(The study focuses on the history of the trail from its official beginning in Nauvoo, Illinois, to its terminus in Salt Lake City, Utah, during the period 1846-1869. During that time, thousands of Mormon emigrants used many trails and trail variants to reach Utah. This study emphasizes the "Pioneer Route" or "Brigham Young Route" of 1846-1847. The sections on Mormon beliefs and motivations for going west have been omitted. Interested persons can find ample sources for that information. The footnotes, bibliography, maps, pictures, pioneer companies by name and dates for the 22-year period, and historic sites - about 2/3 of the book - have also been left out for space considerations. Thanks to Dr. Kimball and the National Park Service for the availability of the following information.)
THE MORMON TRAIL IN HISTORIC PERSPECTIVE
THE PERPETUAL EMIGRATION FUND
THE TRAIL EXPERIENCE IN MORMON HISTORY
READING, INTERPRETING AND PROTECTING TRAIL RUTS
POINTS OF DEPARTURE AND TIME PERIODS
WAGONS, DRAFT ANIMALS, SPEED OF TRAVEL
PROBLEMS OF ILLNESS, STRESS, PRIVACY, AND TRAVELING
Funerals and burials
Privacy for the purposes of elimination
ROUTINE, RULES, DISCIPLINE, CONSTITUTIONS
Tenth of emigrants died - most were women and children
LITTLE EMIGRANTS, CHILDREN
BLACKS ON THE TRAIL
FOREIGN MORMON EMIGRANTS
NON-MORMONS ON THE TRAIL
WESTERN TRAVEL ACCOUNTS CONSULTED BY THE MORMONS
WESTERN MAPS CONSULTED BY THE MORMONS
WESTERN TRAVELERS CONSULTED BY THE MORMONS
MORMONS AND THE ENVIRONMENT (Observations)
ACROSS IOWA IN 1846LEAVING NAUVOO
TREK COMMENCES/DIFFICULTIES/SKILLS LEARNED
"COME, COME YE SAINTS" COMPOSED
GARDEN GROVE ESTABLISHED
MOUNT PISGAH ESTABLISHED
COUNCIL BLUFFS REACHED
MIDDLE MISSOURI VALLEYCOUNCIL BLUFFS GENERAL AREA
(COUNCIL BLUFFS AND WINTER QUARTERS: 1846-1847)
MORMON CAMPS AND COMMUNITIES
THE MORMON BATTALION
CAMPS WEST OF THE MISSOURI RIVER
Cold Spring and Cutler's Park
MORMONS AND TRAIL-SIDE SERVICES
WINTER QUARTERS ABANDONED
THE PIONEER TREK OF 1847PREPARATION
SCIENTIFIC INSTRUMENTS AND OBSERVATIONS
1847 TREK BEGINS
THE TRAIL/DIVISIONS AND TOPOGRAPHY
Part 1. Winter Quarters to Kearney, Nebraska
Part II, Kearney to Fort Laramie
Part III, Fort Laramie to Fort Bridger
Part IV, Fort Bridger to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake
ESTABLISHMENT OF A COLONY AND RETURN TO WINTER QUARTERS
MORMON EMIGRANTS: 1848-1868GENERAL COMMENTS
WAGON EMIGRANTS: 1848-1860
Canal Boats, Lake Boats, and Riverboats
THE HANDCART EMIGRANTS 1856-1860
THE BRIGHAM YOUNG EXPRESS COMPANY 1856-1857
(Precursor of Pony Express and Overland Stage)
CHURCH TEAM EMIGRANTS, 1860-1868
RAIL AND TRAIL PIONEERS: 1856-1868
TRAIL PRESERVATION AND MARKING
SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH
THE MORMON TRAIL IN HISTORIC PERSPECTIVE (top)
To place the Mormons and the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail in historical perspective is difficult, for they were both unique as well as uniquely American. Most Mormons tend to emphasize that which is unique in their history. This is an outgrowth of their theology, which teaches that they are a unique people, a Chosen People, a "peculiar people." They call themselves Latter-day Saints to both distinguish themselves from and identify themselves with the "Former-day Saints" of the New Testament, and to stress their difference from all other Christians of today.
In no way do Mormons stress their uniqueness more than in reference to their exodus, their move west between 1846 and 1869, from Illinois to what is now called Utah. Mormon scholars have discovered at least ten "Uncommon Aspects of the Mormon Migration."' These unique aspects are: A religiously motivated migration; the economic status of the participants; Mormons did not employ professional guides; non-frontiersmen were quickly transformed into pioneers; the migration of families; the Mormon Trail was a two-way road; the magnanimous aspect of the Mormon migration; the organization of Mormon wagon trains; respect for life and death; and the Mormon migration was a movement of a community. In this study, the author often refers to these uncommon aspects. Other authors like Wallace Stegner and Bernard De Voto also stress these unique aspects.
While there is nothing wrong with stressing the uncommon aspects of the Mormon westward movement, they are only part of the story. A truer account would present the Mormon migration within its proper historic context, as a part of the great westering movement of the mid-nineteenth century; as part of a national experience.
In many ways the Mormons were very much like their contemporary Oregonians and Californians. West of the Missouri River they shared trails, campgrounds, ferries, triumphs, tragedies, and common trail experiences of the day, with thousands of other westering Americans. Their daily routine, their food, wagons, animals, sicknesses, dangers, difficulties, domestic affairs, trail constitutions, discipline, the blurring of sexual distinctions relative to work, and so forth, were typical.
The Mormons of the 1840s through the 1860s were very much a part of the great westward surge that began in the 1820s when fur trappers started exploring the west, searching out mountain passes for vital water sources and continued through the westering activities of traders, missionaries, and land-hungry settlers, to the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. The Mormons were part of the idea and the realization of the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, the great reconnaissance of the west, and they contributed to the growth of white supremacy in the west. For the most part, the Mormons used the trails already blazed by earlier westering Americans. Many Americans had preceded the Mormons on trips west of the Missouri River. Travel on the Santa Fe Trail commenced as early as 1821, with the trader William Becknell from Missouri, and the numbers of travelers increased until the Santa Fe Railway passed Santa Fe in 1880. This trail, however, was largely a commercial and military road, used by few emigrants. (In 1853, some Texas converts did use the trail to pick up the Mormon Trail in Wyoming.)
The first significant emigrant movement to Oregon began in 1841, when sixty-nine men, women, and children, comprising the Bidwell-Bartleson party, left from Independence, Missouri. Thereafter, increasingly large emigrant parties used the Missouri River as a "jumping off point (staging site) for Oregon. That same year, the Bidwell-Bartleson party also initiated the first significant emigrant movement into California. When the Bidwell-Bartleson party reached Fort Hall in what is now called Idaho, it split. About half continued on to Oregon, while the remainder blazed a dangerous route across desert and mountains into the lower San Joaquin Valley of what is now California. Thereafter, as on the Oregon Trail, increasingly larger parties immigrated to California. Eventually more than 300,000 (no one knows how many) emigrants went to Oregon and California. The some 70,000 Mormons who immigrated to their new Zion were very much a part of this national westward movement.
Furthermore, during the trans-Missouri Mormon emigrant period (and generally along the route of the Mormon Trail) the Pony Express rose and fell, and the transcontinental telegraph line and the Union Pacific Railroad were completed. Stage freight and mail service to Salt Lake were inaugurated and federal wagon roads were surveyed and constructed. The Mormons were, in one way or another, involved with all these ventures. They, for example, helped supply and build the telegraph line and the railroad, helped construct federal roads, proposed some freighting and mail services, and during the Civil War, provided guard service for ninety days, protecting the overland mail and telegraph in southern Wyoming.
THE PERPETUAL EMIGRATION FUND (top)
Another unusual aspect of the Mormon emigration, was the Perpetual Emigration Fund, one of the biggest single enterprises undertaken by the Mormons in the nineteenth century.17 Begun in 1850, the idea was that the church would create a revolving (or perpetual) fund to aid the poor, especially the poor European emigrants. Those helped by the fund were expected to reimburse it after settling in the American West.
Perpetual Emigration Fund (PEF) agents in Europe chartered ships, or special sections of ships, at reduced fares, and other PEF agents in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and St. Louis helped make travel arrangements, at reduced costs, for the overland journey to Utah.
Initially the fund accomplished its main purpose well. Between 1850 and 1859 the fund brought 4,769 emigrants to Zion at a cost of $300,000. By the time of its demise in 1887, the fund had helped to emigrate more than 100,000 people, at a total cost of about $12,500,000. The Saints were slow, however, in paying back their advances. By 1877, $1,000,000 was owed to the fund. Ten years later the PEF was dissolved.
THE TRAIL EXPERIENCE IN MORMON HISTORY (top)
The experience of the trail, the crossing of the plains, turned into a great event not only in the lives of the pioneers, but in the minds of their descendants. It became a rite of passage, the final test of faith. The contemporary Mormon is prouder of nothing in their heritage than of their ancestors who "crossed the plains" for the sake of religious freedom. Even modern Mormons who have no pioneer ancestors vicariously share this heritage.
Today a special mythology and clouds of glory surround the Mormon Pioneers. The most important honor societies in Mormondom pertain to these pioneers. Many Mormons belong to the Sons of Utah Pioneers or the Daughters of Utah Pioneers, whereas no similar societies exist for the founders, the original apostles, or the members of Zion's Camp. Throughout the world Mormons regularly celebrate July 24th as Pioneer Day. It was on this date in 1847, that the pioneers entered the valley.
READING, INTERPRETING AND PROTECTING TRAIL RUTS (top)
In trail days, "reading trail" or "reading [Indian] sign" was vital to the welfare of emigrants. This science made use of any evidence that something or someone had been over the ground. An experienced scout could tell from a broken blade of grass, disturbed soil, tracks, a bead, a feather, or dung, such things as what game was near; how many Indians of what tribe had proceeded, when and in what direction; the number of horses, how fast they had been moving, and whether they had been mounted or stolen; whether it had been a hunting party or a whole camp moving; whether an individual had been walking, running, or attempting to leave a false trail.
Today reading trail can be a rewarding pastime as well as essential for serious trail students. And, since authentic trail ruts are the most valuable and interesting resources connected with historic trails, something should be said here about reading and interpreting them.
Because so many current ranch and mineral development/production trails and roads look more like the old trails than the old trails do, it is not always easy to identify authentic trail ruts. There are, however, some guidelines. The romantic notion that trail ruts are always two lines stretching into the sunset is just that, romantic. Where possible, westering Americans usually traveled several abreast to avoid breathing dust. All kinds of parallel trail ruts also developed because of water, land features, or browse. Swales (saucer-shaped depressions) in the landscape 50 to 100 feet wide, developed where wagons traveled abreast and close to each other. At other times, what would property be called "trail corridors" (up to 1 mile wide) developed.
Trail followers should do their homework and have good maps so that they know in advance approximately where trail ruts should be. Most modern trails, or disturbed land (a buried pipeline for instance) run straighter than the old trails. That modern tire tracks can be seen only means someone recently drove down the old trail.
One should study the overall terrain well, especially the vegetation. Sometimes the vegetation is fuller in old ruts, sometimes it is sparse. In some areas where the hard topsoil was broken up (and continually fertilized by the draft animals) rain water penetrated deeper and, as a result, the growth is more lush, even today. It is also true that ruts tend to collect water, which aids growth. In some instances, however, the broken topsoil was simply blown away, leaving a poorer subsoil which, even today, supports only sparse growth. The best way to learn to read trail is by experience.
In the matter of protecting trail ruts, someone once said in reference to following the old trails, "Take nothing but photographs; leave nothing but footprints." Good advice. Ruts are not as fragile as many think. They were created, after all, by plodding animals pulling wagons weighing tons and rolling on iron tires! They can be damaged, however, by careless use of motorcycles and ORVS, and totally destroyed by road crews, agriculture, urban sprawl, utility corridors, pipelines, mining and other extractive industries, and a host of other modern activities. Walking in ruts seldom causes damage to them, it may even help preserve them. Even careful driving in ruts might do no harm. Proper management, legislation, and parameters for use should be sought.
POINTS OF DEPARTURE AND TIME PERIODS (top)
The Mormons used many points of departure during their emigration period. Only the first two groups of European emigrants in 1840 sailed to New York City; thereafter for fifteen years, all emigrants sailed to New Orleans and then traveled up the Mississippi River to various other points of departure. Until 1845 they went straight to Nauvoo, Illinois, where The exodus of 1846 commenced. Afterwards many other jumping-off places to the Far West were developed:
Winter Quarters (Florence, now North Omaha), Nebraska, 1847-1848
Council Bluffs, Iowa, 1847-1852
St. Louis, Missouri, 1852
Keokuk, Iowa, 1853
Westport. Missouri, 1854
Mormon Grove, Kansas, 1855-1856
Iowa City, Iowa, 1856-1857
Florence, Nebraska, 1856-1863
St. Joseph, Missouri, 1859
Genoa, Nebraska, 1859
Wyoming, Nebraska, 1864-1866
The Union Pacific Railroad began moving west from Omaha on July 10, 1865. Thereafter, Mormons took trains from Omaha to three different railheads.
North Platte, Nebraska, 1867
Laramie City, Wyoming, 1868
Benton, Wyoming, 1868
While the trans-Missouri section of the MPNHT [Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail] was used extensively by the Mormons between 1847 through 1868, the Iowa segment of the trail was used much less. The Iowa portion was used by the pioneers in 1846, by a few companies from Keokuk in 1853, and by seven handcart companies in 1855-1857. Furthermore, the segment of the original pioneer trail of 1846 between Drakesville, Davis County, and Garden Grove, Decatur
County, may have been used but once or twice, because it was too far south and too close to Missouri, where the Mormons had been persecuted in the 1830s. At Drakesville, shorter variants more to the north originated. The handcarters followed the 1846 trail in Iowa only from what is now Lewis, in Cass County.
Four time periods will be treated in this study:
1. Between 1846-1860, the Mormons generally went west in
wagon trains organized at different points of departure.
2. Between 1855-1860, they experimented with handcarts.
3. Thereafter, during the years 1861-1866, the Mormons switched
to large ox-team church trains sent out from Salt Lake City to
haul emigrants and freight west.
4. And, finally, during 1867-1868, they came by "rail and trail."
WAGONS, DRAFT ANIMALS, SPEED OF TRAVEL (top)
The Saints used all kinds of wagons and carriages, but mostly they used ordinary reinforced farm wagons, which were about ten feet long, arched over by cloth or waterproof canvas that could be closed at each end--almost never the huge, lumbering Conestoga wagons beloved by Hollywood. Because the wagons had to cross rivers, the bottoms were usually caulked or covered with canvas so they would float. While the ubiquitous white tops, or covered wagons, of the era may not have been ideal for travel (they were uncomfortable to ride in, broke down, were slow and cumbersome), they were the most efficient means of hauling goods. Families en route could live in, on, alongside, and under these animal-drawn mobile homes, and at the end of the trail, they could become temporary homes until real houses could be erected.
The pioneers used a variety of draft animals, especially horses, mules, and oxen. They often preferred the latter when they were available, for oxen had great strength and patience and were easy to keep; they did not balk at mud or quicksand, they required no expensive and complicated harness, and Indians did not care to eat them, so seldom stole them. (They could, however, be eaten by the pioneers in an emergency.) The science of "oxteamology" consisted of little more than walking along the left side of the lead oxen with a whip, prod, or goad, urging them on and guiding them, and was considerably simpler than handling the reins of horses or mules. With gentle oxen, widows with children could and did (with a little help, especially during the morning yoking up) transport themselves and their possessions successfully all the way to the valley of the Great Salt Lake.
To keep the emigrant companies together, or at least to keep in touch with the various leaders, mounted couriers were appointed to ride back and forth, and bells, bugles and different colored signal flags were used to communicate messages and call meetings throughout the entire migration period. Beyond the Missouri River, the pioneers occasionally wrote messages on animal skulls and scapula. An example of this sort of "bone mail" read "Pioneers double teamed. 8 June 1847. Camp all well. Hail storm last night, fine morning. T[homas] Bullock, no accident." Sometimes they wrote on rocks and boards, tied notes to trees, or left letters enclosed between two pieces of wood. A trail "post office" was sometimes made by setting up a pole by the side of the trail, drilling a hole in it for a letter then plugging the hole. After October 24, 1861, when the Overland Telegraph wires were joined in Salt Lake City, the Mormons also used the telegraph, especially with church headquarters in Salt Lake City.
