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[Detail] Scotts Bluff, Nebraska, ca. 1890's

Collection Overview

Trails to Utah and the Pacific: Diaries and Letters, 1846-1869, documents life for those pioneers heading west during the mid-1800's. Included are the experiences of Mormons heading west in search of religious freedom and those who headed west as part of the California gold rush. Also included are maps showing the trails used, trail guides and images of those people who were on the trail. The collection was compiled from materials held by Brigham Young University, members of the Utah Academic Libraries Consortium, and other archival institutions in Utah, Nevada, and Idaho.

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Historical Eras

These historical era(s) are best represented in the collection although they may not be all-encompassing.

  • Expansion and Reform - 1801-1861
  • The Civil War and Reconstruction, 1850-1877

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History

Exploration of the West

In 1803, shortly after purchasing Louisiana from France, President Thomas Jefferson sent an expedition under Meriwether Lewis and William Clark to explore the western regions. This collection includes one map from the Lewis and Clark expedition, showing the topography of Colorado and the headwaters of the Arkansas River. Search on Lewis and Clark to access this map.

  • What can you infer from the map about what Lewis and Clark set out to learn and accomplish on their expedition?
  • What can you learn from the map about their journey? What might it have been like?

Read a transcription of Jefferson's instructions to Lewis (external link) available on the Monticello web site to confirm or correct the inferences you drew from the map.

  • What goals did Jefferson outline in his instructions?
  • What do you think were the main motivations for the expedition?

Other expeditions charted the western trails in the following decades. Use the collection's Categories of Material Index to access several published trail guides that came out of such explorations. An Account of an expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains published the findings of Major Stephen Long's expedition, which had been authorized by Secretary of War John C. Calhoun in 1819 to gather information that might lead to settlement of the territory. Long's party reinforced the findings of earlier expeditions by Zebulon Pike, who described the area as the "Great American Desert," hardly fit for supporting agrarian settlements. For years, the Great Plains were considered nothing more than a barrier between the Mississippi and the fertile valleys of Oregon and Mexican California.

The first volume of Long's Account . . . (frontendpages 08 and 09) presents the Secretary of War's instructions to Major Long, including a reference to President Jefferson's instructions to Lewis. The tables of content in the frontendpages of each volume outline a variety of topics and events, including numerous encounters with Native-American tribes, such as the following:

"Aug. 1st. Set out late, and after having traveled about two miles, a horseman armed with a spear was seen on the Bluffs, at the distance of about a quarter of a mile, who, after gazing at our line for a short time, disappeared. Our Pawnee interpreters being at a considerable distance in the rear, Julien was sent forward to reconnoiter. He mounted the Bluff to the general level of the country, and abruptly halted his horse within our view, as if appearances before him rendered precaution necessary. The Indian again came in sight, and, in full career, rushed towards him, passed him, and wheeling halted his horse. Many other Indians then appeared, who surrounded Julien, and, after a short and hurried conference, they dashed at full speed down the steep bank of the Bluff to meet us, the whole in concert singing the scalp-song. . . . We needed no additional information to convince us that this was a war party; their appearance was a sufficient evidence of the nature of their occupation. One of us asked an individual, if they were Kiawas, and was answered in the affirmative; he asked a second if they were Kaskaias, and a third if they were Arrapahoes, who both also answered affirmatively. This conduct, added to their general deportment, served to excite our suspicions and redouble our vigilance. . . . Our interpreters having joined us, it was proposed that we should avail ourselves of the shade of a large tree, which stood near the river, to sit down and smoke with them. They reared their spears against the tree, with apparent carelessness and indifference, and took their seats in the form of a semicircle on the ground. Having staked our horses in the rear, and stationed the men to protect them and the baggage, we seated ourselves, and circulated the pipe as usual. But as the party opposed to us was nearly quadruple our number, we did not choose to follow their example, in relinquishing our arms, but grasped them securely in our hands, and retained a cautious attitude."

Account of an expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains, Volume 2. (pages 196-197)

  • What kinds of interactions did explorers and Native Americans have?
  • How many different tribes of Native Americans did any given expedition encounter?
  • How well prepared were explorers to interact with Native Americans?
  • How did explorers communicate with Native Americans? How effective was such communication?
  • What kinds of information did explorers provide about Native Americans in their guidebooks?
  • What can you tell from the explorers' use of language about their attitudes towards Native Americans?
  • How do you think that explorers' descriptions of Native Americans would have impacted emigrants' attitudes and expectations?
  • In these early explorations, what priority did gathering information about Native Americans have? What can you tell from Jefferson's and Calhoun's instructions about how such information was to be used?

In addition to Native Americans, explorers also provide accounts of what Long calls, "the phenomena of nature . . . the varied and beautiful productions of animal and vegetable life, and . . . the more magnificent if less attractive features of the inorganic creation." Browse the published trail guides for records of astronomical observations and descriptions of nature. A Journal of an exploring tour beyond the Rocky Mountains by Samuel Parker includes the following geological analysis:

"From careful examination of the geological condition of this country I have been led to conclude, that the great volcanic fires continued in operation through a long period of time and in many series of operations. On examining bluffs, or perpendicular banks of rivers and mountains, I have numbered from between ten and twenty different strata of amygdaloid, basalt, and breccia. . . . The section of the broken but consolidated fragments, laying between the regularly formed basalt, or the amygdaloid, is generally only a very few feet in thickness. This presents the appearance of having been the surface for a long period of time, until a partial disintegration and decomposition had taken place, after which a new eruption superimposed another stratum of basalt, or amygdaloid. . . . The probability is, that they were thus in operation for centuries, but for centuries past have ceased; so that time has been given for atmospheric agencies to decompose the volcanic productions, sufficiently to form a soil covering most parts of the count-ry, excepting the great desert in the Shoshones country, laying between two ranges of mountains, extending three hundred miles in width."

Journal of an exploring tour beyond the Rocky Mountains.(pages 226-227)

  • What information did explorers ascertain from their astronomical observations?
  • What information did they gain from the use of a barometer?
  • What other kinds of observations and records were made by members of exploration expeditions?
  • Why would officials of the United States have been interested in having such information?

Captain John Charles Frémont, nicknamed "the Pathfinder," directed one of the important later scientific expeditions into the Rocky Mountains in 1842 and to the Great Basin between the Rockies and the Sierras in 1843-44. Search on Fremont for his Report of the exploring expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the year 1842, and to Oregon and north California in the years 1843-'44.

