Mormon Trail

Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail

Echo Canyon, Utah on Mormon Trail
Location Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, US
Nearest city Nauvoo, Illinois ; Salt Lake City, Utah
Established November 10, 1978
Governing body National Trails System
Website Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail

The Mormon Trail or Mormon Pioneer Trail is the 1,300-mile (2,092 km) route that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints traveled from 1846 to 1868. Today, the Mormon Trail is a part of the United States National Trails System, known as the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail.

The Mormon Trail extends from Nauvoo, Illinois, which was the principal settlement of the Latter Day Saints from 1839 to 1846, to Salt Lake City, Utah, which was settled by Brigham Young and his followers beginning in 1847. From Council Bluffs, Iowa to Fort Bridger in Wyoming, the trail follows much the same route as the Oregon Trail and the California Trail; these trails are collectively known as the Emigrant Trail.

The Mormon pioneer run began in 1846, when Young and his followers were driven from Nauvoo. After leaving, they aimed to establish a new home for the church in the Great Basin and crossed Iowa. Along their way, some were assigned to establish settlements and to plant and harvest crops for later emigrants. During the winter of 1846–47, the emigrants wintered in Iowa, other nearby states, and the unorganized territory that later became Nebraska, with the largest group residing in Winter Quarters, Nebraska. In the spring of 1847, Young led the vanguard company to the Salt Lake Valley, which was then outside the boundaries of the United States and later became Utah.

During the first few years, the emigrants were mostly former occupants of Nauvoo who were following Young to Utah. Later, the emigrants increasingly comprised converts from the British Isles and Europe.

The trail was used for more than 20 years, until the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in 1869. Among the emigrants were the Mormon handcart pioneers of 1856–60. Two of the handcart companies, led by James G. Willie and Edward Martin, met disaster on the trail when they departed late and were caught by heavy snowstorms in Wyoming.


Under the leadership of Joseph Smith, Latter Day Saints established several communities throughout the United States between 1830 and 1844, most notably in Kirtland, Ohio; Independence, Missouri; and Nauvoo. However, the Saints were driven out of each of them in turn,(lacking citation, or source) due to conflicts with other settlers (see History of the Latter Day Saint movement). This included the actions of Governor Lilburn Boggs, who issued Missouri Executive Order 44, which called for the "extermination" of all Mormons in Missouri. The Latter-day Saints were finally forced to abandon Nauvoo in 1846.[1]

Although the movement had split into several denominations after Smith's death in 1844, most members aligned themselves with Brigham Young and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Under Young's leadership, about 14,000 Mormon citizens of Nauvoo set out to find a new home in the West.[2]

The Trek West

Main article: Mormon pioneers

As the senior apostle of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles after Joseph Smith's death, Brigham Young assumed responsibility of the leadership of the church. He would later be sustained as President of the Church and prophet.[3]

Young now had to lead the Saints into the far west, without knowing exactly where to go or where they would end up. He insisted the Mormons should settle in a place no one else wanted and felt the isolated Great Basin would provide the Saints with many advantages.[4]

Young reviewed information on the Great Salt Lake Valley and the Great Basin, consulted with mountain men and trappers, and met with Father Pierre-Jean De Smet, a Jesuit missionary familiar with the region. Young also organized a vanguard company to break trail to the Rocky Mountains, evaluate trail conditions, find sources of water, and select a central gathering point in the Great Basin. A new route on the north side of the Platte and North Platte rivers was chosen to avoid potential conflicts over grazing rights, water access, and campsites with travelers using the established Oregon Trail on the river’s south side.

The Quincy Convention of October 1845 passed resolutions demanding that the Latter-day Saints withdraw from Nauvoo by May 1846. A few days later, the Carthage Convention called for establishment of a militia that would force them out if they failed to meet the May deadline.[5] To try to meet this deadline and to get an early start on the trek to the Great Basin, the Latter-day Saints began leaving Nauvoo in February 1846.[6]

Trek of 1846

The departure from Nauvoo began on February 4, 1846, under the leadership of Brigham Young. This early departure exposed them to the elements in the worst of winter. After crossing the Mississippi River, the journey across Iowa Territory followed primitive territorial roads and Native American trails.