Mormons also liked to leave their names behind, a common practice of emigrants in trail days, and many can be found along the trail today in such places as Avenue of Rocks, Independence Rock, Devil's Gate in Wyoming, and in Cache Cave in Utah.
PROBLEMS OF ILLNESS, STRESS, PRIVACY, AND TRAVELING (top)
Injury, sickness, and death were commonplace. Emigrants suffered cuts; broken bones; gun wounds; burns; scaldings; animal, insect, and snake bites; stampedes; overturned wagons; shifting freight; drownings; quicksand; black scurvy; black canker (probably diphtheria); cholera; typhoid fever; ague; quick consumption (tuberculosis); headaches; piles; mumps; asthma; inflammation of the bowels; scrofula; erysipelas; diarrhea; small pox; itch; and infections of all kinds, including puerperal fever, which can follow childbirth. In reference to the latter, the journals of some of the midwives make melancholy reading. Although oxen moved very slowly, there was no quick way of stopping them. Therefore, many women, because their long skirts got caught, were injured when dragged under animals or wagon wheels. Children often fell under the animals or wagons. Emigrants were also stepped on, gored, and kicked by animals.
Also, because emigrant trains moved so slowly, emigrants, especially children, occasionally got lost. This was the result of straggling, gathering flowers or berries, hunting, attempting short cuts, or trying to visit landmarks that were farther away than they appeared because of the clarity of the high plains' atmosphere. Most found their way back (some were helped by Indians), but some never were seen again in spite of searches, rifle shots, and signal fires.
Some emigrants suffered from being physically or emotionally impaired. There were persons with various kinds of physical disabilities, like blindness, inability to speak, and absence of limbs. Emotional disturbances ranged from the mild to the bizarre. The number of physically and emotionally disabled Mormon emigrants who attempted to cross the plains or whose guardians attempted to take them to Zion is surprising. Mormon emigrant companies probably started out with a higher percentage of disabled people, because of their belief in the "power of the priesthood" and in miracle healing. It was common practice among Mormon emigrants to request church leaders to give blessings to the sick and the injured, and sometimes people were healed. Many were not.
Emigrants were also plagued by mosquitoes, chiggers, ticks, lice, gnats, bed bugs, fleas, flies, and other vermin. To these trials must be added the weaknesses of human beings under stress, which sometimes led to abusive language, fighting, quarreling, divorce, stealing, selfishness, sponging, excessive harshness, and alcohol abuse.
Weather was also an important cause of discomfort and death. Emigrants suffered from exposure to heat, mud, wind, rain, cold, snow, and blizzards. Some were hurt and even killed by lightning, and children were occasionally hurt by whirlwinds; one little boy was dropped in the Platte River by one.
Funerals and burials were often hurried affairs, as little time could be spared while en route. Shallow graves were dug, unless the ground was frozen, in which case, no grave could be dug. (In cold but not yet freezing weather, the preferred place to dig a grave was the site of the previous night's campfire.) A few were buried in coffins, many others only in blankets, hollowed out logs, or between pieces of bark. Children were often buried in containers like bread boxes and tea canisters. Some graves were marked, but more often everything was done to obliterate all traces of the grave, to discourage wild animals (and sometimes Indians) from digging up the corpse.
The problem of privacy for the purposes of elimination was solved by following the common rule: men to one side, women to the other. If the women went in a group, several sisters standing with skirts spread wide could provide a privacy screen for each other. Most wagons also had chamber pots.
ROUTINE, RULES, DISCIPLINE, CONSTITUTIONS (top)
The basic trail routine, more or less observed throughout the migrating period, might be summed up as follows: arising, praying, cooking, yoking up, pulling out, "nooning" (when people ate [usually cold] lunches and draft animals rested and grazed), pushing on, selecting camp, gathering fuel, cooking, washing up, mending, recreating and socializing, rounding up stray livestock, milking, grazing the animals, praying, retiring, and standing guard. To this routine should be added washing, repairing wagons and equipment, hunting, dealing with Indians, conducting or attending religious services, and occasional births, accidents, sickness, deaths, funerals, marriages, and quarrels "
Discipline was set and maintained by church leaders and, as previously noted, was based on the belief that Mormons were modern day saints, led by living prophets, carrying out God's will. Thus, discipline was generally preserved on the trail. Mormons, like most other westering Americans, usually had some basic trail rules and constitutions, but they were seldom elaborated or written down. Generally Mormon companies felt they were led by the Lord, or at least by His designates, and that they were to follow orders and rules without question. A member of the Mormon ruling priesthood was always in charge of the companies, usually assisted by one or two counselors. Mormons were supposed to be the Lord's work and were expected to conduct themselves in a saintly manner and follow simple, common sense, paramilitary rules.
Such rule by the priesthood usually sufficed. When serious troubles arose, company councils were called and a rough and ready trail-side justice was meted out. Those in the wrong were expected to apologize, make amends, and repent. Men were occasionally flogged. (For improper sex matters emasculation was hinted at, although there is no record it was ever carried out.) Men and women could also be expelled from the company -- a serious punishment on, or beyond, the frontier.
The more experience the Mormons gained in westering, the less important rigid rules and regulations became, but sometimes constitutions were written down. A typical one of the period was drafted by a company of English Saints at West Port, Missouri, in 1854. It reads:
Camp Ground, State of Missouri, 14 July 1854
At Council Meeting this evening Elder Empey presiding, it was resolved: That Bro. Robert Campbell be president of this company. That Bro. Richard Cook be his first counselor and Bro. Woodard be his second counselor. That Bro. Brewerton be captain of the guard. That Bro. Charles Brewerton be wagon master and Bro. Wm. Kendall to assist him. That Bro. Richard be captain of the first ten. That Bro. Fisher be captain of the second ten. That Bro. Bailiff be captain of the third ten.
That Bro. Thos. Sutherland be clerk and historian of this company. That no gun shall be fired within 50 yards of the camp under a penalty of one nights guard. That the captain of each ten shall awaken the head of every family at 4 o'clock in the morning and be ready to roll out at seven, if circumstances will admit. That all go to bed at 9 o'clock in the evening. That every man from 16 to 60 years of age be eligible to stand guard.
The above resolutions have been afterwards laid before the whole company in camp and have received their unanimous sanction.
Robert Campbell, Pres.; Thomas Sutherland, Clerk."
TRAIL LARDER (top)
Trail larders were well supplied, consisting of staples like flour, bacon, sugar, tea, coffee, beans, dried fruits, canned goods, salt, dried meats, vinegar, cheese, pickles, oat meal, molasses, bran meal, eggs, butter, wine, whiskey, and other alcoholic beverages. In addition, Mormons sometimes had chickens, pigs, sheep, and milk cows. Such supplies were supplemented by whatever emigrants could gather or catch that swam, flew, ran, or crawled or grew. This included fish, turtles, clams, buffalo, antelope, beaver, prairie dogs, mountain sheep, squirrels, rabbits, snakes, bear, deer, elk, ducks, pheasants, quail, prairie hens, turkeys, geese, pelicans, strawberries, cherries, grapes, currants, gooseberries, serviceberries, mulberries, chokecherries, plums, blackberries, wild pears, honey, and volunteer corn.
WOMEN EMIGRANTS (top)
Most Mormon companies, with the exception of the pioneer company of 1847, had more women (and children) than most non-Mormon companies. This was because most Mormons did not go west for furs, gold, adventure, or a new identity, but seeking religious freedom; they usually traveled as families and often had single women converts along. 15 And because many of these women, like Bathsheba Smith, Sarah Leavitt, Sarah Alexander, Caroline Crosby, Mary Field Garner, Eliza R. Snow, Patty Bartlett Sessions, Jane Rio Pearce, and Patience Archer wrote trail accounts, we know much of their trail life." Typically, trail life was harder on them than on the men. The lack of privacy in bathing, elimination, and sleeping was especially difficult for Mormon women, as was their task of gathering bison dung, euphemistically termed bois de vache, meadow muffins, or chips for fuel. There were several trail songs about this work. The following is typical:
There's a pretty little girl in the outfit ahead
Whoa, Haw, Buck and Jerry Boy
I wish she were by my side instead
Whoa, Haw, Buck and Jerry Boy
Look at her now with a pout on her lips
As daintily with her fingertips
She picks for the fire some buffalo chips
Whoa, Haw, Buck and Jerry Boy.
Women also were responsible for most of the care of infants and children, as well as the fuel gathering, cooking, churning, sewing, laundering, and nursing. (Many women found it difficult at first to cook in the higher altitudes, where water boils at a lower temperature--sometimes beans and rice could cook for hours and never get soft.)
Many women were pregnant when they left for the west and others became pregnant en route. Both realities added to the difficulties of immigrating women. Probably a tenth of all Mormon emigrants died. The author's study of Mormon Trail accounts indicates that most were women and children.
Women were also greatly hampered and disadvantaged by their clothing. Westering males dressed for the conditions: heavy boots, strong trousers, shirts, jackets, coats and broad-brimmed hats to protect the face and eyes. Tragically the same cannot be said for westering females. While modesty is almost universally considered a great virtue, it, like everything else except good will, can be overdone. The female attire of trail days, decreed by modesty and fashion, got filthy, soaked up water (even from dew), and often caused accidents. Long skirts could get caught in many ways, drawing females under animals and moving wagons.
Even after the super modest and "trail safe" bloomers (of Amelia Bloomer) came into existence in 1852, few Mormon females cared or dared to wear them, for they were considered a costume espoused by feminists as a dress for liberated women and signaled radical sexual and political messages that were denounced at the time. Furthermore, the Bible (Deuteronomy 22:5) decreed, "The woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man ... all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God." Women also kept their long skirts, petticoats, ribbons, bows, and white aprons to maintain their sexual distinction from men and their "superiority" over Indian women, and to preserve their femininity and domesticity.
Balancing out the grim realities of trail life are female trail accounts of the "romance," beauty of the landscape, the adventure of it all. Activities included dancing, singing, games, recitations, feasts, parties, socializing, tea parties, courting, and weddings. Westering women, including Mormons, enjoyed thinking up trail-related names for their infants born en route, such as Platte, Lucile Platte, Humboldt, Nevada, Laborious, Echo, Handcart, Blue River, La Bonte, and Liberty. Sometimes at night, camp women would place their scanty domestic belongings around their campfire to approximate their "parlors" back home. They also arranged the interiors of their covered wagons to be as homelike as possible. They hung mirrors, pictures, and lamps, spread carpets, and placed other belongings to this end. In fact pioneer women generally did everything they could to preserve their traditional role and image and the niceties of civilization, domesticity, and a semblance of home while westering.
The realities of trail travel, however, greatly altered some aspects of family life. While the nineteenth century clearly distinguished between male and female roles, defining women as agents of civilization and keepers of morals, the differences between male and female work were blurred by the trail experience. Women were often called upon to take over men's duties and responsibilities. (Sometimes men even had to do women's work.) Throughout the Mormon migrations, every possible type of arrangement of family groups formed, including the unique Mormon contribution to the westward movement--polygamy.
Since polygamy had been practiced at Nauvoo, it existed on the trail. At the beginning of the exodus in 1846, some men took all their wives and children with them, some returned later for the balance of their families. Some women and their children joined their husbands later on the Missouri River, or in Utah. Some never did go west. Some men married plural wives en route; some missionaries returned from Europe with additional wives.
There were also single Mormon emigrants, bachelors, maidens, widows, widowers, the divorced and the orphaned. The net of faith brought in all kinds. As far as possible singles were fitted into the emigrant companies and completely accepted. Often such single pioneers were hired hands taken along as teamsters, drivers, cattle tenders, and handymen. Single females were sometimes hired to assist with the children and to aid older family members. Despite the big differences between Mormon and non-Mormon trail emigrants, it appears that in general, the lives of Mormon female emigrants were much the same as those of most women on the Oregon and California trails.
LITTLE EMIGRANTS, CHILDREN (top)
Most Mormon immigrating companies included children and infants, and child care was one of the greatest responsibilities and concerns, especially to the mothers." Proper child care was greatly complicated by the constant traveling.
Older children usually had assignments, such as watching the younger ones, driving, herding, gathering fuel, and helping their mothers. Little children, however, tended to wander off, get lost, play too close to the draft animals and wagons, or step on cacti. Little girls wore the same inappropriate clothing as their mothers did.
A favorite, and dangerous, pastime of young boys was hanging on tent poles or extra axles that were stored under the wagons. An even more dangerous pastime of boys was standing on the wagon tongue and balancing themselves by placing their hands on the backs of the oxen.
Children were attracted to fire and boiling water. They were also susceptible to many illnesses and often there was little suitable food for infants. Some mothers tried to keep their children by their sides, or safely in the wagons. Some companies attempted to protect their children by keeping them all together in one group, supervised by one or more adults. Every morning the group would be marched ahead of the main company, and herded like sheep all day long. This was hard on the children and on their parents, but it did prevent many accidents.
Children made pets of cats, birds, prairie dogs, eagles, chickens, and lambs. Some even tried to tame buffalo calves. And all children, it seems, took a great liking to the family oxen, giving them pet names like Rouser, Brindle, Old Smut, Bill, Tom and Jerry, and Buck and Bright. There were few dogs on the trails. Cats were quiet and good mousers, but barking dogs could cause stampedes, attract Indians, or scare game.
Children played draughts or checkers, cards, hide-and-seek, tag, and ball. Some had toys like iron lions or dolls. Boys had pocket knives. They played with crickets and eagerly looked for anthills, for sometimes they could find Indian beads there--the ants picked them up like small pebbles. Despite all the hardships, most children who made the journey reveled in it the rest of their lives.
INDIAN RELATIONS (top)
Along the MPNHT [Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail] and throughout their immigrating period, Mormons met with many different groups and tribes of Indians, such as the Potawatomi, Omaha, Oto, Pawnee, Sioux, Snake (or properly, Shoshoni), Ute, and Paiute, but seldom experienced difficulties. This was in part because of the Book of Mormon, which gave Mormons their unique and positive attitude towards Indians. In short, Mormons treated Indians better than other whites treated them. According to the Book of Mormon, many American Indians are descended from several groups of people in pre-Columbian America, who had somehow found their way from the Old World Holy Land to the New, and who had subsequently rejected God and fallen under a curse. This curse was to be removed eventually through the Indians' acceptance of true Christianity--Mormonism. Mormons felt it was their obligation to help the Indians, not only to "civilize" them, but also to convert them and to help them become a "fair and delightsome people." Indians tended to leave immigrating Mormons alone for other reasons as well: the size and preparedness of most Mormon companies, the fact that almost all Mormons merely passed through Indian lands and did not settle on them, were usually considerate in their consumption of game, grass, and wood, and gave Indians presents of salt, tobacco, and food.
Prior to their exodus west, the Mormons had had no sustained relations with Indians. (This was in part because between 1825 and 1846, the U.S. government practiced an Indian Removal program for the purpose of driving all eastern Indians west of the Mississippi. The Sauk and Fox, for example, had been driven from Illinois by the cruel Black Hawk "War" of 1832.) There had been chance encounters here and there. In the early 1830s, Mormon missionaries had tried unsuccessfully to proselytize some Wyandot in Ohio and some Shawnee and Delaware, west of the Missouri River, near Independence, Missouri. In 1841, Chief Keokuk accompanied by Kiskukosh, Appenoose, and about 100 other chiefs and braves of the Sauk and Fox, crossed the Mississippi from Iowa (whence they had been driven in 1832) and visited Nauvoo!
During the Nauvoo period of Mormon history (1839-1846), several extremely important precedents were established regarding the relations between Mormons and Indians. Some Indians were given the Mormon priesthood, there was some intermarriage, and a few Indians had been permitted to go through the Nauvoo temple and take part in those sacred and secret ordinances. In no other way could the potential equality of red men with white men have been so conclusively demonstrated to Mormons and to their Indian friends.