Frémont reports on new genera and species of plants, maps geological formations, and makes astronomical and meteorological observations. He also provides an engaging account of the expedition's journey, including a harrowing ride in an India-rubber boat on the Platte River as it coursed through a narrow canyon:

"An ugly pass lay before us. We had made fast to the stern of the boat a strong rope about fifty feet long' and three of the men clambered along among the rocks, and with this rope let her down slowly through the pass. In several places high rocks lay scattered about in the channel; and in the narrows it required all our strength and skill to avoid staving the boat on the sharp points. . . . We reached the place where Mr. Preuss was standing, took him on board, and, with the aid of the boat, put the men with the rope on the succeeding pile of rocks. We found this passage much worse than the previous one, and our position was rather a bad one. To go back, was impossible; before us, the cataract was a sheet of foam; and shut up in the chasm by the rocks, which, in some places seemed almost to meet overhead, the roar of the water was deafening. We pushed off again; but, after making a little distance, the force of the current became too great for the men on shore, and two of them let go the rope. Lajeunnesse, the third man, hung on, and was jerked headforemost into the river from a rock about twelve feet high; and down the boat shot like an arrow, Basil following us in the rapid current, and exerting all his strength to keep in mid channel — his head only seen occasionally like a black spot in the white foam. How far we went, I do not exactly know; but we succeeded in turning the boat into an eddy below . . . Lajeunnesse . . . owed his life to his skill as a swimmer; and I determined to take him and the two others on board, and trust to skill and fortune to reach the other end in safety. We placed ourselves on our knees, with the short paddles in our hands, the most skilful boatman being at the bow; and again we commenced our rapid descent. We cleared rock after rock, and shot past fall after fall, our little boat seeming to play with the cataract. We became flushed with success, and familiar with the danger; and, yielding to the excitement of the occasion, broke forth together into a Canadian boat song. Singing, or rather shouting, we dashed along; and were, I believe, in the midst of the chorus, when the boat struck a concealed rock immediately at the foot of a fall, which whirled her over in an instant. Three of my men could not swim, and my first feeling was to assist them, and save some of our effects; but a sharp concussion or two convinced me that I had not yet saved myself."

Fremont for his Report of the exploring expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the year 1842, and to Oregon and north California in the years 1843-'44 (pages 74-75).

  • What can you infer about the early westward explorers from the published trail guides? What kinds of qualifications and skills did they have?
  • How many people comprised the expeditions?
  • What tools, materials, and privileges did explorers have with which to accomplish their missions?
  • How dangerous were their missions?
  • How were expeditions organized and managed?
  • What was the cost if an explorer did not return safely from his expedition?

Trails West

Before railroads, automobiles, and airplanes, distances of any great length were traveled in long and arduous voyages by ship and covered wagon. When the lands and minerals of the western territories beckoned in the 1840s and 50s, hundreds of thousands of pioneers emigrated from the United States by way of a few western wagon trails. These trails are illustrated in a Special Presentation of Interactive Maps (external link), while trail life is reflected in the collection's diaries, letters, maps, and images.

Use the Trail Name Index to locate materials that describe travel along specific trails. For example, in his two-volume diary, William Henry Hart provides a detailed account of life on the California Trail, describing everything from learning to cook over a campfire to guarding cattle during a night watch. Hart gives several accounts of driving his wagon through rivers and ravines as well as the Black Hills:

"June 22d Rolled out early. Road very bad being all hills, steep and rocky, up mountains and down vales, over or around the rocky ridges, with many a sudden creek or steep pitch. I was driver and on one of the steepest rocky descents my lock chain became loosened and the wagon instantly commenced going down much faster than {begin inserted text}was{end inserted text} proper and threatened to crowd the team off the side {begin inserted text}of{end inserted text} the road into a deep ravine. In trying to catch the wheel with my hands I put my foot too near it and immediately my right great toe underwent a flattening process that was decidedly disagreeable. I was still striving to stop the wagon however when I was reinforced by Streeter + Reed who had not been far off and by the driver of the succeeding team By each catching a wheel we stopped the wagon and relocked it."

Hart, William Henry. Diaries, 1852-1888 (vol 1). June 1852, pages 88 - 89

  • What natural barriers did pioneers face in crossing the continent?
  • What were the challenges of crossing the Great Plains? What were the challenges of crossing the mountains?
  • Which of the trails westward would you consider the least hazardous? Why?
  • What guidebooks were available for each trail? When did these become available?
  • What were the main activities of trail life?
  • What would have happened to a pioneer if he had lost his wagon or oxen in an accident?
  • What were the hardships of trail life? What did diarists enjoy about life on the trail?

Ezekiel Headley also traveled the California trail, keeping a diary of short and factual entries. The nineteen year old makes repeated references to the many other travelers emigrating at that time, noting on May 22, 1849, "...Met 19 wagons of Fur traders they Told us there was About 2500 wagons Ahead of us." Headley also kept track of the number of graves he saw each day. In a series of typical entries, he wrote, "T[uesday] 11 Seen 3 graves. W[ednesday] 12 Seen 6 graves. T[hursday] 13 Crossed the big Nimakaw River, and seen 5 graves."

Many of the deaths along the trails were the result of cholera. Edward Jackson writes of an attack of cholera on a steamer taking pioneers up the Missouri River from St. Louis to Independence, one of the points of embarkation of wagon trains.

"May 9 [1849]. The cholera is now raging fearfully here and report says this morning that the steamer Mary had thirty six deaths on board from cholera since she left St. Louis. We are very particular about cleanliness in the camp - all bathing every morning."

Jackson, Edward. Diary, 1849. May 1849, page 10

His diary entry for May 20 sounds the lament of many western travelers:

"One of our axle trees broke which detained us & compelled us to reverence the day [Sunday]. At this place are the graves of two emigrants who died the past week. O do not leave my bones here. If possible let them lay at home - if not, let it be California . The idea of the plains is horrible! I now see my journey in its true light and if I am permitted to record, the pages of my journal will tell a fearful tale."

Jackson, Edward. Diary, 1849. May 1849, page 17

  • Why was cholera such a dread disease of pioneers venturing west?
  • According to Jackson, what precautions were taken to prevent the outbreak of a cholera epidemic in his party?

The trails west crossed territory occupied, and in many cases held sacred, by Native Americans. Refer to maps showing the location of Native-American tribes, such as a Map of Lewis & Clark's treck across the western portion of North America and Johnson's California, with Utah, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona. Use Subject Index headings beginning with Indian or search on Indian for other materials. Numerous diarists record encounters with Native Americans, including Kate Dunlap, who traveled from Iowa to Montana by horse team in 1864:

"After passing another range of bluffs worse than the first, we came to an In-dian village of about 40 'wigwams'. This village is sit- uated on one of the finest grazing plains we have seen since we have been on the road. A half a dozen or so of naked children fol- lowed after us crying for bread. I felt sorry for them but had none to give them. as I had given the last mor sel I had to some squaws and their papooses, whom we met among the Sandy bluffs - We stopped one and a half miles from their village to camp, as some the Ohio freighter had not yet got over the sand bluffs, but an old chief came to us and forbid us camping on their pas- ture, claiming that all this land belonged to the Soux , that God had given it to them, and we must move. After a long debate with him and among ourselves we concluded to go on."

Dunlap, Kate. Diary, 1864-1865. June 1864, pages 40 - 41

  • What kinds of interactions did emigrants on the westward trails have with Native Americans?
  • What can you tell about diarists' attitudes towards Native Americans?
  • What reasons would Native Americans have had to be hostile towards the pioneers who came westward on the trails?
  • What impact would the migration of emigrants during the 1840s and 50s have had on the land?

The Church of Latter-day Saints: Conception, Dissemination, and Persecution

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Mormons, wrote about half of the diaries contained in this collection. These materials provide a wealth of information about the Church, its immigration to Utah, and settlement in Great Salt Lake City.

In the 1820s, a New York farmer named Joseph Smith experienced a series of revelations, which he recorded and published as the Book of Mormon in 1830. Later that year, Smith established The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, appointing himself president. Certain aspects of Smith's religion, especially the practice of polygamy, aroused opposition, and by 1831 Smith and his fledgling sect fled New York for Missouri and Ohio.

Soon, however, the Mormons were expelled from Missouri. Led by Smith, they crossed the Mississippi River into Illinois and established a community called Nauvoo, as recalled by Esaias Edwards of Adams County, Illinois, of in his diary. Renting some of his land to the Mormons, Edwards was exposed to their religion and eventually converted. A few years later, in 1842, the church sent Edwards on a mission to spread the Mormon doctrine to other towns in Illinois. On his way, Edwards visited his sister and brother-in-law:

"We had not seen each other for several years and were verry glad to see me Although they were verry much Prejudiced at what they supposed {ink blot->} [--] my religeon for we were every where mis represented in every Shape and form that men or devils could think of or invent But however they had so much confidence in the honesty of my heart they Could not thin {illegible->} [page torn] that I Culd not be somuch deceived as some had reported that the Mormons were And out of respect to me they made an appointment for me to preach at their house accordindly the neighbours and I delivered a lecture on the first principles of the gosple to a respectable congregation which could find no objectio {illegible->} [page torn] we soon received invitations to preach at different places so we continued to preach every opportunity
for a considerable time without much oppositi {illegible->} [page torn] many people appeared to be verry much interested with the doctrine which we preached for it being the doctrine of the bible and new testament which they professed to believe they could find no fault"

Edwards, Esaias. Autobiography and diary, 1856-1882. Personal History, page 13

  • According to his diary, why did Edwards convert to Mormonism?
  • According to Edwards, why were his relatives prejudiced against his religion?

Use Subject Index headings such as Mormon converts and Mormon missionaries to read other accounts of the missionary work that brought individuals such as Job Smith into the church and to the Mormon community in the United States from as far away as England. British Mormon emigration statistics are included in the diary of missionary, William Ajax, who left his native Wales for the United States to join the Mormon community in 1862. Despite the U.S. Civil War, he and his family took a ship across the Atlantic and traveled by rail through the eastern United States to Florence, Nebraska, where he recorded the arrival of converts and the departure of missionaries from this migration hub:

"July 20, 1862
. . . The St. Joseph
steamer arrived this evening, having on board a company of Swiss Saints, under the presidency of bro. Serge {begin inserted text}L.{end inserted text} Ballif , which b being 109 in number when they embarked, left Havre-de-Grace , on board the 'Windmere ,' on the 15th of May. A few French families from Paris were among them; and about 30, or so, of the Williamsburgh Saints

July 25, 1862
Willis , also, arrived, this afternoon, having performed the last 70 miles on foot in order to s reach before some of his acquaintances would leave. He spent much of his time in Glamorganshire , and it was at Cardiff that he first received the Priesthood, and from there he went on his mission to India . He is now on a mission to Britain . . . . "

Ajax, William. Journals, 1861-1863 (vol 2). July, 1862, pages 126 and 127,

  • What can you learn from their diaries about why converts decided to adopt the teachings and practices of Mormonism?
  • What do you think missionaries such as Job Smith and William Ajax hoped to accomplish and how?
  • Who paid for missionaries' journeys?
  • Why do you think that so many converts to Mormonism thought that it was important to not only join the church but also immigrate to the Mormon community in the United States?

Use the Subject Index heading Nauvoo to learn more about the Mormon's Illinois community and the continued persecutions they faced there. Appleton Milo Harmon, church member and Nauvoo resident, wrote a personal history in his diary in which he describes the violence directed against Mormons in Nauvoo and the murder of Joseph Smith and his brother in 1844:

"The winter of 43 and 4 I Spent in Nauvoo enjoying the refreshing teachings from the lips of Prest. Joseph Smith and Hyrum in the Spring of 1844 the tide of emegration in to Nauvoo had for a time been gradualy increasing. and had caused a Spirit of Jelousey to arise in the breasts of our eneymies they feard that if they left us thus alone all men would believe on us and the Mormons would take a way their place and nation. and hold the balance of power. acordingly our old enemies renewed the attact and new ones Joined in the prececution until it be came quite warm. and then to assist Satan in his Cours of percecution several Appostatised and Joined the Mob in percecuting the Saints and Commenced publishing a Newspaper called the Nauvoo exposeter and one No was ishued. The City Council pronounced it a nucance and ordered it removed. at the time I was acting in the Poliece who was called upon to remove and destroy the press type and all libilous prints. this Caused quite a Stir with our enemy and Soon their Cries ware So loud that the Governer of the State took the field in person at the head of a body of militia Br Joseph Surendered to a demand made for him and Stood his trial they not finding or not being able to proved eney thing against him he was discharged but they soon found another endightment or Charge against him and for his Safety for a fiew days he was placed in Carthage gaol when they Saw no Chance of Substanciating eney thing against him. they arose in mob and broke open the Gaol and Killd Joseph and Hyrum and severely wounded Elder John Taylor on the 27th day of June 1844."

  • According to Harmon, what were the reasons for the bitterness towards Mormons in Nauvoo?
  • What forms did the persecution of Mormons take?
  • What does Harmon's account indicate about the role of the state government in the attacks on the Mormon community?

According to the Special Presentation, "Where the Prophets of God Live": A Brief Overview of the Mormon Trail Experience (external link), Joseph Smith had foreseen the need to establish a safe haven for his church in the far West and even prophesied "that the Saints would continue to suffer much affliction and would be driven to the Rocky Mountains." After Smith's lynching, persecutions against his sect continued and, according to Harmon, grew so severe that the community of Latter-day Saints, under the new leadership of Brigham Young, decided to leave Nauvoo to seek refuge in the West:

"our enemies Continued to Haras us in the fall of 1845 their percecution be came mutch warmer even so they commenced Burning houses grain Stacks driving off cattle catching and whiping the Breathering and some ware Killed. the persecution became So gineral that for the Sake of peace we agreed to leave as early in the Spring of 1846 as Circumstances would admit."

  • Why do you think the Mormons were persecuted?
  • How did the Mormons respond to such persecution?

Some diarists, such as Jonathan Oldham Duke, recorded how even after the majority of Mormons left Nauvoo, remaining members of the community continued to suffer persecution. What might this suggest about the reasons for this persecution?

The Church of Latter-day Saints: Emigration

Having made the decision to leave Nauvoo, the Mormon community spent the winter of 1845-6 making preparations for their departure in the spring. In his diary's personal history, Job Smith wrote of the trouble he and his family had selling their home and obtaining a wagon and team of oxen. Nevertheless, on May 15, they left behind a field of "Wheat that had been put sowed the fall previous . . . all our household furniture and most of our farming implements" and embarked upon a "journey which proved to be of fourteen hun= dred miles, though at that time we knew not the direction nor distance that we were about to travel."

  • What was the Mormons' goal in leaving Nauvoo?
  • How did they prepare and organize themselves for a journey to an unknown destination?

From Nauvoo, the Mormons crossed Iowa into Eastern Nebraska where they established a settlement for the winter on the bluffs overlooking the Missouri River. They called it Winter Quarters. The following spring, Brigham Young led one company of his followers, called the Pioneer Company, along the Missouri and Platte Rivers until they came upon Utah's Great Salt Lake Valley, which Young proclaimed "the right place" for the Mormons' new settlement.

The Special Presentation Essay, "Where the Prophets of God Live": A Brief Overview of the Mormon Trail Experience (external link), provides a descriptive overview of the Mormons' immigration to the Great Salt Lake Valley while the Interactive Maps (external link) provide the opportunity to trace their trail along the Missouri and Platte Rivers. Use the Trail Name Index heading Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail to access images and diaries that illustrate the Mormons' journey.

