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 Nebraska, Iowa, or Kansas were used as staging areas for the four-month 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 to Utah in 1869 about 70,000 pioneers had walked, pulled a handcart, or ridden a wagon or carriage to Utah. See also LDS Emigration and Immigration and Handcart Pioneers.
Other early routes to Utah. In 1846 a group of 43 from Monroe County, Mississippi planned to meet the Nauvoo Mormons on the Mormon Trail. They arrived in Independence, Missouri on 26 May and made their way to the Platte River. Not finding Brigham Young, these Mississippi Mormons mistakenly concluded they had fallen behind the main group, and from there hurried west. Past Chimney Rock in western Nebraska they realized their mistake and agreed to go to Pueblo, Colorado to spend the winter. These Southern Mormons were not able to meet the main group until 3 June 1847 at Laramie, Wyoming. Several served as scouts after joining the main group. The next year a few returned and led about 200 more Mississippians to Utah.
Some pioneers reached Utah via California. A group of over 530 men called the "Mormon Battalion" were recruited off the Mormon Trail into the U.S. Army to help fight the Mexican War 1846-1847. Most of these men left their families at Council Bluffs, Iowa and marched to Fort Leavenworth Kansas, Santa Fe New Mexico, Tucson Arizona, and San Diego and Los Angeles, California where they were honorably dismissed from service. A few of these men participated in the discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill in 1848.
In 1846 another group led by Samuel Brannan with 237 other Mormons sailed for six months on the first family passenger ship to California, the Ship Brooklyn, from New York City around Cape Horn to Hawaii to San Francisco. Brannan published the Sutter's Mill gold strike to start the Gold Rush. From California most of these pioneers found their way to Utah as individuals or in small groups. This included former soldiers hoping to reunite with the families they last saw in Iowa.
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 crossed the Green River at Lombard Ferry, headed for Fort Bridger, and forded the Bear River before reaching Echo Canyon. Their last camp on the trail was often near the Old Fort at Pioneer Park in 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 River. 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 (or from the Oregon Trail at Fort Hall, Idaho) 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
- California Trail 1841 from western Missouri to central California overlapped the Mormon Trail most of the way to Utah
- Oregon Trail 1843 from western Missouri to the Willamette Valley of Oregon overlapped the Mormon Trail to the Green River (Wyoming) area
- Mormon Trail 1846-1847 from Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake City, Utah
- Union Pacific Railroad 1865 from Omaha, Nebraska and extending its way slowly west to Ogden, Utah in 1869
The migration pathways connected at the west end of the Mormon Trail included:
- western leg of the California Trail 1846 from western Missouri to Sacramento, California
- Mormon Trail 1846-1847 from Nauvoo, Illinois to Salt Lake City, Utah
- Mormon Trail to Southern California 1848 from Salt Lake City, Utah to Cedar City to Las Vegas to Los Angeles, California
- Union Pacific Railroad 1869 from Ogden, Utah to Omaha, Nebraska
- Central Pacific Railroad 1869 from Ogden, Utah to Sacramento, California
- Denver and Rio Grande Railroad 1889 Ogden, Utah to Denver, Colorado
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
No complete list of pioneer settlers who travelled the Mormon Trail is known to exist. However, a variety of sources exist which can be used to identify most of them.
- 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 and biographies in Utah also may help identify additional pioneers. For example:
- Frank Esshom, Pioneers and Prominent Men of Utah : comprising photographs, genealogies, biographies (Salt Lake City, Utah : Utah Pioneers Book, 1913). Digitized edition by BYU Family History Archives.
- International Society Daughters of Utah Pioneers, Pioneer Women of Faith and Fortitude, 4 vols. (Salt Lake City, Utah : International Society Daughters of Utah Pioneers, c1998). WorldCat entry. FHL Book 979 D36p.
- 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.
- Bashore, Melvin L. [Database of] Mormon Trail Deaths 1847–1868. Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Historical Dept., 1998-. Each entry includes the person’s full name, sex, age, death date, death place, source and notes. The Church History Library and Archives staff will search the current database for you.
Written Accounts of the Journey descriptions are found in order by year and pioneer company in Melvin L. Bashore, and Linda L. Haslam, Mormon Pioneer Companies Crossing the Plains 1847–1868. Narratives. 3rd rev. ed. (Salt Lake City, Utah: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Historical Dept., 1990). WorldCat entry. FHL Film 1592752 item 6; Book 289.3016 B291m.
- "Mormon Trail" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopeida at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormon_Trail (accessed 8 July 2011). History and relatively detailed list of sites along the trail with some images.
- National Park Service, Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail at http://www.nps.gov/mopi/index.htm (accessed 8 July 2011). History, culture, photos, map.
- "Oregon - California Trails Association" in Calcite Rocky Mountain College (Internet site) at http://www.octa-trails.org/ (accessed 8 July 2011). Includes Mormon trail maps, photos, site descriptions, and diary quotations. For an index of overland trail documents see www.paper-trail.org/search.asp.
- "Mormon pioneers" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopeida at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormon_Pioneers (accessed 9 July 2011). Background, vanguard company, Mormon Battalion, travel conditions, Ship Brooklyn, later migration, and settling the Mountain West.
- "The Pioneer Story: The Mormon Pioneer Trail" in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at http://lds.org/gospellibrary/pioneer/pioneerstory.htm (accessed 11 July 2011). Brief local histories, trail diary entries, images, and portraits from 40 stops along the Mormon Trail.
- Wikipedia contributors, "Mormon Trail" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormon_Trail (accessed 6 July 2012).
- "The Pioneer Story : The Mormon Pioneer Trail" in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints at http://lds.org/gospellibrary/pioneer/pioneerstory.htm (accessed 8 July 2011).
- Leonard J. Arrington, Mississippi Mormons at http://lds.org/ensign/1977/06/mississippi-mormons?lang=eng (accessed 9 July 2011).
- Wikipedia contributors, "Mormon Battalion" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormon_Battalion (accessed 9 July 2011).
- Wikipedia contributors, "Mormon pioneers" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mormon_pioneers (accessed 9 July 2011).
- Wikipedia contributors, "California Trail" in Wikipedia: the Free Encyclopedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Route (accessed 9 July 2011).