Because of their unique view of Indians, Mormons generally treated them more fairly than other whites and throughout their migrating period, Mormons had little trouble with Indians. There are only several authenticated cases of kidnappings and killings! (There were, however, a good many Indian attempts along the trail to buy or trade for Mormon wives. To the author's knowledge, no such arrangements were ever consummated, although up to twenty horses were sometimes offered, especially for redheads with ringlets! Indians did, however, steal Mormon livestock, especially horses, whenever possible.
Contemporary Mormon Trail accounts reveal none of the horror most white Americans held concerning the captivity of white women by red men. On the contrary, Mormon journals mention Indians as being stately, helpful, nice, clean, handsome, stylish, and living in primitive grandeur. Mormons recorded that Indians provided food, rides on horses, guide services, entertainment, such as horse races and bow and arrow demonstrations, and occasional succor to lost pioneers. Some handcarters recorded that mounted Indians sometimes threw a rope on a handcart and helped pull it through rough terrain." When the Mormons settled in the Great Basin, however, and thereby preempted Indian lands, they experienced the same type of Indian troubles as non-Mormon settlers. There were intermittent conflicts for about twenty years--from some horse stealing in 1849 through the Utah Black Hawk War of the 1860s.
BLACKS ON THE TRAIL (top)
There were very few Blacks connected with the early Mormon Church and fewer still on the emigrant trails. There were, for example, only three Blacks in the pioneer company of 1847--Green Flake, Hark Lay, and Oscar Crosby. In the much bigger group of 1848, twenty-four more Blacks crossed the plains. Thereafter the records indicate a scattering of Black "servants" going west during the 1850s. Almost all of the servants mentioned in the sources were slaves of white southern converts, who saw no compelling reason for freeing their slaves just because they had become Mormons. Fortunately, most Blacks were later freed in Utah. On the trail, most of these slaves served as teamsters, herders, or cooks.
FOREIGN MORMON EMIGRANTS (top)
Mormon missionaries first reached Europe in 1837, and from England, missionaries spread to the continent. There were, therefore, many Mormon emigrants from, not only England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, but also from Denmark, Norway, Iceland, France, Italy, and Germany. Many of these emigrants were at a disadvantage in not knowing English in addition to not being accustomed to life on and beyond the American frontier. Mormon emigration officials tried to reduce this disadvantage through the previously mentioned Perpetual Emigration Fund, by organizing the foreign emigrants in Europe so that they sailed and traveled together all the way to their new Zion, and by always putting leaders in charge who knew the requisite languages. The sources indicate the system worked well.
NON-MORMONS ON THE TRAIL (top)
The Mormons, of course, met many traders, freighters, trappers and mountain men at their various points of departure and along the Mormon Trail. Additionally they encountered other westering Americans, the military, including discharged soldiers and even deserters and draft-dodgers from both north and south (during the Civil War, sometimes Mormon trains were even stopped and searched for such men), mail carriers, 49ers, Overland Telegraph workers, government roads workers, and Union Pacific Railroad workers.
During the Civil War, some of the Mormon trains were stopped, usually near Fort Bridger (Wyoming), and all native born males eighteen years or older had to take an oath of allegiance to the United States, while all male aliens eighteen years or older had to swear to act in strict neutrality "
WESTERN TRAVEL ACCOUNTS CONSULTED BY THE MORMONS (top)
In 1837, the imagination of the nation was caught by Washington Irving's reworking of the 1833 journal of Captain Benjamin Louis Eulalie de Bonneville into The Adventures of Captain Bonneville in the Rocky Mountains and the Far West. The account of the Oregon Trail between Fort Laramie and the Green River would have been of some value to the Mormons. Of special interest would have been the five-page description of the Great Salt Lake provided to Bonneville by one of his men, Joseph W.R. Walker. Bonneville was also the first to prove the feasibility of taking loaded wagons over the famed South Pass.
The following year a book appeared of which the Mormons might have known. This was the Rev. Samuel Parker's Journal of an Exploring Tour Beyond the Rocky Mountains along the Oregon Trail from Fort Leavenworth to the Green River via Bellevue (in what is now Nebraska); that is, across the Papillion, Elkhorn, the Loup, and along the north side of the Platte to Fort Laramie--the same way the Mormons later went.
The publications of John K. Townsend, Maximilian, Prince of Wied, Father Pierre Jean De Smet, and Thomas J. Farnham in the 1830s and 1840s would have been of little value to the Mormons. Of far greater importance was Captain John C. Fremont's A Report of the Exploring Expeditions to the Rocky Mountains in the Year 1842. Published in 1843, this work was probably worth as much to the Mormons as everything else published to that date combined. This was the Fremont Report mentioned so often by the Mormons. A 10,000-copy edition was reprinted in 1845 as the first part of his A Report of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the Year 1842 and To Oregon and North California in the Years 1843-44. The seventy-nine-page report of 1843 was the first scientific survey of the Oregon Trail and the first reasonably accurate guidebook to the Far West.
The 1843 Report was useful to the Mormons for its account of the Platte River Valley from what is now North Platte, Nebraska, to South Pass. Of most value to the Mormons in the subsequent 1845 Report was the three-page account of the exploration of the Great Salt Lake (which he reached via the Soda Springs), the Bear River area, and the valley of the Great Salt Uke. Of paramount interest to the Mormons were his comments on the fertility of the valleys west of the Rocky Mountains.
Next to Fremont the most often-mentioned source of information to the Mormons was Lansford W. Hastings' The Emigrant's Guide to Oregon and California, also published in 1845. For all of the fame or notoriety of this work, it is difficult to see wherein its value to the Mormons lay. Hastings' short account of his traveling from St. Louis to the Green River would have been of little help to the Mormons. He devoted exactly one sentence on pages 137-138 to what became the famous and infamous Hastings Cutoff, "The most direct route for the California Emigrants, would be to leave the Oregon route, about two hundred miles east from Fort Hall; then bearing west-southwest, to the Salt Lake; and thence continuing down to the bay of San Francisco, by the route just described." This one sentence sent some to their deaths, while suggesting to the Mormons a shorter way to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake, west from Fort Bridger, rather than via Fort Hall. The Mormons might also have found Hastings' excellent ten-page chapter on "The Equipment, Supplies, and the Method of Traveling" very valuable?'
WESTERN MAPS CONSULTED BY THE MORMONS (top)
Of far more importance to the Mormons than the travel accounts were the maps available to them. There were many--a plethora in fact." Since at least 1722, dozens of Spanish, French, and American maps had been published showing, in varying degrees of accuracy and fullness, the Platte River area. Over fifty maps of the trans-Mississippi west appeared during the first five years of the 1840s, and in the critical year of 1846 another twenty-eight were published.
From a practical standpoint, there is no use in this study to consider anything published prior to Major S.H. Long's map of 1823, which not only gave details along the north side of the Platte from the Missouri River to the forks of the Platte (see Appendix A, Map 5), but is also generally considered to have been the best map of the Platte area prior to those prepared by Fremont and his cartographer Charles Preuss. (See Appendix A, Map 3.)
It appears the Mormons also consulted the 1835 map of Bonneville. Unfortunately he was an untrained amateur and his map, not based on astronomical observations, was of poor technical quality. Still it was widely known and used in its day.
While there were many maps of the trans-Missouri west published in the 1840s, almost every one the Mormons might have been interested in were either those of Fremont-Preuss or based on Fremont-Preuss. The three Fremont-Preuss maps, which appeared in 1843, 1845, and 1846, were what we would call strip maps today, showing only the area actually explored with no attempt to present wide, general areas. They represent the best American cartography between Long's work and the Civil War.
The first of the Fremont-Preuss series, showing the Oregon Trail in great detail, from the forks of the Platte to South Pass and the Wind River Mountains, was the basis for the two that followed. In large format, 141/2" by 333/4", it was clearly the finest map of that area ever produced. Preuss prepared another map in 1845 to accompany Fremont's second Report of that year. As the 1845 publication included the 1843 material, the 1845 map embodied everything on the 1843 map. In huge format, 51" x 311/2", it showed his route along the Oregon trail from Westport (now part of Kansas City), to South Pass, Fort Vancouver, and on to San Francisco Bay. This map also provided a good sketch of the Platte River west from Bellevue, showing the Elkhorn, Loup, and Wood rivers.
In 1846, Preuss reworked his 1845 map. This map, from Westport to the Columbia River, was constructed on a grand scale of only 10 miles to the inch and was issued in seven sections, each 26" by 16.11
Of those maps derived from Fremont-Preuss, which the Mormons may have also consulted, are products that appeared with the 1845 Report of Colonel S. Kearny's expedition from Fort Leavenworth to South Pass; the 1845 Charles Wilkes Map of Oregon Territory; Rufus B. Sage's 1846 Map of Oregon, California, New Mexico and Northwest Texas; and above all, one or more of the three maps published by S. Augustus Mitchell in 1846. It was one or more of these Mitchell maps that Young ordered from St. Louis during January 1846, as cited previously. The map in question was undoubtedly the previously mentioned, "A New Map of Texas, Oregon, and California," which was 20" by 22" and appeared in four colors. (See Appendix A, Map 4.) It would seem then that the maps that hung on the walls of the Nauvoo temple and that were subsequently taken west, besides Fremont's, were surely Mitchell's, Wilkes', Bonneville's, and most likely Long's. Unfortunately none of the copies used by the pioneers has survived.
WESTERN TRAVELERS CONSULTED BY THE MORMONS (top)
It is also interesting to note the contacts the Mormons might have made while on the Missouri River, from June 1846 to April 1847, and subsequently along the trail. From the "Manuscript History of Brigham Young" and other sources, we know they consulted with frontiersmen, members of the famous Fontenelle family, Indian agents such as Robert B. Mitchell and Peter A. Sarpy, and Indian chiefs such as Big Elk and Le Clerk. We also know Young talked with the famous Jesuit missionary to the Indians, father Pierre Jean De Smet, while the latter was returning to St. Louis from Oregon. Justin Grosclaude, a fur trader of Swiss ancestry for the American Fur Company, also called on Young and sketched with pencil a map of the country west of the Missouri -- a map which, regrettably, has not survived, Not only did the Mormon leaders of the 1840s seek trail knowledge in the Council Bluffs area, but later on, rank and file Mormons in many other places along the Missouri River (such as Independence, Westport, Weston, and St. Joseph, Missouri, and Fort Leavenworth, Kansas Territory) acquired useful information to help later emigrants.
On the trail, the Mormons made the best use of every opportunity to learn from others including traders, guides, and mountain men such as Moses Harris, Jim Bridger, and Miles Goodyear. Whenever possible, the Mormons updated their information with the maps, printed accounts, and personal experiences of the people they met along the way.
MORMONS AND THE ENVIRONMENT (top)
There is no evidence that the Mormons harmed the environment of the trail. As modern Saints, Mormons tried to be responsible travelers--considerate of the land and game. Killing for sport, for example, was prohibited and they were usually careful in their consumption of trees for fuel. Perhaps the main reason for the Mormon concern with the environment is that they knew thousands of their faith would be using the same trail. The Mormons were interested in the environment, in the flora and fauna of the increasingly strange world they encountered while westering. Their journals record their pleasure with the dramatic landscapes they traversed. Occasionally some pioneers found time to do some "botanizing" and what we might call "geologizing." In what is now Nebraska, in 1847, for example, they were fascinated by mammoth bones.
The author has found scores of Mormon Trail account references to land features, plants, and animals. They noted, for example, such plants as wild onions, buffalo grass, willows, roses, violets, gooseberries, strawberries, clover, bunch grass, vines, elderberries, thistles, cacti, garlic, currants, mint, sage, rushes, and cedar, ash, cherry, oak, maple, apple, alder, birch, poplar, cottonwood, and pine trees. They also noted squirrels, ducks, snapping turtles, various kinds of fish, goose, lizards, skunks (with which some foreign emigrants had unpleasant experiences), prairie dogs, rattlesnakes, antelope, hares, wolves, buffalo, badgers, deer, crickets, spiders, toads, ants, mosquitoes, mice, eagles, hawks, cranes, martins, pheasants, and magpies--to name a representative sampling.
At times they even ventured to try to describe some unusual living things. One described something, perhaps a horny toad, as being "four to five inches long, including a long tail, body short and chunky, light grey, two rows of dark spots (brown) on each side, head shaped like a snake, appears perfectly harmless." Another described a plant as "a thistle, stem four feet long, six inches wide, one quarter inch thick, ornamented by prickles top to bottom, top is kind of a crown formed by prickly leaves ten inches long and five inches broad."
ACROSS IOWA IN 1846
LEAVING NAUVOO (top)
The approximately 1,300-mile-long Great Trek must be divided into two parts: The nearly 265-mile-long section across Iowa in 1846 and the 1,032 (as measured by Clayton in 1847) -mile-long segment across the Great Plains of Nebraska and Wyoming into Utah in 1847. The Iowa portion of the trail was used relatively little, mainly by the Mormons fleeing Illinois in 1846, and by some other Mormons jumping off from Keokuk, Iowa, in 1853. It was also used in 1856-1857 by seven companies of Mormon Handcarters from Iowa City who intersected the 1846 Mormon Trail at what is now Lewis, Cass County. (See "The Handcart Emigrants" in Chapter 6.) Thousands of other Mormons also crossed Iowa up to as late as 1863 on variants of the 1846 trail and on completely different trails, but all these trails intersected the trail of 1846 somewhere in western Iowa.
Across the monotonous, rolling Central Lowlands of Iowa, the trail of 1846 generally followed primitive territorial roads as far as Bloomfield, Davis County, then vague Potawatomi (the name exists in different spellings) Indian and trading trails along ridges from one water source to another and to an Indian agent's settlement on the Missouri River at what is now Council Bluffs. The trail always fell within 50 miles of the present Missouri state line. There is very little of the old trail left in Iowa. Time and the plow have erased almost all remains.
The Iowa portion of the trek was the worst. In spite of long preparations for quitting Nauvoo, the Mormons were not at all well prepared when they left during February and March of 1846. For one thing they left earlier than was necessary or had been planned. The year 1846 began badly. The charters of the Nauvoo Legion and of the City of Nauvoo were revoked in January, thus curtailing what legal and military protection the Mormons had. Rumors were spreading that the U.S. Government would prevent the Mormons from leaving because they were suspected of counterfeiting and that federal troops from St. Louis were planning to march on Nauvoo? Apparently these rumors led church leaders to decide to begin the evacuation of Nauvoo as soon as possible, rather than to await the agreed-upon spring departure time. In the beginning the weather was terrible, and the vanguard of Saints, a mixed group of men, women, and children, were inexperienced as well as unprepared. It took a month to cover the first 100 miles--an average of only 3 miles per day.
On February 4, 1846, the first wagons, belonging to a Charles Shumway, pulled out of Nauvoo, crossed the Mississippi River on ferries near the present Exodus to Greatness marker. After crossing the Mississippi the pioneers traveled west some 7 miles to a staging ground at Sugar Creek, Lee County, to await the arrival of Brigham Young and other church leaders who joined them February 15th.
The initial crossing and camping were neither orderly nor disciplined, and few people had followed advice regarding adequate food supplies. In addition to this suggested "outfit," which cost about $250, the pioneers needed all the clothing, bedding, and other foodstuffs they could acquire. For example, although Heber C. Kimball, an apostle, reached Sugar Creek with a two-year supply of food, the mismanagement and unpreparedness of others caused his store to be consumed within two weeks.
In spite of this and other difficulties attending the evacuation, months of planning and preparation made the exodus, even though several months ahead of schedule, more orderly and successful than is generally believed, and far from the tragic route of folklore.
Because of the weather, general unpreparedness, and lack of experience in moving large groups of people (except for Zion's Camp of 1834), the crossing of Iowa in 1846 was much more difficult than the migration west of the Missouri in 1847. The skills they learned while crossing Iowa in 1846 made the much longer part of the trek from the Missouri River to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake in 1847 easier. Through this part of the journey, the pioneers also set the pattern for settling the Great Basin.
TREK COMMENCES/DIFFICULTIES/SKILLS LEARNED (top)
By the beginning of March the first group of Mormons were ready to vacate their staging ground on Sugar Creek, where they had been gathering since February 4th. No accurate record was kept of how many wagons and people were at Sugar Creek that March 1st--estimates vary from four to five hundred wagons and from three to five thousand individuals. Five hundred wagons and three thousand people is probably close to the truth.
What from the start was known as the "Camp of Israel" began to lumber out from Sugar Creek about noon to the "gee-haws" of teamsters and the yells of herdsmen and children. Thereafter, Old Testament parallels to a Zion, a Chosen People, an Exodus, a Mount Pisgah, a Jordan River, a Dead Sea, to being "in the tops of the mountains," and making the desert blossom like the rose, were noted, devised, cherished, and handed down. The Mormons resembled ancient Israel in other ways: they were divided into groups of fifties and tens (Exodus 18:21) and, at times, were fractious and whiny.
A few trail journals give a romantic cast to the exodus across Iowa, that "Mormon Mesopotamia" between the Mississippi and the Missouri rivers, but as most other trail accounts make clear, the worst part of the entire journey from Nauvoo to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake was the beginning. No part of the long trek surpasses the tragedy and triumph of this hegira across the rolling, open prairie of Iowa Territory, which then consisted of little more than bluestem prairie grass and stands of oak and hickory forests along the numerous rivers and streams and dangerous swamps and bogs. Often, when roads did exist, they were most primitive. Some Mormons may have reflected often on the frontier sarcasm that it was a middling good road when the mud did not quite reach one's boot tops--while astride a horse. Although the Mormons made some improvements along the roads and trails they followed across Iowa, they did little, if any, trail blazing.
Along the Iowa trail, the basic skills of immigrating and colonizing were practiced and permanent camps were established. This part of the westward march influenced Mormon history long afterward. The Saints had learned only the rudimentary lessons of immigration during the Zion's Camp march from Ohio to Missouri in 1834; the advanced training had to be acquired in Iowa.
Through the settled parts of eastern Iowa, the Mormons tried to earn what money they could by hiring themselves out to anyone who would pay them. From 1846 through the early 1850s, they found sporadic work plowing; planting; fencing; digging wells; cutting logs; splitting rails; husking corn; making shingles; digging coal; and building bridges, homes, barns, jails, and river locks. They also did some plastering and brick work, and Pitt's Brass Band, a group of musicians from this pioneer company, played for dances.
Although it was generally well known among the Saints that the Camp of Israel was headed beyond the Rocky Mountains and into the Great Basin, little was said about where the camp would cross the Missouri or where they would pick up the Oregon Trail. They had little intention of returning to Missouri and crossing at Independence, Weston, or St. Joseph, and the only other well-established point of crossing to the north was Council Bluffs, Iowa Territory, which was closer to Nauvoo. In August 1845, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles (in charge of the church between the death of Smith and the presidency of Young) sent several men on a reconnaissance mission to find the best route across Iowa. They reported favorably on the Council Bluffs crossing.
ORGANIZATION IMPROVED (top)
As the camp moved west some changes and improvements in organization became necessary. Only the fundamental arrangement of the trek had been effected at Nauvoo and Sugar Creek. For various reasons, many of the original families had returned to Nauvoo, and bad roads and weather had scattered others.
On March 7th the camp reached a place they called Richardson's Point, which became the second rest stop in Iowa. The pioneers stayed here until March 18th. At Richardson's Point they lightened the loads of some of the wagons by burying some cannon balls and shot in the ground, intending to get them at some other time.
On March 22nd on the Chariton River, near present-day Sedan, Appanoose County, the remaining emigrants were called together and urged to maintain better order. To this end they regrouped into three companies, each consisting of one hundred families. All three companies were then subdivided into fifties and then tens, each unit led by a captain, the most important leaders of which were those of the six groups of fifty--Brigham Young, Heber Kimball, Parley P. Pratt, Peter Haws, John Taylor, and George Miller. This Chariton camp became the third temporary camping place in Iowa. The pioneers remained there from March 22nd through March 31st.
Thereafter, the line of march continued somewhat to the southwest until the companies found themselves on Locust Creek, either close to or in Missouri, where they made a fourth temporary camp. At that time, since the Missouri boundary was about 10 miles north of where it is today, some of them actually dipped into what was then Putnam County, Missouri.
"COME, COME YE SAINTS" COMPOSED (top)
It was here on April 14th that a courier arrived with a letter from Nauvoo informing William Clayton, the camp clerk, of the safe birth of a son. (Many pregnant women were left behind in the relative safety of Nauvoo until the advance company of pioneers worked out the best way to travel from the Mississippi to the Missouri. Messengers were frequently sent back to help guide the other Mormons who went west in 1846.) The next morning, walking off by himself, he wrote in joy and gratitude the words of the now-famous hymn "Come, Come, Ye Saints," often called, with some justification, the "Mormon Marseillaise" or the "hymn heard around the world." The verses epitomized the Mormon motivation for going west and their experience on a dozen trails, some well known, some totally forgotten, between New York and Utah from 1831 to the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869.
GARDEN GROVE ESTABLISHED (top)
From Locust Creek the camp bore more to the north to get away from their old enemies, the Missourians. By April 24th the pioneers had reached a place that they named Garden Grove. It was about halfway across Iowa, 144 miles west of Nauvoo and 120 miles east of Council Bluffs. Here, on the east bank of the Weldon Fork of the Grand River, they established the first of several permanent camps between Nauvoo and Winter Quarters. In three weeks they had broken 715 acres of tough prairie sod, built cabins, and established a community." Although nothing of the pioneer camp exists, there is a town by the name of Garden Grove near this old campsite and the local school district is named the Mormon Trail District.
MOUNT PISGAH ESTABLISHED (top)
When the camp moved out of Garden Grove on May 12th, enough families were left behind to maintain the community and to help later Nauvoo exiles, of which there would be thousands. Six days and about 35 miles later, they established another permanent camp and resting place. Ibis site, on the middle fork (Twelve-Mile Creek) of the Grand River and on Potawatomi Indian land, was selected and named Mount Pisgah by Parley P. Pratt, who, when he first saw it rising above the Iowa prairie. was reminded of the biblical Pisgah (Deuteronomy 3:27), where Moses viewed the Promised Land. There they built cabins and planted several thousand acres of rich bottomland lying to the west of the rise with peas, cucumbers, beans, corn, buckwheat, potatoes, pumpkins, and squash. Mount Pisgah was maintained as a camp until at least 1852. At its height it had over 2,000 inhabitants, most staying until their future homes in what is now Utah were more certain.
At Mount Pisgah, after over two and a half months of Iowa mud and other assorted troubles, Mormon leaders felt the need for divine guidance, so they withdrew to the isolation of the limitless prairie, clothed themselves in temple robes, formed a prayer circle, and invoked God for the good of the people and the success of the venture. All along the trek such special group prayers were held.
About 35 miles farther west they deepened some trail ruts still visible today--the only good ruts this author has found in Iowa. Mormon Trail ruts are very rare in Iowa for several reasons: the Iowa portion of the trail was much less used than the Nebraska and Wyoming portions, the soft soil did not hold and preserve the ruts well, and most of the ruts that did remain after the Mormons passed have since been destroyed by the plow.
COUNCIL BLUFFS REACHED (top)
Late on June 2nd, the camp moved on toward Council Bluffs, some 90 miles to the west, leaving behind enough people to improve and maintain Mount Pisgah for the benefit of future Saints going west. This last section of the 1846 journey was relatively pleasant: the sun dried the roads, grass grew, and wild strawberries flourished. On June 13th, the camp reached the Council Bluffs area at the Missouri River, and the first portion of the march was nearly over. The vanguard had taken a full four months, 120 days, to cross some 265 miles of southern Iowa, averaging only about 2.25 miles per day.
Despite the troubles experienced while crossing Iowa, the Mormons survived as a community, a community that grew stronger on the Missouri River, across the trans-Missouri west, and in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake.
MIDDLE MISSOURI VALLEY
(COUNCIL BLUFFS AND WINTER QUARTERS: 1846-1847)
COUNCIL BLUFFS GENERAL AREA (top)
In the Council Bluffs area the Mormons were not yet in the wilderness. The general area, up and down both sides of the river, had been discovered by French and Spanish explorer-trappers in the 1700s and had been an Indian trading site since at least 1804, when Lewis and Clark met with Indians north of there. Military forts, such as Fort Lisa and Fort Atkinson, had been built nearby as early as 1812, steamboats from St. Louis reached there as early as 1819, and it was an established point of departure for Oregon and California. Francois Guittau founded the first white settlement there at Trader's Point in 1824. In 1846 there was a village and a steamboat landing on each side of the river, with service to Fort Leavenworth, Independence, and St. Louis, and regular mail service. Indian agents were located on one, sometimes both, sides of the Missouri, and a Presbyterian Indian mission was on the west bank. Many goods and services, including some medical aid, were available.
When the Mormons arrived in 1846 they first called the area Miller's Hollow, then Kanesville (after a non-Mormon friend, Colonel Thomas L. Kane). By special charter in 1853 the State Legislature changed the name to Council Bluffs. The name derived from a council held by Lewis and Clark with the Indians in 1804 on the west side of the river about 12 miles upstream.
MORMON CAMPS AND COMMUNITIES (top)
Here in southern Iowa and eastern Nebraska between 1846 and 1853 the Mormons built at least fifty-five temporary and widely separated communities, farmed as much as 15,000 acres of land, and established three ferries. They eventually occupied five successive headquarters sites named Grand Encampment, Cold Spring Camp, Cutler's Park, Winter Quarters, and Kanesville (Council Bluffs). These numerous communities were established primarily to accommodate the thousands of Mormon emigrants, while they were either waiting to cross the Missouri River, or resting and preparing financially and physically to continue westward to Utah. Most of these communities, some named Barney's Grove, Davis Camp, or Little Pigeon, were close to the Missouri River and disappeared after the Mormons went west.
Initially the pioneers settled temporarily in camps along the bluffs near Mosquito Creek (near what is now the Iowa School for the Deaf), on the flats near the Missouri River, and near Trading Point (or Indian Town) located today just east of Bellevue, Nebraska--almost on the present Pottawattamie-Mills County, Iowa line. In July the Mormons established a third, more permanent camp on the Iowa shore, a camp that became known as Kanesville, the origin of modern Council Bluffs.
INDIAN RELATIONS (top)
In the Council Bluffs vicinity the Mormons in general had their first real and sustained contacts with Indians. Across Iowa the Mormons had been on Potawatomi lands since they left Mount Pisgah. At Council Bluffs they met the Potawatomi chief, Pied Riche, called "the clerk" by the French because of his education. The chief, who had been driven from his ancestral lands in Michigan by the Indian Removal program of the 1830s, felt some kinship with the Mormons. The Indian agent in Council Bluffs, Major Robert B. Mitchell, was also friendly to the Mormons. He reported, for example, to the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in St. Louis, "I am gratified to say that since their arrival I have seen nothing to which exception could be taken... They complain that they have been badly treated, but declare their intention to bear the American Flag to whatever country they cast their lot." And across the river at what became Winter Quarters, the Mormons were in close contact with the Oto and the Omaha.
The Omaha were a small tribe of only about 1,500 and were known for their consistent friendliness to the whites. The Oto, on the other hand, were considered by both Indians and whites to be a thieving people. They numbered about 1,000. Both tribes were basically farmers living in permanent earthen lodge villages.
Chief Big Elk and the Omahas were agreeable to the Mormons settling among them: the Indians might benefit from Mormon expertise and what the Saints would leave behind, and the whites might afford them some help against their ancient enemy, the warlike Sioux, who frequently raided Omaha villages.
THE MORMON BATTALION (top)
After the Kanesville camp was made, Mormon leaders were immediately concerned over two major problems: sending an advance company to the Rocky Mountains, and locating a place for the main portion of the camp to build winter quarters until they, too, could go west in the spring.
On July 1st, the first problem was solved by the process of elimination. On that day, Captain James Allen of the U.S. Army's First Regiment of Dragoons of Fort Leavenworth rode into the Mosquito Creek camp with a request from President James K. Polk for a battalion of 500 Mormon men to fight in the Mexican War. Part of the agreement was that the Mormons would be permitted officially to camp on Potawatomi lands and, unofficially, allowed to move across the Missouri River and settle temporarily on Omaha lands, which had previously been closed to whites. (It was important to the Mormons to put one more river between them and the "anti-Mormons.")
The battalion of about 489 men, some 20 wives who went as laundresses, four to a company, and perhaps a dozen boys as officers' aids, (because of imperfect records the exact number of men, women, and children in the battalion is not known and estimates vary) was eventually raised. They mustered in a little south of what became Council Bluffs, near what is now the Iowa School for the Deaf and on July 20th, the new recruits started off for Fort Leavenworth, 150 miles down the Missouri.
There is still, as there was then, a widespread belief among Mormons that raising the Mormon Battalion was a great sacrifice on the part of the church to an undeserving government. Actually, the government was responding to the requests of Mormon leaders for any kind of help in their move to the west. The Mormon leaders provided the men because it would help demonstrate their loyalty to their country (during wartime, Americans, including Mormons, generally work together), and because the church would benefit materially from the military pay, from the arms that the men could keep, from the uniform money allotments (since Mormons were allowed to wear their own clothes), and from the fact that many men would be transported west at government expense. (This last point was only partly realized, because, after being discharged, members of the battalion had to transport themselves back from California to either Salt Lake City or Winter Quarters to pick up or meet with their families.)
CAMPS WEST OF THE MISSOURI RIVER (top)
With the question of a pioneer group going west that fall eliminated by the formation of the battalion, Young began in earnest to locate winter quarters and to settle the Saints. Most of their searching was on the western side of the Missouri River on Indian lands disputed by the Omaha and Oto nations. As previously noted, Chief Big Elk and the Omaha were agreeable to the Mormons settling among them.
Cold Spring and Cutler's Park
Two temporary camps were made opposite Council Bluffs. The first, called Cold Spring Camp, in what is now South Omaha, was of very short duration; the second was Cutler's Park (see Historic Site 18), after Alpheus Cutler, the father-in-law of Heber C. Kimball, who selected it that August. Cutler's Park is now considered to have been the first official town in what became Nebraska. The Mormons elected Cutler as mayor, chose a city council of twelve, and hired police and fire guards.
It was soon decided, however, that Cutler's Park was not suitable and in early September, another campsite was selected, 3 miles closer to the river. It was there, in what is now Florence (technically North Omaha), Nebraska, that the Saints finally built their Winter Quarters, the Mormon "Valley Forge." Winter Quarters soon became a city of about 800 cabins, huts, caves, and sod, or "prairie marble," hovels, and 3,483 people. At its height it had about 4,000 people. During the winter of 1846-1847 there were approximately another 11,800 Mormons in camps scattered throughout Iowa.
The Winter Quarters period in church history, 1847-1852 has, until recently, been neglected in Mormon historiography. It has now come to be considered one of the most important periods in Mormon history, "Mormonism in the raw," as one student put it. During these years Brigham Young became president of the Mormon Church (in 1847) and inaugurated many policies and practices that were later applied in the Great Basin. Particularly important were the lessons learned from being in close proximity to Indians--how to understand Indian life and customs, how to trade with Indians, and how to prevent and punish Indian thievery, for example. Equally important were the lessons learned about surviving on the frontier, and how to lead and hold together a people under adverse conditions, and how to openly implement doctrines heretofore kept generally secret--the doctrines of polygamy and adoption, for example! The doctrine of polygamy, or plural marriage as Mormons prefer to term it, needs little comment. It had been practiced secretly in Nauvoo since at least 1841 and was defended on the grounds that it had been sanctioned in the Old Testament, was not forbidden in the New, and was necessary to the Mormon concept of the "restoration of all things." It was, however, not publicly admitted until 1852, when the Mormons were safely in Utah Territory. The law of adoption permitted church leaders to graft entire families onto their families, in order to increase their own posterity and blessing in this world and the next.