Diarists such as Smith, Harmon, Jackman, and Wells were among the first to make the journey to the Great Salt Lake Valley and record the trials of trail life, from monotonous days of travel through extreme heat and cold to encounters with potentially dangerous Native-American tribes.

Disease and death were prevalent, as Job Smith recorded in his personal history. Smith calls the winter he spent at Council Bluffs and Winter Quarters "one of the darkest periods that I ever hope to pass through." He suffered from a series of illnesses including Black Scurvy, noting "The disease was so prevalent that hun= dreds became victims thereto. The road leading to the burying ground led by our cabin and we could see every day numbers being carried thi= ther."

It was at about this time that the Mormons suffered an additional, unforeseen trial. Smith explains:

"Here we received a requisition from the United States for five hundred men to volunteer to go to California to fight in the Mexican War. This was one of the most barbarous and cruel mean requi-sitions that could have been made upon any people under the circumstances. The notion had gone out amongst them that the Mormons had gone out to join the Indians against the U Government. This requisition was got up as it was said to test our loyalty-and with a scheme laid, that if this call was not attended to an army should come and re=enact the Missouri scenes; only to destroy entirely the Mormons as a people. However, the men were forthcoming, which took the flower of the camp. The young, stout and robust men thus left their families shel= terless and many of them without food to travel on foot a journey of several thousand miles onfoot across deserts and plains almost impracti= cable to cross."

Smith, Job. Diary and autobiography, 1849-1877. Personal History, page 59

  • Why was the recruitment of 500 Mormon men such a trial to their community?
  • According to Smith, why did the government demand that Mormons serve in the armed forces during the war with Mexico?
  • How would the persecution of Mormons in Illinois and their earlier expulsion from New York and Missouri have impacted the Mormons' expectations of the government?

In the following two decades, over 60,000 Mormons followed the trail blazed by pioneers such as Harmon, Jackman, and Smith, to join their community in Great Salt Lake City. Some came from as far away as Europe, encouraged by the church through a series of emigration plans described in the Special Presentation Essay, "Where the Prophets of God Live": A Brief Overview of the Mormon Trail Experience (external link). Diarists such as Ajax, Edwards, and Huntington describe the trials that continued to face anyone who made the long overland journey.

  • According to Jackman, in what ways did the Pioneer Company take into account the needs of the emigrants that would follow them?
  • Once it established a settlement in Great Salt Lake City, how did The Church of Latter-day Saints encourage and provide for immigration there?
  • What were some of the dangers on the Mormon Trail?
  • What did Mormon emigrants do for food and water during their journey? What were some of their other needs and how did they meet them?
  • How did they ford rivers?
  • How often did Mormons on the trail to Utah encounter Native Americans? What were these interactions like? Who else did they encounter on the trail?
  • What were the major landmarks of their trail?
  • What attitudes do diarists express toward the lengthy trek?

Despite the many trials, diarists also recorded some of the joys of the journey that became a right of passage for early Mormons, until the cross-continental railroad was completed in 1869. Harmon's enthusiasm for life on the trail comes through in entertaining stories of his hunting pursuits, while Emeline Wells shows that life went on as usual even on the trail:

"Tues. March 3. . . . It was after dark when we came in sight of the camp and a dismal looking it is the tents are all huddled in together and the ^ {begin inserted text}horses and{end inserted text} wagons are interspersed some are singing and laughing some are praying children crying &c. every sound may be heard from one tent to another; . . .

Monday March 9. . . . Pitchèd their tents on the side hill, next to Br. Kimball ; the tents here in rows like ^ {begin inserted text}a{end inserted text} city; it is really a houseless village. Just at dusk the band com- menced playing and some of the young people collected and amused themselves by dancing."

Wells, Emmeline B.. Diaries, 1844-1920 (vol 1). March 1846, pages 31 - 39

  • What impact do you think making the trek to the Great Salt Lake Valley would have had on the Mormons?
  • How would you expect it to have shaped their community and their church?

The Church of Latter-day Saints: Settlement in Great Salt Lake City

Levi Jackman was a part of the Pioneer Company led by Brigham Young from Winter Quarters to the Great Salt Lake Valley. According to Jackman's diary, on July 22, 1847, part of the company emerged from a narrow, wooded canyon into the valley "like bursting from the confines of a prison." They explored the area and proceeded to plant potatoes, corn, wheat, and turnips.

Brigham Young, detained by sickness, did not join Jackman's part of the company for two days. Soon after Young's arrival, Jackman records that the company conducted a meeting:

"This evening July 28 the camp was called togeather to day where the City should be buit. After a number two sho--ken on the subject of a noat was called for unanimoseley aggread that this was the spot. After that Pres Young said the he knew that this is the place. he knew it as soon as he come in right of it and he hav seen this verrey spot before. He then gave us an idea how the city was to be built and the order of things. That the Law of God was to be kept strickley. and that we should form connections with the differant tribes of the Indians and by that means they would become a white and delightsome people"

Jackman, Levi. Diary, 1847-1849. July 1847, page 36

  • Why do you think that Brigham Young and the Pioneer Company decided to establish the Mormons' new settlement in the Great Salt Lake Valley?
  • How would you characterize the landscape of the Great Salt Lake Valley?

Search on Salt Lake City for over 100 items including diaries, photographs, illustrations, and maps, which reflect the first twenty years of the settlement's history. Jackman's diary provides information about the earliest events of the city's history, from efforts to provide food and shelter for hundreds of families, to the creation of laws to regulate the community's economy. Read accounts by other Mormon diarists, such as Job Smith, Esaias Edwards, and Appleton Milo Harmon as well as non-Mormons such as Edward Jackson, William Henry Hart, Schuyler Colfax, and Edmund Hope Verney for information about the city during the next two decades:

"The general impression given by Salt Lake City is an agreeable one. The streets divide the town into ten-acre blocks: they are all 128 feet broad, and at right angles to each other. On each side is a stream of living water, and rows of cotton-wood and locust trees border the side walks. There is but one main street, in which the houses are built close to each other; everywhere else each house stands in its own garden or orchard. Some of them are large, two or three stories high, built of burnt bricks, red sandstone, or granite, but most are of white sun dried bricks. They look clean and cheerful: the door- posts, window-sills, &c., are of wood, painted bright green, or of rich red sandstone, and creepers adorn the walls. The gardens are well and tastefully kept, and fruit-trees are particularly successful. . . . Altogether, few towns have been so judiciously designed and so perfectly built; few enjoy so great natural advantages, which have been cleverly made the most of. The barren country we passed through would have prepared us to appreciate any place where there might be a spare blade of grass, but Salt Lake City would be considered beautiful anywhere. When it is remembered that seventeen years ago, this end of the valley was a desert, like the other, one is astonished at the enterprise and perseverance of the Mormon leaders."

Verney, Edmund Hope. An overland journey from San Francisco to New York by way of the Salt Lake City, 1866. Personal History, pages 19 - 20

  • What were the physical characteristics of Great Salt Lake City?
  • How did Mormon families support themselves once they settled in the city?
  • How did the mining boom impact the city?
  • What can you infer from maps of the region about how the Mormons' establishment of Great Salt Lake City might have impacted the settlement of the region?

