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"Mormons All"

"History To Nauvoo"

The Mormon church was founded in 1830 in upstate New York.  Joseph Smith under divine instruction organized the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a small log-cabin.  When persecutions started, Joseph led church members to Kirtland, Ohio.*

Not long after arriving in Kirtland, church headquarters was established in Jackson County, Missouri (Independence).*

Soon local residents in Jackson County started a new wave of persecution that continued until the Mormons moved north into Illinois.  The persecution was so extreme that government got involved when the Governor of Missouri issued an 'Extermination Order' requiring the State Militia to either drive the Mormons out of Missouri or exterminate them.

In the middle of Winter, they were expelled from their lands, without compensation for homes or property.  The saints gathered at a desolate area in Illinois on the eastern side of the Mississippi River.  A place that no one else cared for provided a safe haven from persecution but not from mosquitoes and disease when grounds thawed to reveal the forsaken swamp they had camped on.

Be as it may, the hearty Mormons would make something out of the area, and started to drain the swamp, build cabins, plant crops, re-establish the church headquarters, and gather other members of their faith.  Soon businesses started, commerce followed amongst the Mormons, and they felt safe from persecution.  The city was named Nauvoo, meaning beautiful city.*  It rivaled in size to Chicago at the time.  What had brought them there seemed inexplicable but it only strengthened their faith.  Peaceful and content, the Mormons started work on a temple.  Finally, they had a place they had built with their own hands; a home, a peaceful and beautiful place they were proud of.

"Nauvoo Exodus"

Less predictable than fiction, history has a way of revealing people's insecurities, hatred, and bigotry in the persecution of others with only slightly different beliefs from their own.  This was no more true than in 1844.  Hatred had followed the Mormons to Nauvoo, and slowly it began to show its face when farmers in Illinois joined with the Mormon's old enemies from Missouri.  Together, they decided to take matters into their own hands.

Initial attempts to force the Mormons to leave their city failed.  Homes and farmhouses were set on fire.  Threats against church members continued, even death threats against church leaders.  When a local newspaper printed an attack on the Church's policies and beliefs, Joseph ordered the press be destroyed.  It culminated in the governor having Joseph, his brother Hyrum, and other leaders arrested and locked up in nearby Carthage, Illinois.  They were being protected for their "own good."  One day went without serious incident but on the fateful day of June 27, 1844, a lynch mob showed up.  It was clear the church leaders would not be sufficiently guarded.  They could hear the mob making their way past the guard.  Trapped on the second floor with no choices other than a small window, adrenaline took over.  What seemed like just in the nick of time, Hyrum was the only one to jump out while the cell was being entered but a bullet shot from his jail cell caught him before he reached the ground.  Joseph realized his brother had been shot for only moments before succumbing to the same treatment, being shot multiple times.

Justice was never served.  The action was supposed to dissolve the church but anticipating his assassination, Joseph Smith had appointed a quorum to run the church following any martyrdom.  Brigham Young was on a mission in New York at the time of the murders, and upon learning of the fate of the church's leaders returned immediately to Nauvoo.  Brigham brought comfort to the grieving congregation, and soon was appointed President of the Quorum.

For over a year the community prospered.  Accelerated building on the temple showed that the scare tactics had failed.  Acts of terrorism increased, mobs attacked isolated farms.  The Illinois governor had sided with the anti-Mormons.  After implied threats from the governor, the church agreed to move during the spring and summer of 1846.  Agreements were made guaranteeing no violence until the church had time to move.  Those promises were broken, and other acts of violence intensified.

Brigham Young had closely studied the reports just published of Lieutenant John C. Frémont's expedition to the Pacific, in which the Salt Lake area was described as "lush green countryside."  Brigham knew they had to move west, and this sounded like a perfect spot.

The church had already planned to move west again.  The only problem was there were a lot of people to move.  To ease the strain, church leaders decided to start early taking around 300 people west with them to help determine and blaze a suitable trail for others to follow.  When other church members heard of the leaders leaving them behind, many insisted on joining in on the initial journey.

On February 4th, 1846, long lines started forming at the Mississippi.  Unsympathetic ferry owners took advantage of the situation, charging excessive rates for crossing, more than most families or the entire populous could afford.  A hell of unjustified bigotry and hatred had wrapped up around them trapping them in the heavenly place they had created from scratch.

Miraculously, on February 24th, the river froze over, and even allowed for wagon and oxen to make it across.  Making the crossing of the Mississippi easy created its own problem.  The initial planned 300 quickly grew to 3,000, many deciding in haste with little time to properly prepare for the long journey across Iowa.

The first group to leave stopped after making it nine miles into Iowa, setting up camp at a place called Sugar Creek.  After what was presumed sufficient time to get reorganized, the group started across Iowa.

On top of the harsh cold winter that was difficult enough to deal with, most were not prepared for the travel.  Tents had no floor or end flaps; food provisions, supplies, and medication supplies were not adequate for the journey; thousands got sick, and hundreds lost their lives along the way.  When the cold weather ended, the rains started, continuing almost continuously on into July,  the worst torrential rains in Iowa's history.  What would normally take three to three and a half weeks to travel the 327 mile distance across Iowa turned out to be four and a half months.  For much of the time, the mud reached the bottom of the wagon beds.

Perseverance won out, and the Mormons eventually reached the Missouri River.  The exodus from Nauvoo continued throughout the spring with the latest group reaching the Missouri in late summer.  Some were not able to leave Nauvoo due to the expense.  To make the trip also required having a group large enough to help out in emergencies.  Without a wagon, a team, and adequate supplies, taking on the trek would be no less than a suicide venture.  Unfortunately, remaining behind to be subjected to constant persecution was no less an easy path to take.

"First Ferry"

The Mormons first reached the Missouri River on June 14, 1846.  The next challenge was crossing the Missouri River and then crossing the Indian country ahead.  First, it would be necessary to regroup, acquire the proper outfitting, and determine the best method of continuing the journey.  The initial obstacle was that the only ferry wasn't large enough to handle so many wagons, and it was a little south of where the Mormons were arriving.

Gen. Peter A. Sarpy operated a trading post between St. Mary's* and Council Point (Belle-vue).  He also operated a dingy-type ferry boat on the Missouri River near the trading post.

The ferry didn't have a lot of traffic so it was sufficient to handle the load, that is up until the Mormons arrived.  The Mormons had no intention of staying in the Iowa area being aware of the lands west of the Missouri.  Settlers were already reaching the west coast from the San Francisco area north to Oregon Territory.  The Mormons had plans to travel to a place further west than Iowa without actually knowing exactly what it looked like or where exactly it was but it was definitely west of the Missouri River.  The only thing they had to go on was Brigham Young's study of John C. Frémont's travels where he described the Salt Lake area.

