Zion’s Camp

Preparing for Zion’s Camp

“To Brigham Young and his older brother Joseph, the Prophet promised: ‘If you will go with me in the camp to Missouri and keep my counsel, I promise you, in the name of the Almighty, that I will lead you there and back again, and not a hair of your heads shall be harmed’.”1

“On Sunday, May 4th, Joseph preached to the Saints in Kirtland, under the shade of the new school house, which was partially enclosed.  Many of those who were to form the “camp of Zion” being present, he impressed upon them the necessity of being humble, exercising faith and patience, and living in obedience to the commandments of the Almighty, and not murmur at the dispensations of Providence.  He bore testimony of the truth of the work which God had revealed through him, and promised the brethren, that if they would all live as they should before the Lord, keeping his commandments, and not like the Children of Israel murmur against the Lord and his servants, they should all safely return, and not one of them should fall upon the mission they were about to undertake; for if they were united and exercised faith, God would deliver them out of the hands of their enemies; but should they, like the Children of Israel, forget God and his promises, and treat lightly his commandments, he would visit them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure” 2

Journey to Missouri

President Heber C. Kimball recorded the emphasis  on prayer when ordering the camp:

“Every night before we went to bed we united in our tent and offered up our prayers before the Lord for protection. This was done by all the companies, at the sound of a trumpet; and at the sound of a trumpet in the morning, every man was upon his knees, each one being called upon in his turn to be mouth in prayer. The same order was attended to in each tent.”3

“I walked most of the journey, letting the lame and footsore ride in my stead. I frequently invited the Prophet to ride, seeing him lame and footsore. On such occasions he would bless me and my team with a hearty good will.”4

“During the entire trip he never uttered a murmur or complaint, while most of the men in the Camp complained to him of sore toes, blistered feet, long drives, scanty supply of provisions, poor quality of bread, bad corn dodger, frouzy butter, strong honey, maggoty bacon and cheese, . . . even a dog could not bark at some men without their murmuring at Joseph.” 5

“In pitching my tent we found three massasaugas or prairie rattlesnakes, which the brethren were about to kill, but I [Joseph Smith] said, “Let them alone — don’t hurt them! How will the serpent ever lose his venom, while the servants of God possess the same disposition, and continue to make war upon it? Men must become harmless, before the brute creation; and when men lose their vicious dispositions and cease to destroy the animal race, the lion and the lamb can dwell together, and the sucking child can play with the serpent in safety.” The brethren took the serpents carefully on sticks and carried them across the creek. I exhorted the brethren not to kill a serpent, bird, or an animal of any kind during our journey unless it became necessary in order to preserve ourselves from hunger.” 6

“This evening there was quite a difficulty between some of the brethren and Sylvester Smith, on occasion of which I was called to decide the matter. Finding quite a rebellious spirit in Sylvester Smith, and to some extent in others; I told them they would meet with misfortunes, difficulties and hindrances, and said, “and you will know it before you leave this place”; exhorting them to humble themselves before the Lord and become united, that they might not be scourged.  A very singular occurrence took place that night, and the next day concerning our teams. On the following <Sunday> morning when we arose, we found almost every horse in the camp so badly foundered, that we could scarcely lead them a few rods to the water. The brethren then deeply realized the effects of discord. When I learned the fact, I exclaimed to the brethren, that for a witness that God overruled and had his eye upon them, that all those who would humble themselves before the Lord, should know that the hand of God is was in this misfortune, and their horses should be restored to health immediately; and by twelve o’clock the same day the horses were as nimble as ever, with the exception of one of Sylvester Smith’s which soon afterwards died.”7

Water Miracle

One hot day in June [1834], after an unusually long, hard day’s travel, over a rolling prairies, without sufficient water laid in for the men and no water encountered for the teams, they made camp on a prairie, the end of which it was impossible to reach or even see.

After tents were pitched and the teams turned out a strong guard had to be placed to keep the animals. Men were very quietly complaining of the location, the lack of wood, and no water to cook with, even if they had plenty of wood. Some teams were about “give-out” and a thousand other little troubles acted out if not spoken of.

The Prophet sat in his tent door watching and listening to all that could be seen or heard. At last he quietly asked for a spade. There was no noise, no bustle, no show of greatness or power about this man who had seen the Creator of heaven and earth and had received from Him at different times unmeasured power only in keeping with circumstances, and as the spade was handed him he measured the extent of the camp with his eye and in the most convenient place for all he commenced to dig in the earth. There was no rock to split open, as with Moses of old, or he could have done that more easily or quickly. But he quietly dug a well only a few feet deep and then left it.

