Question: Was George Mills the oldest member of Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company in 1847?
Answer: George Mills was born about 1787 in England. There doesn’t seem to be any record of George as to how or when he joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, he would have had to emigrate from England and probably been with the Saints in Nauvoo, Illinois. After the Saints had to leave Nauvoo, they traveled to Winter Quarters or Council Bluffs, so it is assumed that George Mills was in that group.
In 1847, George Mills was asked to be in Brigham Young’s Vanguard Company. George was listed as age 60 on the roster. He was the oldest member of the Company. He served in the 12th Ten led by Norton Jacobs. Members of this company left Winter Quarters as early as April 5th to join with the larger group. Everyone gathered to a place about 20 miles from Winter Quarters on the banks of the Platte River. There they worked repairing wagons, organizing supplies, and chopping firewood. It wasn’t until the 16th of April that the company was officially organized into the hundreds, fifties, and tens, with captains appointed and they started on their way.
Once organized, this vanguard pioneer company consisted of 142 men, 3 women, 2 children, and 72 wagons. They traveled 1031 miles before reaching their destination. Some members of the company traveled ahead and arrived in the Salt Lake Valley as early as the July 21, 1847. By the 24th of July, the entire company had arrived. In the 1850 census for the Great Salt Lake, George Mills is living at the home of Mary (Fielding) Smith, wife of Hyrum Smith, listed as a “laborer.”
After arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, George suffered from cancer. In 1854, George asked for an operation by Dr. Samuel L. Sprague in hopes of halting the incurable disease. The doctor, in consultation with three other physicians, concluded that the operation could well prove fatal. Brigham Young was consulted and gave his permission for the surgery. Dr. Sprague traveled with his family to the Salt Lake Valley with the Brigham Young Company in 1848, and he served as the physician for the camp. Dr. Sprague was probably one of the few doctors in the valley at this time.
After arranging his will and taking care of his affairs, George was operated on in Salt Lake City by Dr. Sprague. George died during the surgery. His death date is listed on the membership records as August 29,1854. There is no known record of where George might be buried, but if the surgery occurred in Salt Lake, then he was most likely buried there.
Source: “Biographies of the Original 1847 Pioneer Company,’ Church News, Updated, 14 October 2009; FamilySearch.org; LDS Membership Records; Sons of the Utah Pioneers Index; LDS Pioneer and Handcart Companies, 1847-1856; Brigham Young Vanguard Company.