The first day that the Mormons arrived at the Missouri River, they decided they would need to build a ferry themselves to handle the great number of wagons traveling west.  Instead of building their own ferry, they approached Peter Sarpy to discuss a joint venture.  Both parties agreed to work together.

The first Mormons arriving camped in the southern part of present day Council Bluffs near present day Iowa School for the Deaf.  The area west of where the Mormons were camped was chosen to construct a ferry.  A volunteer workforce of around a 100 workers were called upon to build the ferry and improve the river sites to accommodate the new ferry.

The ferry was completed and operational shortly after the first of July 1846, barely two weeks after the Mormons first arrived.  The ferry rope ended up on the Omaha side in the South Omaha area around the L Street bridge.  The new ferry was built to carry 3 or 4 fully loaded wagons and oxen in a single crossing, so the ferry was huge by any standards.

A ferry needs to have a cutout in the river bank to get out of the way of the flow of the river while being loaded and unloaded.  Three of these need to be made in order to adequately transfer goods both ways.  Modern ferries use a motor powered floating barge of sorts and need only two such cutouts.  In 1846, that wasn't the case.  The power to get the ferry across the river is provided by the river itself.

The ferry is attached to ropes anchored at the cutouts to guide it to the other side.  As the river attempts to drag the ferry downstream, it traverses a path slightly downstream as it crosses to the other side. The same operation is repeated to get the ferry back across.  This means that one side has to be the point of a V where the ropes are attached.  On the other side, ropes are attached upstream and downstream of the apex of the V.

The point of the V was on the Council Bluffs side.  The ferry was poled out into the force of the water, and then allowed to travel downstream, then poled back into the cutout on the other side.  After unloading, the ferry is poled back out into the force of the river but it is also firmly attached to a team of horses, mules, or oxen that drag it upstream so it can be poled into the third cutout and reattached to the upper leg rope.

If necessary, the ferry is loaded with goods for transportation back across the river before poled back out into the force of the river.  The force of the stream carries it back to the starting point.

Loads were almost always on wagons with harnessed oxen so loading and unloading took little time.  The entire process, a full loop, took about an hour so 12 to 16 crossing could be made in a full day, depending upon the number of hours of daylight available.

In the heaviest traffic periods, the ferry was busy starting early in the morning, and worked until past sunset.  The starting point was easy to spot in the early morning as a big fire was already started.  Just before the sun broke over the horizon, fat burning lanterns provided the first working hours light for the workers.

The ferry area on both sides became a popular gathering spot as folks waited for their turn to cross the river.

The help of the Mormons to build the ferry was something that wasn't going to happen otherwise for quite some time so the whole area benefited as a result.  It is reported that Gen. Sarpy not only allowed crossing free of charge but he also gave supplies to the Mormons.

"Grand Encampment"

The first wagons arriving at the Missouri River (June 14) camped at the area near present day School of the Deaf just southeast of Council Bluffs.  While a new ferry was being constructed, the Mormons remained on the Iowa side..  The area was known as the Grand Encampment.  The camp area was used on into August before all camped there could be moved across the Missouri.

As more wagons arrived, they camped in the first area available to the east.  By the first of July, the ferry was ready for crossing, however, there was a backlog of wagons waiting.  By late July, the camped wagons stretched nine miles to the east and as much as three miles wide along the way.

Soon it was apparent that the Grand Encampment area could not support the need for grazing cattle and timber for fire and other wood needs.  The Mormons started to spread out in search of areas with ample supplies.  More than 80 and as many as 100 communities were settled within a 30 mile radius.  Most small communities around Council Bluffs have their roots in these early settlements.

The first arrivals had already crossed the new ferry, and initially planned on continuing the journey.  As the shift from the Grand Encampment to the camp across the river was occurring, concerns were growing about a late start plus the stragglers and stranded members to the east (near Monroe, Iowa, originally from Nauvoo, Illinois).

The church members needed to prepare for the oncoming winter and raise funds.  Brigham Young propositioned the U.S. government to award contracts to the saints to build roads and bridges, haul supplies, build army posts, deliver mail, and render other services.  The reply from the government was hard to swallow.  It resulted in an agreement that allowed the Mormons to stay on Indian lands north of the area and on the west side of the Missouri for two years but another part of the deal was that the government needed 500 volunteers to help fight a war.

"Mormon Battalion"

During the time (1846) the Mormons camped at the "Grand Encampment," the government was at war with Mexico (The Mexican War).  The Mexican military was led by Antonio López de Santa Anna, who had been victorious at the Alamo.  The US military, led by General Zachary Taylor did not want to have a second defeat.

Meanwhile back in Iowa, Brigham Young had petitioned the government for help in locating a place for his people to stay for the winter.  In exchange, the Mormons could deliver mail, improve conditions of the passageways to the west, and other services needed so that they could sustain themselves.

The response was a bit of a surprise.  The government had worked out a deal with the Indians across the Missouri to allow the Mormons to stay on their land for up to two years but the U.S. government needed a volunteer battalion of 500 soldiers to help fight the Mexican war.

Around July 16th, 1846, Colonel Stephen W. Kearny* send Capt. James Allen* met the Mormons at the Grand Encampment to enlist the battalion.  After having received no help from the government prior, there was little incentive for any members to comply, especially having to leave family and community after having made it this far.

It was Brigham Young that realized the value of wages to be earned and the good faith it would create.  At first, he asked for volunteers.  When only a handful came forward, Brigham spoke with the Captain to ensure that the men would not have to fight in the war but could perform other duties.  With a great deal of encouragement, he was finally able to gather enough volunteers to fill the first 4 of the 5 companies needed.  Seeing there was still reluctance, Brigham gave an ultimatum of three choices; (1) join the battalion, (2) return to Nauvoo and bring remaining members waiting for assistance, or (3) blaze a trail to the west.  In all cases, they would not be allowed to remain with their families.  The fifth of five flanks of 100 started to form.  At 489 soldiers, 12 teenage boys (aids to officers) from as many as 51 children, and 20 women (laundresses enlisted to perform laundry duties, and meal duties as necessary), the battalion was ready.

On July 21 and 22nd, 1846, the Mormon Battalion set off to march to San Diego, not walk.  An additional 40 to 60 family members joined the march.  In the hot summer months, the battalion marched 2,030 miles from Kanesville, to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, then to Pueblo, Colorado, Santa Fe, New Mexico, then on to San Diego.  This was the longest infantry march in United States military history.  By the time they arrived, the war was already over.  Still, the men were enlisted for one year, and stayed until they were discharged.

By the time the battalion was discharged, some of their families had left the Grand Encampment area, and either moved to Winter Quarters across the river or had continued on to the Salt Lake Valley area with other members of the community.  Some of the soldiers traveled straight to Salt Lake Valley, and then some of them traveled back to this area to help bring other family members to Salt Lake Valley, making a trip total of around 5,000 miles.  This monumental task is difficult to imagine even today.  Consider what it would be like doing this without our modern conveniences, and through "Indian Country."

"Mormon Battalion March"

The Battalion left the Grand Encampment area heading south along the Missouri River toward Fort Leavenworth where they would be equipped.  At Fort Leavenworth, the battalion added wagons to carry additional supplies.

Upon leaving Fort Leavenworth, the battalion headed towards Santa Fe.  On September 16th, 1846, the battalion was still in the area now known as Kansas, and this is where the families broke off and headed towards the Pueblo establishment founded by John Brown and the Mississippi Saints (in what was later to be Colorado).

As the battalion continued their March, fatigue and sickness set in.  Upon arrival at Santa Fe, some were so sick that it was pointless for them to continue on to San Diego.  Those members were also sent to Pueblo to spend the winter.

October 1846: At Santa Fe, Colonel Cooke took command.

The battalion left Santa Fe, heading south through the area now known as New Mexico.  As the battalion made its way south, it was clear that some of the members were having difficulties to the point that more were getting sick.  As a result, those that were too sick to continue on broke off and headed back along the same trail to Santa Fe, and then on to Pueblo.

Before leaving the area known as New Mexico now, the battalion turned west, heading towards Tucson.  Along the way to Tucson, the battalion had to fight wild bulls that blocked their path.  Tucson was inhabited by the southwest natives, not totally friendly to the Europeans.  Regardless, the Mormon battalion was able to pass through without firing a single shot.

Continuing on past Tucson, the battalion headed slightly northwest, where they met the Pima Indians, a friendly group that even fed the battalion.

The battalion continued westward, arriving in San Diego on January 29, 1847.  The Mexican war had ended, so the battalion was split up, some to do duty in San Diego, and the others were moved north to the Los Angeles area.

There was only a few months left to fulfill the year of duty.  On July 16th, 1847, the battalion was discharged.  82 decided to re-enlist immediately.  Some of the discharged headed north towards Sacramento, while others headed towards the Salt Lake area.  For the ones heading towards Sacramento, some traveled along the mission trail close to the coast and others traveled the old mission trail further inland.

In Sacramento, they met up with Sutter (of Sutter Fort fame) and worked for a time for Sutter.  When Gold was discovered in 1848, most of the men working for Sutter deserted, but the Mormons continued, fulfilling their obligation to Sutter.

"Nauvoo War Victims"

The first wave of Mormons continued to leave Nauvoo through May 1846.  By late summer, 10,000 had made it to the Missouri River.  Around 600-800 remained behind, being unable to afford the journey.  Referred to as the "Nauvoo War," in mid-September, mobs came and escorted the others at gun-point and bayonet point across the Mississippi to Montrose, Iowa, denying them even bare-necessitates.  They were stranded, poor, some sick, and had to wait for others to return to help them travel further.

In late September, Thomas L. Kane visited the "poor camps" finding around 640 people waiting for assistance.  He described the situation as, "Dreadful indeed, was the suffering of these forsaken beings.  Crowed and cramped by cold and sunburn, alternating as each weary day and night dragged on, they were, almost all of them, the crippled victims of disease.  They were there because they had no homes, nor hospital nor poor-house nor friends to offer them any.  They could not satisfy the feeble cravings of their sick; they had not bread to quiet the fractious hunger cries of their children.  Mothers and babies, daughters and grandparents, all of them alike, were bivouacked in tatters, wanting even covering (blankets) to comfort those whom the sick shiver of fever was searching to the marrow."

On September 9th, the Winter Quarters brethren commissioned Orville M. Allen to take men, teams, and wagons to rescue the victims.  The group started on Monday, September 14th, and arrived on Tuesday, October 6th.  Along the way, the rescue team encountered Hyrum Smith's wife, Mary Fielding Smith and her son Joseph F.  Owning land on the Iowa side, she was able to raise funds to purchase supplies, wagons, and teams to make the journey across Iowa with her party of 27.  To help the victims, Mary provided some flour and $15 to cover additional expenses.

Upon the rescue team's arrival on October 6th, plans were made for the return.  The rescue team did not have the resources to transfer all of the people in one trip.  The first group consisting of 157 left on October 9th in 28 wagons.

James Murdock and Allan Taylor headed a second rescue team sent from Winter Quarters in October.  Almost all remaining church members were assembled and returned to Winter Quarters.

Several other church members hid out in surrounding areas near Nauvoo, and also across the river in Montrose, Iowa.  Many remaining members eventually made it to the Missouri River, Winter Quarters, and on to Salt Lake Valley.

"Cold Spring Camp"

When the first ferry was completed (July 1st, 1846), several families and wagons crossed the Missouri River, and formed a regrouping community west of the ferry near a cold water spring.  The area was near present day 60th and L Street in Omaha.  The spring has since been diverted to an underground culvert.  A marker at the northwest corner of 60th and L is all that remains to identify the first Mormon camp west of the Missouri River.

The Mormons were camped in Indian territory but the intention was to be there for a short period of time only.  The camp was to be a gathering place before traveling on to Grand island or on to the Rockies the same year.  There was great concern for the Mormons stranded in Nauvoo, and those still in other parts of Illinois, Mount Pisgah, Garden Grove, and Montrose, Iowa.  Due to heavy rains, the Mormons had arrived two months later than hoped.  Running out of time to continue the journey, these issues prompted the Mormons to consider making camp for the winter at the Missouri River.  It was also important to send a rescue mission back to help those that were in constant danger stranded at the Mississippi River.

More Mormons continued to arrive on the east side of the Missouri River during the time of Cold Spring Camp.  The decision was made to join the others when an agreement was made to camp for the winter on Indian land to the north of present day Omaha.

In 1850, Thomas L. Kane,* described Cold Spring Camp to the Pennsylvania Historical Society.  He said, "It was situated upon some finely rounded hills that encircle a favorite cool spring.  On each of these a square was marked out; and the wagons as they arrived took their positions along its four sides in double rows, so as to leave a roomy street or passageway between them.  The tents were disposed also in rows, at intervals between the wagons.  The cattle were folded in high-fenced yards outside.  The quadrangle inside was left vacant for the sake of ventilation, and the streets, covered in with leafy arbor work, and kept scrupulously clean, formed a shaded cloister walk.  This was the place of exercise for slowly recovering invalids, the day-home of the infants, and the evening promenade of all."

