Mormon Battallion and Winter Quarters

“From the Mormon point of view, the decision to move across the Missouri seemed the most desirable. Two events soon closed the matter. On June 27, Capt. James Allen arrived in camp with a message from President James K. Polk asking for five hundred Mormon volunteers to join Gen. Stephen S. Kearny and the Army of the West marching on Mexican territory now that the war had been declared. Such a request, besides providing the Saints with some desperately needed cash, gave Brigham Young a reason to claim that the loss of five hundred able-bodied men would stall the exodus. Young thus agreed to form a Mormon battalion if he received permission to winter on Omaha and Potawatomi lands. Allen agreed,  Young next turned to the Indians for permission to remain. Big Elk, the aging chief of the Omaha, his son StandIng Elk, a half-breed interpreter named Logan Fontenelle, and about eighty tribesmen were called to council by the Saints on August 28. Young put forth his case, intimating government approval, and asked for ‘the privilege of stopping on your lands this winter or untill [sic] we can get ready to go on again.’ In return for this privilege, the Mormons offered to construct a trading house, plant crops, and establish a school. Big Elk accepted the terms largely because the well-armed Saints offered protection from their enemies, the Sioux. The treaty, of course, was extralegal. The Mormons also negotiated a similar agreement with the Potawatomi and then sent both ‘treaties’ to the Office of Indian Affairs and to the President with the request that they be given official permission to remain.

“Brigham Young did not wait for an answer. By the end of August, ‘Winter Quarters of the High Council of the Camp of Israel’ were officially located on Omaha lands. Large groups of Saints moved across the Missouri at a spot about eighteen miles above Bellevue and began laying out a town on the table land just above the river. Other villages were constructed in the same general vicinity, as well as one on Potawatomi lands on the Iowa side. In all areas log houses went up, cattle were put to graze, and a substantial quantity of timber was cut for the coming cold weather.”