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Conta Direct 4-14-26 13132

THE MORMON TRAILS IN IOWA

Rome, it is said, conquered barbarian nations by means of roads no less than by means of well-drilled armies. The nineteenth century conquest of the American West reminds one of this Old World story. A vast wilderness, once the haunt of Indians, the scene of their hunts and intertribal wars, has passed into the hands of hordes of persons impelled by the migratory instinct to forsake their homes in the Atlantic States, in Canada, and in European countries.

Ambitious, enterprising, and irrepressible, these emigrants everywhere cut their way through trackless forests, spanned bridgeless streams, and crossed roadless stretches of prairie. As if by magic they transformed unpeopled regions into prosperous farms and peaceful towns.

The reclamation of the country which constitutes the State of Iowa forms an interesting chapter in this romantic story of the conquest of the West. When the first wave of settlers from the East and South entered the Iowa country in the year 1833, rivers, ridges, and Indian trails offered the best and only means of access to the interior. Then, almost at once, the people's representatives in the legislature of Wisconsin Territory pushed the work of laying out suitable routes of travel across the lands so recently acquired from the Sac and Fox Indians.

Not until the “Iowa District” obtained from Congress a separate Territorial government, however, did the pioneers of this trans-Mississippi region receive proper legislative attention and fostering care. An extensive network of wagon roads then came into existence. When it is remembered that the inhabited portion of Iowa in 1846 consisted

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only of the area east of the present city of Des Moines, and that the Territorial legislature authorized the establishment' of nearly two hundred roadways by blazing trees in the timber, setting stakes in the prairie, and erecting mileposts and guideboards, one can get a fairly adequate idea of the emphasis placed by pioneers upon the importance and need of avenues of communication between different parts of the new Iowa country.1

But most important and most romantic of all the highways of Territorial Iowa were the Oregon trail and the Mormon trail — the first thoroughfares connecting the Mississippi and the Missouri banks of Iowa: the result, not of legislative intercession but of “land fever” and of persecution. Of the former trail nothing remains but the fact of its existence, bụt of the latter much has been written: such a mass of historical material, both fragmentary and misleading, and of local tradition has accumulated, fortified by modern county maps, that it is necessary to investigate and sift apparently conflicting details in order to fix, if possible, the course of the main and original routes of the Mormon hegira.

It was just a few months before Iowa became a member of the Union of States that the exodus of Mormons from western Illinois commenced. Expelled from their homes in Ohio and later from Missouri, these refugees had taken up their abode in Illinois and had built a prosperous community around their temple city of Nauvoo. Across the Mississippi River, in Iowa, they had bought part of the town of Keokuk, the whole of a town called Nashville six miles north, part of a settlement named Montrose four miles farther north, besides several thousands of acres of land in the notorious “Half-breed Tract”, all in Lee County. One hundred families of Mormons were said to be living in Iowa in 1840.2

1 See the Laws of the Territory of Iowa from 1838 to 1846, and the writer's article on The Roads and Highways of Territorial Iowa in THE Iowa JOURNAL OF HISTORY AND POLITICS, Vol. III, pp. 175–225.

How the Mormons created in the minds of their Illinois neighbors strong feelings of dislike and distrust is a story which requires no repetition here. Scarcely had they completed the building of their Holy Temple at Nauvoo when the storm of hate burst over their heads, involving the death of their prophet, Joseph Smith.

The upshot of the whole strife was that late in the year 1845 the Mormons under the leadership of Brigham Young promised their neighbors to depart“so soon as grass would grow and water run”. They asked the citizens of Illinois to help them sell or rent their properties, thus enabling them to secure means to assist their widows, orphans, and poor to move on with the rest. They ventured to hope that all men will let us alone with their vexatious law-suits”. They advertised a willingness, and sent out agents, to exchange property for cash, drygoods, oxen, cattle, horses, sheep, and wagons; and they begged not to be subjected to further house-burnings or other depredations while they remained.3

The winter months were spent in “the most prodigious preparations for removal." Wagon and tent makers, blacksmiths, and carpenters all were busy:"Nauvoo was constituted into one great wagon shop”, and before spring hundreds of wagons were in readiness. Real estate was sold at extremely low prices, as was the case with all property.

