December 13, 2022

Mary Fielding Smith’s race to Salt Lake Valley

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Mary Fielding Smith had much to overcome in this life. Reading her history it appears as though she could not catch a break, things were never easy for this, faithful woman. With every trial she answered with faith, strength and conviction, knowing that her loving Heavenly Father had a plan for her and would not abandon her.

Mary Fielding Smith is truly a role model of strength, in the face of adversity. Through her hardships she inspires generations of people all over the world. She is one of the most well known women in early Church History and there is so much to her story. Through her stalwartness, faith, determination she shows women what is possible with the help of God. One of the very best stories of Mary Fielding Smiths strength is how she handled the antagonism of Captain Lott, the captain of the wagon train which she was assigned. This wagon train would take her from Winter Quarters, Nebraska to Salt Lake City, Utah.

Leaving Nauvoo

Mary’s family was one of the poorest families and left Nauvoo by the force. A mob of over 1,000 men tormented the last Latter-day Saints in Nauvoo, when the majority of members had left months before. Mary Fielding had to say goodbye to her mother-in-law, Lucy Mack Smith, sister-in-law, Emma Hale Smith and others members of her extended family in Nauvoo, “the city beautiful”. It was not a safe place for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and the ‘Battle of Nauvoo’ solidified that for the Saints, still in the city. It was heart wrenching for Mary and her family to leave, financially and emotionally.

Mary and her family made it to Winter Quarters Nebraska where she stayed for the winter.

Heber C. Kimballs Wagon Train

When time came leave Winter Quarters Mary and her family were assigned to the large wagon train of Heber C. Kimballs, the last big company to leave Winter Quarters that year. This company was assembled on the east bank of the Elkhorn River, Nebraska about 27 miles west of Winter Quarters.

Mary was frantically gathering supplies to prepare for the trek to Utah, but many of her animals had died over the cold winter and she did not have the supplies to easily make it to Utah. Mary’s brother said “A great part of our teams were made up of cows and young oxen that had not been broke, and we were obliged to fix two wagons together for lack of leaders and drivers.” 11 of Mary’s 13 horses had died over the winter in Winter Quarters. Making it necessary for Mary to use wild steers, cows and half grown oxen to carry her family to the Salt Lake Valley.

Imagine the difficulty of starting out the journey as she did. Knowing others were better equipped and prepared. Mary knew it would never get easier and staying at Winter Quarters was not a solution. They had to make the journey sometime, and now was a good time to start. Her desire to make it to Salt Lake was so strong, and she knew the Lord would help her.

She’ll beat you to Salt Lake and need NO help from you!

The problems started right from the start after leaving Winter Quarters. Mary’s group was assigned in the smaller group of 10, with the Captain Cornelius P. Lot, as the captain of the company. He was a challenge for Mary. According to records Cornelius Lott was a good member of the Church, though probably not known for his kindness. Captain Lott had a “get it done” attitude, and Mary seemed to get in his way. He was one of the heads of Joseph Smith’s body guard, strong and capable. His strength did not come through when it came to helping Mary Fielding and her family, and his worst qualities came out with the newly widowed, Mary Fielding Smith.

He was very concerned about their lack of sufficient supplies and told Mary he did not want her along. When she met him at the beginning of their journey he asked her how many wagons she had, she told him 7(probably included her brother’s wagons). He asked how many yokes of oxen, she said 4, plus cows and calves. “This is when strong Captain Cornelius P. Lot informed the widow that he would not help me,” that it was ‘folly’ for her to start in these conditions, Mary recorded. He told her that she would not make it to Salt Lake and would be a burden to the company the entire way.

Mary must have been crushed, after all the struggles she faced! She was simply trying to do what the Lord had asked her to do, gather to Zion. It’s a good thing that Mary did not rely on people, like the “Captain”, to get things done for her. Mary took it upon herself to get her family to Zion. Mary’s history said: “she was silent after the heartbreaking remarks from the captain. Calmly composed Mary told the captain that she would ask for no help from him, and she would beat him to the Salt Lake Valley!”

Mary had a special relationship with her Heavenly Father. She relied on Him and knew it was through Him that she would get the impossible done, like getting her family to Salt Lake with a captain that would not help her. This captain also antagonize her all the way to Salt Lake, making the journey even harder. Through her hard experiences Mary had gained a heavenly conviction, that would carry her through whatever trial she was asked to bare, and it did! Mary was very closely tied to her Savior and it was through that relationship that she made it! Things that were impossible were made possible by her faith in the Savior Jesus Christ! Every struggle brought Mary to new knees, and she spoke to the Savior as a friend, and He answered as a friend.