It was not long before conflicts between the Mormon pioneers and their Native-American neighbors arose and escalated into violence. ) In his personal history, Esaias Edwards writes about how Native Americans stole the Mormons' horses and cattle, until a "company went out to where they lived and killed about ten of them which caused them to cease their operations for awhile." Similarly, Appleton Milo Harmon gives a detailed account of a two-week campaign against the Utes:

"In February 1850 the Utah Indians commited some depredations Stole Some cattle in Utah Valley and be came so troublesome that it was thought lest to Chastise them. accordinly a * company of one Hundred men was Selected to go to Utah for that purpose . . . The Indians perceived our purpose and geatherd them Selves to geathr in a conspickuous place on the Provo and resisted our people they fought desperate for two days keeping up a constant fire which was sent back as warm by our people. . . . 7 of our horses ware killed 11 of our men wounded some severly and others but slight and one killed . . . the indians sufferd the loss of about 13 Kild several wounded and the rest drove in to holes that they had excavated in the deep Snow drifts . . . The next day. our men being Joind by the reenforce ment from the City repaird early to the field of Battle but on ariveing at the Spot found it vacated by our ene- -mies who had from one of the Horses killed the day before taken 2 quar- ters of Beef and taken their flight to the mountains. they ware followed to whare they assended Rockey Canion. . . . they seeing all prospects of escape guarded. they gave them selves up as priseners. during this time other bands ware chastised. in all a bout 40 of them killed who would not enter in to a treaty of peace. and agree to Seace taking our Cattle and Horses."

Harmon, Appleton Milo. Autobiography and Diary, 1850-1853 (vol 1). May 1849, pages 44 - 47

  • Why did the citizens of Great Salt Lake City fight campaigns against Native Americans?
  • Why might Native Americans of the Great Salt Lake Valley have stolen the Mormons' horses and cattle?
  • What do diary entries such as Levi Jackman's description of Native Americans suggest about Mormons' attitudes towards Native Americans? Where might these attitudes have come from?
  • What was the impact of the Mormons' campaign against the Utes? Why would other bands of Native Americans have been chastised and killed during this campaign?
  • How effective was the Mormons' solution for ending conflicts with Native Americans?

In the fall of 1857, the Mormon community of Great Salt Lake City found themselves on the receiving end of an aggressive campaign as the U.S. military marched into the valley to quell a supposed "Mormon rebellion." Diarists, including Esaias Edwards, write of the Mormons' mobilization of 2000 men to defend their city in the fall of 1857 and winter of 1858.

In his August 1858 entry, Edwards explains how tensions rose when President James Buchanan appointed someone to replace Brigham Young as Governor of Utah Territory, remarking, "it seems harrd and unjust for us to have a stranger forced upon us as Govnor and Also Judges and other officers who have no interest in the Territory And have them backed up by an armed force without any Just cause what ever."

The Mormons prepared their own army of 1,500 men, but violence was averted when the president sent an investigating committee into Great Salt Lake City with a proclamation of apology for false accusations. Nevertheless, Edwards closes his entry with the news that settlers have followed the military into the region, seeking to kill Brigham Young and discriminating against Mormons "so that Zion languishes at present."

  • Why would President Buchanan have sent his military to Great Salt Lake City in 1857?
  • How were the Mormons prepared to meet this aggression?
  • Why do you think the military eventually backed down?
  • How did tensions between Mormons and other citizens of the United States influence the development of Utah Territory and the establishment of the State of Utah?

Edwards' diary also provides other information about Great Salt Lake City. An account of a business dispute sheds light upon the church organization and how it governed its members, while descriptions of anniversary celebrations of the founding of Great Salt Lake City reflect the significance of the city to its founders. Edwards also places the history of Great Salt Lake City within a larger historical context:

"Oct. 20, 1862

This is truly a time of great events while many of of the Saints as wel as my self is trying to purify ourselves by endeavering to keep the commandments of our Heavenly Father - The Gentiles are waring and Slaying each other by tens of Thousands in a day and are bringing desolations upon the land from whence they have driven the Saints We have the news by the Telegraft fron the States every day and the war spirit increases daily and no person knows where or when it wil end and we feel to rejoice that we are here faraway in this land were peace reigns in the state of Deseret"

Edwards, Esaias. Autobiography and diary, 1856-1882. October 1862, pages 63 - 64

  • What does this passage suggest about Edwards' sense of the Mormons' relationship to the United States?
  • How do you think that the Mormons' establishment of Great Salt Lake City contributed to their sense of identity?
  • What do Edwards's descriptions of anniversary celebrations of Great Salt Lake City indicate about the significance of the city to its Mormon founders?

The Gold Rush

Though gold was first discovered in California on January 24, 1848, it wasn't until December of that year, when President James K. Polk announced the discovery in his message to Congress, that the gold rush began. In the next two years, 75,000 people traveled the California Trail and California's population increased by 86,000.

The Special Presentation of an Essay called "Chasing a Golden Dream: The Story of the California Trail" provides a brief account of the California Trail, its establishment, use during the gold rush, and legacy. The Special Presentation of Interactive Maps (external link) provides a visual depiction of the trail. Search on gold or use the Trail Name Index heading California National Historic Trail to find images, diaries, and letters that depict the gold rush.

For most emigrants, the gold rush experience began with the decision to leave home and a long cross-country journey. Gordon Cone left Waukesha, Wisconsin, for California in 1849. In his diary, he describes his journey by ox team along the California Trail, including arduous passages through the Sierra Nevada Mountains and the Fortymile desert:

"Sunday September 23rd We travelled all nigh-t, and until eight o'clock this morning- Some of the cattle have given out, and we are fearful that we shall not be able to get all our wagons acrost- We have eig--hteen miles yet to go before we find water, and water is what our cattle are suffering for- The heat of the Sun is almost unendurable; and as the whole country iscovered with a thick coating of a saline matter, the atmosphere is highly impregnated with salt, that makes the thirst of both man and beast into--lerable- In a distance of seven miles that we travelled this morning, we passed twenty six wagons that had been abandoned by emigrants whose teams had given out- A great many cattle are lieing dead beside the road, the ballance of the teams haveing been packed and driven on- These scenes and sa--crifices are among the variety that go to make up the experience of those that cross these plains, mountains, and desarts-

We shall remain in camp until evening and then move on, hopeing to reach "Salmon trout" river by tomorrow morning- This is the most unhapy Sabath that I have exp--erienced on the trip-The great anxiety that I have for my teams, and the fears that they will not be able to get through this desart, wholly dis--quallify me for sober reflection, or serious cont--emplation- "

Cone, Gordon C. Diary, 1849-1850. September 1849, pages 119 - 120

Elijah Spooner also left for California in 1849, leaving his wife and one-year-old son behind in Michigan. Stopping in Salt Lake City , he wrote his wife, "The mormons say there is no trouble in finding all the gold we want Hope it's true, and can get it quick, and then for home, home, sweet home again." In his next letter, he assured his wife of his health despite the cholera epidemic that plagued the California trail from 1849 into the mid 1850s:

"Well my Dear Wife I can but hope and wish that you with our little one are in the enjoyment of as many earthly blessings a your circumstances will permit But I fear the imagination has been too keenly sensitive to permit much joy for I doubt not that dark and fearful tidings must have reached you from our line of travel which has caused many a heart to bleed, and which {begin inserted text}may{end inserted text} have wrought many gloomy foreboding in yours - I allude to the sickness and deaths in the first half of the journey - We probably did not see more an 25 or 30 graves on our whole route, but have since learned that two or three weeks later a thousand might be counted between the starting points and Fort Laramie, and many of them containing several tenants - Much of this mortality was only four or five days travel in our rear, yet we knew nothing of it at the time"

Spooner, Elijah Allen. Letters and Diary, 1849-1850. Letter 8-October 20, 1849, pages 3 - 4

  • What were some of the dangers and hardships of traveling the California Trail?
  • How long did most emigrants take to make the journey to the Golden State?
  • Why do you think that so many people were willing to leave their families and homes and make the long and dangerous journey to California?
  • According to "Chasing a Golden Dream: The Story of the California Trail," what kind of information did the forty-niners have about the California Trail?

