This long, straight street runs through old Nauvoo and directly into the Mississippi River where a ferry used to operate. It is easy to imagine the Saints lining up, waiting for their turn to cross the river heading west.
From Parley Street, the river is more than a mile across.
Nauvoo became larger than any other city in the state at the time, even more populated than Chicago.
George Moore, a Quincy Minister wrote in his diary that Mormons had a marriage custom that saved them the cost of a marriage certificate from Hancock County Court–a Mormon elder would marry the couple on the snow-covered ice halfway across the river on the Iowa-Illinois borderline.
From Simon Baker History (one of Nephi Bushman’s other relatives):
Simon Baker had a farm across the river from Nauvoo.
4 April 1845 Simon’s wife died, leaving him with a young family.
5 April Simon found it necessary to get someone to help him care for his children. He was going to Nauvoo to attend Conference and promised his children he would bring them a new mother. While on the way over, he asked a friend if he knew of a woman who would make a good mother for his children. This friend referred him to Charlotte Leavitt, a daughter of a widow residing in Nauvoo. After the morning services of the conference were over he went to meet Charlotte and made known his intentions, then left it up to Charlotte. She consented to go home with him and take care of his children, and if she liked him she would marry him, if not, he should pay her for her work.
8 April the started for his home with this understanding. While crossing the Mississippi River on the ferry boat, they decided that they would marry at once–so, securing the services of Elder William Snow, the ceremony was performed between the two states, Illinois and Iowa, thus saving a trip tot he county seat for a license, as the state had no jurisdiction over marriages performed on the water.
The children were on the lookout for them as they had been promised a new mother. Some of them were on top of the house, some on the fence, others on the woodpile, and by the door. As the couple came in sight, the smaller children ran toward them shouting at the top of their voices, ‘Mother, Mother!”
The Exodus from Nauvoo began here.
Here is an excellent article about the Nauvoo Exodus:
William G. Hartley. “The Nauvoo Exodus and Crossing the Ice Myths.”
Journal of Mormon History, vol. 43, no. 1, 2017, pp. 30–58. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.5406/jmormhist.43.1.0030. Accessed 23 May 2022.
From this article we learn that there are several myths surrounding the departure of the Saints from Nauvoo:
–The notion that almost all of the Nauvoo-area Saints exited for the West in Feb 1846 with the Brigham Young Company, while a minority stayed behind to help finish the temple.
–The notion that most, if not all, of those Saints who departed in Feb 1846 crossed on a frozen Mississippi River.
–The notion that God provided the ice bridge to help the people escape life-threatening mobbing.
–The myth that 9 babies were born the first night of the winter exodus.
The evacuation plan was made in 1845.
The Saints would leave Nauvoo the next spring when “grasses grow and water runs.”
There would be 25 companies with 100 wagons each.
Winter events upset that plan, producing a small exodus in winter, a huge exodus in spring and a tiny exodus in fall (compare to a horse: head, body and tail)
Late January 1846, because of threats of arrest, Brigham Young decided to move the leaders out early.
Between 4 Feb and 1 March about 2000 Saints in 400 wagons crossed the Mississippi into the Sugar Creek encampment on the other side. They called it the Camp of Israel.
It was not uncommon for the Mississippi River to freeze solidly between Montrose and Nauvoo.
The river froze solid on 24 Feb. At 7pm it was 12 below zero.
All of the crossings before that day had been made mostly by ferry boat, with a few by boat or skiff.
After the freezing, the Saints walked back and forth for supplies, errands and visits.
One lad, son of Hyrum and Jerusha Smith, had crossed by boat on 16 Feb and camped at Sugar Creek. He got homesick and went back to see his folks in Nauvoo for a few days. During that time the river froze and he crossed back on skates.
Brigham Young was eager to move on. The ice sheet made it too easy for the campers to go back and forth to visit friends or family members. Some brought additional supplies or livestock back across the ice.
Only about 200-300 Saints actually crossed on the ice, including Cornelius Lott and his family.
During April, May and June, about 12,000 Saints departed and crossed, somewhat disorganized because the Feb exodus fragmented the 25 companies organized earlier. They caught up with the Camp of Israel who had departed 3 months earlier. They’d been on the road only 3 weeks.
