This article originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 1990 issue of Pioneer Magazine
by Thomas A. Woolsey, a great-grandson
It was a sharp, cold winter day in winter quarters – Monday, February 15, 1847. President Brigham Young called members of his family and seven of the Quorum of the Twelve to an important meeting in his home. It lasted most of the day. He spoke of the dangers of jealousies, how some members of the church thought the Lord loved them less than other members, how some wondered if the Lord was displeased with them because they hadn’t been given an “important” calling in the church, how many had fallen away from the church because they had fears, uneasiness and jealousies.
He spoke of many things that day – encouraging love and harmony among church members.
Toward evening, tables were set for a feast of thanksgiving. Just as the meal was served, two rough looking men came to the door and asked for an interview with President Young. Their beards were long, their clothing was worn and torn. Their cheeks were palid. But the glow of victory shown from their sunken eyes.
They introduced themselves as Thomas Woolsey and John H. Tippets, two of the mormon battalion, who had been commissioned in Pueblo to carry messages and money from Battalion members to their families and church leaders in Winter Quarters.
The journey, through freezing wind, drifting snow, and sub-zero days without food or shelter, had covered 600 miles and taken fifty- five days.
A short recounting of this journey gives an insight into the heart and soul of Thomas Woolsey, one of the original pioneers who came to the Salt Lake Valley with Brigham Young in July, 1847.
Two days before Christmas, 1846, Thomas and John left Pueblo, alone and without a guide.
The second day they passed Pike’s Peak. When they awoke in the morning they were under six inches of snow.
The fourth night they camped on Cherry Creek, near where Denver is now located.
On arriving at the South Fork of the Platte River, they decided to follow along the bank, and passed an old deserted Indian village. An east wind blasted their faces and the temperature plummeted. They were forced to take shelter under the bank of the river, where they slept on the ice. The weather was so cold that six inches of the tail of one of their mules was frozen.
Another day in the unmarked wilderness and they found wood. The fire they were able to kindle kept them alive for three days of blizzard and cold.
They killed a buffalo and feasted like princes while waiting for the storm to subside.
When the blizzard abated they continued their journey. The first evening after setting camp, they started for water, but were driven back by a belligerent buffalo who was guarding the water for his herd.
They followed the river to Grand Island, where a group of Pawnee Indian braves attacked them, captured them, and took them to their camp.
The next day the Indians decided to scalp and kill them. Fortunately, the Indian Chief returned to camp and ordered his braves to release them. Thomas Woolsey, in gratitude, later did the temple work for this Indian Chief in the manti temple. Shethmalan was the name of the Pawnee Chief.
They crossed the river on the ice below Grand Island, then continued eastward to the Elk Horn River. They packed sand in their blankets and threw it on the ice to keep the mules from slipping, and crossed the thin and treacherous ice in safety.
They were stopped by a band of Omaha Indians. A white man was living among them. Brother Tippets asked him if he spoke English. When he answered ‘yes’, the weeks of deprivation, loneliness and hunger spilled over, and he cried, “For God’s sake, tell us where we are!”
They were sixteen miles from Winter Quarters, where they arrived at dark at President Brigham Young’s home.
There were few such journeys of sheer courage and endurance recorded in the history of the Church. To travel alone, in the dead of winter, and follow a blind trail for six hundred miles was a hard and hazardous challenge.
Thomas Woolsey, in the years that followed, remained true to his trust. He was a member of the Mormon Battalion, a scout for Brigham Young, helped settle Southern Utah, fought and fed the Indians. If he had been asked why he went through all these trails, his actions boldly and humbly would have reflected more than any words could adequately express, “For the Glory of God and the heritage of my family!”