The winter of 1846-1847 was grim. At least 400 died from various causes and are buried in the Winter Quarters' cemetery. These deaths added to the number already dead from malaria and other fevers. Some gave up the faith and returned to the east. Others simply stayed in the area and never went west. There was also some trouble with the Indians--mainly stealing. Young warned Big Elk, Chief of the Omaha, that any Indians caught stealing would be whipped--the same punishment meted out to white malefactors. (Since the Mormons had no jails, they found it necessary to practice corporal punishment for a few years).
Still the Mormons made the best of things. They organized concerts, dances, (even dancing lessons), songfests, feasts, festivals, and sleigh rides, and visited back and forth with the other whites on both sides of the river and downstream at Bellevue.
In Winter Quarters the Mormons received some unexpected and welcomed information regarding the mountain west. That November, as previously noted, the famous Jesuit, Father Pierre Jean de Smet, stopped and visited with the Mormons. He was en route to St. Louis after spending five years in the mountains preaching to the Flathead Indians and was one of the few white men who had visited the Great Salt Lake. Taking full advantage of this good luck, the Mormons asked him every question they could think of. De Smet took it goodnaturedly and some years later wrote a brief account of this meeting.
MORMONS AND TRAIL-SIDE SERVICES (top)
During that winter, and throughout the next several years, until at least 1852, Mormons on both sides of the Missouri tried to make money offering what we might call trail-side services, such as blacksmithing, ferrying, cooking, baking, sewing, and selling hay, corn, and wheat. They even provided some warehousing services. In addition, they handcrafted items such as baskets, flour sacks, chairs, washboards, tables, and hats to the many hundreds of non-Mormon emigrants who also jumped-off for the Far West from that area. The area was a very popular point of departure for non-Mormons." Some did a little "doctoring" and pulled and cleaned teeth. Others made wine from elderberries and sold it. Some of the sisters also taught school, did washings, sewed, cooked, baby-sat, spun yarn, made clothing, and worked in restaurants and boarding houses. Some men went south into Missouri to seek work for short periods.
Throughout their emigrating period, to 1869, Mormons took every opportunity to make money by offering such services. West of the Missouri River they continued to offer blacksmithing services; they established ferries on the Elkhorn and Loup rivers (one was near what became Genoa) and did some contract bridging across the Green River (in what is now Wyoming) and down Echo Canyon (in what is now Utah), for example.
Over the years Mormon emigrants also used trail-side services provided by "Gentiles," or non-Mormons. West of the Missouri River, in what is now Nebraska, Mormons could have obtained supplies at settlements such as Fremont, North Bend, Columbus, Buchanan (near Shell Creek, which no longer exists), Cleveland (west of Columbus, which no longer exists), Monroe, Grand Island, Fort Kearny, Fort McPherson, (these two forts were on the Oregon Trail) and at scattered trading posts, such as Robidoux's near Scotts Bluff, and at various "road ranches."
Across what is now Wyoming, there was an ever-increasing number of trading posts and forts useful to the Mormons located at Dripps Trading Post, the Bordeaux Station, Fort Laramie, Ward and Guerrier's Trading Post, Horseshoe Station, Labonte Station, Deer Creek Station, Fort Caspar, Devil's Gate Station and fort, and St. Mary's Station, among others.
WINTER QUARTERS ABANDONED (top)
After the dreary winter of 1846-1847 passed, the Mormon Pioneer advance party readied to continue west during the spring of 1847. And after they successfully planted a colony in what is now Utah, Young and other leaders returned to Winter Quarters to lead a much bigger group west in 1848. Thereafter, Winter Quarters was quickly abandoned. The Mormons who did not go west at that time tended to congregate near what was to become Council Bluffs, Iowa, until such time as they could continue on west. Some Mormons remained in western Iowa until at least 1853. They founded a newspaper, the Frontier Guardian (1849-1852) and made money helping with church migration and, as previously noted, also catering to the needs of thousands of other Americans traveling to Oregon and California.
THE PIONEER TREK OF 1847
In early January 1847, the pioneer company began in earnest to prepare to leave for the Rocky Mountains that spring. The traditional time, the "window," to head west from the Missouri River was sometime between April 15th and May 30th. This vanguard differed from other westering Americans in that they were not interested in just getting themselves west, but in improving the trail for the benefit of the many thousands of their co-religionists, who would soon be following them to their new Zion. Among the improvements the pioneers made were cutting down the banks of deep stream beds so that wagons could cross them easier, bridging small creeks, marking the trail with signs, locating good fords, and establishing ferries.
Some idea of the staggering logistics of preparation for such a venture can be gained from the following inventory, detailed to the last half-cent, of what Heber C. Kimball assembled and transported in his six wagons:
Teams belonging to H.C. Kimball: Horses 5, mules 7, oxen 6, cows 2, dogs 2, wagons 6. List of provisions: Flour 1,228 lbs., meat 865 lbs., sea biscuits 125 lbs., beans 296 lbs., bacon 241 lbs., corn for teams 2,869 lbs., buckwheat 300 lbs., dried beef 25 lbs., groceries 2903/4 lbs., sole leather 15 lbs., oats 10 bus., rap 40 lbs., seeds 71 lbs., cross-cut saw 1, axes 6, scythe 1, hoes 3, log chains 5, spade 1, crowbar 1, tent 1, keg of powder 25 lbs., lead 20 lbs., codfish 40 lbs., garden seeds 50 lbs., plows 2, bran 31/2 bus., 1 side of harness leather, whip saw 1, iron 16 lbs., nails 16 lbs., 1 sack of salt 200 lbs., saddles 2, 1 tool chest, 6 pairs of double harness. Total $1,592.87 1/2.
Apparently the original idea, by design or accident (but in any case consonant with the tendency of Mormons to pattern themselves after the ancient House of Israel), was to handpick and outfit 144 men (including three Black slaves or "servants" of southern members and two non-Mormons selected for their special skills)--twelve for each of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, in seventy-two wagons. The pioneer band was hand-picked by Young and other top church leaders. Men were interviewed and selected with a view to making roads, building bridges, erecting temporary quarters, and other pioneering skills. Collectively those chosen had a variety of talents and skills. There were mechanics, teamsters, hunters, frontiersmen, carpenters, sailors, soldiers, accountants, bricklayers, blacksmiths, wagonmakers, lumbermen, joiners, dairymen, stockmen, millers, and engineers--varying in ability, temperament, and saintliness; they represented a cross section of humanity.
The numerical symmetry was not essential. Even before the group left Winter Quarters, three women and two children were added and a few days later one sick man returned to Winter Quarters. En route, nineteen men left the pioneers on other assignments and thirty persons were added. So the original 144 was augmented by 35 and decreased by 20, leaving a net gain of 15. A final group of 159 members entered the Valley of the Great Salt Lake in July 1847.
The unanticipated inclusion of three women and two children in an otherwise all-male venture was occasioned by the insistence of Young's younger brother, Lorenzo, that he be allowed to take his asthmatic wife, Harriet, and her two children. This, of course, necessitated including at least one or two other females to keep Harriet company. Fortuitously, Brigham had married Harriet's daughter, Clara Decker, so he took her. Kimball took Ellen Sanders, one of his sixteen wives. Her child, born February 13, 1848, was one of the first to be born in what is now Utah. Rank had its privileges.
The pioneers of 1847 were much better disciplined than was Zion's Camp of 1834, or the crossing of Iowa in 1846. This was in part the result of a revelation given to Brigham Young on January 14, 1847, at Winter Quarters--the only revelation Young ever published. It began, "The Word and Will of the Lord concerning the Camp of Israel in their journey to the west," and is known today as Section 136 of the Doctrine and Covenants. Basically the revelation gave details on camp organization. Equally important was the fact that the Mormons had learned valuable lessons while crossing Iowa, especially the value of discipline.
For a variety of reasons, including expense, the Mormons never hired professional guides or outfitters, although they consulted with them whenever possible. They preferred to "trust in the Lord" and pick up trail savvy as they moved along. Men were appointed to scout the trail and others to ride along the front, flanks, and rear--guarding and enclosing the moving camp in a box-like formation. Neither persons nor animals could be allowed to roam. Disreputable whites and Indians had to be kept at a safe distance, and wolves had to be restrained from picking off stray or weakened animals.
The scouting assignment was vital. Not that there was much chance of getting lost on the established trails the Mormons used, but water, feed, fuel, grades, crossings, and whatever might prove dangerous to man or beast had to be anticipated, found, and reported. Eight men were appointed to hunt on horseback and eleven to hunt on foot.
Contrary to myth and popular belief, this 1847 trek of approximately 1,032 miles and 111 days was not one long and unending trail of tears or a trial by fire. It was actually a great adventure. Over the decades, Mormons have emphasized the tragedies of the trail, and tragedies there were, but generally after 1847. Between 1847 and the building of the railroad in 1869, at least 6,000 died along the trail from exhaustion, exposure, disease, and lack of food. Few were killed by Indians. To the vast majority, however, the experience was positive--a difficult and rewarding struggle. Nobody knows how many Mormons migrated west during those years, but 70,000 people in 10,000 vehicles is a close estimate. To the 143 men, 3 women, and 2 children who left Winter Quarters, the 111-day pioneer trek of 1847 was mostly a great adventure, with a dramatic ending. One hundred and eleven days later Brigham Young entered the valley and declared, "This is the place, drive on."
The feelings of the female pioneers, the three who left Winter Quarters and the six who joined at Fort Laramie, were, naturally, somewhat different. At least two of them saw only a wilderness, a reptile's paradise. "I have come 1,200 miles to reach this valley and walked much of the way," Clara Decker, Young's wife, said, "but I am willing to walk 1,000 miles farther rather than remain here." Her mother, Harriet, echoingly said, "We have traveled fifteen hundred miles over prairies, desert, and mountains, but, feeble as I am, I would rather go a thousand miles farther than stay in such a place as this." Nevertheless, they stayed.
SCIENTIFIC INSTRUMENTS AND OBSERVATIONS (top)
The 1847 pioneer trek from "civilization to sundown" took a few days to get properly under way, as did the trip in 1846, when the Camp of Israel left Nauvoo. Kimball moved three wagons out 4 miles on April 5th, but returned to Winter Quarters to meet with John Taylor who had just arrived from England with some specially ordered scientific instruments for Orson Pratt. The elite, fast-moving, well-equipped, exploring band of pioneers were not just taking themselves to the valley, they were charting a road that the Saints and others would use for more than twenty years. For this they needed sextants, a circle of reflection, artificial horizons, barometers, thermometers, and telescopes. The Mormons became a part of what is now known as the "Great Reconnaissance" of the Far West.
Orson Pratt, a Mormon with some astronomy and engineering skills, served informally as the pioneers' "scientific member." He had made a few sightings along the trail from Nauvoo, but they are of little value today. Beyond the Missouri his latitudinal determinations were made, according to his journal, alternately by "meridian observation of Sirius," by "altitude of the Pole Star," by "meridian observations of the sun," and by the "meridian altitude of the moon." With the aid of the new instruments just received from England, his latitudinal determinations were quite accurate.
Lacking a suitable chronometer, however, his few longitudinal sightings made by the "angular distance of the sun and moon taken by sextant and circle" cannot be trusted. Even Fremont, who often spent hours making multiple sightings of the occultations of the planets and stars by the moon and the Jupiterian satellites, had difficulty determining proper longitude. Along the Platte River a miscalculation of only one minute causes an error of 6,000 feet in latitude and 4,500 feet in longitude.
STAGING GROUND (top)
On April 5, 1847, the first wagons started west and after a few days the main body of pioneers were at their staging ground on the Platte River, 47 miles west, near what is now Fremont, Nebraska. 'Mis site was later dubbed the Liberty Pole staging ground because later Mormon emigrants erected a forty-foot-tall cottonwood pole, flying a white flag, here. This staging ground on the Platte, similar to the earlier staging ground at Sugar Creek in 1846 in Iowa, was necessary since leaders like Young and Kimball had to go back and forth between Winter Quarters and the Platte in order to get the "drag tails" under way, and the whole migration organized and ready to go. On April 14th, Young and Kimball left Winter Quarters and joined the main camp at the Liberty Pole Camp.
At the Platte River camp the group consisted of 148 people, 72 wagons, 93 horses, 66 oxen, 52 mules, 19 cows, 17 dogs, and some chickens. There they organized paramilitary fashion into two large divisions, each of which was split into units of 50s and 10s, each with its respective leaders. Young led the first division, Kimball the second; Stephen Markham and Albert P. Rockwood were appointed captains of the hundred, with Addison Everett, Tarlton Lewis, James Case, John Pack, and Addison Roundy captains of the 50s.
1847 TREK BEGINS (top)
The real beginning of the trek of 1847 and the whole trans-Missouri Mormon migration that followed was at 7:30 on the morning of Monday, April 19th. The company moved out from their staging area and the grand adventure began.
As previously noted, the Mormons had prepared themselves for this pioneering venture by studying as much trail literature and as many travel guides as they could, including works by Irving, Fremont, Hastings, Parker, and Long, and had acquired maps by Long, Wilkes, Bonneville, Fremont, and Mitchell. They referred to the maps and accounts en route, to check their location.
The Platte River, rising in Colorado and one of the largest branches of the Missouri, is very broad and shallow, a meandering, braided river that old timers used to say "flowed upside down" -- a reference to the many visible sandbars. One disgruntled pioneer remarked that it would make a pretty good stream if it were turned on its side. Travelers seemed to enjoy thinking up insults for the Platte. The consensus regarding this river was that it was a mile wide, six inches deep, too thick to drink, too thin to plow, hard to cross because of quicksand, impossible to navigate, too yellow to wash in, and too pale to paint with. For hundreds of miles the pioneers hauled themselves across its flat, monotonous plain in what is now Nebraska.
There is some evidence that the pioneers knew in advance that they were going into the Great Basin somewhere near its eastern rim, along the western slope of the Wasatch Mountains. As early as 1842, as previously noted, some claimed Smith said that the Saints would go there, and church leaders had studied Fremont's account and maps of the area. But into which of the several unclaimed valleys? En route, the pioneers consulted with everyone they could about the region, including some famous mountain men--Moses Harris, Jim Bridger, and Miles Goodyear. It appears that as they moved toward and into the Great Basin, they gradually decided to settle in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake.
The camp moved deliberately, casually, about 2 miles an hour (the pace of oxen pulling heavy wagons), and under little pressure. Their best distance for one day was 23 3/4-miles, but they averaged only 10 miles a day. There was no need to get to the mountains before winter snows had melted.
THE TRAIL/DIVISIONS AND TOPOGRAPHY (top)
West of Winter Quarters the Mormons followed generally what is sometimes called the Great Platte River Road or the north branch of the Oregon Trail, which had always been regarded as the most advantageous approach to the easiest crossing of the Rocky Mountains. The original Oregon Trail, from 1812, was north of the Platte and after Independence Missouri became the eastern terminus around 1827, it shifted to the south side. The Mormons of 1847 simply followed the older Oregon Trail to Fort Laramie, where they crossed the North Platte River and picked up the then main route of the Oregon Trail. (In trail days whatever side of the Platte a party started out on is the side it remained on; no emigrants crossed that river unless absolutely necessary. Had the Mormons started out south of the Platte, they probably would have remained on that side.) Among those who preceded the Mormons west along the north bank of the Platte were Indians, trappers, traders, Robert Stuart, James Clyman, Major Stephen H. Long, Samuel Parker, the Marcus-Whitman party of 1836, and the Townsend-Murphey group of 1844. And many non-Mormons followed the pioneers of 1847, for the Council Bluffs area was a very important and popular jumping off place throughout the westering period in American history.
The simplest way of following the pioneers (and most subsequent Mormon emigrants) from "civilization to sundown" is to divide the trail into four sections and relate them to the Oregon Trail, the "main street to the west."