Young originally planned to lead an express company of about 300 men to the Great Basin during the summer of 1846. He believed they could cross Iowa and reach the Missouri River in four to six weeks. However, the actual trip across Iowa was slowed by rain, mud, swollen rivers, and poor preparation, and it required 16 weeks – nearly three times longer than planned.

Heavy rains turned the rolling plains of southern Iowa into a quagmire of axle-deep mud. Furthermore, few people carried adequate provisions for the trip. The weather, general unpreparedness, and lack of experience in moving such a large group of people all contributed to the difficulties they endured.

The initial party reached the Missouri River on June 14. It was apparent that the Latter-day Saints could not make it to the Great Basin that season and would have to winter on the Missouri River..[7]

Some of the emigrants established a settlement called Kanesville on the Iowa side of the river. Others moved across the river into the area of present-day Omaha, Nebraska, and built a camp called Winter Quarters.[8]

The Vanguard Company of 1847

Historic Information along the National Historic Trail

In April 1847, chosen members of the vanguard company gathered, final supplies were packed, and the group was organized into 14 military companies. A militia and night guard were formed. The company consisted of 143 men, including three blacks and eight members of the Quorum of the Twelve, three women, and two children. The train contained 73 wagons, draft animals, and livestock, and carried enough supplies to provision the group for one year. On April 5, the wagon train moved west from Winter Quarters toward the Great Basin.[9]

The journey from Winter Quarters to Fort Laramie took six weeks; the company arrived at the fort on June 1. While at Fort Laramie, the vanguard company was joined by members of the Mormon Battalion, who had been excused due to illness and sent to winter in Pueblo, Colorado, and a group of Church members from Mississippi. At this point, the now larger company took the established Oregon Trail toward the trading post at Fort Bridger.[2][10]

Young met mountain man Jim Bridger on June 28. They discussed routes into the Salt Lake Valley and the feasibility of viable settlements in the mountain valleys of the Great Basin. The company pushed on through South Pass, rafted across the Green River, and arrived at Fort Bridger on July 7. About the same time, they were joined by 12 more members of the sick detachment of the Mormon Battalion.[2][9]

Now facing a more rugged and hazardous trek, Young chose to follow the trail used by the Donner–Reed party on their journey to California the previous year. As the vanguard company traveled through the rugged mountains, they divided into three sections. Young and several other members of the party suffered from a fever, generally accepted as a “mountain fever” induced by wood ticks. The small sick detachment lagged behind the larger group, and a scouting division was created to move farther ahead on the designated route.[2]

Scouts Erastus Snow and Orson Pratt entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 21. On July 23, Pratt offered a prayer dedicating the land to the Lord. Ground was broken, irrigation ditches were dug, and the first fields of potatoes and turnips were planted. On July 24, Young first saw the valley from a “sick” wagon driven by his friend Wilford Woodruff. According to Woodruff, Young expressed his satisfaction in the appearance of the valley and declared, "This is the right place, drive on."[2][11]

In August 1847, Young and selected members of the vanguard company returned to Winter Quarters to organize the companies scheduled for following years. By December 1847, more than 2,000 Mormons had completed the journey to the Salt Lake Valley, then in Mexican territory.[2][12]

Farming the uncultivated land was initially difficult, as the shares broke when they tried to plow the dry ground. Therefore, an irrigation system was designed and the land was flooded before plowing, and the resulting system provided supplemental moisture during the year.

Salt Lake City was laid out and designated as Church headquarters. Hard work produced a prosperous community. In their new settlement, entertainment was also important, and the first public building was a theater.