"From the first formation of the camp, all of its inhabitants were constantly and laboriously occupied.  Many of them were highly educated mechanics, and seemed only to need a day's anticipated rest to engage them at the forge, loom, or turning lathe, upon some needed choice of work.  A Mormon gunsmith is the inventor of the excellent repeating rifle, that loads by slides instead of cylinders; and one of the neatest finished fire-arms I have ever seen was of this kind, wrought from scraps of old iron, and inlaid with the silver of a couple of half dollars, under a hot July sun, in a spot where the grass was above the workman's shoulders..."

"Cutlers Park"

On August 7th or 8th, 1846, the Mormons created Nebraska's first and shortest-lived planned community, complete with a governing council, and even a police force.  The settlement was three to four miles to the west of present day Florence along what is now known as the Mormon Bridge Road and just south of Young Street.*

Approximately twenty days later (Aug 25th), about 150 Indian chiefs and braves of the Omaha/Ottawa/Chippewa and Oto/Missouri natives came to collect rent for staying on their land.  Brigham Young, the leader of the Mormons (though not President of the Mormon Church at the time) met with the Indians.  A war nearly broke out when the Omaha/Ottawa/Chippewa natives were offered the same rent as the Oto/Missouri natives.  The Omaha/Ottawa/Chippewa natives had only been in the area since 1843 (three years earlier)* but the Oto/Missouri had been in the area since the 1700s.  At that point, the Church leaders made an agreement with Big Elk, chief of the Omaha nation, to live on land closer to the Missouri River.  Immediately, camp was moved back to the area known now as Florence.  By September 11th, 1846 Cutler's Park had been completely vacated.

"Winter Quarters I"

The area populated after Cutler's Park was known as "Winter Quarters."  The population grew to over 4,000 and nearly 5,000 from late summer 1846 to mid-summer 1848.  The area was on a flat area of land overlapping present day Florence.  Three rows of lots were platted out with First Main Street and Second Main Street between, with First main Street closer to the Missouri.  The main street extended for almost a mile running parallel to the Missouri, which flows slightly southeast, approximately 22 degrees from a true North and South direction.  The streets were wide enough to turn a team of oxen around safely and without causing interference.

Initial preparations

Before constructing living quarters, the Mormons gathered hay and goods, and did every thing they could to adequately prepare for the coming winter.  Tons of prairie hay was collected, stacked and covered in preparation for winter weather.  Hundreds of bushels of berries were gathered along the river bottoms and preserved for later use.  Meat from game was salted and dried. Gathered grain was milled by horse powered mills with the result less than satisfactory.  Although started in October, a grist mill was not operational until the following spring.

Grains and vegetables were a major issue as normally the Mormons raised their own, however, throughout the summer of 1846, they were on a constant move across Iowa, which left farming impossible.  Each camp that existed for any time had some cultivated gardens of which the resultant produce was gathered by later travelers passing the same route.  The Mormons leaving Nauvoo late enough to harvest crops did so at gun-point leaving ripe fields to rot or be scavenged by animals and those that lived nearby.  For many arrivals in Winter Quarters, grains normally raised had to be purchased.  With finances already taxed, many attempted to make do with much less than normal.

Once agricultural needs were taken care of, makeshift shelters changed to log cabins and sod houses.  While men performed building chores, women and children wove fibers and wool to form yarn, wove baskets of reeds and prairie grasses, boiled fat for candles and lamps, milked cows, gathered eggs, and prepared meals.  Everyone had a chore.

Some of the Mormons had traveled west from the modern cities of the east, and were not accustomed to the chores and hardships that accompanied prairie life.  A camaraderie fell in place, and some learned while others taught.  In spite of all the work, the community developed and grew culturally and spiritually.

Homes and Living Conditions

Imagine the difficulty of preparing for winter under the rushed conditions with a suitable home to return to at the end of each day.  Now imagine, the same while living in temporary shelters, camping the entire time, sleeping in shifts in and under the wagon for shelter.  The tasks could only be achieved by the brave, the determined, and having an understanding of a common goal to reach a final home where they could worship without persecution.  To accomplish so much under the strain caused from the common reason that brought the Mormons to gather at this place must have been the ultimate in self stress management.  To continue during sickness, disease, and the great losses within the community is incredible.  After all the other preparations, they now had to build shelters to survive a Nebraska winter. 

Approximately 538 cabins were built of the abundant cottonwood trees from the area.  Often there wasn't enough time to build the ultimate log cabin before cold weather, or the need to help neighbors, or other obligations took over.  Once a cabin had its basic structure up, a roof was added.  Sealing the gaps between the logs was often put off until cold weather had already set in.

Roofs were constructed using straw, willow stems, and sod.  Even though most were around a foot thick and were constructed using a layered shingle method, water often leaked through, with a great likelihood of it being over a table or worst, a bed.  Since most of the cabins didn't have a floor, it was not uncommon to have a couple inches of mud.  Straw was sparingly used to reduce the mess, as once the harvest period was over, straw was saved for the livestock.

Chimneys were also constructed of sod, and if not constructed correctly would not draw the smoke out properly.  Chimney repair often necessitated a total rebuilt as the fireplace area was a critical spot that had to be constructed by the book.  Once cold weather started, there was little chance of a solution before spring.

Some cabins had a single window on the south side to provide some light.  The window panes of glass were a commodity treasured as no alternative offered as much light.  The alternate choices used thin pieces of linen or cloth coated with wax to keep air out but allow some light to pass.  These windows often needed retreating, which could only be done on warmer days in winter months.  Stronger fabrics such as treated canvas were used but allowed less light to pass.

An additional 83 sod houses were constructed, most a simple form that proved only the slightest protection from the elements.  Some survived the winter in caves dug out of the bluffs, or in holes dug into the ground, depending on a wooden and sod cover to keep the elements out.  The earth provides an excellent insulation as any burrowing animal will attest to, however, they do have their difficulties.  The underground homes needed a water sump dug near the entrance to collect any water or melting snow that seeped through.  Heat requires an escape for smoke, and chimneys were rare in these constructions.  The cave dwellers suffered the same hardships as the caves were not immense so all air exchange was through the only entrance.

Overcrowded living conditions put a strain on everyone.  There wasn't enough beds so sleeping was often done in shifts for fairness.  Any leaning place with insulation away from the cold ground was a welcome snoozing spot.

Not all houses fit these descriptions.  The town had several businesses, and as a rule these were the home as well.  Buildings built next to each other offered another layer of insulation.  The store front area heat was reduced at night but it still took a while before the pocket of air on that side of the building was as cold as the outside air.  Two story buildings collected rising heat from the store area below.

Brigham Young's home was perhaps the most elaborate, being two stories tall.  Living quarters were on the second floor, however, the first floor was constantly busy.  It not only served as the home but also the Council House, social, civic, educational, and religious center of the town.

One of the most interesting homes was that of William Richards, who served as the postmaster, and one of the medical practitioners for the community.  The "Octagon House" served as the family home, the post office, doctor's office, hospital, and church leadership meeting place.  Because of its unusual shape, it was called the "Potato Heap."

