Pioneer Period | BYU Studies

Pioneer Period

Nearly Everything Imaginable: The Everyday Life of Utah's Mormon Pioneers

Editor Ronald W. Walker, Editor Doris R. Dant,
From living in a dugout called the Castle of Spiders to eating so many weeds their skin took on a green cast to losing four children in just a few weeks to diphtheria, nearly everything imaginable happened to the Mormon settlers of Utah Territory. Here are the details of the lives of the common people—what they ate, wore, lived in, and celebrated, how they worshipped, and why they endured. In... Read more

The Handcart Migration

Author Various Authors,
This compilation of groundbreaking articles about the handcart migration is selected from over fifty years of LDS scholarship published by BYU Studies. This volume features articles on the Martin company at the Sweetwater; Francis Webster's testimony regarding the Martin company; weather, disaster and responsibility; and reviews of books about the handcart migration. Contents "Francis Webster:... Read more

The Martin Handcart Company at the Sweetwater: Another Look

On November 4, 1856, members of the beleaguered Martin Handcart Company reached the Sweetwater River. More than two weeks earlier, on October 19, the day an early winter storm overtook the company, these same handcart pioneers had forded the Platte River. "Very trying in consequence of its width and the cold weather," James Bleak wrote of that experience. Now after sixteen days' exposure to snow... Read more

East to West through North and South: Mormon Immigration during the Civil War

The Saints gathering to Zion during the years of the Civil War endured the threat of wartime violence from the time they left their homelands. They encountered warships on the seas and the agitation and commotion of troops in the cities once they landed. They withstood cramped and malodorous journeys in cattle cars, endured searches and inspections by troops, and were subjected to the unnerving... Read more

Sail and Rail Pioneers before 1869

Most pioneers traveled by boat or rail from their ships or other starting points in the East to places in the West where the wagon trails began. Those important legs of their journeys were sometimes well over a thousand miles long—a real story, a real journey, which was in many cases as hazardous and arduous as the final trek across the plains. They endured harassment, filthy accommodations,... Read more

Weather, Disaster, and Responsibility: An Essay on the Willie and Martin Handcart Story

Arguably the most heroic and the most tragic episode of the westering experience, the handcart trek of late 1856 is a magnificent story of individual faith in the midst of serious mistakes. On October 4, 1856, a warm, calm day in Great Salt Lake City, Franklin D. Richards, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, accompanied by twelve other returning missionaries, arrived after a fast trip across... Read more

The Saint and the Grave Robber

Converted in the Australian goldfields, Frederick William Hurst and John de Baptiste became mining partners and fellow emigrants. But in Utah their paths made a Jekyll-and-Hyde split. The colony of Victoria, Australia, produced one-third of the world's gold found in the 1850s; as a result, every imaginable type of person converged on the area. This assemblage, coupled with England's earlier "... Read more

The Constitution of the State of Deseret

For the collector of Utahiana, the 1849 Kanesville Constitution of the State of Deseret is a fascinating book. It is the founding document of government in the Intermountain West, and it is a great rarity. Most intriguingly, Constitution of the State of Deseret clarifies the perplexity that has long existed over why Mormons made competing, apparently independent applications for territorial... Read more

The Mormon Gold-Mining Mission of 1849

Although Latter-day Saints were instrumental in discovering the California gold that led to the 1849 gold rush, as a people they remained in the Great Basin due to counsel from Brigham Young, who felt raising crops would ultimately bring more wealth than searching for gold. However, Young allowed several young men to be called on gold mining missions for the Church. Their journal entries describe... Read more

A Landowner Chides Brigham Young for Not Speaking to Him at Buffalo Canyon, and Receives an Answer

Thomas A. Kuhlman acquires a small piece of land he named Buffalo Canyon situated just outside of Florence, Nebraska, between Mill Creek Valley and Ponca Hills. He writes of the historical significance of the land, telling of the times he sat on the land reading histories of the fur traders, of Lewis and Clark's crossing the Missouri, of protection provided by soldiers at Fort Atkinson, and of... Read more

A Great Little Saint: A Brief Look at the Life of Henry William Bigler

Early on the morning of 24 November 1900, an elderly man died in St. George, Utah. He had never held high ecclesiastical office within the Latter-day Saint Church—of which he had been a member for over sixty years. He had never been elected to any office nor did he achieve anything but passing regional or national fame. Yet two days after his demise, a leading Salt Lake City newspaper, the... Read more

Wyoming, Nebraska Territory: Joseph W. Young and the Mormon Emigration of 1864

The monumental efforts of the Church agents in implementing and achieving a successful Mormon emigration are generally not considered in most studies. Stories of the Mormon emigration typically focus on the faith, sacrifices, and hardships of the emigrants themselves during their trek to Zion. What is usually not examined is the tremendous amount of behind-the-scenes organizing, planning, and... Read more

The Rise and Decline of Mormon San Bernardino

From the beginning of what was to be the Latter-day Saint settlement at San Bernardino, the spirit of cooperation and harmony was strikingly prevalent, outstanding even among Mormon pioneers noted for success in planting new colonies through the mutual efforts of their members. Yet while the first three years of the community were notable examples of success and cooperation, the last three years... