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Theodore Turley: A Biography
Richard E. Turley, Jr.

[This is another in a continuing series of newsletter articles that together will make up the first rough draft of a biography of Theodore Turley. The draft will undergo considerable revision before being published in book form. I invite all family members to read it critically, make suggestions, and offer additional information for possible inclusion. Feel free to e-mail me.]

44 Overland Journey

In the very early morning hours of Wednesday, November 4, 1840, Theodore Turley and his fellow Latter-day Saint passengers aboard the Illinois moved their luggage off the boat, which had just landed in Chicago. The windy port city on Lake Michigan then had a population of not quite five thousand inhabitants. As soon as the luggage had been unloaded, Theodore went searching for teams and wagons to carry his company to Dixon’s Ferry, a village 110 miles west.

Soon draft animals were pulling the Saints and their bags, chests, and boxes out onto the open prairie to the west. After twelve miles of travel, they stopped for the night near a tavern. The weary travelers built fires outdoors and cooked their food before resting on the floors of the tavern for the night.

They crossed the nearly one hundred miles of remaining prairies, woods, and sloughs over the next three days. On the way, William Clayton noted, they saw a wolf and “many prairie hens.” At one house along the way, they “saw a wild cat which had been shot in the woods.” Its size impressed them, Clayton writing, “It was as large as a common sized dog.”

The sloughs posed the biggest problem for the group. “We have several times had one of the teems fast in the sloughs,” Clayton wrote. With all the delays, some of the company, including the most well-to-do, got out ahead of the rest, causing feelings in the group. William complained that two men “went with their teams foremost and thus secured to themselves the best accommodations and provisions &c. We was obliged to submit to it and take what we could get.”1

Clayton managed to catch up with those in the lead and reach Dixon about the same time. The rest of the group, including Theodore Turley, were “considerable behind.” Those who got to Dixon first inquired about getting boats for the next leg of the trip. Dixon was on the Rock River, which flowed into the Mississippi.

They learned “that some boats had gone a week previous but it was not likely that any more would go this season,” Clayton wrote. When they asked about the possibility of buying a boat, they “could get no satisfaction,” being told instead to continue westward with their hired teams until they reached Fulton, a village forty-two miles further west on the Mississippi.

Some members of the Latter-day Saint company were eager to press on, but William Clayton said he thought they ought to “wait till morning to see what course Elder Turley would pursue.” Feelings stirred again when those already in Dixon competed over local lodgings that night.2

Sunday morning, November 8, one of the Saints and his group started ahead toward Fulton. Another wanted to do the same but asked Clayton what he planned to do. “I told him I would not move any further until the remainder of the company arrived,” Clayton wrote. “He seemed a little vexed on would rather have gone on.”

“In order to pacify him and others,” Clayton continued, “I started back with our teams to meet the others. We met them about 7 miles from Dixon.”

William told Theodore about what they had learned about the transportation situation and said he believed “it was possible to go down Rock River.” One of the men said he still wanted to go over land to Fulton.

“I told him I had no disposition to go and leave the poor behind (as was evident we should have to do if we went that way),” William wrote.

The man took offense at the comment, which made him look uncaring. He responded that he had no disposition to leave the poor either.3

Theodore, William, and the others got to Dixon about 2:00 p.m. Ultimately, Theodore was convinced by William that they should try to float the company down the Rock River to the Mississippi.

On Monday, November 9, Theodore spent seventy-five dollars on a boat bottom and had hired two men to work on fitting it up to sail. Many of the men in the Latter-day Saint company joined in the work, and by Friday the vessel was ready to sail. The members of the company loaded their luggage on board, but by that time, it was late and snow had begun to fall. They decided to wait until the next day to start down river.

As the people put their baggage on board Friday and settled themselves on the boat, words ensued between William Clayton and the man he had offended outside of Dixon. He decided not to go on with the company, but the rest loaded up and pushed off the bank into the current around 10:00 a.m. Once again, the company was on the water.4

[Next issue: “Nauvoo”]

© 2014 by Richard E. Turley, Jr. (Reprinted with permission.)
Originally published in the September 2014 Theodore Turley Family Organization Newsletter

  1. James B. Allen and Thomas G. Alexander, eds., Manchester Mormons: The Journal of William Clayton, 1840 to 1842 (Santa Barbara, CA: Peregrine Smith, 1974), 196-99.
  2. Allen and Alexander, Manchester Mormons, 196-97.
  3. Allen and Alexander, Manchester Mormons, 197-98.
  4. Allen and Alexander, Manchester Mormons, 198-99