"Grist Mill"

A significant development at Winter Quarters was the milling operation.  Without it, the Mormons were very dependant upon other sources.  The mill continued to be valuable to the community long after the real life chapter at Winter Quarters had been written.

Grain is ground as needed when access to a mill exists.  On long trips, more ground grain (flour, cornmeal) is taken because the luxury to grind at will does not exist.  Upon reaching the Missouri River, the ground provisions were depleted.  Purchases were made when available except there wasn't a lot available.

A portion of the needs were supplied by Week's Mill 25 miles away, and the balance supplied by mills in Missouri, over 150 miles away.  The mills produced a course flour and meal.  Hand grinders and coffee mills were used but these cut more than ground the grain.  Further pounding with a pestle hung from a spring rope improved the results, the process ending with sifting to divide the course from the fine.  The fine was used for bread, the course was used for hominy, cereal, and occasionally chicken feed or for livestock, although the effort expended yielded such small results, all was considered valuable and mostly used for food products.

While the final moving from Cutler's Park was still taking place, the Municipal High Council held a meeting to discuss building the heavily needed grist mill.  On September 22, 1846, the council appointed Brigham Young as supervisor to build a mill at the north end of town on Turkey Creek. *  The water turned a paddle wheel to move the machinery inside.

Construction of the mill started in October, and was operational by March of 1847.  The mill was financed by Brigham Young, the total cost being $3,000, a sizeable amount considering the times.  Hardware was the major costs - two sets of buhr millstone and fixtures cost $800 alone.  The mill was constructed using oak and walnut timbers in the basement portion, and cottonwood above the first floor.  For support, huge foot-square beams were mortised at the joints, held together by wooden pegs to keep the beams in place.

Corn, grain, and rye was brought to the mill to be ground to a fine powder.  The mill was used not only for grinding, but also operated as a sawmill, providing lumber for the community.  The spring and summer of 1847 saw many improvements in the buildings making up Winter Quarters.

Coinciding with the mills completion, church leaders were planning to travel on to the Great Salt Lake Valley.  In anticipation of his departure, on March 25, 1847, Brigham Young sold the mill for $2,600 to John Neff, a fellow Mormon.  John Neff operated the mill until his own departure.  John Neff's son Franklin and his wife Elizabeth planned to operate the mill until it was no longer needed, then dismantle it and take the hardware on west.  There is no evidence that the mill was ever dismantled when the Mormons finally departed Winter Quarters.  The abandoned mill was left to deteriorate.

The Mormons continued to travel through the area after Winter Quarters was deserted on into the 1860s.  In 1856, the same area was being redeveloped as Florence when Alexander Hunter purchased the mill.  Mr. Hunter rebuilt around the deteriorating frame and commenced business.  The products aided not only the new residents of Florence but many Mormons outfitted in Florence on their way west.

In June 1857, Jacob Weber, Sr. arrived from Germany with his wife Amalia.  Jacob worked as a baker until 1858 when he joined Mr. Hunter and his partner Graham working in the mill.  He continued to work at the mill until around 1862 at which time he started farming.  In 1865, Mr. Weber purchased the mill from Hunter, and went back to the milling business.  Mr. Weber formed a partnership with George Haag for a few years.  Later on, the mill was passed on to Mr. Webber's family.  Mr. Weber was followed in the business by his family for three generations.

"Second Ferry"

When Cutler's Park moved back toward the river, their agreement with Big Elk allowed for a more permanent settlement.  The Mormons camped at the Grand Encampment had all moved to the new location in anticipation and preparation for the winter.  As more Mormons arrived at the Missouri, they had to travel to the ferry at Grand Encampment, then up the Missouri to Winter Quarters.  On or about October 1st, 1847 the ferry was moved closer to the new camp, near present day Florence.  The new location had flat lands on both sides making for an easy transition across and beyond.

Workers on the western side lived in nearby Winter Quarters but workers on the eastern side originally had to travel up from the Grand Encampment and Kanesville area.  Rather than travel back downstream, those workers started a community on the eastern side known as Ferryville.  Ferryville survived following the abandonment of Winter Quarters.  The small community was just south of where the Mormon Bridge is located today.

"Winter Quarters II"

A town rises.

By December 1846, an entire town and community had sprung up.  The town had three blacksmith shops, two commercial stores, a welfare store, basket making shops, educational schools, and even a dancing school with 400 pupils enlisted.  The town had a city council and police force.

The center row of the three rows of buildings in the downtown area usually had two entrances, one to each street.  Buildings on the outside rows also had entrances on both sides, but only the one facing the street was for business.  The rear entrance was often for living quarters that occupied the back portion of the business.  Some stores were two-story, with living quarters on the second floor.

The entire town, complete with houses all built so suddenly must have been an amazing sight to the Great Plains natives living nearby.  Some natives built a shanty home with thick insulation, however, Omaha natives were often known to use the four pole tipi covered with buffalo skins throughout the winter.

Native Relationships.

Collectively, the church had around 10,000 cattle, 2,000 sheep, horses, and mules.  Many were corralled south of town along with other livestock.  Hay was collected and stacked in the same location.  Buffalo had largely been over-hunted in this area, and against the advice of the older and wiser chiefs, younger Indians soon learned that stealing supplies and sneaking cattle away from the Mormons was easier than hunting.  Buffalo had to be killed where found, dressed, and the meat carried back to camp.  This in itself was a hassle.  In other words, you could lead buffalo anywhere it wanted to go, cattle went willing.  Missing cattle initially went undiscovered until the craft came to light and the culprits tracked.  In spite of these encounters, the natives were often helped.  The community became the medical facility for dressing wounds inflicted during conflicts with the Dakota/Sioux.  Starving native children were given food.  In general, a trust and respect developed between the native population and the Mormons.  The Potawatomi were especially sympathetic having suffered from being driven from their lands by warring Dakota-Sioux Indians.

Other issues.

In spite of all the preparations, the trip to and the stay at Winter Quarters was a difficult period for the church.

The summer months were accompanied with "river habitation disease" from mosquito infested pools caused by heavy rainfall.  Malaria was a common sickness endured by many.  The harsh winter months were no easier of a battle.  Disease was prevalent, and the proper nutrients necessary for good health weren't known about or weren't available.  Scurvy was a major problem causing swelling and hemorrhage of gums and mucous membranes, also causing discolored or bluish spots on the skin formed by a congestion of blood vessels.  These sores were often referred to as "Kanker,"* "Black Kanker," or "Black leg," more commonly known as the bovine disease caused by soil bacterium.

