The history of the Mormon Trail cannot be understood without an awareness of the Mormon religion itself. The great Mormon
migration of 1846-1847 was but one step in the Mormons' quest for religious freedom and growth.
The Mormon religion, later known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, was founded by Joseph Smith on April 6, 1830
in Fayette, New York. Smith experienced visions as a teenager and would later be regarded as a prophet by the Mormons. In 1827, he
claimed that an angel showed him buried gold plates which he then transcribed into The Book of Mormon.
All who subscribed to the beliefs of this text became known as Mormons. Membership grew rapidly, but not all were enthused about
Smith's new religion. Persecution of the Mormons led to subsequent moves westward for the church, first to Ohio, then to Missouri
and then to Nauvoo, Illinois. Smith envisioned a permanent settlement in Nauvoo. But both the Mormons' time in Nauvoo and Smith's
life were to be short-lived.
From 1839 until 1846, the Mormon church was headquartered in Nauvoo where church members were able to prosper and practice their
religion peacefully. But before long, tensions arose when many citizens began to view the Mormons with contempt.
Mormon practices such as polygamy, in combination with the quick growth of the church, contributed to a growing intolerance among
some Illinois citizens. Hostilities broke out and on June 27, 1844, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed by an angry mob
while jailed in Carthage, Illinois.
Brigham Young stepped in as Smith's successor and immediately began furthering Smith's plans for a move to the Far West. By now, the Mormon population of Nauvoo neared 11,000, making it one of the largest cities in Illinois. Yet the persecution of Mormons continued. In one month alone in 1845, more than 200 Mormon homes and farm buildings were burned around Nauvoo in an attempt by foes to force out the Mormons.
Possible locations for a new home for the Mormons included Oregon, California and Texas. But with Smith's acquisition
map and report of the West in 1844, the Salt Lake region of Utah was chosen as the Mormons' destination. Young and his devotees made plans for an exodus to this new land. By 1846 the Mormon migration had begun.
When Brigham Young and 3,000 Mormons set out for Utah on February 4, 1846, expedition leaders expected to reach their goal by the coming winter. But unforeseen difficulties forced the Mormons to abandon their original schedule. The journey was split into two sections: Nauvoo to Omaha, Nebraska in 1846; and, Omaha to the Salt Lake Valley of Utah in 1847.
The first section - 265 miles - tested the Mormons most severely. Although plans had already been made for the first group to leave Nauvoo in the spring of 1846, rumors of federal persecution and revocation of the Nauvoo city charter persuaded Brigham Young to begin the move earlier than expected.
February that year in Iowa was marked by harsh weather and bitter cold. With 500 wagons, the Mormons grimly faced miles of axle-deep mud
bogs and rough, obscure trails. Many of the emigrants were unskilled in trail life and leadership was disorganized. Because of the hurried
departure, important provisions had been left behind by many families. All of these factors combined to cause difficulties on a day to day basis.
Yet as the Mormons forged ahead, they became more organized and began traveling in groups of 10s, 50s or 100s. To make things easier
on Mormons who had delayed their departure from Nauvoo, improvements were made to the route along the way. Settlements such as Garden Grove
and Mt. Pisgah were established to provide way stations for the coming immigration.
Finally, by June 13, 1846, the first group of Mormons reached the Missouri River at Council Bluffs, Iowa. It had taken 120 days to
cross 265 miles for an average of 2.25 miles a day. Some of these Mormons stayed in Council Bluffs, which was renamed Kanesville,
while others crossed the Missouri and established Winter Quarters in present-day Omaha.
Brigham Young decided that the original plan to reach the Rockies by fall was now impossible. The Mormons would be staying on the Missouri until the following spring. Winter Quarters would prove to be a harsh stopping place during the winter of 1846-1847.
"This is the place, drive on."
--- Brigham Young, upon arriving in the Salt Lake Valley, 1847
By the time the spring of 1847 approached in Winter Quarters, nearly 400 Mormon lives had been lost to various causes. Yet there was a
vital bit of good news during their stay.
The news came when the famous Jesuit, Father Pierre Jean de Smet, passed through Winter Quarters on his way east. The Jesuit was
one of the few white men who had ever seen the Great Salt Lake. His information on routes and conditions was extended freely to
the Mormons, who eagerly anticipated their next move west.
On April 5, 1847, Brigham Young led the first Mormon wagon train out of Winter Quarters bound for Utah. Conditions, timing,
experience and organization were on the Mormons' side this time and the trip went much easier than the previous year's trial. 148
people, three of whom were women, 72 wagons, and a large collection of livestock made up this first group.
For this first leg of the journey, the Mormons generally followed the Oregon Trail, also known as the Great Platte River
Road. The well-beaten route took them along the Platte River through Nebraska, then along the North Platte River to Fort Caspar,
then across Wyoming to Fort Bridger.
At Fort Bridger on July 9, the Mormons left the Oregon Trail with 116 miles left to go. The previous year, the Reed-Donner party
had blazed a route across Utah on their way to California. The Mormons took advantage of this route and followed it through the
Wasatch Range and into the Great Salt Lake region. Yet this last 116 miles were the most difficult of the entire journey.
The people were filthy and weary and both wagons and livestock were weakened from the previous 1,000 miles of trail. The Wasatch Range
proved to be a formidable barrier with its brush-choked canyons and steep passes.
Finally, on July 24, 1847, the first group of Mormons arrived at their new home in the Great Salt Lake Valley. Immediately, the Mormons
began establishing the makings of a town and planted crops in preparation for the coming Mormon emigrants. From 1847 to 1869, until the
completion of the transcontinental railroad, nearly 70,000 Mormons would make the journey along the Mormon Trail.
Mormon pioneers and settlers were poised to be at the forefront of the gold rush and initial development of the Southern California region. They
crossed the Mojave Desert using the Old Spanish Trail as a winter route to avoid the snowy and deadly Sierra Nevada. They first settled
in San Bernardino, California, building a colony and growing it into a thriving, but wild community.
The Swarthout Family
The man who sold the present day Clyde Ranch to Almon Clyde was named George Swarthout, and he was more than ...
The Mormon Battalion left Council Bluffs, Iowa to fight in the Mexican War. Their first stop was Fort Leavenworth, Kansas to be outfitted
with some military ...
There were three major bands of Northwestern Shoshoni at the time the first Mormon pioneers began settling northern Utah. Chief Little
Soldier headed the ...
The Southern Paiute of Las Vegas Valley
The Mormons who settled along Las Vegas Creek did not record any ... The Paiute camps were not sufficiently identified by Mormon diarists
to enable anyone ...
Oct 1846 - Captain Philip St. George Cooke, who led a caravan composed of twenty-four wagons, 397 Mormon men, and five women west
from Santa Fe late in ...
The Welch and Harris Trial
He believed it was impossible for justice to be served in predominantly Mormon San Bernardino, complaining
that "the county judge is a Mormon, ...
Pioneer of the Mojave
Added to this turmoil was the anti-U.S. climate in San Bernardino, which had been a Mormon colony up until the time of the
Mormon rebellion against the ...
Although the Euro-American travelers posed a threat to the Paiutes, it was the arrival of the Mormons in the 1850s that destroyed
their sovereignty and ...
MORMON EXODUS STALLS ON THE MOJAVE
Amasa Lyman, previously a co-leader of the Mormon Colony, was at the river encampment buying supplies, through intermediaries, from
his former townsmen. ...
The Mountain Meadows Massacre
In the early morning hours of September 7th, a party of local Mormon settlers and Indians attacked and laid seige to the encampment. ...
Mormon Battalion. The Mormon Battalion left Council Bluffs, Iowa to fight in the Mexican War. ... Camel Expedition. The Secretary of
War, Jefferson Davis, ...
San Bernardino County Mining History
Salt Spring, along the Mormon Trail that connected Salt Lake City and San Bernardino, became the first confirmed gold discovery in the
county in 1849. ...
Mojave Desert Shrubs - Desert Plants
Mormon Tea - Ephedra, Ephedra sp. Joint Fir. Yerba Santa, Eriodictyon angustifolia, Water Leaf. California Buckwheat, Eriogonum
fasciculata, Buckwheat ...
Camp Resting Springs
A Mormon mail train was attacked here in 1854. There are still evidences of a stone redoubt and a corral at the site. ...
The Joshua Tree was named after the biblical leader, Joshua, as it reminded the Mormon pioneers of the hero raising out-stretched arms toward the heavens. ...
Captain Jefferson Hunt
... their way and became the Lost Death Valley '49ers. He was called by his church in 1851 to help create a Mormon settlement in San Bernardino, California. ...
Cronology/timeline, Cahuilla Indians
In addition to the influx of Anglo-American miners, ranchers and outlaws, and groups of Mormon colonists, the Cahuilla came into conflict with the ...
Special Report on the Mountain Meadows Massacre
This carriage, he says, is now in the possession of the Mormons. ... Down on the Santa Clara is a Mormon settlement called "The Fort": here some 30 families ...
1st Dragoons, Co. K
On 18 March 1860, Thomas S. Williams and his brother-in-law, Jehu Jackman, who were scouting for a Mormon wagon train from Salt Lake City, were killed in an ...
A Hotbed of Lawlessness and Disorder
We have a singular population, composed of Mormons, Mormon apostates, who are even worse, gamblers, English Jews, and the devil's own population to boot, ...
Carleton Denounces General Populace
The Major was decidedly anti-Mormon, as were most military men following the Mormon War, but Carleton had a particular reason for disliking them. ...
Reports of Criminal and Secessionist Activity
Abel Stearns wrote of troublemakers among the Californios and Mexicans in Los Angeles, and said he was also worried about the Mormons, "whose hostility to ...
Some Gang Members Elude Capture
This had to have been an embarrassment for the respectable Mormon community. Al Williams was the brother of Thomas Williams, the merchant killed by Indians ...
Gang has Ties to the Blackburn Brothers
There is a family tradition that he stole six mules from Mormon leader Brigham Young himself, and the men sent out to recover them never returned. ...
In December, 1849, a Mr. Rowan and other members of a party of Mormons led ... A Mormon party headed to San Bernardino in December, 1850 met William T. B. ...
The Los Angeles Star was convinced that Mormons were mostly behind the crime ... Though anti-Mormon and pro-Southern, the newspaper -- at least as far as ...
Local Men Captured with Stolen Horses
The thieves were all well known, being San Bernardino "Mormons," a term which during these years had become a catch-all that referred to anyone who had ever ...
The Motivation for the Horse Thefts
The San Bernardino Mormons had grown accustomed to the liberal regime of Amasa ... It is also possible the Mormon horse thieves did not see their actions as ...
Old Skeletons and New Trails
Mormons in a State of Rebelion. In late 1857, the year Aaron Lane came to San ... Mormon Exodus Stalls on the Mojave. By the middle of January there was a ...
MORMONS IN A STATE OF REBELLION
Non-Mormon federal appointees in Utah had reported to Washington that their orders were being ignored and that the Mormons were in a state of rebellion ...
MORMONS RECALLED TO UTAH
Late in November of 1857 it was reported that there was a "general movement" of Mormons out of San Bernardino, departing for Salt Lake City. ...