In addition to their journeys, some diarists, such as William Z. Walker, describe their experiences in California. Walker traveled by ox and mule team from Boston, Massachusetts, to Sacramento, California. He describes a party panning for gold and comments on the extravagant prices a prospector had to pay for provisions:

"Mon. Sep. 10th
We arrived at Bear River in the afternoon, where we found a large number of emigrants engaged in digging and washing gold. The method of opperation was very simple: one man dug the earth and put it into a seive attached to a cradle which a second man washed rocked and poured water upon after sufficiently washing the earth it passed thro' the seive in to the bottom of the cradle which is open at one end where it passes out leaving only particles of gold and black sand in the bottom.. In the seive remains particles of rocks roots &c which are thrown away. After washing a sufficient quantity of earth (generally from 20 to 50 pansful) the contents of the cradle are put into a pan washed: Which opperation is performed by dipping the pan in the water and shaking and stirring it to keep the contents loose and pouring the water off, which repeated untill the sand is all floated off with water; the gold being much heavier soon deposits itself in the bottom of the pan. An experienced hand will perform this opperation in 10 minutes without loosing a particle of gold. The amount thus collected by the miners on Bear River was from four to sixteen and sometimes even Fifty dollars per day, each, according to the luck of the miner. Provisions were very high here Flour $40. per hundred, Pork and Bacon $1. per lb. and other things in proportion Gold-rockers were worth $40. Shovels $10. Picks $10. and so on."

Walker, William Z.. Diary, 1849. September 1849, page 135 - 137

  • How laborious was the mining process?
  • What was involved in this process, in addition to digging and washing the gold?
  • Why were provisions so expensive in Sacramento?

From a camp outside of Sacramento, another diarist, James Tolles, recorded his impression that "the society here for business is most excellent, the people are all very punctual to their And we are pleased to say that we have not seen or heard any quarreling whatever, and have heard but little profanity." Gordon Cone, on the other hand, took another view of the California culture:

"Men that were respectable in their deportment, chaste in their conversation, and moral in all their conduct when in the States, and under the restraints of society, and civillzation, have here thrown off all restraint, lost their self respect, and have abandoned themselves to most of the vices of this far off region, such as frightful profanity, beastly drunkness, Sabath breaking, and cruel gambling- Extortion is so common here, that it has been stricken from the Catalogue of crimes, and therefore is nothing thought of and indeed the whole catalogue would be annihilated at once, if the standard of crime was graduated by public opinion-Profane swearing and men drinking are common practices here, therefore the mind at once comprehends the magnitude of these evils on the anouncement of the fact, so that a full detail is not necessary, even if it was possible- Altho these evils may be considered universal, yet there are honorable exceptions, and men are found even here that deeply feel that these things ought not to be-"

Cone, Gordon C. Diary, 1849-1850. December 1849, pages 166 - 167

  • Why might Tolles and Cone provide such different accounts of the prospectors' behavior?
  • What does Cone imply about why the culture of Sacramento was so immoral?
  • According to "Chasing a Golden Dream: The Story of the California Trail," how did the gold rush experience impact United States culture?

Like most prospectors, Elijah Spooner was disappointed by his experience in the California gold fields. In April 1850, he wrote his wife:

". . . this gold digging is all a lottery business, except the labor part of it. We thought we had some eight or ten hundred dolls secured at the last writing, but we have worked it out, and got only about half that amount. And now the next thing {begin inserted text}is{end inserted text} pros- pecting for another place, in the bottom of every creek far and near for days, and perhaps for weeks, until a promising location is found The labor as I have previously observed is enormously hard. And I am satisfied that none but iron constitutions can endure it without in-jury Every years hard labor here in the mines, I believe will increase the apparent age of men generally, from five to ten years. This fact is seen in almost every mans countenance: and my own feelings bear witness to it And there are thousands here now, to say nothing of thousands on the way, that will not earn enough {begin inserted text}above their expenses{end inserted text} to carry themselves home, during a years residence."

Spooner, Elijah Allen. Letters and Diary, 1849-1850. Letter 13-April 21, 1850, pages 1 - 2

  • What kind of experience did argonauts expect to have in California? What were their hopes for their journeys? What were these expectations and hopes based on?
  • What were prospectors' actual experiences like?
  • Why was it so difficult for most prospectors to make a profit?
  • How do you think that this outcome affected culture in California and the U.S.?

Refer to the Arts and Humanities section of these Collection Connections for a creative project that will enhance and test comprehension of the gold rush experience.

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Critical Thinking

Chronological Thinking: Mormon Migration

In the early spring of 1846, Brigham Young led the Mormon community of Nauvoo, Illinois, into the West to establish a settlement where they could practice their religion free from persecution. The following spring, Young and the first company of emigrants stepped out of a dark canyon into the Great Salt Lake Valley in present day Utah and decided to settle there. Over the next twenty years, more than 60,000 Mormons made the same journey across the Great Plains to join the Mormon community in Great Salt Lake City. Use this collection to create a timeline tracing the Mormon immigration from 1846 to 1869, when the completion of a cross-continental railroad changed the Mormon migration experience forever.

Use "Where the Prophets of God Live": A Brief Overview of the Mormon Trail Experience (external link), to learn how The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints encouraged Mormons throughout the world to immigrate to the Salt Lake basin through the doctrine of gathering and through a series of emigration programs. Use the Trail Name Index heading Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, to access diaries, letters, maps, photographs, and illustrations that provide information about the twenty years of migration on this trail. Refer to the Special Presentation of Interactive Maps (external link) for visual representations of the trail. Compare and contrast the experiences of the first wave of Mormon immigrants to those that followed nearly a generation later and depict historical continuity and change on your timeline. Illustrate your timeline with images and excerpts of text from the collection.

  • What was The Church of Latter-day Saints' doctrine of gathering?
  • What steps did the Church take to help Mormons immigrate to Great Salt Lake City?
  • What were the different immigration programs that the Church sponsored and how did they work?
  • What routes did Latter-day Saints follow in their westward migration?
  • How long did it take to make the overland journey at different periods between the 1840s and 1869?
  • To what extent did travel across the continent improve between 1846 and 1869?

Historical Comprehension: Manifest Destiny

The term "manifest destiny" first appeared in print in July 1845 in the "Democratic Review." Journalist John L. O'Sullivan supported the United States' claim to Texas over Mexico's by declaring that the United States had a manifest destiny to spread across the continent.

  • What does "destiny" mean?
  • What does "manifest" mean?
  • What did O'Sullivan mean when he wrote that the United States had a manifest destiny to spread across the continent?