Malnutrition, exhaustion, chills and fever called the "shaking ague" tested the limits of medical practitioners in the community.  As if these illnesses weren't enough to suffer through, the community had to deal with measles, mumps, whooping cough, small pox, tuberculosis, and pneumonia.  Due to the extreme weather conditions, diseases, or complications as a result, many lives were lost.  Hardly a day passed without one or two deaths in the community or the communities on the Iowa side.  Between spring of 1846 and June 1847, 723 died from the diseases or lack of adequate care.  By the end of 1848, the total deaths  had rose to about 1,000.  For a surviving community of 4,000 to 5,000, the deaths affected everyone.  The times were hardest on the children along the way and during the stay at Winter Quarters.  Of the 365 burials in the Mormon Pioneer Cemetery from August, 1846 through the summer of 1848, approximately 53% were for children under three years of age.  Only a strong faith of a gathering later on allowed the survivors to leave the graves of loved ones and continue the journey the following spring.

"Advance Company"

Time to move on

Brigham Young learned about the Great Salt Lake Valley from the reports published by John C. Frémont of his earlier explorations.  He decided the area to be the ideal location to form the church's new homeland.  After spending the first winter at Winter Quarters, Brigham Young and other church members started for Salt Lake Valley on April 5, 1847.  Six wagons departed Winter Quarters to form the Advance Company or Discovery Company, also known as the Pioneer Band.  The group camped for two nights near present day Highway 36 and 69th Street waiting for others to join in.

The party moved on to near Fremont where others assigned to the advanced Company joined them.  The initial group consisted of skilled craftsmen and workers, road builders, carpenters, blacksmiths, hunters, brick masons, teamsters, stone cutters, farmers, a count of 148, including three women, and two children.  In total, 72 wagons and a large herd of cattle formed the initial advance party.*

The party followed the north side of the Platte and North Platte River into Wyoming, a trail that later became known as the Mormon Trail.  Near Casper, Wyoming, they crossed the North Platte River in a boat they had taken with them called the Revenue Cutter.  Knowing others would be coming along later, a small group was left at this location to run the ferry.  Non-Mormon pioneers were charged to cross the North Platte, and the ferry proved to be a viable enterprise that lasted for the next 20 years.

In June 1847, the party reached Fort Laramie.  The Oregon Trail passed Fort Laramie, and continued on to Fort Bridger, so it was the obvious choice to take for the next leg of the journey.  James Bridger warned Brigham that the trail he planned to take covered desert and rough mountain terrain, and would be difficult if not impossible to complete with the wagons.  Having little choice, Brigham headed southwest into the Uinta and Wasatch Mountains, and finally over 120 miles of desert before reaching the Great Salt Lake Valley.

Along the way, the road was widened in places where the wagons had difficulty in passing.  An early odometer (called a Roadometer) was built to accurately count the miles traveled.  The device was installed near present day North Platte.

The 1,032 mile journey took 111 days to cross Nebraska, Wyoming, and part of Utah.  The first members of the Advance Company arrived southeast of Salt Lake in early July.  Brigham was sick and did not arrive until  July 24, 1847.  Reaching the valley crest, Brigham raised up from his sick bed in a carriage and seeing the valley below said, "This is the right place, drive on."  This was to be the final home.

On the first day, the Advance Company planted fields and diverted water for irrigation in preparation for those that would follow.

Approximately 180 of the Mormon Battalion men and their families had joined up with 50 saints in Pueblo, Colorado.  Together they joined the Mormon Trail at Fort Laramie, arriving just five days after the Advance Company on July 29th, 1847.

"Mormon Trail"

The Mormons left the area on what is known as the Mormon Trail.  The Mormon Trail actually starts in Nauvoo, Illinois, where the majority of the church members lived.  Most took the same path to reach the Grand Encampment, Kanesville, and Florence areas, however, there were some deviations.  Since some Mormons lived in areas surrounding Nauvoo, other parts of Illinois, and the country, trails reaching the Missouri ended at Nebraska City, Plattsmouth, and Kanesville.  Likewise, when leaving the area, there are two paths taken, both hugging the Platte River, one on each side.

Historic maps indicate the Mormons crossed the Missouri at two places, Plattsmouth and Nebraska City, both called the Mormon Trail.  Both trails join together in Otoe County before following the Platte River along its south side throughout the state.  This was the earliest trail used, actually before the Winter Quarters era.  From around Fort Kearny, the same trail was used by people seeking their fortunes in Oregon and nearby areas on the west coast, thereby being called the Oregon Trail.

The northern path leaves the Florence area, and takes an almost bee-line path to the area around Fremont where it starts on the northern side of the Platte River and sticks with it for most of the state, and on into Wyoming.  The only deviation being between Columbus and Grand Island.  At Columbus, the (collective) Loup Rivers feeds the Platte River from the North.  Since the Mormons were traveling on the northern edge they continued on with the North Loup River on its North side until finally a decision was made to travel south and join back in with the Platte River around Grand Island.  The northern side of the Platte was chosen to avoid the Mormon's persecutors traveling west on the southern side and because the southern side would cause more competition for grazing lands and camp sites along the way.

The Mormons settled in places along the way.  Genoa, on the Mormon Trail west of Columbus, became one of the Mormon settlements to remain after most had traveled on to Salt Lake Valley.


The steep, narrow passes passing over the Rockies required the Mormons to choose the farm wagon, which is smaller than the Conestoga.  The wagons were converted for the trail so that fewer oxen were required, some requiring only two.  They were instructed to take no more than three yoke (6 oxen).  The wagons traveled around two and a half miles an hour.  A family of five were expected to take everything they needed in one wagon.  Anyone over six was expected to walk.  To save shoe leather, many women and children walked barefoot.

Rough Times.

The trip was not simple or easy by no means.  A prairie fire caused them to camp on an island in the Platte River.  They experienced theft of cattle by the Pawnee Indians, and also survived a lack of grass for the cattle, especially in Wyoming where great distances were covered with little water along the way to water the stock or grow grass.  The massive herds of buffalo, one reported to stretch for 65 miles, provided buffalo-chips to fuel the fires when wood was not available.  Sadly, they also witnessed the meaningless destruction of buffalo for their hides, leaving the eerie cadaverous bodies to rot where they fell.

While at Winter Quarters, the Mormons only experience with the Dakota-Sioux Indians was through the skirmishes encountered by the Omaha Indians that came for medical attention and to have wounds dressed.  However, along the trail, the Mormons were impressed with the cleanliness and general good looks, and found the Dakota-Sioux to be well behaved.

"Kanesville Town"

Kanesville is the most common name known for Council Bluffs before it took on its current name.  The name comes from Doctor Thomas L. Kane, a prominent citizen and friend of the Mormons, who did several things to further the health and well-being of the church's members.  He was also instrumental in dealing with the U.S. Government to secure a place to stay, resulting in Winter Quarters.

