The crossing occurred with the help of flat-bottomed ferry boats, designed to carry one wagon and propelled by paddle wheels. Later during a brief period the river froze, which allowed the wagons to cross the river on the ice.
Many sister Saints in Nauvoo picked out only those items from their homes that they thought would be necessary for the long march west, leaving many personal treasures and furnishings behind. One item that many sisters fortuitously took was paper or journals and ink. For some it may have been the last few cents they owned which purchased these items. For other, it was a gift from a friend.
Patty Bartlett Sessions began a "day book" in February 1846, just two days before leaving her home to cross the river for Iowa. She wrote on that day, "A Day Book given to me Patty Sessions by Sylvia Lyon on this 10th day of Feb. 1846. Patty Sessions her book. I am now fifty one years, six day, old. February 10, 1846, City of Joseph, Hancock County, Illinois."
She continued her first entry, "My things are now packed ready for the west, have been and put Richard's wife to bed (as a midwife she had delivered a baby) with a daughter. In the afternoon put Sister Harriet Young to bed with a son." On the following day, she made herself a "cap, and in the evening went to the (Seventies) Hall to see the scenery of the massacre of Joseph and Hyrum Smith.
On 12 February, Patty and husband bade her older married children and "friends good-bye and started for the west," seeking refuge from the rising storm of anti-Mormon activity in Hancock County.
The first night on the trail was pleasant, providing a time to relax from the busy rush of leaving the city. She noted on 13 February, "attended prayers in our wagon and have eaten our own breakfast." On Valentine's Day, Patty wrote:
This morning it snows. Sister Oakly has set up all night because her wagon did not get across the river. I gave her and Marianne and Carlos Murray some breakfast. We are not ready to leave the bank of the river (and) go to the other camp. Three o'clock--we have arived to the other camp on Sugar Creek. It has just (stopped) storming. The ground covered with snow and water and is very bad underfoot. Attended prayer in Father John Smith's tent.
The following day was Sunday, and time was taken to write letters to family members still in Nauvoo and to visit other sisters in the camp. The Sessions did not yet have a tent. On 19 February she noted, "It snows hard, the wind blows and no tent yet." Soon cloth arrived for the flaps, but "no twine to sew it with." On 23 February canvas arrived, and Patty began to sew it for the tent. Two days later, she trudged through the snow to "put Jackson Redding wife (Jane Whiting Redding) to bed."
A few days later, John Scott's wife had a miscarriage, and Patty helped all she could to care for and comfort her. When one of the companies moved from Sugar Creek on 29 February, Patty and her husband went along. Within a few days they lost their cow, and Patty was forced to take over driving the wagon as her husband went to look for it. On 6 March Patty backtracked ten miles to helpher daughter. She wrote, "I go back ten miles" to see Sarah Ann, who was "sick." Two days later, Sarah Ann delivered a son. Patty's children's families were now catching up with them. By 9 March Patty and her family were sixty miles from Nauvoo: "Everyone together . . . but our cow." . . .
. . . A young teenager, Mary Ann Stearns, reported that she left the city on 14 February 1846. She wrote:
Our teams crossed the Mississippi and started westward, six emigrant wagons . . . (including) a one-horse wagon . . . with little Parley driving Old Dick. Mother had arranged for her wagon quite comfortably. Grandfather Frost had made some chests to fit the wagon in which were packed all that was in wisdom to take with us and on which our bed was made. . . . Most of our provisions were in the big wagon, but mother had a goodly supply cooked and along with us ready for immediate use.
Though time does change some things, not so for all--the children "commenced calling for (the goodies) as soon as we had gotten fairly started." Soon the family crossed the river on a ferry boat, when "it commenced snowing." As they "traveled along we passed camp after camp of the Saints just by the roadside, sitting around the campfire with the snow coming down in great flakes. . . .
. . . One sister, a sixty-year-old woman, Mother McArthur, was never forgotten by young Mary. She was "seated by her campfire with an umbrella over her head and the bread pan in her lap, making some of her good biscuits," Mary vividly recalled. Her husband, standing close by, asked the family, "Won't you stay to dinner?" The family, however, continued its journey through the snowfall. sister McArthur, "with smiling face said, "We'll overtake you before long." . . .
. . . While many Saints made their preparations to leave Nauvoo, Louisa Barnes Pratt wondered what to do, as her husband, Addison, was on a Church mission in the Pacific Islands. Without his support and without any other relatives in town, she felt overwhelmed by the call to leave Nauvoo and asked Church leaders for advice. Brother Brigham responded cheerfully, but clearly, "Ox team salvation is the safest way."
Louisa questioned why "those who had sent my husband to the ends of the earth did not call to inquire whether I could prepare myself for such a perilous journey." She was told:
"Sister Pratt, they expect you to be smart enough to go yourself without help, and even to assist others. The reply awakened in me a spirit of self-reliance." I replied, "Well, I will show them what I can do."
Determined to go it alone, Louisa outfitted a wagon and drove out of Nauvoo feeling
"comparitively happy." . . .
Holzapfel & Holzapfel. Women of Nauvoo, pp 160-165. Bookcraft, SLC, UT 1993.