This idea of the United States' manifest destiny grew in popularity and influence in the 19th century and is voiced in this collection. Lansford Hastings, a vocal advocate of manifest destiny, led an expedition to Oregon and California in 1841. In 1845, he published The Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California, the first substantial guide for traveling across the continent. In it, Hastings presents an unqualified statement of the United States' present and future prosperity:

". . . the present . . . commerce of this infant country, . . . considering the newness of the country, . . . is scarcely equaled, and if the present may be considered as a prelude to the future, the latter is destined, in a very few years, to exceed, by far, that of any other country of the same extent and population, in any proportion of the known world. We are necessarily driven to this conclusion, when we consider the vast extent of its plains and valleys, of unequalled fertility and exuberance; the extraordinary variety and abundance, of its productions, its unheard of uniformity, and salubrity of climate; in fine, its unexhausted and inexhaustible resources, as well, as its increasing emigration, which is annually swelling its population, from hundreds to thousands, and which is destined, at no distant day, to revolutionize the whole commercial, political, and moral aspect of all that highly important and delightful country. In a word, I will remark that in my opinion, there is no country, in the known world, possessing a soil so fertile and productive, with such varied and inexhaustible resources, and a climate of such mildness, uniformity and salubrity; nor is there a country, in my opinion, now known, which is so eminently calculated, by nature herself, in all respects, to promote the unbounded happiness and prosperity, of civilized and enlightened man."

The emigrants' guide to Oregon and California. (page 133)

  • What does Hastings predict about the United States in this passage?
  • Upon what factors does Hastings base this prediction?
  • In what ways does this passage voice the idea of manifest destiny? Identify and explain specific phrases or sentences.
  • How would you expect this passage to have impacted Hastings's readers?

Hastings's widely used guide encouraged emigrants to make the trek across the Great Plains and establish settlements in the Oregon Territory (claimed by both Britain and the United States) and in Mexican California. His account of the land and his belief that the United States would one day possess the entire continent helped to spur westward migration.

Schuyler Colfax was elected to Congress in 1854, became Speaker of the House of Representatives in 1863, and Vice President of the United States in 1868 under the Grant administration. In 1865, Colfax made an overland trip to California and recorded his experience and observations. Like Hastings, he depicted the future of the United States in glowing terms:

"Always an earnest advocate of the Pacific R.R. as a bond of inter-communication between the Atlantic & Pacific portions of the Republic - a bond of union & of strength - a bond of affection as well as of patriotism, - my long journey over the Plains & longer voyage {illegible->} [--] two Oceans home, convinced me more than ever of its priceless value & its incalculable necessity.

Already I see in the swift-coming future, not weak & sparsely settle Territories on its route, but rich & growing States through which the iron base will speed his way over {begin inserted text}across{end inserted text} the vallies & over the Mts of the Interior - not vast untilled & unimproved Plains but irrigation & artesian wells combining to make the desert blossom as the rose - not scores of millions per year from our gold & and silver bearing rocks, reserved by the Creator for ages for our own times, but hundred of millions. for years. Twenty years ago, how inconsiderable was our mineral wealth. {illegible} {begin inserted text} But {end inserted text}now, from the Rocky Mts to the Pacific , 1500 miles in width, & from the British to the Mexican line, 1.000 miles in length, over a over a million square miles, larger than all the mineral area of all the world besides - are proven to be rich in every direction, in mountains & valley, in rive river & ravine, with the precious ore. And There bursts on our view {begin inserted text} almost as if magic {end inserted text} all those golden & silver seams, forced into the molten rock which was to guard them, by the Creator, when he spoke this World into being, & hidden from the morning of Creation till now, when they are found to be the heritage of what He seems to have {begin inserted text} in this afternoon of the 19th Century {end inserted text} intended should be the wealthiest Nation of the World Earth."

Colfax, Schuyler. Across the continent by overland stage in 1865, 1865. Letter-April 18, 1865, pages 38 and 40 - 41

  • In what ways does this passage voice the idea of manifest destiny? Identify and explain specific phrases or sentences.
  • What are the similarities between Hastings' and Colfax's predictions?
  • What are the similarities between the ways in which they each use language?
  • What are the differences between the two passages? What might these differences suggest about the evolution of the idea of manifest destiny and the impact of the Civil War upon the concept?
  • How influential were Hastings and Colfax? How influential was the concept of manifest destiny? How did it impact the development of the United States?

Historical Analysis and Interpretation: Views of Mormonism

Users of this collection can gain a better understanding of the persecution of Mormons by analyzing observations made by non-Mormons. Search on Salt Lake City for a variety of materials including diaries and letters by individuals who spent time in the city. Read the bibliographical summaries of these items to locate materials written by non-Mormons such as Edward Jackson, Schuyler Colfax, and Edmund Hope Verney, who visited and recorded their impressions of Salt Lake City and their opinions of Mormonism.

Edward Jackson traveled from Missouri to California during the gold rush, stopping in Salt Lake City along the way. His diary includes a lengthy description of the city and observations about The Church of Latter-day Saints. In two entries, he writes about the church services he attended:

"The services in the morning consisted of speeches from prophets Brigham and Young and the Elders inter spersed with music from the band songs from the 48 young men and women. Both the prophets and elders speeches were rantings malignant and hostile to our gov ernment and administration and the people in the West. They hold Young to be the greatest man now on earth, & that he knows every thing that is to come. For instance one man has left his wife and children in the states and the prophet tells him he shall soon see them, so that he rests, perfectly contented. They are the most ignorant class of people I ever met with.

The forenoon I spent in writing and sleeping; in the afternoon, I went to church. After sitting a long time, one of the elders got up and made a speech & of all speeches I ever heard it was the worst. He was an ignorant infidel, not knowing what he said; condemning the Bible and everything and everybody except themselves and all praise was not enough for these ignoramuses."

From Pages 62 and 66, July 1849, Jackson, Edward. Diary, 1849.

  • What was Jackson's opinion of the Mormons?
  • What aspects of the Mormons' religion did Jackson take issue with and why?

Speaker of the House of Representatives Schuyler Colfax traveled from Missouri to California, in 1865. He spent a few days in Salt Lake City and met with Brigham Young, president of the Church of Latter-day Saints. He described the city in glowing terms but reserved the end of his reminiscences for a thorough critique of the Mormon religion:

"Allow me, before concluding, to refer to that social & political problem, of an Interior - known as Mormonism .In the very heart of the Continent, with their Chief City on the direct line of Com travel, & ultimately of Commerce, between the East & West, a population of 100,000, gathered from every Nation in Europe & N. America , are ruled by the absolute will of one man. These people are bound together by the most powerful ecclesiastical system I have ever studied.

Hospitable as they were to our party, I cannot shut my eyes to the fact that they should not hold office under a Government, whose law they deliberately trample upon. No man, living in polygamy, should be a contractor of any kind under the Govt, and thus amass wealth, as has been the case there, under one law, while he scoffs at & defies another law of the Republic."

Colfax, Schuyler. Across the continent by overland stage in 1865, 1865. Letter-April 18, 1865, pages 28 and 37

  • What was Colfax's opinion of the Mormons?
  • What did Colfax think of Brigham Young?
  • How would you summarize his opinions about the Mormon religion?
  • What were Colfax's problems with the religion?
  • What are Colfax's arguments against polygamy?
  • What are the similarities and differences between Jackson's and Colfax's opinions of Mormonism?
  • What can you infer from these writings about why Mormons were persecuted in the United States?
  • How does Colfax's critique shed light upon the relationship between Mormons and the United States government?
  • Do any of the complaints against the Mormon Church, such as those represented in the writings of Jackson and Colfax, justify the persecution of Mormons? If so, to what extent?