Bishop Henry W. Miller* and his brothers were part of the earliest arrivals at the Missouri River after the exodus of Nauvoo.  The Miller brothers bought the abandoned blockhouse* for $300, and established a milling business.  Soon, the area was known as Miller's Hollow and also Miller's Hill.  While these two names seem opposing, both are documented to have been used.

As Mr. Kane's involvement became more known, the area was referred to as Kane, and eventually Kanesville.  When the Mormons moved away from the area, the local population renamed the town Council Bluffs in January 1853.

"Kanesville Tabernacle"

The Mormons contributed to the history of the Council Bluffs area in many ways.  After their leader, Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum were murdered near Nauvoo, in nearby Carthage, Illinois, the Mormons were ruled by the Quorum of the Twelve, with Brigham Young presiding over the Quorum.  As the members moved on to the Salt Lake area,  Mr. Orson Hyde was left to preside over church members in the area.  Mr. Hyde was publisher of "The Frontier Guardian" an important pioneer publication.

Even though the leaders (including Brigham) had made it on to the Salt Lake valley, the largest gathering of church members in the United States was still in the local surrounding area, so Brigham returned after only staying in the valley for three weeks to help bring the following together and to encourage them to continue the journey.

It was discussed occasionally that the First Presidency would be reinstated and it was clear that Brigham Young would be the one most likely sustained as the Prophet and President of the Church.  On December 5th, 1847, the Quorum of the Twelve met at Orson Hyde's farm home about eight miles southeast of present day Council Bluffs.

A unanimous approval reorganized the First Presidency with Brigham Young as Prophet and President, Heber C. Kinball as First Counselor, and Dr. Willard Richards as Second Counselor.  The Quorum of the Twelve Apostles comprised of Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Parley P. Pratt, John Taylor, Wilford Woodruff, George A. Smith, Orson Hyde, Willard Richards, Lyman Wight, Orson Pratt, Amasa Lyman, and Ezra T. Benson.  The precedent set in the tabernacle of reorganizing the First Presidency following the death of a Prophet continues today.

Church policy is to sustain the reorganization by church members.  Immediately, Bishop Henry W. Miller was assigned the task of building a tabernacle large enough to accommodate a large gathering of the members in order to present and sustain the new First Presidency.  A log tabernacle was built in the near downtown area of current day Council Bluffs, and the gathering occurred on December 27th, 1847.  This means that Bishop Miller had to build the 60' x 40' tabernacle in approximately 18 days.  This allowed him 2 or 3 days to gather 200 men to complete the monumental task in a cold and bitter December.  The building would need to accommodate 800 to 1,000 people, and was packed when at least 1,000 showed up.

Following the General Conference of December 27th, the newly reorganized First Presidency was sustained in the tabernacle again during the General Conference of the church that convened on April 6, 1848.  In Manchester, England, 18,000 members sustained the reorganized First Presidency in twenty-eight conferences on August 14, 1848.  Another 5,000 members in Salt Lake Valley sustained the brethren on October 8, 1848.

It was learned later that the tabernacle was built on ground that had an underground natural spring so when the grounds thawed, the bottom logs became water logged and started to rot.  The tabernacle continued to be used for two or three years at which time the bottom logs were heavily damaged.  Having served its purpose, the good logs were salvaged leaving the remains to deteriorate.

After the Mormons moved on, the tabernacle and its important contribution to the saints existed only in history records.  In 1996, an authentic replica of the tabernacle was built on as close an area as currently possible.*

You can visit the tabernacle and visitor center April through September, open 9:30  A.M. to 7:00  P.M. and  October through March, 10:00 A.M. to 5:00  P.M.   The tabernacle is closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas, and closes earlier on the eves of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.  Admission is free.  The building and tour was originally sponsored by Kanesville Restoration, Inc. and Pottawattamie County Historic Trails Association, Inc., both non-profit organizations.  They have since turned the building over to the Latter-day Saints, who now manage the property.  As you can guess, the tour is worth a lot more than "free" so carry some change with you.  All donations are tax free, receipts provided.  You may contact the center at 712-322-0500.

We also have the Hyde Park area to commemorate these early contributors to the rich history of the area.

"Winter Quarters III"

Later Developments

Mormons continued to depart for the Great Salt Lake Valley throughout summer 1847 as more stragglers arrived from the east.  Winter Quarters continued to grow and make advances.  The population grew to around 5,000 at its maximum population during the winter of 1847/1848.

Some Mormons stayed in the Winter Quarters area beyond the original two year agreement.*  Around 2,000 left for Salt Lake Valley during the summer of 1848.  Those that didn't move on to Utah had to move back across the Missouri.  They settled in Kanesville, and in nearby communities.  Eventually, Winter Quarters was abandoned altogether.  Prairie fires destroyed some homes and buildings; Indians and Riverboat "wood-hawks" scavenged wood from cabins and buildings until any resemblance of a town ever existing there was eliminated except for the mill and cemetery.  The mill was even left in a state of disrepair for a period.

Nebraska Territory

In 1854, the Indian treaty ended, the lands were ceded to the United States, and the natives moved to Kansas.  A short time later, Nebraska became a territory of the U.S. open for settlement.  There was a good chance that a railroad was heading this way.  The same community that had now been abandoned by the Mormons was again considered a valuable place for a startup town.  The river had a rock bottom, perfect for building a bridge across the river capable of supporting a railroad.  Enterprising young men living in Council Bluffs took the gamble and invested in the future of a new town that turned out to be Florence, a town that has a proud history all its own.

The Mormons continued to arrive at and leave the Winter Quarters, Kanesville, and Ferryville area for the next few years.  Mormons traveling west paused at Winter Quarters only momentarily in the years following to take in a perspective of their predecessor's history.  Ferryville, carrying on the tradition like Winter Quarters, became the most important outfitting place before heading west past the Rocky Mountains.  Not only Mormons, but many other travelers used the same outfitting companies that had developed at Winter Quarters and Ferryville.

The railroad race might have been lost in Florence to its closest neighbor to the south through questionable tactics but Florence continued to grow, and has many important historical sites to prove it.  The settlers that chose Florence, and continue to until this day are the same type of people with tenacity and a willingness to build a proud community.  If the Mormons left nothing more than an idea that this land was livable, it is all that we need to continue the spirit you can find there today; you will undoubtedly find much more.  These words are but a smattering of seeing things first-hand.  Knowing a bit of the history will give you a respect filled with emotion when you visit the community that is proud of its history and its earliest pioneers.

"Continued Passing"

When the Mormons abandoned Winter Quarters, approximately 2,000 moved on the Great Salt Lake Valley, and the remainder moved back across the Missouri to the Iowa side.  The maximum population at Kanesville was approximately 14,000 around July 3rd, 1848 when 3,000 from Winter Quarters had moved back to Kanesville.  During the summer of 1848, most of the church's activities were centered in Kanesville and the surrounding Mormon communities.

