As the Saints arrived in Utah, an immediate challenge was to find places for expected immigrants to live. For survival, pioneer settlements needed to be located in areas that possessed the right combination of water, fertile soil, nearby timber, grazing and a suitable climate to mature crops.
In 1849 Parley P. Pratt was assigned to assemble an exploring party of fifty men to make up the southern exploring company assigned to explore south to the rim of the Great Basin and over the rim to the virgin river area.
By November 23, 1849 the party had gathered at what is now Murray, Utah. The company was divided into companies of ten with captains over each ten.
The men set out as winter was setting in. They faced frequent heavy snowstorms with temperatures often below zero. Every night the men were chilled, some were frostbitten, and they were all exhausted, yet they held prayers, sang songs, heard sermons, and conducted themselves as Saints.
The men struggled for five days on the southbound trip to cross the mountains between the Sevier River and the Little Salt Lake Valley, shoveling head high snow to climb steep ridges and hauling livestock by ropes. They traversed rugged terrain, through deep snow, and cold temperatures reaching as low as 30 degrees below zero to accomplish their assigned task.
On December 26 Pratt left what became Parowan with twenty men on horse back to explore the Virgin River region as thirty men stayed in camp. The Pratt group faced miserable traveling conditions along Ash Creek and over the Black Ridge. They spent an arduous two-weeks in exploring the Virgin River Basin.
The difficulties and sufferings the men had experienced thus far were nothing compared to those faced on their return trip. They started the return journey on January 10, 1850. On January 15 it began snowing and continued all day and night. The wind then blew. On January 18 the party arrived at what is now Meadow. It snowed again all day and night and was still snowing at noon the next day.
The party was in trouble. The animals were given out. Snow piled too deep for the wagons to travel. They struggled on to Chalk Creek the present site of Fillmore. Here half the party and all the wagons remained. On January 21 a select group of twenty-four men set out on horseback to go ahead.
They continued to encounter snow. On January 25 the snow fall covered the bedrolls and no men could be seen. Elder Pratt rose and called to them to arise. They came up together out of their snow-covered bedrolls. Parley P. Pratt said it was as if graves were opened and all came forth. It was dubbed Resurrection Camp.
On January 27, following a bitter cold day and an even more miserable night, Parley P. Pratt and chauncey west set out ahead to ride twenty miles to the divide between Juab and Utah Counties. They were hungry, frostbitten and suffering from snow blindness. On January 29 Elder Pratt went on alone leaving the snow-blind Chauncey West behind. He arrived at Provo just before noon. A provision-laden relief party left within a half-hour of Pratt’s arrival. They found Chauncey West and went on to meet the remainder of the advance party. The last of the twenty-four men in the advance party arrived home on February 2.
The twenty-six men left at Fillmore unwisely began to travel again on January 27. They went back into camp on January 31 and remained there until February 6 before moving again. They got as far as present-day Holden and camped there spending the next three days exploring for the best wagon route.
They made slow progress as they remained in various camps about a week in each. Near Scipio Pass they really struggled. On March 7 they made three miles, the next day only one and three-quarters miles. For the next three days they shoveled snow and double-teamed wagons to a camp named Port Necessity. The next four days they made three miles. They even replaced wagon wheels with log sled runners which worked in crusted snow but failed in soft snow.
On Thursday March 28 at 2:00 p.m. these twenty-six men arrived at Cottonwood at the home of one of their fellow explorers, joseph lazarus mathews. All fifty men had survived.
In the meantime, Parley P. Pratt gave his report to the Legislative Council of Deseret on February 5, 1850. In it he recommended the settlement of twenty-six locations. All but one was settled and many of them within two or three years.
The most immediate result of the expedition’s findings was the settlement of Parowan in December, 1850 and Cedar City in November, 1851, both to exploit the iron ore found by the men of the Southern Exploring Company in the hills west of Cedar City.
Most of the men of the Pratt Company continued to labor and sacrifice in Church and community service. Some soon returned over the trail of 1850 to plant and build the iron mission and others later to establish the cotton mission. They remained willing to go and forsake all for the Gospel sake.