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
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
THE FOREIGN MORMONS
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.