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Mormon Menu

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   Nauvoo Exodus
   First Ferry
   Grand Encampment
   Mormon Battalion
   Cold Spring Camp
   Nauvoo War Victims
   Cutler's Park
   Winter Quarters I
   Florence Grist Mill
   Second Ferry
   Winter Quarters II
   Advance Company
   Mormon Trail
   Kanesville Town
   Kanesville Tabernacle
   Winter Quarters III
   Continued Passing
   Winter Quarters IV
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   Good Questions

Mormon Historical

   Orville M. Allen
   Ezra T. Benson
   Oliver Cowdery
   Orson Hyde
   Alexander Hunter
   J. E. Johnson
   Thomas L. Kane
   Heber C. Kimball
   Jesse Little
   Amasa Lyman
   Henry W. Miller
   James Murdock
   John Neff
   Orson Pratt
   Parley P. Pratt
   Dr. Willard Richards
   George A. Smith
   Joseph Smith
   Mary Fielding Smith
   Hyrum Smith
   Allan Taylor
   John Taylor
   Jacob Weber, Sr.
   Lyman Wight
   Wilford Woodruff
   Brigham Young

"Winter Quarters I"

The area populated after Cutler's Park was known as "Winter Quarters."  The population grew to over 4,000 and nearly 5,000 from late summer 1846 to mid-summer 1848.  The area was on a flat area of land overlapping present day Florence.  Three rows of lots were platted out with First Main Street and Second Main Street between, with First main Street closer to the Missouri.  The main street extended for almost a mile running parallel to the Missouri, which flows slightly southeast, approximately 22 degrees from a true North and South direction.  The streets were wide enough to turn a team of oxen around safely and without causing interference.

Initial preparations

Before constructing living quarters, the Mormons gathered hay and goods, and did every thing they could to adequately prepare for the coming winter.  Tons of prairie hay was collected, stacked and covered in preparation for winter weather.  Hundreds of bushels of berries were gathered along the river bottoms and preserved for later use.  Meat from game was salted and dried. Gathered grain was milled by horse powered mills with the result less than satisfactory.  Although started in October, a grist mill was not operational until the following spring.

Grains and vegetables were a major issue as normally the Mormons raised their own, however, throughout the summer of 1846, they were on a constant move across Iowa, which left farming impossible.  Each camp that existed for any time had some cultivated gardens of which the resultant produce was gathered by later travelers passing the same route.  The Mormons leaving Nauvoo late enough to harvest crops did so at gun-point leaving ripe fields to rot or be scavenged by animals and those that lived nearby.  For many arrivals in Winter Quarters, grains normally raised had to be purchased.  With finances already taxed, many attempted to make do with much less than normal.

Once agricultural needs were taken care of, makeshift shelters changed to log cabins and sod houses.  While men performed building chores, women and children wove fibers and wool to form yarn, wove baskets of reeds and prairie grasses, boiled fat for candles and lamps, milked cows, gathered eggs, and prepared meals.  Everyone had a chore.

Some of the Mormons had traveled west from the modern cities of the east, and were not accustomed to the chores and hardships that accompanied prairie life.  A camaraderie fell in place, and some learned while others taught.  In spite of all the work, the community developed and grew culturally and spiritually.

Homes and Living Conditions

Imagine the difficulty of preparing for winter under the rushed conditions with a suitable home to return to at the end of each day.  Now imagine, the same while living in temporary shelters, camping the entire time, sleeping in shifts in and under the wagon for shelter.  The tasks could only be achieved by the brave, the determined, and having an understanding of a common goal to reach a final home where they could worship without persecution.  To accomplish so much under the strain caused from the common reason that brought the Mormons to gather at this place must have been the ultimate in self stress management.  To continue during sickness, disease, and the great losses within the community is incredible.  After all the other preparations, they now had to build shelters to survive a Nebraska winter. 

Approximately 538 cabins were built of the abundant cottonwood trees from the area.  Often there wasn't enough time to build the ultimate log cabin before cold weather, or the need to help neighbors, or other obligations took over.  Once a cabin had its basic structure up, a roof was added.  Sealing the gaps between the logs was often put off until cold weather had already set in.

Roofs were constructed using straw, willow stems, and sod.  Even though most were around a foot thick and were constructed using a layered shingle method, water often leaked through, with a great likelihood of it being over a table or worst, a bed.  Since most of the cabins didn't have a floor, it was not uncommon to have a couple inches of mud.  Straw was sparingly used to reduce the mess, as once the harvest period was over, straw was saved for the livestock.

Chimneys were also constructed of sod, and if not constructed correctly would not draw the smoke out properly.  Chimney repair often necessitated a total rebuilt as the fireplace area was a critical spot that had to be constructed by the book.  Once cold weather started, there was little chance of a solution before spring.

Some cabins had a single window on the south side to provide some light.  The window panes of glass were a commodity treasured as no alternative offered as much light.  The alternate choices used thin pieces of linen or cloth coated with wax to keep air out but allow some light to pass.  These windows often needed retreating, which could only be done on warmer days in winter months.  Stronger fabrics such as treated canvas were used but allowed less light to pass.

An additional 83 sod houses were constructed, most a simple form that proved only the slightest protection from the elements.  Some survived the winter in caves dug out of the bluffs, or in holes dug into the ground, depending on a wooden and sod cover to keep the elements out.  The earth provides an excellent insulation as any burrowing animal will attest to, however, they do have their difficulties.  The underground homes needed a water sump dug near the entrance to collect any water or melting snow that seeped through.  Heat requires an escape for smoke, and chimneys were rare in these constructions.  The cave dwellers suffered the same hardships as the caves were not immense so all air exchange was through the only entrance.

Overcrowded living conditions put a strain on everyone.  There wasn't enough beds so sleeping was often done in shifts for fairness.  Any leaning place with insulation away from the cold ground was a welcome snoozing spot.

Not all houses fit these descriptions.  The town had several businesses, and as a rule these were the home as well.  Buildings built next to each other offered another layer of insulation.  The store front area heat was reduced at night but it still took a while before the pocket of air on that side of the building was as cold as the outside air.  Two story buildings collected rising heat from the store area below.

Brigham Young's home was perhaps the most elaborate, being two stories tall.  Living quarters were on the second floor, however, the first floor was constantly busy.  It not only served as the home but also the Council House, social, civic, educational, and religious center of the town.

One of the most interesting homes was that of William Richards, who served as the postmaster, and one of the medical practitioners for the community.  The "Octagon House" served as the family home, the post office, doctor's office, hospital, and church leadership meeting place.  Because of its unusual shape, it was called the "Potato Heap."

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