In the dead of a Winter Quarters winter, William Miller traded his only coat for what?
a. A dugout
d. An original Book of Mormon
(C) George A. Smith
It was tough times early in 1849 in Great Salt Lake City. Mercantile goods were scarce and what was available was not cheap, having to be freighted from the East. For the early citizen of the Provisional State of Deseret, money was in short supply, crickets and grasshoppers had done considerable damage, crops were meager and nothing to rave about, and their Indian neighbors were becoming testy.
All things considered, morale was a mite low and the community, such as it was, was in need of some encouragement. At a Sunday meeting in April, one of the speakers was Heber C. Kimball, a member of the First Presidency of the Church and who was, next to Brigham Young, the most powerful man in the valley. No one ever dozed when Kimball spoke; he was well known for saying things to capture an audience’s attention, for he minced no words in speaking his mind.
Kimball in ’49 had not yet reached full stride as a pulpit-pounder, but he had a knack for making a point. Some said he was coarse and listened to him tight-lipped, but on this Sabbath he was moved to inspire those around him, to lift their spirits. They were down, they were hungry, and they barely had clothes on their backs. Matter-of-fact, almost every man in the congregation was clad in animal skins of one sort or another.
Kimball stood, and after a few opening words came to the point: “Never mind, in less than a year there will be plenty of clothes and everything that we shall want will be sold here at less than St. Louis prices.”
Charles C. Rich, a fellow apostle sitting nearby, was astonished at the remark: “I don’t believe a word of it,” Rich said, in what may have been a crowd consensus. George A. Smith, also an apostle, looked up and said, “Brother Kimball, you have burst your boiler this time sure.” Kimball was somewhat startled himself. As he sat down, he muttered he was “afraid he had missed it some.”
When the first gold seekers strode from Emigration Canyon that June morning, Heber C. Kimball’s extravagant prediction began coming true—in spades. The Mormons were about to reap a most welcome and completely unexpected harvest. Every mule in the valley suddenly increased tenfold in value. A light Yankee wagon could be traded for three or four heavy Murphy models with a yoke of oxen to boot. The Argonauts were consumed with a desire for speed. Common domestic muslin, which sold for five to ten cents a yard in St. Louis, was offered by the bolt at the same price to Mormons in trade for green vegetables. The finest in spades and shovels went for fifty cents each as the ‘49ers trimmed their baggage.
Full chests of joiner’s tools, priced at $150 in the East, traded for $25. Smaller merchants, hoping to deal in the goldfields, switched from wagons to pack horses in Great Salt Lake City, and found it expedient to leave whatever could not easily be rolled into a bundle or tied safely onto a pack animal. . . .
. . . . Benjamin Johnson was in his field when he saw a company of Argonauts roll from Emigration Canyon. “Almost their first inquiry was for pack saddles and fresh animals in place of their jaded ones.” Johnson recalled. “I traded them a jack and a jenny and began the making of pack saddles, rigging them with rawhide. And Oh! What a change! I could get flour, bacon, sugar, rice, soap, tea power, lead, tobacco, soap, the finest clothing, with wagons and harness, in exchange for pack outfits, which I could supply in quantity.”
Chapman Duncan started bargaining with one yoke of oxen, and by autumn had two yoke of oxen, two colts, two mules, and one horse. Gorge Morris found that after some haggling he would take two large footsore oxen, a third ox and $10 in trade for his smaller team of two oxen. Then he turned his newly acquired livestock to run loose in marshy grass for a few weeks salving their sore feet. Thus refreshed, the animals attracted other travelers who offered two yoke of oxen, $15, and a $110 wagon for Morris’ three oxen. By the end of the tourist season, Morris owned five yoke of oxen, a wagon, four cows, plus clothing, boots, shoes, bread, and groceries enough to make this family more comfortable “than we had ever been before.”
Zadok Judd parlayed two horses and a proper reluctance into trades that brought him three yoke of cattle, a good wagon, a cook stove, a dozen shirts, a silver watch, some tools, and a half-barrel of pork.
One gold seeker went to Benjamin Johnson’s home late on a Saturday night, insisting he could not wait until Monday, for his party was leaving at sunup. Johnson labored the night through until time for church to make up the order. The immigrant gave Johnson three sets of harness and a new wagon “with more camp outfit, clothing and goods in it than a fair price to pay four-fold for my work. When they got what they wanted, the gold seekers cared for nothing they had to leave.”
Chronicles of Courage, Lesson Committee (Salt Lake City: Talon Printing, 1996) Vol. 7, 69-71, 72.