What's New   Contact Us   
IAGenWeb, dedicated to providing free genealogy records.


 Iowa History

       An IAGenWeb Special Project


Join the IAGenWeb Team



Our Iowa, Its Beginning and Growth

Herbert L. Moeller and Hugh C. Mueller

New York, Newsom and Company


Transcribed by Debbie Gerischer & Kaylee Bopp



Iowa and the Mormons

The first important trail or route across southern Iowa was not made by Indians, traders, or settlers.  It was made by a religious group of people who were on their way to a new home in the West because they had been driven from their former homes.


Joseph Smith, a farmer's son, claimed to have found some gold plates on a hill in New York in 1827.  He said he could read the markings on them and called them "The Book of Mormon."  He organized a new church and named it "Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints."    The name was so long that people called members of the church "Mormons."

The Mormons were driven from the states of New York, Ohio, and Missouri.  They they settled at Nauvoo, Illinois, across the Mississippi River from the present town of Montrose, Iowa.  More than 14,000 Mormons settled there and it became, for a time, the largest city in Illinois.  A large temple was built at Nauvoo.  But the Mormons did not get along well with the other settlers of Illinois.  Other people said that the temple was really a fort and that the Mormons wanted to rule the state.  Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were killed by a mob at Carthage, Illinois, in June, 1846.


The Mormons decided to move again and sent some men West to find a place for a new home.  These men chose a site which is now known as the Salt Lake Valley, around Salt Lake City, Utah.  In that new land there would be no other people to bother them.  After the place had been chosen there came the task of moving the thousands of members out into the great wild and open West.

Several hundred families had moved from Nauvoo into southeastern Iowa.  Governor Lucas, in 1839, had promised a Mormon elder that his people would be given all the rights and privileges of other people while they lived in this territory.  Iowa was the first territory or state in which the Mormons were treated kindly.  Some Mormon families remained here in Iowa.

The Mormons began to leave Nauvoo in February, 1846.  Sometimes the ice on the Mississippi was strong enough to hold the teams and wagons, so they crossed on it.  Usually the ox teams and goods had to be ferried across the river.   By May, 16,000 had crossed the Mississippi.  Their first camp in Iowa was at Sugar Creek and the second at Richardson's Point, in Lee County.


The spring was cold and wet with much snow on the ground, as these people started on their long wearisome journey.  Slowly, the long line moved westward.  There were 3,000 wagons, 30,000 head of cattle, and many horses, mules, and sheep, scattered along the trail.  It crossed the counties of Lee, Van Buren, Davis, Appanoose, Wayne, Decatur, Lucas, Clarke, Union, Adair, Cass, and Pottawattamie.  There were no roads and the spring weather had made the ground soft.  Sometimes one mile was as far as they could travel in a day.  One diary reports:  "The roads in many places are almost impassable on account of the mud.  We camped in a wet, swampy place."

As the first group traveled along it erected stations at which cabins were built and gardens planted.  There were eight such stations in Iowa.  The groups that came later rested at these stations and used the corps that had been raised.  Some of these stations, as Garden Grove in Decatur County and Mount Pisgah in Union County, became permanent settlements.  The last camp in Iowa was on the Missouri River.  At first this camp was called Millers Hollow, later Kanesville, and finally Council Bluffs.  Many Mormons settled and lived in that section for a number of years.

The Mexican War broke out in 1846, while the Mormons were crossing Iowa.  Captain Allen was sent to get young men of the Mormon group to enlist in the army.  Five companies of one hundred each were enlisted to be used as a part of an expedition into California, which at that time belonged to Mexico.  They were called the "Mormon Battalion."  After the war was over, some of the battalion remained in California while others went to their new home in Utah.

Brigham Young, who became leader of the Mormons after Joseph Smith's death, and led them to their new home, followed Smith's doctrines.  One which was preached at Nauvoo was polygamy, or the right of a man to have more than one wife.  Some of the Mormons did not believe in polygamy and therefore organized themselves into the "Reformed Church of Latter Day Saints."  This group settled at Lamoni, Decatur County, and there is still a strong congregation of that church there.



The Mormons sent missionaries to Europe.  By 1855 these workers had hundreds of people who wanted to go to Utah.  Most of them were very poor and could not pay their way.  The church leaders told them that they would bring them as far as Iowa City by train and that, since the railroad did not go beyond Iowa City, they would have hand carts for them there.  They could then, so they were told; walk to Utah and carried their goods in the carts.

During the summer of 1856, about 1,300 of these foreign people, mostly from Great Britain, arrived in Iowa City.  They had no idea as to the kind of trip that was ahead of them.  For a while they camped just outside of Iowa City, waiting for their carts to be made ready.  Finally they started.  There was one cart for each five people in which they carried their bedding, food and clothing.  The hand carts had to be pushed or pulled by the men and women as they walked across the country.

The group of foreign Mormons was divided into five sections.  The first three reached Salt Lake City before winter but the other two were caught in the winter storms and suffered terrible hardships.  Their food gave out, their oxen strayed away, and many of the people became sick and died.  Some of the men stopped on the way to work, in order that they might get food.  Others begged on the way.

Although Iowa people did not believe as the Mormons did, they were good to them and helped them all they could on their long journey of fifteen hundred miles.


back to History Index