It is very important to look at where our ancestors were are at any given time, and understand their challenges and successes. It is just as important to look at those they left behind. Did our ancestor come to America and leave family behind? Did they migrate west and leave family? Did they join the military, like Levi Savage, and leave family behind? Understanding what was going on with the people that were left behind may give you insight into how the family members that left felt about leaving and some of the worries they may have had about those left behind.
In order to understand Levi better, I have looked in general terms at those he left behind–his parents and his siblings. I have read part of the “Saints in the Wilderness: A Day-by Day Pioneer Experience” by David R. Crockett. This book details what was going on in the various places that the Saints were stationed: In Nauvoo, crossing the plains to the Missouri River, camped on the banks of the Missouri River, in the Mormon Battalion and more. A sampling of the entries are given below for those who were camped on the banks of the Missouri (which is where I believe Levi’s family was). Keep in mind that during the summer wagons were the only shelter available from the heat, the cold, and severe storms.
July 27, 1846: Mention is made of the terrible sickness, likely malaria, passing through the camps. So many were sick in some places that few people were left to care for those who were ill.
August 2, 1846: Luman Shurtliff began working on a house for the winter. “I built my house of rough split logs. We had no lumber, glass, or nails. I had for my floor the earth, for carpet, hay and bark, for a door, split wood, for windows, holes between the logs, and for a partition, a wagon cover.” This is probably one of the better shelters that was available during the winter of 1846 and 1847. It’s no wonder that so many people were sick and died during that winter due to exposure.
August 5, 1846: Severe illness, primarily chills and fever, continued in the camps.
August 6, 1846: Mary Richard wrote that “the misskatoes haveing taken possession of our tent we was [not] permitted to sleep all night”. Mosquitoes are mentioned as being a problem throughout the summer.
August 8, 1846: Lorenzo Snow wrote that a “great number of deaths occurred and it was often very difficult to get their bodies decently interred. In one or two instances, bodies were put into the ground without any coffin or box. Scarcely a family escaped sickness and very few where death did not make an inroad.”
Despite the severe illness present in the camps, there were good times as well. Church meetings on Sundays were spiritually uplifting. Much is said in this book about people serving each other. Dances and other social activities were held occasionally. And the people still found beauty in the word around them. On August 12, 1846, Mary Lightner wrote that “when the camp fires are lit at night is it is a beautiful sight. It makes me think how the children of Israel’s camp must have looked in the days of Moses when journeying the wilderness.”
Did anyone die in Levi’s family? I’m not sure yet–but there is a high likelihood that one or more of them was sick during this time. Did they appreciate the beauty of the campfires, or was it some other beauty that drew their attention? Were they able to write to Levi? Did he write back? While I don’t know the answers to these questions, I have a sense of some of what they may have been feeling or doing based on what others wrote.