Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate/Volume 1/Number 2/Letter from W. W. Phelps to Oliver Cowdery (Oct. 20, 1834)
Liberty Mo. October 20, 1834.Edit
LETTER NO. 1.
Much as I desire to be faithful in the office which the Lord appointed me, I shall not be able to labor in it till spring: wherefore, to answer your request, I shall send you a few letters relative to the region of the "far west."
My source of learning, and my manner of life, from my youth up, will exclude me from the fassionable [fashionable] pleasure of staining my communications, with the fancy colors of a freshman of Dartmouth, a sophomore of Harvard, or even a graduate of Yale; nothing but the clear stream of truth will answer the purpose of men of God. With that they may glide along amid the tornadoes of persecution, and among the wrecks of departing things, "faithful friends and fearless foes," till "the cities are wasted without inhabitant and the houses without man:" yea, they may live in mansions of perfection, holily, when the epitaph of this world's vanity, may be written in its ashes!
To begin my subject—I shall give a few sketches of the country often called the Upper Missouri; situated in the borders of the vast prairies of the Great West. Very little difference is perceptible, in the upper counties of Missouri, in soil, productions, settlements, or society. If there be an exception, it must be in the position and soil of Jackson. The appearance, soil and productions of Lafayette, Saline, Van Buren, Ray, Clinton, and Clay counties, are so near alike, that I can only say there may be a preference, but no difference. These counties, in general have a tolerable rich soil, composed of clay, fine sand, and black mold, especially upon the prairies. The cultivated produce consists chiefly of small quantities of wheat, large quantities of corn, some oats, hemp, cattle, horses, a few sheep, hogs, in score, and a variety of vegetables, but not to any extent.—Sweet potatoes, cotton, tobacco, and perhaps other plants, grow, in fair seasons, very well.
The face of the country is somewhat rolling, though not hilly, and, owing to the great deapth [depth] of soil, the branches, or brooks, are worked out and present ugly ravines from ten to fifty feet deep; one of the great causes why the Missouri is ever rily. Every rain starts the mud.
Unlike the martial-like wildernesses of the timbered States, except upon rivers and water courses, which are striped and specked with a rather small than sturdy growth of trees, as far as the eye can glance, swell peeps over swell, and prairie lies beyond prairie, till the spectator can almost imagine himself in the midst of an ocean of meadows.
The timber is mostly a mixture of several kinds of oak, hickory, black walnut, elm, ash, cherry, honey locust, mulberry, coffee bean, hack berry, bass wood, and box elder, with the addition upon the bottoms, of cotton wood, button wood, pecan, soft maple, with now and then a very small patch of sugar maple. The shrubbery, in part, is red bud, dog wood, hauthorn, nany berry, hazle, goose berry, summer and winter grapes, paupau, persim[m]on, crab apple, &c.
The climate is mild and delightful nearly three quarters of the year; and, being situated about an equal distance from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as from the Allegheny and Rocky mountains, in near 39 degrees of north latitude, and between 16 and 17 degrees of west longitude, it certainly affords the pleasing hope of becoming as good a spot as there will be on the globe, when the wolf shall lie down with the lamb. The coldest weather comes in December and January, with, hardly ever two day's sleighing: so that sleighs and bells are among the unmentionables of this great center of North America.—February is not unfrequently a mild month, and March so much so, that potatoes planted the latter part of it, are sometimes digable the last of May. April though it has some frost, is the opening season for business, for gardens, for corn, and, in fact, for every thing for summer crops, if you wish a good yield. The spring is often wet, and the summer warm and dry. The fall beautiful. As the October frosts change the green strenght [strength] of summer into golden age, the Indians begin their fall hunt, and fire the prairies, till the western world becomes so full of smoke, that, as it eventually spreads by the fall winds, for all I know, it makes the "smoky days," or "Indian summer," throughout the continent.
The wild game is an important link to the living of many in the west. In the inhabited sections, however, it grows "less plenty;" and where the hunter could once drop the huge buffalo, the surly bear, the stately elk, the sly beaver, and the proud swan, he can now find difficulty in bringing down the deer, the wolf, the fox, the turkey, the goose, the brandt, the duck, &c. while the squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, and many other small animals sport as they please. Of the fish I will speak hereafter.
Besides some common birds to almost every State, the red finch, and the green bodied, gold headed paraquet [parakeet], live and die as habitual settlers. The turkey buzzard, makes this clime his summer house, and goes to other warmer quarters before winter. The crow, the raven, and in mild winters, the robbin [robin], stay here through cold weather, and mostly emigrate to the north with the return of spring.
The honey bee is a large stockholder in the flowers of the variegated prairies; so much so, that when they have not been used up by swarms of bee hunters, they yet form one great staple of the inland commerce of the west. Honey is frequently sold at 25 cents per whole sale, & 37 cents at retail, a gallon.
