Garden Grove, Iowa, to Winter Quarters, Nebraska
The first story in this series began in Nauvoo, Illinois, and followed backcountry roads 167 miles to Garden Grove, Iowa (see the Jan. ’13 issue of this magazine). This story picks up the trail in Garden Grove and continues on backcountry roads across Iowa to Winter Quarters, Nebraska, where Mormon pioneers spent the winter of 1846 into 1847. Out of the 155 miles we traveled for this section, approximately 100 miles were on unpaved roads.
While the pioneers were building their settlement in Garden Grove, political leaders in Iowa City were debating with the state of Missouri about where the dividing line would be for the future state of Iowa. For the pioneers, that fact provided an advantage. There was no one with authority to prevent them from building a settlement or to interfere with their travels. It also provided a nearby state where towns already existed. While in Garden Grove, they traded with the town of Mercer, in Missouri, to build a jail in exchange for food and supplies.
By May 13, 1846, Brigham Young had been in Garden Grove for about three weeks. He packed his wagon and continued westward. Most of the pioneers in the settlement who were able to travel went with him, while those who were sick or had unhealthy members in their families stayed behind with the intention of catching up later. Some of them stayed for a few weeks, some stayed for a few years, and some are still there in the cemetery.
While Young and his followers pushed forward, the evacuation of Nauvoo continued. Thousands more pioneers would soon pass through Garden Grove. It became a resting place maintained by those who chose to live there for the purpose of helping those who passed through. Today, the original town site is just an open field beside a graveyard with a historical marker. The modern town of Garden Grove is a short distance east of the original location.
Some parts of the trail used by the pioneers in 1846 had to be widened or even built from scratch as they moved across Iowa. They were traveling through unsettled wilderness and in some sections, the only trails to follow were those made by Native Americans or wildlife. They built bridges across some rivers and streams to be used by their own group as well as those who would follow.
Tracing those trails today has some challenges. Modern roads mostly follow section lines that form squares, but the pioneers followed the path of least resistance. Today, we must take a stair step approach around private property so, rather than following directly along the trail, we are continually crossing it.
The book referenced at the end of this story frequently points out places in the hills where an indentation in the terrain can be seen. The author defines those as visible wagon tracks from the Mormon Trail. In most cases, it takes some imagination to see them. Any trail that is not being used is eventually reclaimed by the forces of nature and fades away. Nearly all the original trail is on privately owned land. Still, we are able to cross on public roads and view the terrain the pioneers faced. Doing so challenges the most vivid imagination as to how anyone could get a covered wagon from one point to another.
After leaving Garden Grove, the pioneers traveled for less than a week before arriving at a location they called Mount Pisgah. They were so impressed with its possibilities that they decided to build a second stopover to handle any Garden Grove overflow of future travelers. They built cabins, plowed fields, and planted a variety of crops before continuing their journey. Nothing is left today except a historical monument, but the appeal of Mount Pisgah from an agricultural point of view is evident.
By using the book referenced here, we knew where to look for historical markers that have been placed at intervals across the state. In some places, the author suggested certain roads be bypassed due to their condition, but we found those roads to be easy in a 4x4.