The Mormon Vanguard Brigade of 1847: Norton Jacob's Record

The Mormon Vanguard Brigade of 1847: Norton Jacob's Record

The Mormon Vanguard Brigade of 1847: Norton Jacob's Record

The Mormon Vanguard Brigade of 1847: Norton Jacob's Record

Excerpt

There is, for modern observers, nothing quite like the eyewitness account of a significant historic event. And a first-hand view of a protracted epic is, being so rare, almost more than one can hope for. Norton Jacob, a Massachusetts son born just two centuries ago, penned, over a period of nine years beginning in 1844, one of the finer and more illuminating first-person accounts of the removal of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from the Mississippi River Valley to their new homeland in the West’s Great Basin. From the confusion following their prophet’s martyrdom in June 1844, to the Saints’1846 expulsion from Illinois and initial drive across Iowa’s miry winter bog, to temporary quarters at wilderness’s edge on the Missouri River, and finally to their Great Basin refuge, Jacob’s record explicates a time of singular significance in Mormon history. The chronicle’s highpoint is his daily report of the 1847 vanguard expedition to the West. It is one of a handful of the most descriptive contemporary records illustrating the beginnings of the westward hegira of Mormonism. And though it is, as the noted overland trail historian and bibliographer Merrill Mattes has written, “less publicized than [William] Clayton’s and [Howard] Egan’s [accounts],” Jacob’s diary of the formidable venture “is exceptional in the keenness of observations and richness of detail.” Also found in the account is Jacob’s record of his family’s

1. In the particular genre of westward travel narratives, in contrast to most important historical events or settings, the adventure proved so compelling that “the participants wrote about it like no other period in history, except perhaps the Civil War years.” Still, in the whole of westward emigration, only “one in every two hundred fifty emigrants jotted down the details of his or her journey—either in a diary, in letters, or as reminiscences.” Walker, “‘Written Under Very Adverse Circumstances’,” 4.

2. The 1847 vanguard journey of the Latter-day Saints to the Great Basin was of great importance to Norton Jacob. It is the crux of his story. Of the 124 pages composing Norton Jacob’s record from 1844 to 1852, the six months describing the trek to the Salt Lake Valley and the return to Winter Quarters comprise 44 percent of the extant account. (Another sixteen leaves at the end of the record, apparently containing text, were later cut from the bound volume.)

3. Mattes, Platte River Road Narratives, 101.

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