Setting out for a land of promise in the Rocky Mountains - at first they knew not where the refugees left Nauvoo, even sooner than they had contemplated. Early in the month of February, 1846, the twelve apostles with about two thousand followers were ferried across the broad Mississippi: wagons and teams in flat-boats and persons in smaller craft. After the 16th of February, owing to a sudden change of temperature, the emigrants could cross the river on ice.? Landing in Iowa, they pushed on about nine miles and pitched camp in the snow, on Sugar Creek in Lee County. Here the company remained two or three weeks, daily receiving accessions, while snow fell heavily, the thermometer dropped to 20 degrees below zero, and supplies grew scarcer. 8

2 Bancroft's History of Utah, p. 140. In a letter written by Governor Robert Lucas of Iowa these people were described as generally considered industrious, inoffensive, and worthy citizens."

The article in Annals of Iowa (Third Series), Vol. II, pp. 586-602, is based almost entirely on Bancroft's researches into Mormon sources.

3 History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Vol. III, p. 159.

* Linn's The Story of the Mormons, pp. 339, 344; and History of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Vol. III, p. 161.

At the camp on Sugar Creek (every halting-place of the president and twelve apostles was called “Camp of Israel”') Brigham Young “proved himself a general as well as a commander. He directed everything. Thousands were leaving; many destitute, and all poor”. On the 17th of February he addressed his followers from a wagon. On March 1st, the refugees took up the line of march in five hundred wagons: "without confusion, without hurrying or even discord, their long trains rolled by him, while he comforted, inspirited, blessed, and counselled the weeping emigrants."9

5 Bancroft's History of Utah, pp. 214–217; Ford's History of Illinois, p. 412; and Linn's The Story of the Mormons, p. 359.

It was calculated that every family of five persons should prepare an outfit of one wagon, three yokes of oxen, two cows, two beef cattle, three sheep, one thousand pounds of flour, twenty pounds of sugar, a rifle and ammunition, a tent and tent-poles, from ten to twenty pounds of seed, from twenty-five to one hundred pounds of farming tools, and a few other items, at a cost of about $250, including bedding and cooking utensils.

In the historical magazine Americana there has appeared a serial history of the Mormon Church by Brigham H. Roberts, Assistant Historian of the Church in Utah. - See Volume VII.

6 It is believed that the removal was hastened by the indictment of nine apostles for counterfeiting.- Ford's History of Illinois, p. 413. But see Amer. icana, Vol. VII, p. 74.

7 Americana, Vol. VII, p. 72; Hyde's Mormonism, p. 142; Lee's Confessions in Lewis's The Mormon Menace, p. 225; and Bancroft's History of Utah, p. 218.

8 For details of the march across Iowa the writer is indebted in the main to Bancroft's History of Utah, pp. 218–223; Roberts 's account in Americana, Vol. VII, pp. 172–189; and Linn's The Story of the Mormons, pp. 362–370. These historians, together with Charles Negus in the Annals of Iowa, are the chief authorities consulted with regard to the Mormon trails. Bancroft and Roberts furnish the reader rough sketches of the route of travel, but make no attempt at exactness.

One should like to know just where the Sugar Creek camp was pitched whether it was west of Montrose, New Boston, or Charleston.

Only five miles of country were traversed the first day. On the second they reached the eastern bank of the Des Moines River four miles below the village of Farmington, whose citizens, it is said, were delighted with the Mormon brass band. The course then lay along the river and a crossing was effected at “Bonaparte's Mills" on the 5th of March. For the reception and assistance of later followers this vanguard of two or three thousand Mormons stationed a permanent camp at Richardson's Point, fifty-five miles west of Nauvoo, near a branch of Chequest Creek.11 Here the weary travelers rested, working for Iowa settlers in return for provisions and awaiting pleasanter weather, while several men were appointed hunters “as there was much game in the country — turkey, deer, and some elk.

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9 Hyde's Mormonism, p. 142.

10 Probably on the site of the present town of Croton. See Journal of History (Lamoni, Iowa), Vol. II, p. 106.

11 The Iowa Capitol Reporter, April 1, 1846, quoting from The Bloomington Herald, told of an encampment on the Fox River in Davis County, “about fourteen miles above Keosauqua”. This is probably a reference to Richardson's Point.

As to the route, Negus varies from all other authorities, declaring that the Mormons followed the Des Moines River until the western part of Van Buren County was reached. He must have been writing of later companies of Mormons. See Annals of Iowa, Vol. IX, p. 578.

12 Journal of History, Vol. II, p. 106. See also Lee's Confessions in Lewis's The Mormon Menace, p. 226.

Roberts's history in Americana, Vol. VII, pp. 178–182, contains a general account and sketch of the route through Iowa.

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