Mary Continued Anyway

After, Mary informed the captain that she would get to Salt Lake and not need the captains help to do it, it was not easy going. Mary’s two oxen were struggling right after they left Winter Quarters! Imagine dealing with this struggles of not knowing if the animals would make it all the way to Salt Lake, along with the Captain being upset every step of the way. It appears that Mary had steel running through her veins because she withstood it all and came out on top!

Through the journey to Salt Lake Mary and her group fought to keep up with the group. She had multiple problem with her animals! Mary did not let the problems stop her! Each time a problem would occur, her first reaction was to call on Heavenly Father, and the problems worked out! She saw miracle after miracle on her journey! What an influence of good she was for all that could see her faith. She did not let it overtake her, but prayed every time for His help, and received His help!

Race to Salt Lake

When Mary Fielding Smith told Captain Lott that she would make it to Salt Lake before him, she was not joking around. As they neared the valley, tensions got higher between Mary and the captain.

Who would make it the the Salt Lake Valley first? The Widow Smith with her lack of provisions or the Captain with his bad attitude :). When the company approached Big Mountain, one of the last barriers on the Mormon Trail, they could feel how close they were and they were getting excited!!

The decent from Big Mountain and was a hard one! Heavy wagons could overrun the oxen going down the hill, or go off the ledge, it was a scary process. Mary’s son John, who had just turned 16 drove their families 5 wagons down the mountain and they were all excited!! They were so close, almost all the hard parts were over! This last stretch is going to get them to their forever home! It was so close! Little Mountain was the LAST big obstacle and they would be home!

Mary woke up early the next morning, hoping to get an early start, and beat that captain to the valley. The Captain, also, had a plan of his own to make sure Widow Smith did not beat him to the Valley. When Mary woke up, some of her oxen were missing! She is so close, and another set back!

Mary did, what she always did and went and spoke to her God in prayer. She prayed confidently and with faith, she knew her Father in Heaven would help her, and again, He did! The group was able to find their missing animals and start on the trail again, but the wagon train had left them behind hours before.

It would appear that Mary and her group would not beat the Captain to the Valley, but then through a heavenly manifestation, everything changed. The sky filled with dark clouds that landed right over the Captains group and they had to stop their forward progress. Mary, on the other hand, being a couple hours behind did not have any trouble with the storm, passed the group and beat the Captain to the Salt Lake Valley!

It would appear that the Captain also needed a reminder of God power, because what are the chances?! The storm came, after a whole morning of clear sky’s, and only stopped the Captains group, while Mary was able to pass them all!

Every story about Mary Fielding Smith has her praying to the Lord. She speaks to the God of the Universe as though they are old friends. There is example after example of Mary turning first to God before all else. Mary had a firm faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and she taught others to rely the same way on Him.

It’s fun that she beat the Captain to the valley, it would not have been the end of the world if she was second to the valley, but obviously Heavenly Father agreed it was important to help out this wonderful, faithful women out! It was faith building for Mary and the rest of her party, and generations after are able to learn from this experience. (We definitely would not be telling this story 200 years later if she didn’t win:))

Richard G. Scott spoke on answers to prayers in his talk entitled “Learning to recognize answers to prayers.”

He said:

“If you seek His help, be sure your life is clean, your motives are worthy, and you’re willing to do what He asks—for He will answer your prayers. He is your loving Father; you are His beloved child. He loves you perfectly and wants to help you.”(Oct. 1989)

Mary knew God would answer her! She also knew how to give the credit back to Heavenly Father, she could have looked at the storm as a wonderful coincidence, but she knew better. She knew how to recognize the hand of God in her life and share it with others!

Mary Fielding Smith is so amazing!

More articles on Mary Fielding:

Mary Fielding Smith, things everyone should know!

Mary Fielding Smith Documentary

“Miracle of the Quail”

Places to Visit when Learning about Mary Fielding Smith:

Birkshire, England-Mary was born, and found the missionaries.

Kirtland, Ohio-Where she met her husband, Hyrum Smith.

Liberty Jail- Mary’s husband Hyrum was jailed here while she had her first baby.

Nauvoo, Illinois-her family lived when her husband died.

Winter Quarters- where Mary’s family stayed waiting to go to Utah

East Bank of the Elkhorn River- where the companies were assembled for the trek to Utah.

”This is the Place” Park Salt Lake City Utah- her home from Millcreek is moved there.

Salt Lake City Cemetery- where Mary is buried, next to her sister.

Big Mountain “Mormon Trail”, Salt Lake City Utah- the last stretch of Mormon Trail before SLC where the storm came and slowed company down.


”Mary Fielding Smith, daughter of Britain” by Don C. Corbett

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