Animated world map showing travel variations by persons gathering to SLC (1840-1890). Click "Discover the Trails."
Between the years 1847 and 1869, over 60,000 emigrants made the westward trek to Utah. It is tragic to consider that the trials incident to this migration claimed the lives of approximately 2,000-3,000 during this period. The majority of emigrants who crossed the plains to gather with the Saints in Utah did so in Church-organized companies. The mode of transportation across the plains varied. They traveled on foot, in wagons, handcarts, with freight trains, or with Church out-and-back companies. Handcarts traversed the plains from 1856 to 1860. The Church sent teams to the terminus of the railroad to assist the emigrants the remainder of the way from 1861 to 1869. This organized trek across the plains is universally regarded as one of the greatest mass movements in history. It was a highlight in the lives of the participants. The collections in Utah libraries and archives are rich in documenting this "crossing the plains" experience. There are abundant journals and letters in both manuscript and printed form which shed light on the travel experiences of these companies.
Mormons, generally, are a record-keeping people; some by inclination, others as a church assignment. As a result, scattered about in libraries, archives, or family possessions are fairly accurate and detailed accounts of the Mormon emigration experience. One tends to have the impression that the pioneer trek experience was a model of masterful organization. Plans for each year's emigration or immigration months earlier, as soon as the previous year's efforts were completed. This required a large investment in time, planning, financing, and sometimes building. Although the organizing of companies usually began in an orderly manner, the companies frequently dissolved, divided, or eventually scattered when on the plains. Companies also traveled in close proximity to each other, sometimes traveling and camping as a unit. Their stories should become available to a wider population when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints completes its multi-year project of making full-text copies of its collection of over 2,000 trail accounts on the internet. Work on this project just began in the spring of 2001 and when completed (no target date) should greatly enhance our understanding of the Mormon emigrant pioneer experience.
I will be creating more detailed summaries of each year's trail experience and will gladly add them to this site. Our web site has reached its authorized limit, though, and I may be precluded from doing so.
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