Nauvoo, Illinois from 1839 to 1845 was a gathering place for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (sometimes called "Mormons"). In 1846 hostile neighbors forced an exodus of the main group out of Nauvoo across Iowa to the area near where Omaha, Nebraska would eventually be built. Most Mormon pioneers stayed there in "Winter Quarters" and in 1847 completed the journey to Salt Lake City in Utah Territory, their new gathering place.
Each of the following years until 1869 several areas in Kansas, Iowa, or Nebraska were used as staging areas for the trip on the Mormon Trail across the plains into the Rocky Mountains to Salt Lake City. Several sets of new wagon trains or handcart companies came each year to Salt Lake City. By the time the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869 about 70,000 pioneers had walked, pulled a handcart, or ridden a wagon or carriage to Utah.
The Mormon Trail usually followed the north side of the North Platte River west through Nebraska and Wyoming to follow the Sweetwater River farther west. The trail went over South Pass, then worked its way through the mountains. Pioneers ferried across the Green River and forded the Bear River before reaching Salt Lake City.
The Mormon Trail overlapped parts of the Oregon Trail and California Trail which normally stayed on the south side of the North Platte and Sweetwater rivers. The Oregon Trail took a more northerly route after the Green River into Idaho and Oregon. The California Trail continued west from Salt Lake City into Nevada and California.
The exact route of the Mormon Trail varied over the years. Most often it passed through:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints provides an interactive website titled the Pioneer Story, which includes an interactive map of the historic trail, allowing you to search the trail from the beginning or allowing one to go to a specific location along the trail. A variety of personal accounts of some of the pioneers are included with each of the stops along the trek west from Nauvoo, Ilinois to Salt Lake City, Utah.
Connecting migration routes. The Mormon Trail linked to other migration routes at each end. The migration pathways connected at the east end included:
- Mississippi River
- Missouri River
- Union Pacific Railroad 1865 from Omaha, Nebraska and extending its way west to Ogden, Utah in 1869
The migration pathways connected at the west end of the Mormon Trail included:
Modern parallels. The modern roads that roughly match the Mormon Trail from Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake City, Utah are listed in an online edition of a National Park Service publication about the Mormon Trail:
Settlers and Records
- Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel 1847-1868 lists birth, death, age, pioneer company, and sources. It is the most comprehensive listing available of individuals and companies that traveled the Mormon Trail by the Church History Library.
- Early Latter-day Saints - A Mormon Trail Pioneer Database BMD, parents, spouses, and family groups by Nauvoo Land and Records Office and Pioneer Research Group
Perpetual Emigration Fund. Pioneers who received financial assistance immigrating to Utah were expected to repay their debt. In 1877 a list of persons who still owed money was created. For details see the Perpetual Emigration Fund Wiki page.
Censuses also can be used to identify pioneers who traveled the Mormon Trail:
- 1850 federal census of Utah (actually 1851 for Utah)
- Registry of names of persons residing in the various wards as to bishop's reports, 1852-1853 (Typescript). WorldCat entry. FHL Film 823831; Book 979.2 K2r.
- Bryan Lee Dilts, 1856 Utah census index : an every-name index (Salt Lake City, UT : Index Pub., 1983). WorldCat entry. FHL Fiche 6331392 (3 fiche); Book 979.2 X22d 1856.
- 1860 federal census of Utah
- 1870 federal census of Utah
Local and county histories in Utah also may help identify additional pioneers. Some Mormon Trail pioneers also settled in Idaho, Arizona, Nevada, or California. For example:
- Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah
- Women of Faith and Fortitude
- Biographical record of Salt Lake City and vicinity : containing biographies of well known citizens of the past and present (Chicago, Illinois : National Historical Record, 1902). WorldCat entry. FHL Film 1000615 Item 2; Book 979.225 D3b.
Settlers along the trail. Only a tiny fraction of pioneers settled along the Mormon Trail before reaching Salt Lake City, mostly in Iowa or the Omaha area. Only a few may have stayed three to five years before continuing to Utah. It was uncommon to remain much longer.
Deaths on the trail. Mormon pioneer companies experienced less than half the mortality rate on the trail compared to the Oregon Trail or California Trail. A very incomplete list of deaths on the trail is:
- Crossing the Plains -- deaths : those who died in the early days of the Church in Missouri, Kirtland, Nauvoo, and on the Plains (Taken from the Deseret News 14, 21, and 28 of December 1918). FHL Book 289.373 C884.
- Wikipedia contributors, "Mormon Trail" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormon_Trail (accessed 6 July 2012).