“October 29, 1853 –The night we lay at or near the top of the divide there fell a deep snow which greatly impeded our progress. After this the weather turned intensely cold and on the second night after, my splendid mule, “Texas,” was frozen to death. This was a severe loss to me and I felt somewhat sad at his loss. He had served me so faithfully for so long a journey.…though his value was very great to me, I cheerfully parted with him as I have for the sake of this kingdom suffered so many sacrifices in friends and relations in Missouri, and in lands, and homes and farms, in silver and gold, in toils and sufferings, that now there is hardly any sacrifice that I know of which the Lord might call me to make, which I would repine at.
“But upon this trip my heretofore indomitable spirit almost failed me. Beneath my accumulated sufferings and three times when lying down at night I prayed to the Almighty that I might never awake to see another morning so great were my sufferings. My feet were badly frost-bitten, my old boots were entirely worn out. I had a new pair, but they hurt me so I could not wear them. The snow was deep and I was obliged to walk…After I had prayed that I might depart and go into the spirit world, in order that I might be free from my great sufferings, then the Spirit whispered, ‘not yet, you have a great work to do on the earth.’”So wrote Elder Preston Thomas, one of the first missionaries to Texas and especially the Brazos valley, as he led a wagon train of Texas converts over the mountains to Salt Lake City. It took them until November 27th to complete the harrowing journey. The following June, Elder Thomas was called to return on yet another of his five missions to the Lone Star state.
July 24 marks Pioneer Day for LDS congregations in the United States. The great saga of the Mormon pioneers typically focuses on journeys along the Mormon Trail from Nauvoo, Illinois, or handcarts from St. Joseph, Missouri, to the Salt Lake Valley. Somewhat lost in history however, are wagon trains of Texans who braved the five-month journey through hostile territory, sometimes offering nearly all the food they had in order to pass safely. As Philip W. Hosking, one of these early Texas converts records:
“Tuesday, July 1, 1856 – We arrived at an Indian town, stretched along the banks of the Arkansas for over 2 miles. It seemed today as if the devil had let his imps loose to destroy our little company. At the lowest estimate there were 800 Kiawas and Comanches and when we nooned the [Indians] came round in swarms, begging... As discretion is the better part of valor we gave them what they wanted [sic].”
The faith and courage of Preston Thomas and other early Latter-day Saint Texans provide a legacy for all who live here. In April, 1857, Elder Thomas concluded a letter to mission headquarters with these thought-provoking comments:
“The field for preaching in Texas seems about as good as it ever was; and why it is that the people receive the gospel more readily in this than in any other of the states of the American Union, I cannot tell…”
God continues to bless Texas!
— President Tom McMullin, counselor in the College Station, Texas Stake