Among the serpents, the rattle snake, and the copper head are the worst, though not very plenty. That bird, whose image, if not worshipped, has more adorers in this nation than the Lord of glory, for it stands alike in the gold eagle, and silver dollar, and perches as gracefully on the soldier's cap, as on the officer's hat, and appears larger upon the sign of a tavern, than upon the seal of the United States,—I mean the American Eagle is a commoner among the great ones of the west.
But, lest I become irksome on too many things at once, let me turn to some of the advantages and disadvantages, which are natural to the land as it is. It is a great advantage to have land already cleared to your hands, as the prairies are; and there is no small disadvantage to lack timber for fencing, fuel, and buildings. Notwithstanding there are many good springs of water, yet there is a want upon the prairies in some places: and, generally, water privileges for grist and saw mills, and carding machines and clothier's works are scarce. That patriotism, which results in good roads and bridges, labor-saving machines, and excellent mills, is yet dormant. I do not know of a clothier's works in the Upper or Lower country. It costs one fourth or one fifth of our grain to grind it.—Run-round horse mills, or those on the inclined plane order, for horses and oxen, are all the dependence at present. There is a small steam saw and grist mill, of about ten horse power engine, in Clay; a steam saw mill at Lexington and a flouring mill nearly finished, on the Little Blue, in Jackson. It may be supposed, in those States where negroes do the work, that they can saw boards with a whip saw, and drive team to grind in an animal power mill.
Let it be remembered that the most of the land is free from stones, even too much so, for, excepting lime stone, in some places, there are very few if any for use. But suffice it to be, that, with all the lacks and inconveniences, now extant, grain is raised so easy, that a man may live as well on three day's work in a week, here, as on six in some other distant places. It is not uncommon for wheat, when ripe, to be let to cut and thresh at the half. Corn at 20 cents per bushel, and wheat at 40, are, however the lowest selling prices latterly; and I conclude, that from the great quantity of corn and wheat, or flour, necessary to supply the garrison, it will never be lower. So much on things as they naturally are.
Now with all the country has, and all it has not, without witty inventions, let us reflect, that God has made and prepared it for the use of his people, like all the rest of the world, with good and bad to try them. Here are wanting many things to expedite ease and opulence. Here sickness comes, and where does it not? The ague and fever; the chill fever, a kind of cold plague, and other diseases, prey upon emigrants till they are thoroughly seasoned to the climate. Here death puts an end to life, and so it does all over the globe. Here the poor have to labor to procure a living, and so they do any where else. Here the saints suffer trials and tribulations while the wicked enjoy the world and rejoice, and so it has been since Cain built a city for the ungodly to revel in.
But it is all right, and I thank God that it is so. The wicked enjoy this world and the saints the next. They, exercise their agency, and the saints theirs, are left to choose for themselves, and blessed be God that it is so, for it saves heaven from torment, and righteousness from blemishes.
The lacks that seem most prominent will soon sink with the fading glories of perishable things; and then the banks of long continuance will be thrown down, and the rough places made smooth; yea, the glory of Leba-non will come upon the land of the Lord, the fir tree, the pine tree, and the box together to beautify the place of his sanctuary, and make the place of his feet glorious. Then, there will be a river of pure water to gladden the soul of the saint. Then, every man will speak in the name of God. Then, the righteous will feed themselves on the finest of wheat.— Then, the enmity of man, and the enmity of beasts will cease. Then, the vail spread over all nations, will be taken off and the pure in heart see God and his glory. Then, for brass the Lord will bring gold, and for iron silver, and for wood brass. Then, the saints' officers will be peace, and their exactors righteousness: and then the land will be worth possessing, and the world fit to live in.
With all these glories ahead, who would fail to seek them? Who would idle or revel away a few years of fleshly gratification, and lose a thousand years' happiness, and an eternity of Glory? Who would serve the devil to be a demon in darkness, when, by pleasing the Savior, and keeping his commandments, he may be a son of God, in the celestial world, where praise, and glory, and power, and dominion, have an eternal now for space and duration, and the best from worlds to expand and beautify their sublimity? O that the whole empire of God might shout—NONE!—But, it will not be so, for satan spreads himself and copes with thousands that must welter in woe unutterable, where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched. Alas! alas! alas! for their fate! who knows it?
Men of God, from this let us learn to take oil in our lamps from the great Spirit fountain above, and light them in the blaze of that noble fire, where a Hancock, a Jefferson, and a Washington, lit their tapers, that while there is a hope in heaven, or a gleam on earth, we may not covet this world, nor fear death, but, as Peter, as Paul, as James, die for the sake of righteousness, having fought the good fight, and overcome through grace: Amen.
W. W. PHELPS.