When William Clark of Freeport, Illinois, and his party participated in the westward movement that carried thousands of American to the Pacific Coast during the mid-nineteenth century, they demonstrated remarkable fidelity to a Christian institution. Leaving Leavenworth in 1857, Clark and three others joined up with a firm that was to haul freight to army posts in Utah. The four man contracted "with the express understanding that we should not be asked to drive Sundays, unless for the want of grass or water." The men pledged to each other to stand by their bargain.

Shortly after setting out, on a Sunday when the bullwhackers were resting after a hard week's work, Chatham Rennick, the train boss, directed the four to hitch up their cattle in order to drive the remainder of the day. The men refused. Rennick did not press the point. When this experience was repeated on the next Sabbath, the man declared, "drive Sunday we would not."

After another such encounter, Rennick discharged the four and refused to let them take their guns. A tense confrontation with guns drawn followed. Clark and his companions feared for their lives. Rennick had "men enough to massacre us," Clark retaliated, "but not enough … to make us drive a single rod." Rennick pleaded with the men, who remained adamant. Never again were they asked to drive on the Sabbath.

This encounter might have been exceptional, but it illustrates that Sabbath observance was still important when Americans set out on the Overland Trail for the Pacific Coast. "He who starts across the continent," wrote one overland diarist in 1852, "is most sure to leave his religion on the east side of the Missouri river." This notion entered the history books. But first-hand accounts of the westward ...

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