Latter Day Saints' Messenger and Advocate/Volume 1/Number 4/Letter to Oliver Cowdery from W. W. Phelps (Nov. 13, 1834)


Liberty, Mo. Nov. 13, 1834.


As time is a succession of seconds, so is my letters a continuation of sketches respecting the western world. Before I proceed to give a description of the garrison, let me say a few words upon the sublime sight of seeing the burning prairies.—When the grass and weeds are sufficiently dry, the Indians fire them, and generally in a ring, to catch deer; should the dear attempt to escape at the opposite course of the winds, they are instantly shot down: But the grandest part of the scene, is to see the fire keep speed or flight, with the wind, leaping or lapping over six or eight rods at a bound in frightful majesty, with a terrific roar, not unlike a whirlwind, while immense columns of smoke rise and roll off, in festoons and flounces, as independent as if the world was a coal-pit, and the sky a smokehouse. So the smoke days come. The northern Lights some times appear beautifully grand, but never more so, than does the burning prairies in the evening, when the sky is hid by clouds, and the spectator near enough to observe. I slept one evening within half a mile of a prairie on fire, with little or no wind. The scene was magnificently grand, especially when the red coals, glaring all their various images upon the clouds, as clouds are reflected in water, died away into the deep gloom of mid-night. At about this time, the dampness of the night generally quells the fire, and the scene, like one after a bloody battle, changes into solemn gloom. After the fire has left the ground black with horror, the Prairie Hens, a spiecies [species] of foul of the grouse kind nearly the size of common hens, begin to pass from their desolate regions to the woods, or cornfields, where they and the wild turkies [turkeys], are not unfrequently as bad as hogs in destroying the crop. But I must leave these for Cantonment Leavenworth.

About 30 miles westerly from Liberty; 20 from the boundary line; near 300 from St. Louis, and, say, 1200 from the city of Washington, upon a very handsome bluff on the west bank of the Missouri river, a few miles north of the 39th degree of north latitude, and between 17 and 18 degrees of west longitude, stands Cantonment Leavenworth. It was established by, and named after brigadier General H. Leavenworth, of the State of New York; late a compeer of Gen. Erastus Root, but since the late war with Britain, one of the most efficient officers of the army. He died about 180 miles west of Fort Gibson, Arkansas Territory, last summer, of a fever, and was buried at Cross Timbers.

This military post is the rendezvous of the troops that guard the western frontier of Missouri, and, at present, is the location of the three year's dragoons who patrol in the neighborhood of the Rocky Mountains, among the various tribes, to protect the Indian Fur trade, so extensively carried on by the American Fur company, North west Fur company, and a number of private companies, and other purposes. About 200 dragoons, under the command of Col. Dodge, a very worthy officer, as far as I have learned, especially, so far as relates to his excursion among the Camanches, Kioways, Pawnee Picks, &c. last summer, have come into winter quarters at this garrison.

This town, for such is the appearance of Cantonment Leavenworth, after you rise the hill, or bluff upon which it stands, consists of one stone block for the Colonel and staff; three blocks for company officers; four for company quarters, and a hospital for the sick, together with other appendages for other purposes. Though you may perceive, at first view, a few pieces of cannon, some sentry boxes, and sentinels, yet Cantonment Leavenworth is without walls; and while the thought may come into your mind that "men of war live here," yet when you see the fair faces of some of the officers' ladies, you will know, that the garrison, is not without woman to share in the glories and troubles of life, and set a sample for the fair, that regale in ease at the east, that women can wend their way to the west, "with all their charms page 50 to soothe the Indian" and live and die, unknown to thousands.

Few places in north America present to the eye, grander views than Cantonment Leavenworth. At from three to five miles westerly, peer up a flock of little mountains, Saul-like, a head and shoulders above the great army of prairies, that spread themselves, with here and there a streak or spot of timber, to the base of the Rocky Mountains. Their bold headed grandeur, however, is such a strong argument in favor of age that I am just credulous enough to believe that they have not changed their appearance much, since the crucifixion. Again, as you look around, the Missouri, old muddy-face, in power, in might, and in dominion, not only, as I said in my last, the President of rivers, but the Emperor of many waters, upon which steam-boats, may navigate two thousand miles, parts the great west into two countries, and passes into the gulf of Mexico, as speedily as time flies into eternity.

