Christmas Day 1847 was on a Saturday, but celebrated by the Saints on the Sabbath. What was the final song they sang that evening?
a. O Holy Night
b. Santa Claus is Coming to Town
c. Silent Night
d. Come, Come Ye Saints
In 1846 mobs began to force the exodus of the 14,000 to 20,000 people who were living in Nauvoo, Illinois. Early in February the first families crossed the Mississippi River and began their march westward. Cold and exposure followed the travelers. By June they were arriving in a settlement called Council Bluffs, Iowa. Here, over 500 strong men were formed into a volunteer army called the Mormon Battalion. They marched 2,000 miles from Iowa to San Diego, California, during the Mexican-American War. Several other men left their families to travel to England as missionaries.
Because the summer months would soon be over and winter would bring additional hardships, Church leaders found a place where all the LDS travelers could gather on the Missouri River. It was situated near Omaha, Nebraska, then an unorganized territory, and was named “Winter Quarters.” Work began, and a stockade was built surrounding the camp as protection against the Sioux and Omaha Indians. Workshops, a gristmill, and a meetinghouse were quickly constructed. Shelters for the cattle, oxen, and horses were erected, and the saints continued to frantically prepare for the winter ahead and the spring’s exodus.
In order to observe Christmas that year, the day started with the firing of the cannon three times by John Scott, captain of the artillery. Although this was a special day, it was a working day. Harriet Young, wife of Lorenzo Dow Young, recorded, “This morning we were saluted from every quarter with ‘Happy Christmas’ or ‘Christmas Gift.’”
The weather was quite warm for a December day. Active labor could be observed throughout the settlement with men building homes and others going about daily tasks such as carrying water from wells and streams, feeding animals, tending children, and caring for the sick. Mary Richards went to her sister-in-law’s house and spent Christmas day washing clothes. Brigham Young and other Church leaders gathered to discuss important business, planning, and organizing so they would be ready for continued traveling in the spring. They needed to get the LDS pioneers to their future home in the Rocky Mountains.
On the end of the day, a few friends gathered quietly with others. A small party was held at the home of Heber C. Kimball. His daughter, Helen Mar Kimball Whitney, wrote that it “was very enjoyable and passed off in fine style.” Eliza R. Snow, Phoebe Chase, Hannah Markham, Hannah Gheen, and Patty Sessions were among the women who gathered at Edwin Woolley’s home.
Late that night, the families returned to their homes, wagons, and tents. The children went to bed after their parents told the story of the Savior who had been born, lived, and died for them. Soft music could be heard around some campfires as carols were sung. Soon, all was silent on that Holy Eve at Winter Quarters.
International Society Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Museum Memories (Talon Printing: Salt Lake City, 2011), 3: 214-216.