Joseph was thus left fatherless when he was a boy six years old. As a boy he had not the privilege of going every day to school or of playing peacefully in the door-yard of his home. Mobs drove them out of Missouri, and then out of Nauvoo. They had little peace. Two years after his father had been killed, Joseph’s mother, with her family, had to leave her home, along with the Saints, and undertake the long westward journey. Although Joseph was only eight years old at the time, he successfully drove a team of oxen for three hundred miles over the rolling prairies of Iowa. This was not an easy task for the boy, for the road was often steep or muddy, and many older drivers had breakdowns on the way.
In chapter 27 of this history you are told of the Saints stopping for a time at Winter Quarters, getting ready to move westward. Joseph and his mother were with them. Most of his time was spent in herding his mother’s cattle. And he was a good herdboy, too. He saw to it that none of them was lost. There were Indians in that country then, and often they would steal cattle and horses. One day Joseph had a narrow escape. It happened this way:
Joseph and another boy had driven their cattle to the herd-grounds, and they were having a good time on their horses which they rode. Suddenly, they heard the whoop of Indians. On looking up, they saw a band of about thirty savages riding toward them. They were naked, their bodies daubed with clay and their hair and faces painted! Joseph’s first thought was not about himself, but about his cattle. If the Indians should drive off his cattle, the family would not be able to go to the Valley next spring. So, off he rode to try to save his stock, the Indians coming in the same direction. They whooped and yelled so that the cattle ran off in great fright. Then the Indians singled out Joseph, for they wanted his horse, which was a good one and could run. The chase was now on in earnest. Joseph turned. Some of the Indians followed, while others slacked to head him off. Soon he was between two parties of Indians. After a time they closed in on him. One of the Indians took him by the arm, and another by the leg, and lifted him from his horse, letting him fall to the ground. The horses jumped over him, but did not hurt him. The Indians rode off with the horse, but did not get the cattle.
This is only one of the many thrilling incidents in the life of President Smith as a boy. When his mother was ready to move West, Joseph drove two yoke of oxen hitched to a heavily loaded wagon across the plains, a distance of one thousand miles. He drove into Salt Lake City September 23, 1848.
In those early days, even the boys had to work hard to help make a living in the new country. Joseph again herded cattle, besides doing work on the farm and in the canyon. How, then, did the boy get his education? Crossing the plains, when they were resting in the tent or by the camp fire, Joseph’s mother taught him to read the Bible, and from that day to this, he has been reading good books. You see, he started early in the reading of the best books, and that means a lot. Joseph’s mother was a very good and wise woman, and he says that much of his success in life is due to her teachings, and the fact that he heeded her counsels.