More on the way.

In early 1848, the "Perpetual Emigrating Fund" was initiated and administered from church headquarters in Utah.  During its existence, it financially assisted tens of thousands of saints migrating from other parts of the world.

In 1851, not all of the Mormons had left Illinois and areas to the east of Council Bluffs.  Brigham Young called for all remaining members to continue the journey to the Salt Lake Valley.  This caused a great number of saints to move to Salt Lake from all over the world.  Council Bluffs and Winter Quarters had been major outfitting places for settlers traveling further west both Mormon and otherwise.  Iowa City became the next major outfitting place for saints traveling from the British Isles, and Scandinavian countries.  Many Mormons were still not prepared to make the journey to the Salt Lake Valley economically.  The cost of building a wagon or purchasing one was prohibitive for many.  The Perpetual Emigrating Fund helped solve some of this problem.


It is important to note that in 1854, the Nebraska Territory was opened for settlement. No longer Indian Country, there was not as much of a rush for Mormons living in the area to continue their journey to Salt Lake Valley. This did prompt some Mormons to postpone their departure, especially those that the trip would be a financial burden if they were to leave now. The new territory opening affected not only Mormons living at Winter Quarters but also those that had paused for a period of time on westward. For example where ferries were built, some Mormons remained behind to operate the ferry. Now, a territory, it was often a place that more Mormons decided to stay, at least for a while. Likewise, many communities on the Iowa side of the Missouri River felt more comfortable remaining for the time being since the lands across the river were now part of the United States (but not a state). There was however, an urging from the Mormon Church to continue west to Salt Lake City.


Starting in 1856, a faster and more economical means of transport was developed by using hand-carts, which helped families that could not afford to build a covered wagon.  Handcarts were a more economical way to travel, and cut the travel time by three weeks.  Between 1856 and 1860, approximately ten companies of 3,000 immigrants from the British Isles, Scandinavia, and Europe starting in Iowa City, Iowa crossed the plains and Rocky Mountains to Salt Lake in small two-wheeled handcarts.

The handcarts were constructed of wood with either metal or rawhide rims on the spoke wheels.  Some were made before allowing green wood to cure causing needed repairs along the way.  The handcarts were designed in three sizes with the average weight around 60 pounds.  As a rule, each person assigned to a handcart company was restricted to taking 17 pounds of personal goods such as clothing and bedding.

More Resentment.

The arrival at the Missouri River was the first place that the Mormons were not totally persecuted.  As more and more Mormons arrived, the "downtown" area of present day Council Bluffs (Kanesville) became predominantly Mormon.  When the Mormons started leaving the area, the other settlers started recovering the town as their own to the point that there was the same resentment towards the Mormons as the people in Missouri had developed.  There was always some mixed feelings.  The Mormons had done much to contribute to the area, it all came down to basic beliefs, and the Mormons were in the minority.

The first five handcart companies were outfitted in Iowa City, and the people of Council Bluffs were aware of their impending arrival.  As the Mormons began their way west to the Salt Lake Valley, they traveled the same roads that lead them directly to Council Bluffs but now they were no longer welcome.  The townspeople attempted to discourage the Mormons from entering the rebuilding community even to the point that signs were placed on the outskirts of town warning of a plague epidemic in town, even though none existed.  The Mormons traveled around to the north, and crossed the Missouri River at Ferryville before continuing the journey.


During 1859 and 1860, the last three wheel-cart companies were outfitted in Florence, Nebraska rather than Iowa City, Iowa due to the railroad having reached the Missouri River by then.  The handcarts built in Florence were improved over earlier versions.  The wood was adequately seasoned meaning fewer repairs.  The improved handcarts had bows, were canvas covered, and many were beautifully painted.


After 1860, the handcart program was eliminated when it was determined that they did not allow for enough provisions, and protection from the elements.  There was a surplus of wagons in Salt Lake Valley, and Brigham Young assigned each "Ward" to contribute at least one wagon and driver to help in bringing others to the valley.  In 1861, the "Down-and-back" wagon program was instigated.  From 1861 to 1864, the program shuttled immigrants from Florence to Salt Lake Valley  In the first year, 637 wagons were used to move 3,900 passengers west.


From 1864 to 1866, the Down-and-back program operated through Wyoming City, Nebraska, a small town about 40 miles south of Omaha.  At the time, the town had a population of around 6,400  Access to the Missouri River was apparently better than at Florence.  Between the years 1864 to 1868, 3,000 wagons were used.

In 1866, the railroad had made its way further west making for easier travel.  The "Down-and-back" program began to pick up passengers at Fort Laramie, Wyoming.  In 1869, the program was discontinued entirely since the railroad had made it to Utah.

Summary of 1861-1868

From 1861 to 1868, "The Utah Boys" shuttled over 20,000 saints using an average 330 wagons a year at a substantial reduction in cost.  Initially, the cost was $50 per person.  The "Down-and-back" program reduced the cost to $14-15 per person and children went for half price.


Later Camps

As the Mormons continued their trek west following closure of Winter Quarters, other locations were used to camp for the winter.  During the winter of 1884/85, the Mormons camped out near Grand Island.  Mormon Island State Recreational Area in Grand Island is a tribute to the Mormons that camped nearby.  The actual campsite is about 4 miles from the recreational area.

"Winter Quarters IV"

Mormon Trail Visitors Center at Historic Winter Quarters. (3215 State St. (Google Maps and Satellite maps logo) ) Handicap Accessible

The Mormon Trail Visitors Center in Florence has played an important role in the preservation of stories, and history of Winter Quarters and the surrounding communities.  Their help has allowed me to tell a fuller and better history than what I had gathered elsewhere through research and an unexplainable curiosity.

The Latter-Day Saints have a reputation for building beautiful tabernacles, especially in cities with their history.  The Mormon Trail Visitors Center was the perfect place to build a new tabernacle.  The tabernacle was opened in April of 2001.  It is spectacular.

Today, you can visit the Mormon Trail Center at 3215 State St, in Florence, a monument to the trials and tribulations of the early pioneers.  In a free guided tour, you can see an example of a primitive log cabin, ox drawn covered wagon, hand-carts, and many other artifacts of the era.  The cemetery has the bronze Avard Fairbanks heroic-sized statue of a couple burying their infant child.  Take your family, however, do not think that you cannot make the visit alone.  Unhampered and un-rushed, you will have time to put thought to a tough era that could not kill a tougher spirit.

The visitor's center is open 9:00 A.M. to 9:00 P.M. and closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.  The center closes at 3:00 P.M. Thanksgiving Eve, Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve. You may contact the center at 402-453-9732

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