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The Mormon Trail, Part 1

1301 4wd 01 The Mormon Trail Part 1 Jeep Grand Cherokee
Larry E. Heck | Writer
Posted January 1, 2013

The Journey from Nauvoo to Garden Grove

While doing some research into the ancestry of Butch Cassidy, we came across the ship records for all four of his grandparents. In 1856, the Parker family from England and the Gillies Family from Scotland were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There is nothing to indicate they knew each other.

They crossed the ocean on different ships and traveled by train at different times to the end of the tracks in Iowa City, Iowa. From that point, they traveled by handcart and by wagon to Lewis, Iowa, where they intersected with the Mormon Trail and followed it to the Salt Lake Valley. The Mormon Trail was established 10 years earlier in 1846 and 1847 when the first Mormons left Nauvoo, Illinois, and traveled across the Continental Divide. Much of it can be found by following backcountry roads and connecting historic points of interest.

This first story is an introduction as to how and why the Mormon church moved its headquarters to the Salt Lake Valley. The story begins in Nauvoo, Illinois, and follows backcountry roads 200 miles to the first settlement they built in Garden Grove, Iowa.

On February 4, 1846, Brigham Young left Nauvoo, Illinois, and crossed the Mississippi River into Iowa. He passed through the town of Montrose and set up camp on a small water flow called Sugar Creek. One by one and day after day, other wagons were ferried across the Mississippi River on rafts similar to the one pictured below. They docked on the Iowa side, but the crossing was much shorter at that time. A dam at Keokuk, Iowa, now forms Lake Cooper, which is the largest such lake in either state. By the end of February, 500 wagons and 2,500 people were camped at Sugar Creek. They named their group the Camp of Israel and retained that designation where ever they went.

Brigham Young became the de facto leader of the Mormon church after the death of Joseph Smith. He spent much of his time meeting with trappers and traders who had seen the unsettled west. At that time, the border of the United States ran along the Continental Divide. Everything west of that line was claimed by Mexico.


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One of the stories Young heard was about a valley near a lake of salty water in a land where no one lived except a few scattered tribes of Indians. He wondered if such a place had potential to be a sovereign country where Mormons could practice their religion without interference. After careful consideration and discussion with other leaders within the church, the decision was made to move the church headquarters to a location none of them had ever seen. The Camp of Israel would be the first of several groups to make that journey.

Today, the city of Nauvoo is a historic place to visit. Many of the original buildings are still standing and are being maintained by the Mormon church. Each building has a tour guide to demonstrate the skills shared by people who lived in the 1840s. There is a bakery, a brick factory, a machine that makes ropes, and many more. All exhibits are free of charge and very informative.

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