By September a few hundred Saints still lingered in Nauvoo and nearby areas. Anti-Mormons forced them out. This was the final exodus group.
The Bushman family was most likely in this last group.
John Bushman said that after the martyrdom, the Saints were “were all in mourning and like sheep without a shepherd.” The Bushman family felt deep sadness as they left their home and the temple.
Martin Benjamin remembered seeing “his parents driven from their home and had to leave there crops in the field and take a few things in their wagon and bid goodby to the city they loved.”
Newbern Butt’s book about the Bushmans states that “Martin Bushman, along with a few others, were asked to remain in Nauvoo to plant crops and harvest them to provide food for the many new members coming from the East and elsewhere to gather with the saints. Bounteous crops were raised, but just as they were ready to harvest, the mobbers moved in and drove the rest of the faithful saints from Nauvoo.”
This story puts the Bushmans into the group of the fall exodus, or those who were forced out at gunpoint in September. However, we have found no other records stating that the Bushmans were asked to remain in Nauvoo to plant crops.
The Bushmans may have been asked to remain to work on the farm because Edward Hunter was advised by the Church leaders not to leave with the first group of Saints. He relates that “I was counseled to remain. Left in the spring or summer.” He also says that when he left his properties he had a “loss of more than 30,000 dollars.” The Bushmans were living on Edward Hunter’s farm during most of their time in the Nauvoo area.
Edward Hunter’s farm property was sold on 2 May 1846. We do not know if the Bushmans were forced to leave their home in May at the time of the sale of the farm or if they stayed in the home for a few more months. The histories from Jacob, Martin, and John share very different tales about when they left Nauvoo, which lead us to wonder what the real story is.
We lived on Bishop Hunter’s farm until the Spring of 1846. And in the Winter of 1846, when the Church crossed the river, we sent a pair of horses and a wagon, all the team we had to help the main party of the Church, not knowing how soon the mob would drive us off. And we had to stand guard night and day in the Spring of 1846. The team came back and some time in June we crossed the river into Iowa and went to a farm of a Mr. Bunells. He had in 500 acres of grain and we helped him to harvest it. There was several Mormon families there to work. And just about the time we got done, the mob drove the last of the Saints out of Nauvoo. We traded off one of our horses for a yoke of oxen and started for Council Bluff with six sick children, all in one wagon.
Martin Benjamin’s accounts were written much later in his life when he was in his sixties and eighties. Recollections of early childhood can be somewhat tainted by the many years that passed by, but his story across his various writings is fairly consistent. His memory is that they did not leave Nauvoo until the fall, with more than one version providing the date as September 1846.
For example, in the biography of his parents he writes, “in September 1846 they ware driven from their homes leaving their crops standing in the fields and everything else. They had only a few things they could put into a wagon.” Another version of his story states, “The worst thing I remember was to see my parents driven from their home and had to leave their crops in the field and take a few things in their wagon and bid good-bye to the city they loved.
John’s version of the story concurs with Martin Benjamin’s statement that the family left Nauvoo in September 1846. He writes: “In Sept. 1846, after assisting the body of saints across the Mississippi River with their only team, the Bushman family of six children were compelled to leave their grain and all they possessed, except what they could take in one wagon.
Bushman Children Visit the Nauvoo Temple
The younger boys remembered that they went inside the Nauvoo Temple with their parents before they left.
Martin Benjamin states that their mother took all the children inside the temple in September 1846, “just before the saints was driven from Nauvoo she thought he might remember some things that he saw wich he did for when he went into other Temples when he was older he see thing there just as he had them in his mind that was in that Temple.”
John remembered the trip to the temple, but he relates that it was Martin who took the children and “showed them the beautiful building which they have never forgotten especially the font resting on the back of twelve bronze Oxen. [they were made of wood]
The experiences the Bushman family had at this place, saying farewell to their home in Nauvoo, and crossing this mighty river, were remembered for the rest of their lives. They made great sacrifices to stay with the body of Saints. More sacrifices were yet to come.
Here is another good article with touching artwork depicting the Nauvoo Exodus:
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