Reverses—Loss of our farm—Strange resolve—Travels west—Forest life—Another new farm

September/October 1825-April 1827

Time passed; harvest came; a fine crop, but no market; and consequently the payment came due on our land and there was no means of payment. [1]

The winter rolled round; spring came again; [2] and with it a prosecution on the part of Mr. Morgan for money due on land.

The consequence was that all our hard earnings, and all our improvements in the wilderness, were wrested from us in a moment. Mr. Morgan retained the land, the improvements and the money paid.

Weary and disconsolate, I left the country and my father, who took charge of our crops and all unsettled business.

I spent a few months with my uncles, Ira and Allen Pratt, [3] in Wayne County, N.Y., [4] and in the autumn of 1826 I resolved to bid farewell to the civilized world — where I had met with little else but disappointment, sorrow and unrewarded toil; and where sectarian divisions disgusted and ignorance perplexed me — and to spend the remainder of my days in the solitudes of the great West, among the natives of the forest. [5]

There, at least, thought I, there will be no buying and selling of lands, — no law to sweep all the hard earnings of years to pay a small debt, — no wranglings about sects, and creeds, and doctrines. I will win the confidence of the red man; I will learn his language; I will tell him of Jesus; I will read to him the Scriptures; I will teach him the arts of peace; to hate war, to love his neighbor, to fear and love God, and to cultivate the earth. [6] Such were my resolutions.

In October, 1826, I took leave of my friends and started westward. I paid most of my money in Rochester for a small pocket Bible, and continued my journey as far as Buffalo. [7] At this place I engaged a passage for Detroit, on board a steamer; as I had no money, I agreed to work for the same.

After a rough passage and many delays, I was at length driven by stress of weather to land at Erie, in Pennsylvania; from whence I travelled by land till I came to a small settlement about thirty miles west of Cleveland, in the State of Ohio. [8] The rainy season of November had now set in; the country was covered with a dense forest, with here and there a small opening made by the settlers, and the surface of the earth one vast scene of mud and mire; so that travelling was now very difficult, if not impracticable.

Alone in a land of strangers, without home or money, and not yet twenty years of age, I became discouraged, and concluded to stop for the winter; I procured a gun from one of the neighbors; worked and earned an axe, some breadstuff and other little extras, and retired two miles into a dense forest and prepared a small hut, or cabin, for the winter. Some leaves and straw in my cabin served for my lodging, and a good fire kept me warm. A stream near my door quenched my thirst; and fat venison, with a little bread from the settlements, sustained me for food. The storms of winter raged around me; the wind shook the forest, the wolf howled in the distance, and the owl chimed in harshly to complete the doleful music which seemed to soothe me, or bid me welcome to this holy retreat. But in my little cabin the fire blazed pleasantly, and the Holy Scriptures and a few other books occupied my hours of solitude. Among the few books in my cabin, were McKenzie’s travels in the Northwest, [9] and Lewis and Clark’s tour up the Missouri and down the Columbia rivers. [10]

Spring came on again; [11] the woods were pleasant, the flowers bloomed in their richest variety, the birds sung pleasantly in the groves; and, strange to say, my mind had become attached to my new abode. [12] I again bargained for a piece of forest land; again promised to pay in a few years, and again commenced to clear a farm and build a house.

I was now twenty years of age. [13]

I resolved to make some improvements and preparations, and then return to my native country, from which I had been absent several years. There was one there whom my heart had long loved, and from whom I would not have been so long separated, except by misfortune. [14]


[1] This was the third of four payments on their land, likely due October 1825.

[2] Spring of 1826.

[3] Ira Pratt was born October 10, 1789; Allen Pratt was born May 3, 1793. Ira and Allen were Parley’s father’s youngest brothers. Allen was only fourteen years older than Parley.

[4] Situated about thirty miles west of Oswego, Wayne County was where the Prophet Joseph Smith’s family was then living. During this time, Joseph was working in Harmony, Pennsylvania, and in Colesville, New York.

[5] At this time “the great West” was nearly anything west of the original colonies.

[6] Parley’s desires were later realized. His first official mission for the Church was to preach the gospel to the Indian nations beginning in October 1830.

[7] The journey from Rochester to Buffalo via the Erie Canal was about eighty-five miles.

[8] The boat ride on Lake Erie was approximately 80 miles. It was another 140 miles by foot from Erie, Pennsylvania, to the small settlement west of Cleveland — about a ten-day walk due to poor weather and road conditions. The settlement Parley refers to was likely Lorain, Ohio, on the mouth of the Black River.

[9] Parley refers here to Alexander MacKenzie’s Voyages from Montreal, on the River St. Lawrence, Through the Continent of North America to the Frozen and Pacific Oceans: in the Years 1789 and 1793 (first published in London in 1801). MacKenzie was the first white man to cross the northwest to the Pacific Ocean.

[10] The first authorized edition of the Lewis and Clark journals was published in Philadelphia in 1814 in two volumes. The second edition, published in London in 1815, was published in three volumes comprising over 1,200 pages.

[11] The spring of 1827.

[12] One of the earliest pioneers of northern Ohio, Christopher Crary, described this region in similar terms: “The forest trees were of endless variety and of the tallest kinds. A thick growth of underbrush grew beneath, flowers of rare beauty blushed unseen, birds of varied plumage filled the air with their music, the air itself was fragrant and invigorating” (in N. W. Whelpley, History of Geauga and Lake Counties, 246).

[13] Parley turned twenty on April 12, 1827.

[14] Parley is referring to Thankful Halsey of Canaan, New York, daughter of William Halsey and Thankful Cooper. Apparently, he had been separated from her since September 1823, a period of about forty-three months. At the time of their separation, Parley was sixteen years old and Thankful was twenty-six.