Historical Issue-Analysis and Decision-Making: The Transcontinental Railroad

As early as 1830, people in the United States speculated about the possibility of a transcontinental railroad that would connect the eastern states with the Pacific coast. Around 1855, Secretary of War Jefferson Davis commissioned surveys in preparation for the building of rail lines across the continent. Several of the surveys, conducted by the War Department and the Army Corps of Topographical Engineers, are included in the collection. Search on railroad for these maps as well as other pertinent items.

  • What were the costs and benefits of each of these three routes that were considered for a transcontinental railroad?
  • Which route seems most direct?
  • Which route seems easiest to build?
  • What would be the advantages and disadvantages of creating a railroad route through sparsely populated areas?
  • What would be the advantages and disadvantages of creating a railroad route through highly populated areas?
  • What alternative routes could have been considered (e.g., from New Orleans to Southern California)?
  • What do you think was the purpose of the transcontinental railroad?
  • How would the creation of the railroad have affected settlement and the continent's natural resources?

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Pacific Railway Act, authorizing two companies to construct the transcontinental railroad, called the Central Pacific Railroad. The Central Pacific Railroad Company laid tracks eastward from Sacramento, California while the Union Pacific Railroad Company laid tracks westward from Omaha, Nebraska. They met in Promontory Summit, Utah, on May 10, 1869.

For more information and materials on the Central Pacific Railroad, refer to the Collection Connections for History of the American West, 1860-1920.

Historical Research Capability: The Donner Party

The Donner Party was a company of 87 emigrants who experienced what was arguably the worst disaster in the history of wagon train migration. Led by George Donner, the party followed the advice of Lansford Hastings in The Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California by taking a short cut through the Great Salt Lake Basin. But the wagons sank into the soft, salty dirt of the trail, slowing them down considerably. Due to the delay, the party found themselves high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the middle of winter. Only 47 of the original emigrants survived.

Search on Donner Party for access to Hastings's The Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California and for images of the Donner Summit and Donner Pass. Use the Author Index or Title Index to access What I Saw in California for Edwin Bryant's account of the tragedy. Read Chapter 20, in which Bryant relates the story of the Donner Party and the relief missions that rescued the survivors. The chapter begins on page 249 and also includes a lengthy excerpt from a journal kept by a member of the party beginning on page 256. (The content of this chapter may not be appropriate for all readers.)

  • What factors contributed to the tragedy of the Donner Party?
  • What does the story of the Donner Party suggest about how emigrants made their way west? To what extent did they rely on guidebooks? Upon what else did they rely for information and direction?
  • What does the story of the Donner Party reveal about the challenges and dangers of westward migration in the mid-19th century?

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Arts & Humanities

Board Game: Gold Rush

Readers of the collection can test and demonstrate their comprehension of the gold rush by creating a gold rush board game. Create a game in which players compete with each other as prospectors who must make the cross-country journey to California and acquire gold.

Demonstrate your knowledge of the California Trail in your design of the board, using the spaces on the board to represent important landmarks on the trail. For help, refer to the special presentation "Chasing a Golden Dream: The Story of the California Trail (external link)," and Interactive Maps (external link), as well as the heading "California National Historic Trail" in the Trail Name Index. .

  • What will you choose for the starting point of the journey and the first space on the board?
  • What were the major landmarks on the California Trail?

Players' progress might be determined by rolling dice or by drawing cards that dictate certain events. For example, a card may say that a player's oxen died and must go back two spaces. Another card might say that a player received a free meal from a Mormon settler and can advance a space.

  • What other sorts of things happened to prospectors to set them back or help them out on their journeys to California?
  • What determined a prospector's success or failure once he reached California? How can you represent this in your game?
  • Use these ideas as a starting point to create your own game that represents your understanding and appreciation of the gold rush experience.
  • Do you think that the gold rush is a good topic for a board game? Why or why not?
  • What else might be a good topic?

Biography, Expository Writing, Creative Writing

Several of the Mormon diarists, such as Andrew Ferguson, Jonathan Oldham Duke, Job Taylor Smith, Orley Dwight Bliss, and Appleton Milo Harman included personal histories in their diaries. Read two or more of these diaries and write a short expository essay that explores the ways in which these brief biographies shed light on the Mormon experience in the 19th century.

  • What were the turning points in these people's lives?
  • What kinds of experiences did these individuals share?
  • To what extent did they face persecution for their religious beliefs?
  • What do the personal histories of these individuals reveal about their characters and values?

In the Categories of Materials Index readers will also find Biographical Notes for Diarists. The biographical note for Emmeline B. Wells presents the highlights of her 92-year life, including her early conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, her marriages, and her activities both as a suffragette and as manager of a profitable grain storage program. It begins:

"Emmeline Blanche Woodward was born on 29 February 1828 in Petersham, Massachusetts, to David and Deiadama (Hare) Woodward. While attending a select school for girls and living with an older sister, she learned of her mother's conversion to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Emmeline returned home the following year and was baptized in March 1842. She married James Harris, also a member of Church, in July 1843 at age fifteen. Emmeline and James, along with his parents, moved the following spring to Nauvoo, Illinois, where James' parents abandoned the Church sixteen months later. James left Nauvoo to find work to support Emmeline and their newborn son, Eugene, but never returned. Emmeline learned only several years later that James had died while employed as a sailor on the Indian Ocean. After the death of her son, and seemingly deserted by her husband, Emmeline found herself alone in Nauvoo. . . ."

From Wells, Emmeline B., 1828-1921. Biographical note.

Use the biographical note for Emmeline B. Wells as the basis for a short story.

Travel Writing: A Discussion

In his diary entry for September 8, 1849, Gordon Cone laments the monotony of the landscape on his journey from Waukesha, Wisconsin, to California. In doing so, he puts forth a maxim about travel writing:

"Saturday September 8th There is so little vari--ety along this valley that one finds to record, that if he is governed by truth, and records only facts, (and facts are the only things that the traveller should reco- -rd) to one that is has no particuler interest in the formations of the country, the nature of the soil, or any of the peculiarities that go to make up any given region; a description founded on these prem--ises will be monotonous, and uninteresting- A false impression is frequently left on the mind by reading a high colored description given by travellers, who have explored {begin inserted text}a {end inserted text} given regions of country- hence hundreds have been disappo--inted when they have explored the same country-

And perhaps many are induced to visit a foreign coun--try from reading these descriptions- This is found to be the case with regard to most of the section of our country, that the traveler acrost the plains, and mountains, in his journey from the eastern, to the western portion of our continent, daily meets with- Hence the necessity of recording only facts, even at the expense of rendering the narative uninteresting-"

Cone, Gordon C. Diary, 1849-1850. September 1849, pages 104 - 105

Analyze Cone's statement and use it as a starting point for a discussion about travel writing. Use the following questions to begin:

  • According to Cone, what is the danger of a travel writer recording anything but facts? Upon what does Cone base his opinion?
  • How has travel changed since the time of Cone's journey?
  • Is there any present-day equivalent for the cross-country journeys by wagon represented in this collection? What were the challenges involved in these journeys?
  • How has travel writing changed over time? What are the differences between pioneers' diaries and articles written for publications such as National Geographic Adventure, Travel & Leisure, or Outside? What are the similarities?
  • What are the similarities and differences between emigrants' guides of the 19th century and today's Lonely Planet or Let's Go guides?
  • Does Cone's opinion about the need to record only facts have any relevance today? If so, how does it apply? What are a contemporary travel writer's responsibilities to her audience?
  • What do you think that a good piece of travel writing should do?
  • What place do you think facts and "high colored descriptions" have in good travel writing?

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