The establishment of winter Quarters by Mormons headed west in search of Zion in 1846 is well-known. It was located at present-day Florence, the northern-most suburb of today’s Omaha metro area. Little, on the other hand, is known about the settlement known as Summer Quarters.
Before the Mormon pioneer contingent left Winter Quarters in the spring of 1847, Brigham Young established a farm to provide food supplies for later wagons of emigrants. This farm was called “Summer Quarters.” Information about the farm is scarce, but enough references exist at the Nebraska State Historical Society to allow a general description of the venture.
Young selected an area roughly thirteen miles north of Winter Quarters, near the abandoned Fort Atkinson, in the vicinity of present-day DeSoto, Nebraska. The plot included lands which had previously been cultivated by the frontier army at the fort. Young appointed his adopted son, John D. Lee, to be in charge of the project.
Operations at Summer Quarters began in March of 1847. Lee wrote in his journal about building houses, providing forage for the cattle, constructing bridges, and breaking farm ground. The Mormons salvaged brick from chimneys which were still standing at the fort, which had been abandoned in 1827.
The original plan was to cultivate some 2,000 acres, but it appears the effort fell far short of that goal. Lee wrote on April 16 that 175 acres of garden had been prepared, and were divided among 23 persons. Lee was in charge of 70 acres, while two other men had 45 and 15 acres respectively. Twenty others divided the remaining 45 acres. Lee, who had the most land, also had a very large family to work the plot. Apparently a few hundred acres of corn were also planted. A. R. Mortensen, writing in the December 1965 issue of Nebraska History magazine, states that the spring 1847 migration of Mormons from Winter Quarters was “sustained with hundreds of bushels of ‘bread corn’ shelled, cleaned, and put into sacks or barrels.” While some of this may have been purchased, a quantity of the total likely came from the Summer Quarters farm. The farm operated only during the 1847 season.
This year marks the sesquicentennial of the opening of the Mormon Pioneer Trail. If you live along or near the corridor of this road, which ran along the north side of the Platte River through Nebraska, watch for commemorative events in your vicinity this summer.