It did not take long, however, until the United States caught up with them, and in 1848, after the end of the war with Mexico, the land in which they settled became part of the United States.[13]

Ongoing migration

Each year during the Mormon migration, people continued to be organized into "companies", each company bearing the name of its leader and subdivided into groups of 10 and 50. The Saints traveled the trail broken by the vanguard company, splitting the journey into two sections. The first segment began in Nauvoo and ended in Winter Quarters, near modern-day Omaha, Nebraska. The second half of the journey took the Saints through the area that later became Nebraska and Wyoming, before finishing their journey in the Salt Lake Valley in present-day Utah. The earlier groups used covered wagons pulled by oxen to carry their supplies across the country. Some later companies used handcarts and traveled by foot.[2]

By 1849, many of the Latter-day Saints who remained in Iowa or Missouri were poor and unable to afford the costs of the wagon, teams of oxen, and supplies that would be required for the trip. Therefore, the LDS Church established a revolving fund, known as the Perpetual Emigration Fund, to enable the poor to emigrate. By 1852, most of the Latter-day Saints from Nauvoo who wished to emigrate had done so, and the church abandoned its settlements in Iowa. However, many church members from the eastern states and from Europe continued to emigrate to Utah, often assisted by the Perpetual Emigration Fund.[14]

Handcarts: 1856–60

In 1856, the church inaugurated a system of handcart companies in order to enable poor European emigrants to make the trek more cheaply. Handcarts, two-wheeled carts that were pulled by emigrants instead of draft animals, were sometimes used as an alternate means of transportation from 1856 to 1860. They were seen as a faster, easier, and cheaper way to bring European converts to Salt Lake City. Almost 3,000 Mormons, with 653 carts and 50 supply wagons, traveling in 10 different companies, made the trip over the trail to Salt Lake City. While not the first to use handcarts, they were the only group to use them extensively.[15]

The handcarts were modeled after carts used by street sweepers and were made almost entirely of wood. They were generally six to seven feet (183 to 213 cm) long, wide enough to span a narrow wagon track, and could be alternately pushed or pulled. The small boxes affixed to the carts were three to four feet (91 to 122 cm) long and eight inches (20 cm) high. They could carry about 500 pounds (227 kg), most of this weight consisting of trail provisions and a few personal possessions.[16]

All but two of the handcart companies successfully completed the rugged journey, with relatively few problems and only a few deaths. However, the fourth and fifth companies, known as the Willie and Martin Companies, respectively, had serious problems. The companies left Iowa City, Iowa, in July 1856, very late to begin the trip across the plains. They met severe winter weather west of present-day Casper, Wyoming, and continued to cope with deep snow and storms for the remainder of the journey. Food supplies were soon exhausted. Young organized a rescue effort that brought the companies in, but more than 210 of the 980 emigrants in the two parties died.[17]

The handcart companies continued with more success until 1860, and traditional ox-and-wagon companies also continued for those who could afford the higher cost. After 1860, the church began sending wagon companies east each spring, to return to Utah in the summer with the emigrating Latter-day Saints. Finally, with the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, future emigrants were able to travel by rail, and the era of the Mormon pioneer trail came to an end.[18]

Sites along the trail

Map of Mormon Trail
Daguerreotype of Nauvoo as it appeared at the time of the Mormon exodus.

The following are major points along the trail at which the early Mormon pioneers stopped, established temporary camps, or used as landmarks and meeting places. The sites are categorized by their location in respect to modern-day US states.





Independence Rock, a site along the Mormon Trail.
Devil's Gate, a gorge on the Sweetwater River.