1. The Oregon Trail proper of the 1840s started at Independence, Missouri, and crossed Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, and Idaho. The first section of the Mormon Trail from Winter Quarters was generally along the north bank of the Platte River, some 185 miles to near what is now Kearney, Nebraska. Up to this point the Mormon Trail and the Oregon Trail of the late 1840s were entirely separate.
2. The second portion of the Mormon Trail was from Kearney to Fort Laramie, Wyoming. Along this approximately 320-mile-long section, the two trails followed the Platte, the Mormons on the north bank and the Oregonians on the south. Since in the 1840s, the favored route to Oregon and California was along the south bank of the Platte, it might appear that the Mormons pioneered the north bank trail, but actually during the 1820s and 1830s the north bank had been the preferred way, used
by fur trappers and missionaries. As late as 1846, the famous historian Francis Parkman took the northern route to South Pass.
3. The third section of the trail was from Fort Laramie to Fort Bridger. Here the Mormons followed the Oregon Trail proper for some 397 miles.
4. The fourth and final section of about 116 miles started at Fort Bridger, where the Oregon Trail turned north and where the Mormons left the Oregon Trail and picked up the year-old Reed-Donner track through the Rockies into the Salt Lake Valley.
West of Winter Quarters the Mormons passed along river valleys, across grasslands, plains, steppes, deserts, and mountains, and through western forests, experiencing dramatic changes in flora and fauna. Topographically the trail led across the Central Lowlands of eastern Nebraska, covered with the tall prairie grass of bluestem and needle; across the High Plains of central Nebraska and the Upland Trough of western Nebraska and eastern Wyoming, blanketed with short, stubby plains grasses such a grama and buffalo; through the Wyoming Basin with its desert shrub of sagebrush, creosote bush, and greasewood; through the forests of Douglas fir and scrub oak of the middle Rocky Mountains, and into the sagebrush desert of the Great Basin.
From Winter Quarters they followed the broad, flat valley of the Platte for some 600 miles and the beneficent little Sweetwater for about 93 more, all the while enjoying an increasingly rugged and beautiful land, and finally zigzagging through a series of defiles and canyons.
They traversed the empire of the bison, wolf, antelope, bear, coyote, goat, elk, fox, raccoon, rabbit, hare, gray swan, great blue heron, and quail; the bee, grasshopper, and firefly; the rattlesnake, copperhead, lizard, and turtle; the grayling, catfish, and trout. Seasonally the area was a piebald garden of sunflowers, daisies, gayfeather, and butterfly milkweed. The modern traveler can still find some parts of the old trail. Much of the plains, deserts, mountains, steppes, and forests remain, but the tall grass prairie is almost all gone, a victim of the white man's plow. (See previous section on Mormons and the Environment.)
Part 1. Winter Quarters to Kearney, Nebraska (top)
From their staging ground the Mormon Pioneers followed the Platte to near what is now Columbus, where they decided to follow the Loup Fork of the Platte. Near here the pioneers (and later Mormons) had their first meeting with a group of Plains Indians--a band of Pawnee, the largest indigenous tribe in Nebraska, numbering as many as 10,000 people. The nation was centered on the Loup River and habitually demanded gifts from white travelers near Shell Creek. Later the pioneers, who would meet other groups of Plains Indians such as the Sioux and the Crow, were entering the Great Plains at a time of great disorder and intertribal warfare. The inexorable push of the white man west had driven a jumble of eastern Indians onto the Great Plains, where they were considered invaders by the natives.
On April 24th, the pioneers crossed the Loup near what is now Fullerton (see Historic Site 25) and went due south about 16 miles, where they again picked up the Platte. On May lst, just west of what is today Kearney, Nebraska, the pioneers sighted a herd (or, to pedantically use the proper noun of assembly, an obstinacy) of bison." Originally the animal had ranged from the Appalachians. Some were even known to live along the east coast from Virginia to Florida, to the Rockies, but by 1820 had been killed off east of the Missouri River. In 1847 the Mormons found them 200 miles farther west, along the Platte and Sweetwater rivers. A hunt was quickly organized. Four wagon loads of meat were secured and the camp feasted.
Part II, Kearney to Fort Laramie (top)
A few days later, on May 5th, the pioneers experienced another of the great natural phenomena of the plains--a prairie fire. Usually caused by dry lightning or Indians, it became a scourging wall of flame that, wind-driven, could reach a height of twenty feet, could scorch and blind buffalo, overtake a horse, and easily engulf a slow-moving ox train. Nebraska country was a great sea of grass, which summer sun and winter frost regularly dried or killed, leaving it tinder to great fires every fall and spring. There are only two ways of fighting such a fire: with firebreaks or backfires. The pioneers had time for neither, they simply drove their wagons to a convenient island in the Platte and let the fire pass harmlessly by.
On May 10th, west of the confluence of the North and South Platte rivers, several pioneers gave some thought to making an instrument to attach to a wagon wheel that would measure miles traveled. Prior to this William Clayton had kept track of distance by tying a red cloth to a wagon wheel and counting its revolutions (360 to the mile). The device was an endless screw fashioned out of wood. It was because of this measuring device and his detailed journal that Clayton was later, in 1848, to publish his famous The Latter-day-Saints' Emigrants' Guide.
West of Ash Hollow, a famous camping site on the Oregon Trail, the Mormons entered the broken lands of the Upper Missouri Basin and the terrain became increasingly more interesting and varied. For 80 miles to Scotts Bluff, the pioneers traveled through what might loosely be called a monument valley. Along this stretch on both sides of the river are some of the most famous and dramatic topographical features of the Mormon and Oregon-California Trails. Courthouse Rock, Chimney Rock, and Scotts Bluff guarded the Oregon Trail, while Indian Lookout Point and Ancient Ruins Bluff sentineled the Mormon Trail. In mid-May they crossed a short section of Nebraska's Sand Hills, where ruts can still be found.
On May 22nd the pioneers made camp near the most impressive topographic site along the entire Mormon Trail, a place the Mormons called Ancient Ruins Bluff, which consists of three separate and magnificently eroded formations. On Sunday, May 24th, Brigham Young and others climbed the main bluff. While there, they wrote their names on a buffalo skull and left it on the southwest corner. (Years later this author tried to find this skull but, of course, it was no longer there.)
In this general area the pioneers engaged is some mock trials and elections. James Davenport, for example, was accused of "blocking the highway and turning ladies out of the way," and "Father" Chamberlain was voted the most even-tempered man in camp--always cross and quarrelsome.
On May 24th, at their camp opposite Courthouse Rock, at one time thought to have been named from its fancied resemblance to the St. Louis courthouse, the pioneers were visited by a party of Sioux, certainly the largest of the Great Plains tribes and the most dominant. The visit was pleasant and the pioneers were favorably impressed with the Indians.
On May 26th, they passed Chimney Rock--a principal milestone, which, though only 452 miles from Winter Quarters, came to be considered sort of a halfway mark. This most familiar sight on the Oregon Trail was an eroded tusk of Brule clay jutting some 500 feet above the Platte. No one is known to have successfully climbed it, but there is one legend that an Indian suitor, in order to win a bride, reached the top, only to plunge to his death. On Friday, May 28th, they were opposite the massive formations of clay and sandstone called Scotts Bluff and passed the future site of the famous Rebecca Winter's grave. The grave is famous, because it is one of the very few authenticated Mormon emigrant graves known.
The following day was Sunday and, just east of what today is the Wyoming state line near Henry, Young convened a special meeting. They went out on the bluffs clothed themselves in their temple robes and held a prayer circle to pray for guidance.
That same day they spotted the pyramidal bulk of Laramie Peak looming regally above the "Black Hills," today's Laramie Mountains, the first western mountains seen by westering Americans. A day later they passed out of what is now Nebraska and came upon a wagon track that led them to Fort Laramie, 30 miles farther west.
Fort Laramie has had at least three names. It was founded in 1834 as Fort William, later called Fort John, by which name the pioneers knew it, and then in 1849 it became Fort Laramie, after a French trapper, Jacques LaRamie. Thus far the pioneers had suffered no deaths, little illness, and the loss of only four horses, two to the Indians and two accidentally killed--one was shot (loaded firearms kept in jolting wagons or held by people on horseback claimed many a life needlessly on the frontier), the other fell into a ravine while tethered, and broke its neck.
In 1847 while at Fort Laramie, the pioneers rested their animals and themselves and prepared to pick up the Oregon Trail, the longest wagon road in history. Called the main street of the old west, the Oregon Trail stretched over 2,000 miles from Independence, Missouri, to the Columbia River. It had been blazed between 1811 and 1839 and thereafter tens of thousands used the trail annually on their way to Oregon and California. Estimates range from 350,000 to 500,000 people used the Oregon Trail up until the coming of the railroad in 1869. Those going to California left the Oregon Trail at Soda Springs and Fort Hall in what is now Idaho.
While at Fort Laramie, the pioneers were joined by seventeen advance members of the "Mississippi Saints" from Monroe County, Mississippi, who had been waiting for them for two weeks. Among this advance group were six females: Elizabeth Crow and her five daughters. The Mississippi Saints told the pioneers that most of their group and some soldiers of the Mormon Battalion, too sick to pursue the march any farther (commonly called the Sick Detachment), were at Fort Pueblo in what was to become Colorado. To help this group join the pioneers in the Valley, Young dispatched four men to Fort Pueblo. This meant a net gain of thirteen individuals, bringing the number of the pioneer group to 161 people with 77 wagons.
Part III, Fort Laramie to Fort Bridger (top)
On Saturday, June 5th, the pioneers were ready to leave for the Continental Divide at South Pass and Fort Bridger, 397 miles west. For a little over one month the pioneers would be on the Oregon Trail with several other Gentile (non-Mormon) companies, with whom they would vie for the best campgrounds, feed, and priority in fording rivers.
On their first day out from Fort Laramie they came to what is now called Mexican Hill. They may have been familiar with the frontier hyperbole regarding this steep cut down the bluffs to the river. While descending, so the story went, if a tin cup fell out of a wagon it would land in front of the oxen. Two miles west of Mexican Hill is Register Cliff and 1 1/2 miles beyond that are some of the most dramatic trail ruts in the world--four feet deep in solid rock--near what is now Guernsey, Wyoming, in Guernsey State Park. Near here is Warm Springs Canyon, the Emigrants' Wash Tub, where the water is always a warm 70 degrees.
Two days later, near Horseshoe Creek, Heber C. Kimball discovered a large spring, which was named after him. On Sunday, June 13th, while at their fording site on the Platte, frequently referred to as "Last Crossing," the pioneers established a ferry for the Saints who would follow. It was also established to be a money-making venture. Ten men were left behind to operate and maintain what soon became known as Mormon Ferry.
When the pioneers left Last Crossing on June 19th, they quit the Platte for good. From the Elk Horn River to Last Crossing they had followed its generally gentle valley for more than 600 miles. The easy part of the trek was over, as the next 50 miles would prove. The stretch from Last Crossing through Emigrant Gap, by Avenue of Rocks, Willow Springs and up Prospect Hill to the Sweetwater River near Independence Rock was the worst section of the whole trail between Nauvoo and the Salt Lake Valley. It was a "Hell's Reach" of few and bad campsites, bad water, little grass, one steep hill, swamps, and stretches of alkali flats.
But the pioneers endured and lived to enjoy refreshing draughts of the Sweetwater River, which probably acquired its name either from American trappers because of its contrast with the other brackish streams in the vicinity, or from French voyagers, who called it the Eau Sucree because a pack mule loaded with sugar was lost in its water. This small, gentle, beneficent river, which all Oregonians and Mormons followed for 93 miles to South Pass, made it possible for travelers to reach their destination in one season, avoiding a winter in such desolate country.
Like all travelers before and after them, the pioneers stopped to climb the huge turtle-shaped Independence Rock and some carved or painted their initials or names into or on it. Four and a half miles west was the equally famous Devil's Gate, another popular resting place on the trail.
Its name derives from the notion that the formation bears the profiles of twin petrified genies. It is a 1,500-foot-long, 370-foot-deep gap in a rocky spur, through which flows the Sweetwater. Signatures can still be found in this gap.
West of Devil's Gate came Martin's Cove, the Split Rock ruts, Three Crossings, the Ice Springs, the Willie's Handcart grave, and South Pass.
On June 27th they crossed the flat, almost imperceptible 7,750-foot-high continental divide at South Pass, the "Cumberland Gap" of the Far West. Oregonians and Californians tried to reach this pass by July 4th in order to get to their destinations before winter. (The Mormons, with a shorter distance to go, did not have to be so careful.) At Pacific Springs, immediately west of South Pass, the pioneers refreshed themselves and their animals. These famous springs, so named because their waters flowed to the Pacific Ocean, were the recognized beginning of the sprawling and ill-defined Oregon Territory.
A few miles farther, on the aptly named Dry Sandy, they met Moses Harris, the first of the mountain men with whom they consulted about their destination. Harris, who had roamed the west for twenty-five years, did not think much of the country around the Great Salt Lake; he said it was barren, sandy, and destitute of timber and vegetation except wild sage. On the next day, still on the Dry Sandy, the pioneers met the famous Jim Bridger, who was on his way to Fort Laramie, and spent some time with him discussing the Valley of the Great Salt Uke. This camp was the setting of Bridger's well-known challenge that he would give a thousand dollars for a bushel of corn raised in the Great Basin. For his help, Young gave Bridger a pass for the Mormon Ferry on the Platte.
At this time, Bridger, who was quite "likkered up," entertained them with some of his tall tales, like the one about the glass mountain strewn about with the corpses of animals and birds that had killed themselves running and flying into it; or the one about petrified birds singing in a petrified forest; perhaps the one about a stream that ran so fast it cooked the trout in it; or about the rock he threw across the Sweetwater River, which just kept on growing until it became Independence Rock; and maybe the story of the time some Indians chased him up a narrow canyon closed at the head by a 200-foot waterfall. "And how did you escape, Jim?" the Mormons may have asked. "I didn't," he'd have answered, "they scalped me."
June 29th was a banner day: the Mormons, passing the famous Parting of the Ways made the best distance of the whole crossing--23 3/4-miles, against an overall average of 10 miles per day. Such a distance was covered only because there was no water between the Dry Sandy and the Sandy. By July 3rd they were at the Green River where they established another ferry. From there they passed Church Butte and, finally, on the afternoon of July 7th, they arrived at Fort Bridger, a poorly built ramshackle adobe establishment on Black's Fork of the Green River, put up in 1842 to service emigrants on the Oregon Trail.
Part IV, Fort Bridger to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake (top)
The pioneers tarried at this rather shabby fort just long enough to do some trading and repair their wagons, especially the running gear and wheels. At 8:00 A.M. on Friday, July 9th, the pioneers quit the Oregon Trail, which there turned north, and began the last leg of their journey. The Mormons followed Hastings Cutoff, a barely visible track through the Rockies made by the Reed-Donner party of 1846, many of whom later perished in the Sierra Nevada snows. Even with the trailblazing done by the Reed-Donner group, it took the pioneers sixteen days and ten camps to traverse the 116 miles between Fort Bridger and the Salt Lake Valley.
Their second day out of Fort Bridger, the pioneers met a third mountain man, Miles Goodyear, who owned a trading post at the mouth of the Weber River, near what is now Ogden, Utah, about 38 miles north of where Young was to locate that summer. They also passed a pure-water spring, a sulfur spring, and an oil spring. Then they entered the beginning of a 90-mile-long natural highway, a chain of defiles, which meandered through the forbidding Wasatch Range of the Rockies into the valley, as if an ancient Titan had dragged a stick through the area. The first part of the final stretch came to be called Echo Canyon.
By noon on July 12th, they had made midday camp along Coyote Creek, about 1 mile east of a prominent and strange formation of conglomerate rocks called the Needles, or Pudding Rocks (see Historic Site 60), and about 1 ½ miles east of what is now the Wyoming-Utah border. Here Young was suddenly stricken with tick fever. He remained ill for nearly two weeks, during which time Kimball took over the direction of the camp. In the hope that Young would be well enough to travel the next day, Kimball and a few others remained at the Coyote Creek camp and sent Orson Pratt and the main company on. On July 13th, it was obvious that Young was worse, not better, so Kimball rode 63/4 miles ahead to the main camp near the well-known rendezvous site called Cache Cave and suggested that Pratt drive on to "hunt out and improve a road."
