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Mormon Exodus

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Mormon Exodus
Since the founding of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints by Joseph Smith on April 6, 1830, its members were often treated harshly by others, due to their beliefs. Such persecution followed the church as they were forced to vacate one state after the next leading to the members settling in and founding Nauvoo, Illinois. Having a population rivaling Chicago at the time, the financial success of the church and its members, polygamy, and a well-armed militia, fueled the intolerance of Mormons in the region. Church leadership was forced to announce they would leave Nauvoo and go west, after the burning of two hundred Mormon homes and farm buildings in 1845, and mob violence in 1846. Due to unforeseen difficulties the trek west was split off into two sections: they would travel in wagon trains from Nauvoo, Illinois to Omaha, Nebraska in 1846; and, Omaha to the Salt Lake Valley of Utah in 1847. By 1856, the number of converts traveling to the valley reached a point that wagon trains were too expensive and the church leader at the time, Brigham Young, decided that handcarts would be cheaper, and faster for such a large number of converts to reach the valley.
The first trek starting in February of 1846 from Nauvoo, Illinois to Omaha, Nebraska was much harsher due to death and tragedy resulting from black scurvy, Cholera, Typhoid Fever, Tuberculosis, and maternal deaths, and the weakening of the body and mind by stress, while February marked harsh weather and winter cold. Due to being practically forced to leave their homes in a hurry most had left important provisions behind and went out with no experience and with no organized leadership. The 500 wagon long train faced miles of axle-deep mud bogs and rough, obscure trails along the way. Yet along the way they became more organized and began to travel in groups of 10s, 50s or 100s. While also improving the trail for the many Mormons who had delayed their departure from Nauvoo, by establishing settlements such as Garden Grove and Mt. Pisgah. By June 13, 1846 it had taken 120 days to cross 265 miles at an average of 2.25 miles per day to reach the Missouri River at Council Bluffs. Some Mormons stayed in Council Bluffs, while others crossed the river and established Winter Quarters in present-day Omaha, Nebraska. In Winter Quarters Brigham Young decided that the original plan, to reach the Rockies by fall, would be impossible, meaning that they would have to stay in Winter Quarters throughout the winter. By December of 1846, Winter Quarters population was close to four thousand and boasted five hundred and thirty-two log homes, eighty-three sod houses, and an untold number of tents and wagons used for shelter. By spring of the next year approximately four hundred died from malaria, scurvy, dysentery, and a host of other unidentified ailments, due to inadequate shelter, food, and weather conditions. Before they would start out on the second part of the trek to the Great Salt Lake Valley, Brigham Young would gather all the information he could possibly get his hands on. At one point a Jesuit Missionary, Father Pierre Jean de Smet, passed through Winter Quarters on his way east, being one of the very few white man to ever see the Great Salt Lake. He extended information on routes and the conditions of routes to the Mormons who eagerly anticipated the rest of the trek west. Despite being advised by mountain men about the semi-arid valley, Brigham Young insisted that they settle in a place no one else would want. Brigham Young and one hundred and forty-three men, three women, and two children would leave Winter Quarters and go west on April 5th, 1847. They would take with them seventy-two wagons, ninety-three horses, fifty-two mules, sixty-six oxen, nineteen cows, seventeen dogs, and an unknown amount of chickens. They would also take with them five hundred dollars’ worth of astronomical instruments and other technical equipment to provide accurate trail locations for future companies. The first company would set up support facilities and improve the trial for those to follow. For the first part of the trek from Winter Quarters they would stick to the Oregon trail also known as the Great Platte River Road through Nebraska, then along the Platte River to Fort Casper, then across Wyoming to Fort Bridger. On July, 9th they would leave the Oregon trail at Fort Bridger with 116 miles left to go following the trail the Reed-Donner party had used to try to get to California through Utah the previous year. The last 116 miles would prove to be the hardest part of the journey, the people were filthy and weary and both wagons and livestock were weakened from the previous 1,000 miles of trail. The first part of the company would arrive in the Great Salt Lake Valley on July 22,1847, with Brigham Young arriving two days later due to illness that slowed his journey. The Perpetual Emigration Fund was created in 1849 to support the cost of Mormon converts emigrating to the Great Salt Lake Valley. By 1855, thousands of Mormon converts from England and Europe had depleted this fund to the point it could no longer lesson the financial burden on emigrating converts to the valley. Brigham Young decided that it would be easier, and more cost effective for the large number of emigrants to pull handcarts. The use of these two wheeled handcarts was unique to Mormon trail migration. The carts were modeled after carts used by street sweepers in New York, they were six to seven feet long, and the small box on the cart was four feet long and eight inches’ high. A handcart loaded with personal belongings and provisions could weigh up to four or five hundred pounds. Five people were assigned to each cart, and families with small children would use a covered cart. Each adult was allowed seventeen pounds of personal belongings while a child was allowed ten pound…a handcart loaded with personal belongings included family keepsakes, bedding, clothes, cooking utensils, etc. Each individual’s belongings were closely weighed and anything beyond the weight allowed was discarded. Beyond the handcarts a wagon drawn by two oxen was provided for a company of one hundred persons. These wagons would carry extra provisions, such as flour and tents.