Echo Canyon

See also


  1. Allen & Leonard (1976), pp. 53–222
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Hartley (1997)
  3. Allen & Leonard (1976), pp. 198–202, 255
  4. Allen & Leonard (1976), pp. 208–215
  5. Bennett (1997), p. 6
  6. Allen & Leonard (1976), pp. 222–223
  7. Bennett (1997), p. 31–40
  8. Allen & Leonard (1976), pp. 234–238, 247–248
  9. 1 2 Clayton, William (1921). William Clayton's Journal. Salt Lake City: Deseret News.
  10. Allen & Leonard (1976), p. 244
  11. Allen & Leonard (1976), pp. 246–247
  12. Allen & Leonard (1976), p. 247
  13. Fisher, Albert L. (1994). "Physical Geography of Utah". In Powell, Allan Kent. Utah History Encyclopedia.
  14. Allen & Leonard (1976), pp. 279–287
  15. Hafen & Hafen (1992), pp. 29–34, 193–194
  16. Hafen & Hafen (1992), pp. 53–55
  17. Hafen & Hafen (1992)
  18. Hafen & Hafen (1992), pp. 191–192
  19. 1 2 3 Kimball (1979), p. 14
  20. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Sugar Creek". Retrieved 2009-06-16.
  21. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Richardson's Point". Retrieved 2009-06-16.
  22. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Chariton River Crossing". Retrieved 2009-06-16.
  23. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Locust Creek". Retrieved 2009-06-16.
  24. Kimball (1979), pp. 14–15
  25. 1 2 Kimball (1979), p. 16
  26. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Nishnabotna River Crossing". Retrieved 2009-06-16.
  27. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Grand Encampment". Retrieved 2009-06-16.
  28. Allen & Leonard (1976), pp. 247–248
  29. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Council Bluffs". Retrieved 2009-06-16.
  30. Allen & Leonard (1976), pp. 234–238
  31. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Platte River". Retrieved 2006-05-22.
  32. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Loup Fork". Retrieved 2006-05-24.
  33. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Fort Kearny". Retrieved 2006-05-24.
  34. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Confluence Point". Retrieved 2006-05-29.
  35. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Ash Hollow". Retrieved 2006-05-30.
  36. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Chimney Rock". Retrieved 2006-05-30.
  37. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Scotts Bluff". Retrieved 2006-05-30.
  38. Hafen & Hafen (1992), p. 101
  39. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Fort Laramie". Retrieved 2009-06-18.
  40. Hafen & Hafen (1992), pp. 108–109
  41. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Upper Platte (Mormon) Ferry". Retrieved 2009-06-18.
  42. Hafen & Hafen (1992), pp. 110–115
  43. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Sweetwater River". Retrieved 2009-06-18.
  44. "Ninth Crossing of the Sweetwater (Burnt Ranch)". Wyoming State Historic Preservation Office. Retrieved 2009-06-18.
  45. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Independence Rock". Retrieved 2009-06-18.
  46. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Devil's Gate". Retrieved 2009-06-18.
  47. Jones, Daniel W. (1890). Forty Years Among the Indians: A True Yet Thrilling Narrative of the Author's Experiences Among the Natives. Salt Lake City, Utah: Juvenile Instructor Office.
  48. Hafen & Hafen (1992), pp. 132–134
  49. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Martin's Cove". Retrieved 2009-06-18.
  50. Bartholomew & Arrington (1981), pp. 15–18
  51. Bartholomew & Arrington (1981), pp. 17–18
  52. Kimball (1979), p. 30
  53. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Green River". Retrieved 2006-05-28.
  54. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Fort Bridger". Retrieved 2009-06-18.
  55. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Bear River". Retrieved 2006-05-31.
  56. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / The Needles". Retrieved 2006-05-31.
  57. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Echo Canyon". Retrieved 2006-05-31.
  58. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Big Mountain". Retrieved 2006-05-31.
  59. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Golden Pass Road". Retrieved 2006-05-31.
  60. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Emigration Canyon". Retrieved 2006-05-31.
  61. Stegner (1992), p. 7
  62. "The Pioneer Story / Trail Location / Salt Lake Valley". Retrieved 2006-05-31.


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