For the rest of the journey, the pioneers split into three groups--Pratt's vanguard, the main portion following, and a rear guard, which stayed with Young and Kimball. Pratt's company sighted the Valley on July 19th and scouted it on the 21st. On the 22nd at about 5:30 P.M., the main company arrived in the valley via what came to be called Emigration Canyon. Early the next morning the group moved about 2 miles northwest and made camp on the south fork of what became known as City Creek. There they dammed up the water and began plowing, planting potatoes, and irrigating.
Meanwhile, back on Coyote Creek, Kimball and a few others went to the top of the Needles and offered up prayers for the sick, and on July 15th, Young was well enough to travel in Wilford Woodruff's carriage. Shortly thereafter they crossed the Hogsback at the summit of Main Canyon (west of present Henefer) and caught the traveler's traditional first view of the continent's backbone, the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountain cordillera--disheartening assurance that the worst of the mountain passes still lay ahead. On the morning of July 23rd, the Young-Kimball detachment left Mormon Flat on East Canyon Creek and began the final section of the trail--up Little Emigration Canyon to Big Mountain Pass.
As the pioneers crossed the 7,400 foot-high Big Mountain pass, they entered their new homeland, the Great Basin--a vast and forbidding area of over 200,000 square miles lying generally between the crests of the Sierra Nevada and the Wasatch Mountains, including parts of Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, and Idaho, and inhabited by various tribes of Great Basin Indians. (It is a natural basin. What streams and rivers there are, such as the Humboldt, Jordan, Provo, and Weber, have no access to the sea. They flow into the Great Salt Lake, into sinks, or disappear by evaporation and percolation. The area is spotted with unattractive places now named Salt Marsh Lake, Little Salt Lake, Fossil Lake, and the Humboldt Sink.)
Until the Mormons arrived, this region had only been slightly explored and settled by Europeans. Imperial Spain, which had claimed it by right of discovery, had done little with it for centuries except try to find a trail between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Monterey, California. To this end, they sent out the eighteenth century expeditions of the Fathers Escalante and Dominguez and eventually the Old Spanish Trail was worked out.
England and France had never even fought for it. The Mexicans, who took it from Spain in 1821, generally considered it a worthless waste separating more desirable lands. Prior to the advent of the Mormons some Anglos had visited and explored the area. They included mountain men, California-bound emigrants, Captain John C. Fremont of the United States Topographical Corps, and Miles Goodyear, who in 1846, established a trading post on the Weber River near what is now Ogden, Utah.
For perhaps four billion years the Great Basin had bent all to its inexorable will--adjust or perish. In 1847 the Mormons, however, decided to make the Great Basin their home, and they did it on ancient principles worked out in Mesopotamia and among some Native Americans in South America and in the American southwest--centralized organization, division of labor, and a chain of command, all on an agricultural basis with controlled irrigation at its heart.
This author believes that Young made his famous statement "This is the place, drive on." on the Big Mountain summit rather than over the mountains near what is now Salt Lake City, where the "This is the Place" monument is located in Pioneer Trail State Park. This minority view is based on Young's pioneer journal of July 23, 1847, where it is recorded, "I ascended and crossed over the Big Mountain, when on its summit I directed Elder Woodruff, who had kindly tendered me the use of his carriage, to turn the same half way round so that I could have a view of a portion of Salt Lake Valley. The spirit of light rested upon me and hovered over the valley, and I felt that there the Saints would find protection and safety. Then the Young-Kimball party rough-locked their rear wheels with chains and attached drag shoes (wagon brakes were not then in general use), slid down Big Mountain, and a few hours later ascended Little Mountain. At 5:00 that afternoon, suffering much from heat and dust, they were in Emigration Canyon, at Last Camp.
The next day was July 24th--the day acclaimed as the official entrance of Young into the valley. July 24, 1847, is the traditional pivot in Mormon history--everything is related to and from this date. Brigham Young had finally accomplished what in January 1845, he had set out to do.
In 1880, during Mormondom's fifty-year jubilee, Woodruff enhanced the events of July 24, 1847, with the following afterthought, probably an embellishment of the passage quoted from Young's journal: "President Young was enwrapped in a vision for several minutes. He had seen the Valley before in vision, and upon this occasion he saw the future glory of Zion and of Israel, as they would be, planted in the valleys of these mountains. When the vision had passed, he said: "It is enough. This is the right place, drive on." Such was the origin of the most famous single statement in Mormon history.
The event is commemorated today by the large granite "This is the Place" monument at the mouth of Emigration Canyon that honors the pioneers and pre-Mormon explorers and trappers. Atop a huge shaft thrusting up from the center of the base, stand larger-than-life figures of Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Wilford Woodruff, serenely and eternally contemplating their work.
ESTABLISHMENT OF A COLONY AND RETURN TO WINTER QUARTERS (top)
Place of revelation or not, the valley was the first site suitable for Kingdom building that the pioneer leaders had seen since Nauvoo. It was vast and isolated and they set about earnestly and immediately to tame it. As quickly as possible the pioneers laid out a city, planted crops, built homes, a fort, a bowery for worship services, and fences to prepare for the approaching winter; the people were organized into wards (congregations). Thirty-five days after he arrived, Young was ready to return to Winter Quarters. More than 150 pioneers, including all the women and children, remained in the valley when Young and 105 others started their eastward return on August 27th.
En route, the returning pioneers met 1,553 Saints of the Second Division from Winter Quarters heading for the valley. On the evening of October 31st Young and the pioneers with him were back in Winter Quarters, where they spent the winter preparing to move more than 2,400 emigrants west in 1848.
The exodus was successful. By 1860 there were about 30,000 people in Utah; by the coming of the railroad in 1869, there were more than 80,000 in more than 100 settlements. By the time Young died in 1877 he had established some 300 settlements in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California.
MORMON EMIGRANTS: 1848-1868
GENERAL COMMENTS (top)
While this historic resource study stresses the work of the pioneers of 1846-1847 it should be remembered that up to 70,000 other Mormons made much the same trek through the time of the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. This study of trail documents reveals that the basic experience (as described above) of all immigrating Mormons was similar. A brief account of the post-1847 Mormon immigration follows.
This subsequent period of immigration can be conveniently divided into four groups and time periods, with two minor sub-topics.
1. Wagon emigrants: 1848-1860
(canal, lake, and riverboats)
2. Handcart emigrants: 1856-1860
(The Brigham Young Express Company, 1856-1857)
3. Church ox team emigrants: 1860-1868
4. "Rail and trail" emigrants: 1856-1868
1. WAGON EMIGRANTS: 1848-1860 (top)
The main difference between the pioneers of 1846-1847 and subsequent Mormon emigrants was that each year the trek became a little easier as a result of experience, established (and enforced) discipline, better roads, ferries, bridges, and the ever-increasing number of trailside services like blacksmithing, medical assistance, military installations, trading establishments, and the telegraph.
Another big difference between the early companies of 1847-1848 and subsequent parties is that once the trail was well established and trail routine and discipline fixed, the leadership of post-1848 companies was turned over to lower-level leaders and even to missionaries returning from their fields of labor. Young and Kimball, for example, never led any immigrating companies after 1848.
Still another difference was the use of trail variants such as those developed in southern Iowa, or via Mitchell Pass in Nebraska, not crossing the Platte River at Fort Laramie in Wyoming, and many Oregon Trail variants. Post-1847 Mormons even used entirely different trails.
Between 1846-1853, Mormons infrequently used the Dragoon Trail between Montrose, Iowa, to what is now Des Moines, Iowa. Between 1849-1859 they sometimes traveled the Ox-Bow Trail, a variant of the Oregon Trail, which extended from Nebraska City, Nebraska, to Fort Kearny on the Platte. Then from 1860 to about 1866, Mormons infrequently used the Nebraska City Cutoff Trail, another variant of the Oregon Trail, which replaced the older Ox-Bow Trail, from Nebraska City to Fort Kearny. A few Mormons, between 1846 and about 1853, also used the little-known-today Trappers' Trail between Bent's Fort, in what is now Colorado, on the Arkansas River, to Fort Laramie on the North Platte. During the 1850s and 1860s some Mormons also traveled The Overland Trail from near what is now Sidney, Nebraska, to Fort Bridger. A major trail variant even appeared in Utah. This was the Golden Road, a 42-mile-long variant of the original Mormon Trail in Utah. Between 1850 and 1869, many Mormons preferred this variant, which left the 1847 trail at the mouth of Emigration Canyon and entered Salt Lake City via Parley's Canyon.
Canal Boats, Lake Boats, and Riverboats (top)
Perhaps one other observation should be made and that is regarding the Mormon use of rivers, lakes, and canals in their westward movement. Beginning in 1831 Mormons used various canal boats, lake boats, and riverboats to reach their several church headquarters in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois.
In 1831, the Mormons in western New York and northern Pennsylvania proceeded by way of Cayuga Lake steamers, Erie Canal boats, and Lake Erie steamers to Kirtland, Ohio. And in the 1840s a few other Mormons used the Erie Canal en route to Nauvoo, Illinois. This author has found a few journal references from the 1830s and 1840s to Mormons traveling other canals like the Pennsylvania State Canal between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the Ohio and Erie Canal between Cleveland and Portsmouth, and the Miami and Erie Canal between Toledo and Cincinnati. References were also found to Mormons traveling on Lake Erie.
While few Mormons used canal and lake boats, thousands traveled on riverboats. Some Mormons went to Missouri via the Missouri River, thousands reached Nauvoo on the Mississippi River via New Orleans and St. Louis. After the Mormons began departing the Far West from various Missouri River locations, most emigrants reached Missouri via Ohio, Mississippi, and Missouri riverboats until the railroad reached the Missouri in 1859.
According to contemporary Mormon journal accounts of riverboat travel, Mormon emigrants experienced not only "enchantingly beautiful scenery," kind "colored waiters," and their own preaching, but also snags, cholera, accidents, death (most riverboats carried extra coffins for those who died aboard), miscarriages, explosions (many, for example, died in the Saluda disaster near Lexington, Missouri, on the Missouri River in 1852), and what they took to be "anti-Mormon" sentiments. A few emigrants could afford cabin class passage, but most, unfortunately, traveled in steerage--on the crowded lower decks with the animals and baggage (including an occasional occupied coffin), and few amenities. Sometimes passengers, including at least two Mormon children, fell overboard and were lost.
THE HANDCART EMIGRANTS 1856-1860 (top)
A major change in the pattern of Mormon immigration took place in 1856 in Iowa City, Iowa, with the development of a remarkable travel experiment in the history of the west--the handcart experienced In 1854 the Chicago and Rock Island Railroad (C&RI) reached the Mississippi River at Rock Island, Illinois; two years later the railroad bridged (or should one say trestled?) the Mississippi and connected with the Missouri and Mississippi Railroad that ran to Iowa City. Thereafter, through 1858, most European Mormon emigrants took various railroads from Atlantic ports, connecting with the C&RI, directly to Iowa City, which became the main point of departure for the Rocky Mountains. (Beginning in 1859 most handcart pioneers took the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad to St. Joseph, Missouri, thence by riverboat to Florence [now North Omaha], Nebraska.)
Brigham Young, safely settled in Utah since 1847, had also decided to try this supposedly faster, easier, cheaper, and certainly more unusual way to bring thousands of European converts to Salt Lake City. While the Mormons were not the first to use some kind of carts going west (some gold-rushers, for example, had experimented with wheelbarrows and some who had moved into trans-Appalachia after the War of 1812 used handcarts), they were the first and only group to use them extensively, certainly the first to transport entire emigrant companies with them.
The Mormon open carts varied in size and were modeled after carts used by street sweepers; they were made almost entirely out of wood. They were generally six or seven feet long, the width of a wide track wagon, and carried about 500 pounds of flour, bedding, extra clothing, cooking utensils, and a tent. The carts could be pushed or pulled by hand. Some were painted with mottos and inscriptions like "Truth Will Prevail," "Merry Mormons," and "Zion's Express." Most companies also had a few ox-drawn wagons to carry extra supplies. These Mormons, mainly from England, Wales, and Scandinavia, landed in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia, and traveled by train via Chicago to Iowa City, Iowa.
Train travel was easier than travel by wagon, but it was far from luxurious. Trains averaged 20 miles an hour and had no sleeping accommodations or dining cars. Smoke and soot were everywhere, sanitation facilities were primitive, and schedules were erratic. Travelers had to provide their own food or pick it up en route. Many spent nights sitting up or in warehouses or barns. Some Mormons felt they were singled out for rude treatment by railway officials. Passenger cars sometimes caught fire or derailed. Some women gave birth en route. But on the emigrants came. (During the Civil War, because of wartime demands, rail travel became even more difficult and uncomfortable. Mormons often had to travel in cattle cars.1 Handcart emigrants crossed the Iowa River and went to the staging area that had been located on the banks of Clear Creek, 3 miles west of Iowa City, at a small settlement known as Clark's Mills, now called Coralville.
This famous experiment involved 2,962 people in 10 companies from 1856 through 1860, but only the first 7 companies, or 2,071 Saints (70 percent of the total), trod Iowa soil! The handcart company of 1859 entrained at New York City and reached St. Joseph, Missouri, on the Hannibal and St. Joseph Railroad, where they took a Missouri River riverboat to Florence, Nebraska. The C&RI reached Council Bluffs in 1860 and handcart companies of that year (the last year of the handcart experiment) were able to ride the C&RI all the way to Council Bluffs. With the exception of the fourth and fifth companies of 1856, the famous Martin and Willie companies, which started too late in the year and were trapped in Wyoming snows, the system was a success.
The first 7 companies made the 275-mile trip across Iowa from Iowa City, Iowa, to Florence, Nebraska, in from 21 to 39 days, averaging 25 days and 11 miles a day. The first company of 226 persons started out on June 9, 1856, led by the Birmingham Brass Band from England, and arrived in Utah September 26th. March music and singing kept the people together and helped ward off tedium and fatigue. The most popular of all songs was the famous "Handcart Song":
Some must push and some must pull
As we go marching up the hill,
As merrily on the way we go
Until we reach the valley, oh!
In Coralville, Iowa, the Daughters of the American Revolution have erected a bronzed tablet commemorating the handcart companies. It is located on the south side of the road just west of the intersection of Fifth Street and Tenth Avenue. Also in Coralville and the western part of Iowa City is the Mormon Trek Boulevard, a modern highway honoring these pioneers.
In 1976, in connection with the U.S. Bicentennial Celebration, a several-acre Mormon Handcart Park was developed in Coralville on ground owned by the University of Iowa, through funds provided by the Mormon Church. The site is near Clear Creek and U.S. 6, near the Hawkeye Court housing complex to the west of Mormon Trek Boulevard. There are three markers at this site having extensive text commemorating a pioneer campsite, pioneer burial ground, and the whole site in general.
Although the handcart pioneers did not know it before starting, Iowa roads were to be veritable "super highways" compared to what lay west of the Missouri. Like all Mormon pioneers before and after them, they used the best, most convenient roads and trails. Since at least 1846, when Brigham Young led the Saints across Iowa, there had been some kind of a road between Iowa City and Council Bluffs. In the beginning it had been a military road to Fort Des Moines, and later a territorial, state, mail, and coach route. Most of the handcart pioneer journals of 1856-1857 refer often to the good roads. In fact, had the Saints not been so poor, they could have ridden over the roads by stagecoach to the Missouri for about eleven dollars a person.
Today's Highway 6 generally follows this old trans-Iowa road as far as Redfield. From Coralville the pioneers passed through Homestead and South Amana, two German colonies established in 1854. (This part of Highway 6 up to Grinnell is also marked as the Hiawatha Pioneer Trail.) Passing through Marengo, Brooklyn, Grinnell, Newton, and Rising Sun, they reached Fort Des Moines. The old fort on the west bank of the Des Moines River was by then abandoned, but still standing. Near the intersection of Riverside Drive and Southwest First Street in Des Moines is a granite marker commemorating this old fort and part of the newly restored fort.
West of Des Moines, the Mormons proceeded via Adel to Redfield. West of Redfield, the old trail is only approximated by today's roads. From Redfield the pioneers went to Bear Grove. Merely a wide spot in the road today, Bear Grove was then an important coach stop and a place where the pioneers obtained necessary supplies.
From Bear Grove the Saints traveled the old military, or Dragoon Road, now largely nonexistent, to what is now Lewis, where they intersected the pioneer trail of 1846 and followed it directly to Council Bluffs. There, crossing the Missouri by ferry, they arrived at the new staging ground in Florence, Nebraska, and made final preparations to go to the Salt Lake Valley.
In the Lewis, Iowa, town park, there are two markers commemorating the Mormon Trail. One is a section of a telephone pole with "Mormon Trail" carved into it; a few yards away is a handsome bronze marker that was placed by the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1917.
In the Trans-Missouri west, the handcarters followed the established Mormon Trail into their new Zion and, as previously noted, most of these companies made it safely there. Across Nebraska all the of the handcart companies made the journey successfully. Their route and general experiences were much like other westering Mormons. They did move faster and, of course, suffered less from accidents occasioned by draft animals, heavy wagons, and stampedes. Costs were reduced by about one-third. Handcarters were able to transport less food, far few belongings, and of course, could neither ride in the carts nor sleep in them. Handcart companies also seemed to have a higher percentage of European emigrants; one company was largely Welsh, one Scandinavian, and in one, nine different languages were spoken. And most also made it successfully across Wyoming.
The joy of the success of this new, faster, and cheaper way of immigrating soon turned to sorrow with the tragic experience of the Willie and Martin companies, the 4th and 5th companies of 1856. When they arrived on the Missouri River, they found their carts were not yet prepared. Some wisely thought they should postpone the crossing of the plains that year, but such wisdom was decried by others as evidence of a weak faith. So, after a delay and with some carts made of green wood, the two companies headed west.
After reaching what is now Wyoming, they were caught in an early snowstorm. Among the Martin company of 576, a total of 145 (about 25 percent) died of exposure across Wyoming, as many as thirteen a night. Most could not be buried because the ground was so frozen. This company reached what has become known as Martin's Cove about November 3rd. It was 2 miles west of Devil's Gate. On the 6th, the temperature dropped to eleven degrees below zero. It was here a rescue party from Utah finally reached this company. Across Wyoming the Willie's company lost 77 persons (about 19 percent) out of 404. They managed to push on to a camp on Rock Creek where they awaited rescue, a rescue that came near the end of October.
The handcart experiment continued in 1857, and worked well until it ended in 1860. In 1857, for example, an attempt was made across Nebraska to establish supply stations for the benefit of handcarters. This effort had just gotten under way when the cancellation of a government contract ended it. Thereafter, the handcart companies replenished their supplies as best they could, sometimes receiving supplies sent out from Salt Lake City, and buying what they needed from the ever-growing number of supply stations, forts, and trading posts along the trail.
The handcart company of 1859 experienced what this author considers the most bizarre trail experience of the entire Mormon immigration. Near Devil's Gate, in what is now Wyoming, the Mormons met a group of Indians who had just won a battle with another tribe. "The victorious tribe were [Sic] parading around with scalps suspended on sticks which they held high in the air. They had a number of prisoners. They invited a number of us boys to go to their camp that night to witness them torture to death their prisoners. However, we respectfully declined."
In summary, about 3,000 emigrants in 10 companies were transported west between 1856 and 1860, in 653 carts and 50 supply wagons. Generally, they traveled successfully, and cheaper and faster than wagon trains. The handcart era ended after 1860, when the Mormons switched to large church ox-team trains sent out from Salt Lake City to haul emigrants and freight west from the Missouri and other points. (This change is detailed below under "Church Team Emigrants, 1860-1868.")
The Brigham Young Express Company 1856-1857 (top)
There is one more dimension to the Mormon Trail which, while it pertains little to immigration, deserves mention in this study. This is the short-lived Brigham Young Express and Carrying Company (popularly known as the Y.X. Company) of 1856-1857. It has a place in this study because the route of the company generally was the Mormon Trail of 1847.
In 1856 the Mormon Church bid for and received a four-year contract for monthly mail service between Independence, Missouri, and Salt Lake City. Wagons, animals, feed, stations, and men were quickly lined up, and mail service commenced February 8, 1857. Soon the church was preparing to carry freight as well. The first permanent stations or settlements were set up at Genoa, about 100 miles west of Omaha, and on Deer Creek (just west of Deer Creek in what is now Glenrock, Wyoming). Other stations were begun at the Horseshoe Creek stage station (2 miles due south of what is now Glendo, Wyoming,at La Bonte Creek (10 miles south of Douglas, Wyoming), Devil's Gate (near the Gate, just south of the Sweetwater River and abandoned Wyoming Highway 220), and at Rocky Ridge (a very remote and difficult place to visit today). The Mormons also made use of other existing stations at Fort Laramie, Sweet Water (known today as Burnt Ranch, just south of the Sweetwater River, and Fort Bridger. The proposed sites at Horseshoe Creek, La Bonte Creek, Deer Creek, Devil's Gate, and Sweetwater River were surveyed into 640-acre or one square-mile rectangles--160 rods by 640 rods, or 2 miles by 1/2-mile sections.
The main objective was eventually to have stations every 50 miles--the daily distance attainable by mule teams. Such stations would also be aids to Mormon emigrants by stocking and providing grain and other basic supplies, where hay and other crops could be raised. Then suddenly the contract was canceled because of the political influence of rival mail contractors and all the Mormon mail and freight stations were closed for good.
CHURCH TEAM EMIGRANTS, 1860-1868 (top)
In 1860 Mormon leaders abandoned the handcart experiment in favor of the church ox-team method. This was done for two reasons: the discovery that loaded ox teams could be sent from Utah to the Missouri, pick up emigrants (and merchandise), and return to Utah in one season, and for better use of the church's own resources, that is to save money. Furthermore, although cheaper and somewhat faster, the handcart system was never popular. In the few instances where emigrants had a choice between handcarts and wagon trains, most chose the latter.
By means of these "down and back" trips, the Mormons could export their own flour, beans, and bacon to supply the emigrants, and use the cash saved to buy and freight back needed supplies not available in Utah. Furthermore emigrants could be saved the expense and trouble of obtaining their own wagons or carts and draft animals to take them west.
The 2,200-mile round trip could be made in approximately six months. Church leaders arranged for the men, equipment, and supplies, and organized the trains into groups of about fifty each. The captain of each company was given complete authority to get the job done.
All the men involved were regarded as "missionaries," and were given credit on the tithing books for the value of service rendered--they were in effect paying their 10 percent church tithing "in kind." There was one other fringe benefit--bachelors often found brides among the emigrants--had first pick, so to speak. Happily, romance flourished throughout the entire Mormon immigration period.
Each wagon was pulled by four yoke of oxen or mules and carried about 1,000 pounds of supplies. The teams were expected to reach the Missouri River at Florence (old Winter Quarters or modern North Omaha), in July and return with ten to twenty emigrants per wagon and all the freight they could load. (Later the jumping-off place moved to a now forgotten community with the strange name of Wyoming, Nebraska Territory," and finally to Laramie and Benton, in the state of Wyoming.)
This system lasted for the period 1860-1868, and required about 2,000 wagons 2,500 teamsters, 17,550 oxen and brought approximately 20,500 emigrants to Utah. The first three years, the jumping-off place was Florence, Nebraska Territory. In 1864, however, the Mormons switched to the community of Wyoming, Nebraska, where they followed the (little known today) Nebraska City Cutoff Trail.
The principal reasons for the Mormons switch from Florence to Wyoming seems to have been because emigrants from the east could take trains directly to St. Joseph, Missouri, then take an approximately 94-mile riverboat ride to the community of Wyoming, and then the cutoff trail shortened the distance from the Missouri River to the area of Fort Kearny, by about 50 miles. The cutoff ran 169 miles directly west to Fort Kearny on the Oregon Trail, where the Mormons could either continue on the Oregon Trail or cross the Platte River and pick up the MPNHT [Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail].
The community of Wyoming, founded as a river port in 1855, was 45 miles south of Florence and 7 miles north of Nebraska City. The Mormons favored it over Florence because it provided more open area for their staging ground and was well removed from the rough elements of Nebraska City and other lures that might have caused emigrants to not go west."
Twenty-two organized Mormon emigrant companies (see Appendix B, Document 6) left Wyoming during its three-year service (1864-1866). It is estimated that the companies totaled about 6,500 emigrants. In addition, probably some 500 or more Mormons traveled as individuals with non-Mormon trains from nearby Nebraska City."
Of all the early Mormon emigrant trails, one of the least known today among Mormons is the Nebraska City Cutoff Trail. There are about ten historic markers along this old trail, but none refer to the Mormons. No church teams were sent east in 1867, largely because the Union Pacific railroad reached North Platte, Nebraska, that year and immigrating plans were in flux.
In 1868, when church teams were again sent east, they were dispatched to the Union Pacific railhead at Laramie, Wyoming, during July and August and to the Benton, Wyoming, railhead during August and September, and picked up a total of ten emigrant companies. That year was the last year of the wagon, handcart, or church team Mormon emigrant. The transcontinental railroad reached Utah May 10, 1869, and from that time on emigrants could ride the rails all the way to Zion. From these two railheads, at Laramie and Benton, Mormon emigrants would have picked up the Overland-Bridger Pass Trail, followed it to Fort Bridger and then taken the Mormon Trail into Utah.
RAIL AND TRAIL PIONEERS: 1856-1868 (top)
Prior to the 1850s, Mormon emigrants seldom used railroads. There is one account of rail travel in 1837, and a few traveled to Nauvoo, Illinois, by rail in the 1840s. But it was not until 1856 that the use of railroads by Mormons became common."
As has already been noted in the discussion of the handcart companies, Mormon emigrants made little use of railroads until the Chicago and Rock Island RR reached the Mississippi River at Rock Island, Illinois, in 1854, whence it was possible to continue west by riverboats to various jumping-off sites, such as Fort Leavenworth, on the Missouri River. When the railroad went from Rock Island, Illinois, to Iowa City, Iowa, in 1856, many Mormon emigrants, especially the handcart pioneers, "took cars" to that terminal.
Another big rise in the use of rail travel was when the Hannibal and St. Joseph RR reached St. Joseph, Missouri, on the Missouri River in 1859, whence emigrants generally took riverboats to the Council Bluffs-Florence area and proceeded west. (The handcart company of 1859 did this, the first Mormons to do so.)
Thereafter, until 1867 when the Mormons were able to ride the Union Pacific RR to North Platte, Nebraska, this was the most popular manner for Mormon emigrants to reach the Missouri River and points of departure for the Far West. During the Civil War years of 1861-1865, emigrant travel by rail was difficult, especially in Missouri, where pro- and anti-Union forces in that state often clashed: timetables were erratic, routes were interrupted, impeded, and changed. Trail travel was dangerous. Bridges were blown up or burned and track torn up or blockaded. Sometimes the trains were fired on, boarded and derailed by military units. Rail travel, at least the accommodations most Mormon emigrants could afford, hadn't improved much over the conditions of the 1850s. Passenger cars often had no springs, benches had no backs, sometimes emigrants rode in cattle cars full of lice and dirt. Food and water had to be carried or purchased in route.
Mormons also used other railroads to go west. After 1859 when the North Missouri RR, out of St. Charles, Missouri, intersected with the Hannibal and St. Joseph RR, it was possible for Mormons to take the Chicago and Alton RR to Alton, Illinois, and St. Louis, thence to St. Joseph. Some Mormons picked up the Hannibal and St. Joseph RR via the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy RR (which reached the Mississippi River in 1855). In 1867 some Mormons reached Council Bluffs, Iowa, via the Chicago and Northwestern RR.
After the Civil War, the Union Pacific RR began moving west from Omaha, Nebraska, on July 10, 1865. The following year, the Mormons abandoned the rail terminal at St. Joseph and the connecting Nebraska City Cutoff and, sequentially, took trains to four Union Pacific railheads: North Platte, Nebraska, and Julesburg, Colorado, in 1867, and Laramie and Benton, Wyoming, in 1868. Here the emigrants were met by church trains from Salt Lake.
Because the Union Pacific RR, moving west from Omaha, Nebraska, was in a race with the Central Pacific RR, moving east from Sacramento, California, male emigrants were sometimes offered reduced or free tickets if they would work on the road bed."
Each of the railheads became a wide-open, rip-roaring town, which greatly concerned Mormon leaders. The first three are still prospering, but Benton is distinctive for having become the first ghost town in Wyoming, lasting only from July through September 1868. It was located on the eastern edge of the Red Desert, 11 miles east of what is now Rawlins, near the North Platte River. (The curious can find the exact location of Benton by looking for Union Pacific milepost number 672.1, indicating precisely how far one is west of Omaha, off old Highway 30.) Church wagons transported the emigrants to Utah from each of the three remaining railheads.
In 1867, about 500 emigrants took the train to North Platte right on the Mormon Trail, thence to Utah via that trail. In 1868, five companies totaling about 1,850 pioneers left Laramie during July and August in wagons sent by the church. From Laramie the only reasonable route west would have been via the Overland-Bridger Pass Trail to Fort Bridger, to pick up the Mormon Trail there. Also in 1868, about 2,000 pioneers in five companies left Benton during August and September. From Benton, Mormon emigrants could have gone about 50 miles north and picked up the Mormon Trail, but most went a few miles south and took the Overland-Bridger Pass Trail to Fort Bridger, to intersect the main route. (A few Mormons appear to have jumped off at Julesburg.)
After the Union Pacific RR reached Utah in 1869, emigrants took rails all the way from HIST the east coast. 'ne great trek was over and the Mormon Trail began to slowly disappear and fade from memory.
TRAIL PRESERVATION AND MARKING (top)
in the 1930s, in connection with the centennial of the Mormon Church, a movement started to better locate, preserve, and mark the old trail. One of the first organizations to do so was the Utah Pioneer and Landmarks Association. The Daughters of Utah Pioneers and the Sons of Utah Pioneers have also erected hundreds of trail markers. The Mormon Pioneer Trail Foundation does much research on the old trail. And several federal agencies, including the National Park Service and Bureau of Land Management, state, and local organizations and individuals have done much to locate, foster, preserve, and mark the trail. The Historic Sites Committee of the Mormon Church works to the same end.
SUGGESTIONS FOR FURTHER RESEARCH ON THE MORMON
PIONEER NATIONAL HISTORIC TRAIL (top)
Readers of this work are referred to the bibliography in this study [the actual book by the National Park Service] for a guide to further research. Despite the extensive literature on the Mormon Trail, much research needs to be done. Generally speaking, we need to know more about every aspect of the Mormon immigration that is treated in this study. To begin with, there are hundreds of existing trail accounts that need further analysis, and new ones are found frequently. For more than twenty-five years, this author has studied trails used by the Mormons and yet, there is much to be done, especially regarding trail variants and feeder trails. We know little of the Mormon use of some Oregon Trail variants from Independence, Westport, Weston, St. Joseph, Fort Leavenworth, Nebraska City, Plattsmouth, Bellevue, or a variant north of the Platte River at Fort Laramie, or the Seminoe and Blacks Fork cutoffs. We know little of the Mormon use of feeder trails like the Santa Fe, Trappers' and Cherokee. We need to know much more about Mormon sea voyages, and their use of canals, lakes, and rivers. We have just touched the surface of their westering by rail experiences, and we need to know much more of their use of various stage routes and federal wagon roads.
Much is waiting to be done regarding the Mormons and the military, the telegraph, the eastbound use of the trail, and "go backs," or disgruntled Mormons who left Utah and returned east. We have only begun to study such social questions of trail values, norms, sanctions, courts, entertainment, single emigrants, the questions of privacy, sanitation, and intimate relations, exceptional behavior, crisis events, Blacks and other minorities, children, sex roles, and the division of labor. (top)
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