Five handcart companies were organized in 1856 to make the thirteen-hundred-mile trip from the end of the railroad at Iowa City, Iowa to Salt Lake City, Utah. The first three companies made it to Salt Lake City faster and with far less problems then the wagon trains had experienced before them. The other two companies, the Willie company and Martin company were entirely different stories. Due to a host of unforeseen delays, the Willie Company left Iowa City, Iowa, on July 15th, and the Martin Company on July 28th, 1856. The Willie Company had five hundred emigrants with one hundred and twenty handcarts, five wagons, twenty-four oxen, and forty-five head of cattle. The Martin Company had five hundred and seventy-six people with one hundred and forty-six handcarts, seven wagons, thirty oxen, and fifty head of cattle. Once they both reached Nebraska both companies held meeting about proceeding onto Salt Lake Valley. Several leaders had expressed that starting so late in the year increased the chance of snow storms while crossing the mountains. A few converts left the companies, but the overwhelming majority stayed and voted to continue to Salt Lake Valley. The Willie Company left Florence on August 17 and the Martin Company on August 27. Two ox-wagon trains, led by Captains W.B. Hodgett and John A. Hunt, followed the Martin Company. Near Wood River, Nebraska a herd of bison caused the Willie companies cattle to stampede, and nearly thirty cattle were lost. Left without cattle to pull the wagons, each handcart was required to carry an extra 100 pounds of flour. In early September, Franklin D. Richards, returning from Europe where he had served as the Church's mission president, passed the emigrant companies. Richards and the 12 returning missionaries who accompanied him, traveling in carriages and light wagons pulled by horses and mules, pressed on to Utah to obtain assistance for the emigrants.
In early October the two companies had reached Fort Laramie, Wyoming, where they expected to be restocked with provisions, but no provisions were there for them. The companies had to cut back food rations, hoping that their supplies would last until help could be sent from Utah. To lighten their loads, the Martin Company cut the luggage allowance to 10 pounds per person, discarding clothing and blankets that soon would be desperately needed. On October 4 the Richards party reached Salt Lake City and conferred with president Brigham Young and other Church leaders. The next morning the Church was meeting in a general conference, where Young and the other speakers called on the Church members to provide wagons, mules, supplies, and teamsters for a rescue mission. On the morning of October 7 the first rescue party left Salt Lake City with 16 wagon-loads of food and supplies, pulled by four-mule teams with 27 young men serving as teamsters and rescuers. The party elected George D. Grant as their captain. Throughout October more wagon trains were assembled, and by the end of the month 250 relief wagons were on the road.