A word or two upon the worth or growing importance of this garrison, may not be improper. It is the outermost civilized post of note in the west, and while the United States gathers the scattered remnants of the Indians, and locates them in this section, and keeps this post filled with troops to guard them, &c. an immense sum of money must be expended in the upper counties to furnish the troops, the Indians, and others, with provisions, fodder and other necessaries. The bill for the subsistence of the garrison only, as advertized last summer, was as follows, viz: "270 barrels of pork; 560 barrels of fresh superfine flour; 245 bushels of new white field beans; 3960 pounds of good hard soap; 1800 pounds of good hard tallow candles; 900 bushels of good clean dry salt; 1000 gallons of good cider vinegar;" and for the 200 horses, in addition," 2800 barrels, or 14,000 bushels, of corn, and 500 tons of prairie hay:" all of which cost between 16, and $17,000, besides the pay of the men; much of which is expended in this region. I will also mention the fact that this place has a post office, which is very consequential, for the mail being obliged to be carried weekly, keeps open a communication, and a channel which will always distribute money as long as the United States station men, & pay them.

One great object of this garrison, is to keep the various tribes of Indians in subjection, and to assist the Government, in bringing them to terms of peace, and as far as is practicable, civilize them. Here can be learned a solemn lesson of the fallen greatness of one once powerful people, for the instruction of another that time may teach to "go and do likewise." Within four miles of this place, the Kickapoos have been located, and here they and their prophet, are beginning to "light up a smile in the aspect of woe," 'that the Son of the Father will soon come and bless the red-man, as well as the white-man; that the red man's last days may be his best days, and that he, instead of being thought to be the worst man, will become the best man of the great Father's family.' About twenty miles from this post, the Delawares, and Shawnees, sit in darkness waiting patiently for a light to break forth out of obscurity, that they may know of their fathers, and of the great things to come. Still further, and southerly, among what may well be called the "Biscuit-loaf" hills, are the Kansas, or as they are generally termed, the kaws, included in unbelief, lingering away the time till a nation can be born in a day: and so of many other tribes.

I pray God, that as the knowledge of the Savior has come into the world, that his work may go forth until the knowledge of his people, the Nephites, and the Jacobites, and the Josephites, and the Zoramites, shall come to the knowledge of the Lamanites, and the Lemuelites, and the Ishmaelites, that the earth may know, and the heavens rejoice, that the mouths of the prophets shall not fail. That the saints may enjoy their glory; and rejoice with the angels, that God is God; that Christ is Christ; that Israel is Israel; that Gentile is Gentile, and that wickedness never was happiness, but that pure religion, whether it was glorious in the sacrifice of Abel, or righteous in the offering of Abraham, or meekness in the power of Moses, or valor at the hand of Joshua, or justice in Jepthae or virtue in John, or obedience and submission in the apostles is, and ever will be "DOING GOOD!"

As I gave, in my first, a general description of the country; and have sketched the "Land of Israel" in my page 51 second, I feel as if I had said about enough in my third respecting the garrison, and will close by saying a little about doing good: Doing good for God, without vanity, without sordid selfish motives, and without the hope of fame, wealth, or earthly power. Beloved of the Lord, and friends that may be reconciled to him, religion, when defined doing good, fills the Poets description:

"Religion! what treasures untold,

"Reside in that haavenly [heavenly] word;

"More precious than silver or gold,

"Or all that this world can afford!"

The world was made for doing good; man was made for doing good, and woman was made for doing good, and if they had remained in their first estate, they would still be doing good; but they have fallen, and though ages have told many unworthy deeds, and showed the folly of millions; yet, with sorrow, be it said, man is still in darkness and transgression: And long will it be, without repentance, and doing good, before he will hear that holy sentence spoke by God, in the garden of Eden, amid the "Morning stars," and all his sons, all is "very good."

How many are there, that have been for centuries where glory never was, that would give worlds, if they would, to come forth and rejoice with joy unspeakable into the mansions of bliss? How many are there, that may yet be gathered into the fold of the blessed, and saved from weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth in outer darkness? The records of eternity will tell! Then, ye servants of God, advise the great family of this globe, to do good: That the father's care; the mother's tenderness; the act of kindness; the deed of charity; the husband's joy; the wive's virtue; love to God; yea, our being's end and aim, should be—doing good! All this, that some may be convinced by the truth, and know that the Spirit of God is an index to eternal life. To the end of our lives, let us please God, that we may be quickened in the resurrection, and become angels, even Sons of God, for an eternity of glory, in a universe of worlds, which have ever taught, and will forever.

Teach mankind, as they shine.

God's done his part,— do thine!

As ever,

W. W. Phelps.