–18

The Lord counsels the Saints to organize themselves and prepare to continue their journey west

Ask students to scan the section introduction to Doctrine and Covenants 136, looking for where this revelation was given and who received it. Ask them to report what they learn.

Invite a student to read Doctrine and Covenants 136:1 aloud.

  • How do you think it might have helped the Saints to know that the Lord continued to reveal His will to them? (Answers may include that this revelation helped them know that the Lord was aware of them, that He would help them continue their journey west, and that He spoke through President Brigham Young just as He had spoken through the Prophet Joseph Smith.)

Invite a few students to take turns reading aloud from Doctrine and Covenants 136:2–5. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what the Lord instructed the Saints to do to prepare to continue their journey west.

  • How were the companies to be organized?

  • Why do you think it would have been helpful to organize the Saints into groups with designated leaders? How is this similar to the way the Church is organized today? (After students respond to these questions, you may want to write the following truth on the board: The Lord organizes His Saints into groups so that each person can be guided and cared for.)

  • What does verse 4 suggest about how the Saints would receive strength?

Explain that because of sickness and death at Winter Quarters and the surrounding camps, many families and individuals needed financial assistance so they could continue their journey west.

Divide students into pairs. Ask them to study Doctrine and Covenants 136:6–11 together, looking for ways the Saints were to care for those in need. Before students read this passage, explain that the Saints did not all leave Winter Quarters at the same time. The phrase “those who are to tarry” in verse 6 refers to Saints who were to remain for a time at Winter Quarters and the surrounding camps.

  • What words and phrases in verses 6–11 indicate how the Saints were to care for those in need?

  • What word in verse 7 refers to people who prepare the way for others? (Pioneers.)

Write the following definition on the board. (It is quoted from the Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. [1989], “pioneer.”)

Pioneer: One who goes before to prepare or open up the way for others to follow.

  • According to verse 11, what did the Lord promise to those who would help others in need and prepare the way for them? What can we learn from this? (After students respond, you may want to write the following principle on the board: The Lord will bless us when we help others in need and prepare the way for them.)

Invite students to discuss the following question with their partners:

  • Who has prepared the way for you to enjoy the blessings of the gospel?

Ask students to ponder the following question. Then invite a few to share their responses with the class.

  • What will you do to be a pioneer—to help others in need and prepare the way for them to enjoy the blessings of the gospel?

Summarize Doctrine and Covenants 136:12–18 by explaining that the Lord commanded His servants to teach this revelation to the Saints.

Conclude by testifying of the truths you have discussed and encouraging students to act on those truths.

Commentary and Background Information

Doctrine and Covenants 136:7, 9. Preparing the way for others

President Thomas S. Monson taught:

President Thomas S. Monson

“A dictionary defines a pioneer as ‘one who goes before to prepare or open up the way for others to follow’ [Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed. (1989), “pioneer”]. Can we somehow muster the courage and steadfastness of purpose that characterized the pioneers of a former generation? Can you and I, in actual fact, be pioneers?

“I know we can be. Oh, how the world needs pioneers today!” (“The World Needs Pioneers Today,” Ensign, July 2013, 5).

Elder Parley P. Pratt gave an account of what the Saints did to prepare the way for those who would follow:

Parley P. Pratt

“All things being harmonized and put in order, the camps moved on. Arriving at a place on a branch of Grand River we encamped for a while, having travelled much in the midst of great and continued rains, mud and mire. Here we enclosed and planted a public farm of many hundred acres and commenced settlement, for the good of some who were to tarry and of those who should follow us from Nauvoo. We called the place ‘Garden Grove’” (Autobiography of Parley P. Pratt, ed. Parley P. Pratt Jr. [1938], 342).

Doctrine and Covenants 136:8. The Mormon Battalion

In May 1846, Jesse C. Little, a representative of the Church, met with officials of the United States government in Washington, D.C. The Church asked if Latter-day Saints could provide some kind of work or service to the government in exchange for financial assistance for the Saints’ migration to the West. The United States Congress had recently declared war against Mexico, and President James Polk discussed with Jesse C. Little the idea that Latter-day Saint men could enlist in the United States Army and use their wages to help the Saints in their trek. While the Saints were crossing Iowa, the United States Army recruiters asked Church members to serve in the Mexican-American War. At first the Saints refused, but President Brigham Young encouraged men to participate as a way to raise money to gather the poor from Nauvoo and help the Saints move west. Because of President Young’s counsel, more than 500 men enlisted in the United States Army. This group was called the Mormon Battalion. A number of women and children accompanied the battalion as they marched over 2,000 miles to southern California, where they served as occupation troops.

On July 4, 1846, Daniel B. Rawson recorded: “I felt indignant toward the Government that had suffered me to be raided and driven from my home. I made the uncouth remark that ‘I would see them all damned and in Hell.’ I would not enlist. On the way to the Bluffs we met President Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and W. Richards returning, calling for recruits. They said the salvation of Israel depended upon the raising of the army. When I heard this my mind changed. I felt that it was my duty to go” (in Norma Baldwin Ricketts, The Mormon Battalion [1996], 13).