Meanwhile, the Willie and Martin companies were running out of food and encountering bitterly cold temperatures. On October 19 a blizzard struck the region, halting the two companies and the relief party. The Willie Company was along the Sweetwater River approaching the Continental Divide. A scouting party sent ahead by the main rescue party found and greeted the emigrants, gave them a small amount of flour, encouraged them that rescue was near, and then rushed onward to try to locate the Martin Company. The members of the Willie Company had just reached the end of their flour supplies. They began slaughtering the handful of broken-down cattle that still remained while their death toll mounted. On October 20 Captain Willie and Joseph Elder went ahead by mule through the snow to locate the supply train and inform them of the company's desperate situation. They arrived at the rescue party's campsite near South Pass that evening, and by the next evening the rescue party reached the Willie Company and provided them with food and assistance. Half of the rescue party remained to assist the Willie Company while the other half pressed forward to assist the Martin Company. The difficulties of the Willie Company were not yet over. On October 23, the second day after the main rescue party had arrived, the Willie Company faced the most difficult section of the trail—the ascent up Rocky Ridge. The climb took place during a howling snowstorm through knee-deep snow. That night 13 emigrants died.
On October 19, the Martin Company was about 110 miles further east, making its last crossing of the North Platte River near present-day Casper, Wyoming. Shortly after completing the crossing, the blizzard struck. Many members of the company suffered from hypothermia or frostbite after wading through the frigid river. They set up camp at Red Bluffs, unable to continue forward through the snow. Meanwhile, the original scouting party continued eastward until it reached a small vacant fort at Devil's Gate, where they had been instructed to wait for the rest of the rescue party if they had not found the Martin Company. When the main rescue party rejoined them, another scouting party consisting of Joseph Young, Abel Garr, and Daniel Webster Jones was sent forward. The Martin company remained in their camp at Red Bluffs for nine days until the three scouts finally arrived on October 28. By the time the scouts arrived, 56 members of the company had died. The scouts urged the emigrants to begin moving again. Three days later the main rescue party met the Martin Company and the Hodgett and Hunt wagon companies and helped them on to Devil's Gate.
At Devil's Gate the rescue party unloaded the baggage carried in the wagons of the Hodgett and Hunt wagon companies that had been following the Martin Company so the wagons could be used to transport the weakest emigrants. A small group led by Daniel Webster Jones remained at Devil's Gate over the winter to protect the property. On November 4 the company had to cross the Sweetwater River, which was about 2 feet deep and 90 to 120 feet wide. The stream was clogged with floating ice. Some of the men of the rescue party spent hours pulling the carts and carrying many of the emigrants across the river. However, many members of the company crossed the river themselves, some even pulling their own handcarts across. The severe weather forced the Martin Company to halt for another five days at Martin's Cove, a few miles west of Devil's Gate. The rescue parties escorted the emigrants from both companies to Utah through more snow and severe weather while their members continued to suffer death from disease and exposure. The Willie Company arrived in Salt Lake City on November 9; 68 members of the company had lost their lives
Meanwhile, a backup relief party of 77 teams and wagons was making its way east to provide additional assistance to the Martin Company. After passing Fort Bridger the leaders of the backup party concluded that the Martin Company must have wintered east of the Rockies, so they turned back. When word of the returning backup relief party was communicated to Young, he ordered the courier to return and tell them to turn back east and continue until they found the handcart company, but several days had been lost. On November 18 the backup party met the Martin Company with the greatly needed supplies. At last all the members of the handcart party were now able to ride in wagons. The 104 wagons carrying the Martin Company arrived in Salt Lake City on November 30; at least 145 members of the company had lost their lives. Many of the survivors had to have fingers, toes, or limbs amputated due to severe frostbite. After the companies arrived in Utah, the residents generously opened their homes to the arriving emigrants, feeding and caring for them over the winter. The emigrants would eventually go on to settle several towns throughout Utah and the West. The persecution of the members of the church had to go through, as well as the treks and the tragedies that they survived, although largely undocumented by most history books today they were still an important part of American history. Many struggled, felt tragedy and hardship, but eventually found great triumph and success west.

Work Cited
Eddins, O. Ned. Historical Facts of the Mormon Trail.
Eddins, O. Ned. Willie and Martin Handcart Companies.
Kimball, Stanley B. The Iowa Trek of 1846: The Brigham Young Route from Nauvoo to Winter Quarters. June, 1972
National Park Service. The 1846 Trek.
National Park Service. The 1847 Trek.

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