The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is synonymous today with the Salt Lake Valley. The journey for the Mormons, however, did not begin in Utah. In February of 1846, Mormon pioneers set off to find their new home in the American West. Mormons may have traveled from different areas of the east, but the eventual arrival of over 70,000 people made the Salt Lake Valley a hub for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In turn, Mormons helped shape religion in the American West (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, “The Trek West”).
Life for Mormon pioneers in the east was challenging. The Mormons frequently relocated before migrating west, due to religion persecution. Bathsheba Smith expresses moments of hardship, as she recalls, “In this State I saw thousands of mobbers arrayed against the Saints.” They were forced to give up property and leave because outside populations did not agree with their beliefs (Smith n.d., 5). Mormons were also subject to illnesses that proved to be deadly. Smith states, “The camp having been deprived of vegetable food the past year, many were attacked with scurvy, the exposure, together with the want of necessary comforts caused many to be attacked with fevers and ague.” In April of 1847, Brigham Young led a group of pioneers in search of a settlement away from these hardships (Smith n.d., 15).
The pioneers’ path west was littered with obstacles. Early on, rivers served as barriers for the pioneers. Companies sometimes had to wait due to poor weather, as William Clayton explained: “We have spent the past week waiting for crossing over the river. It has been hard frost and much snow.” Teams of pioneers even crossed at different times, as some people had to wait another day before they could advance (Clayton, 2). The crossing of hills created bigger problems for wagons, as Clayton expressed: “It is so very steep as to be almost impossible for heavy wagons to ascend.” To avoid the hill Clayton referenced, some pioneers had the task of cutting out a road for the wagons to pass over safely. The difficult job would prove to be well worth it, though, as the top of the hill presented a view of the Great Salt Lake (Clayton, 307-308).
Upon their arrival, Mormon pioneers knew this was their new home. One of the apostles, Wilford Woodruff, expressed, “A land of promise, held in reserve by the hand of God for a resting place of the saints [sic]” (Utah Division of State History, “The Mormon Trail: A Photographic Exhibit”). The pioneers set out to find a home that offered freedom, and found just that in the American West. However, they accomplished much more than that. The Mormon pioneers built their new home, and paved the way for future settlers. They heavily influenced not only religion in the American West, but also life in general. The Mormons settled further west than any other Americans had before, and established a functioning society in the Salt Lake Valley. The success of their migration inspired hope for the West, as other Americans followed their lead shortly after. In turn, Mormon pioneers are responsible for colonizing the American West.
-Mike Cantarella, November 30, 2018
Suggestions for Further Reading:
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “The Trek West.” July 23, 2014.
Clayton, William. William Clayton’s Journal: A Daily Record of the Journey of the Original Company of “Mormon” Pioneers from Nauvoo, Illinois, to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Salt Lake City: Deseret News for the Clayton Family Association, 1921.
Smith, Bathsheba W. Autobiography of Bathsheba W. Smith, n.d. LDS Church History Library, Salt Lake City.
Utah Division of State History. “The Mormon Trail: A Photographic Exhibit.” August 09, 2016.
Woodruff, Wilford. Wilford Woodruff’s Journal. Salt Lake City: Kraut’s Press, n.d. Archive.org.
Featured Image: Pioneers Crossing the Plains of Nebraska by C. C. A. Christensen – Brigham Young University Museum of Art. Public Domain.