Presently the water began to come in, and it kept rising in the well until the mules and horses came and drank therefrom, as the water was no near the surface. The Prophet went and sat in the door of his tent and witnessed the joy of all, even of the animals, as they quenched their thirst in this God-given supply. There was no wonder or proclamation over the matter, as Brother Cole stated it, and perhaps not a dozen in the camp witnessed it as he, Brother Cole, witnessed it, and he looked upon it as one of the greatest miracles ever performed by man as an instrument in the hands of the Great Creator 8.


“In early July, the camp members were honorably discharged by the Prophet. The journey had revealed who was on the Lord’s side and who was worthy to serve in positions of leadership. The Prophet later explained the outcome of the march: ‘God did not want you to fight. He could not organize his kingdom with twelve men to open the gospel door to the nations of the earth, and with seventy men under their direction to follow in their tracks, unless he took them from a body of men who had offered their lives, and who had made as great a sacrifice as did Abraham’ 9.

The Prophet Joseph Smith later told Brigham and Joseph Young: “Brethren, I have seen those men who died of the cholera in our camp; and the Lord knows, if I get a mansion as bright as theirs, I ask no more” 10

Brigham Young stated: “I have travelled with Joseph a thousand miles, as he led the Camp of Israel. I have watched him and observed every thing he said or did . . . and for the town of Kirtland I would not give the knowledge I got from Joseph from this Journey; and then you may take the State of Ohio and the United States, and I would not give that knowledge for them. . . . This was the starting point of my knowing how to lead Israel.” 11

On another occasion he reported, “When I returned . . . to Kirtland, a brother said to me, ‘Brother Brigham, what have you gained by this journey?’ I replied, ‘Just what we went for; but I would not exchange that knowledge I have received this season for the whole of Geauga County.’”12

Brigham Young

When the brethren were driven from Jackson County, Joseph gathered up 205 men, and went to Missouri to see whether he could not bring about a reconciliation, that the Saints might live then in peace. At that time hosts of Missourians were gathered in different places. True, there were a few in the camp who apostatized, because they could not have the privilege of fight-
ing. So far as I was concerned, I did not wish to fight. Perhaps you will think that I was very enthusiastic, should I tell you the feelings that I had at that time; but they were true, and have remained so with me to this day. Inasmuch as we were called to go there by the prophet of the Lord, though I knew and had a witness of this fact, we were in the midst of our enemies, and surrounded by them on every side; yet my faith then was, and it has continued with me, that they might array their sharpshooters with their best rifles and cannon, and shoot at me, and every other man that felt as I did and do, and they would see me a little to one side, and could never make a ball take effect on me. That is the way I feel now. Unless the Lord wishes to deliver this people into the hands of their enemies, they may shoot at me or any other man—they may fight, and howl, and bark, until they wear out their lungs and exhaust all their means, and will sink down and rot in their own corruption, and we will live and spread abroad. That is my faith.

  1. Brigham Young, Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 1801–1844, ed. Elden J. Watson. Salt Lake City: Smith Secretarial Service, 1968, 8
  2. George A. Smith, Sketch of the Autobiography of George Albert Smith, Millennial Star 29:439
  3. Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1979), 42.
  4. Orson F. Whitney, Life of Heber C. Kimball (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1979), 42.
  5. George A. Smith, Smith, “My Journal,” Improvement Era, May 1946, 217.
  6. History of the Church, Vol.2, Ch.5, p.72
  7. History, 1838–1856, volume A-1 [23 December 1805–30 August 1834], Addenda, Note G • 12–17 May 1834
  8. Oliver B. Huntington, “An Incident in Zion’s Camp,” Juvenile Instructor 37, no. 1. 1, January 1902: 20-21; See also Oliver B. Huntington, “History of the Life of Oliver B. Huntington, Written by Himself 1878-1990,” typescript copy, BYU Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Provo, Utah, 23, 34; “William Cahoon, Autobiography,” in Stella Shurtleff and Brent Farrington Cahoon, eds. Reynolds Cahoon and His Stalwart Sons. Salt Lake City, Utah: Paragon Press, 1960. 81-82
  9. Joseph Young Sr., History of the Organization of the Seventies (1878), 14]” (Our Heritage, 29
  10. History of the Church, 2:181
  11. Salt Lake High Council Record, 1869–1872, 83–84, Church History Library, as cited in Leonard J. Arrington, Brigham Young: American Moses (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1985), 45–46.
  12. Journal of Discourses, 2:10.
  13. JOD, 4:370
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