Mormon Pioneer Trail

Devils Gate from Martins Cove, Wyoming, Ken Lund

Devils Gate from Martins Cove, Wyoming, Ken Lund

It has been said that the exodus from Nauvoo, Illinois in 1846 of 15,000 Latter-day Saints, and the massive migration of Mormon Pioneers which followed, was one of the greatest movements of a religious body in the history of the world. The journey of these people across 1,300 miles of an almost trackless wilderness to an unknown Zion is a story which will never grow old. It was a story of supreme faith in God and in their leaders. It was possible only because of the Fire of the Covenant that burned within the breasts of those courageous pioneers.

The first wave of the Mormon migration fled relentless persecutions from mobs in early February 1846. Sub-zero temperatures and blizzards were followed by rain and deep mud, as thousands of refugees followed Brigham Young across Iowa. Unable to continue west that year, the exhausted and hungry pioneers built crude, temporary shelters for the winter in makeshift towns in Iowa and Nebraska. Then in the spring of 1847, the great trek to the Valleys of the Mountains continued. This year, and in the two decades following, tens of thousands traveled in creaking wagons, by horseback and on foot. Many who went on foot pulled rickshaw-like handcarts those 1,300 miles, loaded with 500 pounds of provisions and personal belongings — all they owned on earth. They built bridges, they braved unforgiving weather and they fought disease. They buried their dead along the way.

The “wedding of the rails” which occurred near Promontory Summit, Utah in May 1869, brought the transcontinental railroad and an end to the pioneer era. By this time 60-80,000 Latter-Day Saints had made the journey to their Promised Land.

The historian of the pioneer trail, Stanley B. Kimball, Ph.D., has written a comprehensive 40-page summary of the Mormon Trail from Nauvoo to the West. You may access this history online.

The United States National Parks Service is the Federal agency charged with identifying, protecting and promoting early pioneer trails. Visit the National Parks Service page on the Mormon trail for more details.

Other Pioneer Trails

The longest and most famous trails followed by American pioneers in the 1800’s were the Mormon Trail, the Oregon Trail, the California Trail and the Pony Express Trail. These and others in other parts of the country have been designated by Congress as National Historic Trails.  They have been the subjects of much research to document their exact routes.  Americans young and old are captivated by the stories of pioneer adventures. Much of historic fact, and much of romance has been written.  These stories are worthy of study by families who treasure their past.

On some portions of their routes, the four western trails are very close together.  But each follows its own unique path over long stretches.  The United States National Park Service is preparing a series of Auto Tour Route Interpretive Guides for each state through which these four trails pass.  These colorful illustrated booklets are available from:

National Park Service National Trails System
Intermountain Region
324 South State Street, Suite 2001, Box 30
Salt Lake City, Utah 84111

The Interpretive Guides may be downloaded.  In addition, each of these four trails is the subject of its own NPS web site.  Each contains general information, maps and directions.  To access any of these web sites, simply click on one of the following links:

Mormon Battalion Trail

Another great episode in pioneer history is the unique and unprecedented saga of The Mormon Battalion. Five hundred volunteers were provided by Brigham Young from the ranks of the first Latter-day Saints as they struggled heroically in the first phase of their journey to the West. Many of these gallant men left their families to travel on alone towards the mountains, while they responded to the call of the United States Government. Theirs was one of the longest sustained marches of infantry in all of history.  The Mormon Battalion Trail traces the march of these soldiers through hundreds of miles of sand and sagebrush toward an unknown enemy.  Brigham Young had promised if they would keep the Lord’s commandments, none of these soldiers would be lost – and none were lost.  They were never involved in the war into which they had been enlisted, and ultimately returned to their loved ones to help build their Zion in the “Tops of the Mountains”of the American West. Read their story.

Additional Resources

There are many other pioneer trails.  For further study, here are some more links to good web sites dedicated to Pioneer history: