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The Mormon Pioneer Trail


The Mormon Pioneer Trail is the 1,300 mile (2,092 km) route that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints traveled from 1846 to 1868. Today the Mormon Trail is a part of the United States National Trails System, as the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail.

The Mormon Trail extends from Nauvoo, Illinois, which was the principal settlement of the Latter Day Saints from 1839 to 1846, to Salt Lake City, Utah, which was settled by Brigham Young and his followers beginning in 1847. From Council Bluffs, Iowa to Fort Bridger in Wyoming, the trail follows much the same route as the Oregon Trail and the California Trail; these trails are collectively known as the Emigrant Trail.  

The Mormon pioneer movement began in 1846 when, in the face of conflicts with neighbors, Young decided to abandon Nauvoo and to establish a new home for the church in the Great Basin. That year Young’s followers crossed Iowa. Along their way, some were assigned to establish settlements and to plant and harvest crops for later emigrants. During the winter of 1846–47, the emigrants wintered in Iowa, other nearby states, and the unorganized territory that later became Nebraska, with the largest group residing in Winter Quarters, Nebraska. In the spring of 1847, Young led the vanguard company to the Salt Lake Valley, which was then outside the boundaries of the United States and later became Utah. During the first few years, the emigrants were mostly former occupants of Nauvoo who were following Young to Utah. Later, the emigrants increasingly comprised converts from the British Isles and Europe.

The trail was used for more than 20 years, until the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad in 1869. Among the emigrants were the Mormon handcart pioneers of 1856–1860. Two of the handcart companies, led by James G. Willie and Edward Martin, met disaster on the trail when they departed late and were caught by heavy snowstorms in Wyoming.

The importance of this accounting to my family is that my great-great grandfather, Charles Kirkpatrick, a doctor, took two of the ailing members of the group heading toward Salt Lake City and kept them with him and his party of travelers. Once they were healed, they rejoined Brigham Young. We have a copy of the letter from Brigham Young thanking Grandpa for saving their lives.


  1. Caroline Clemmons says:

    Paisley, what a great post. You always come up with the interesting info. How nice that you know your ancestry so well, too. My dh’s family were Quaker, Presbyterian, and Anglican, but a lateral branch converted to LDS and Benjaim Pendleton was one of those with Brighan Young. Soooo glad it wasn’t dh’s direct line. I wouldn’t have met him!

  2. That is cool, Caroline. Would it not have been something if my great, great grandfather aided one of your ancestors? This grandfather of mine is the one who kept the journal I used for my first story. He said Brigham Young was a very nice man.

  3. Denise Eagan says:

    Wow, very cool Paisley. Was this the trail the famed (or infamous) Donner party took?

  4. Dee, I’m not sure if it’s the same trail, but would guess it is. I don’t think they had that many choices. It was a dangerous trek no matter how you look at it. Glad we have the luxury of the roads and vehicles we have in modern times.

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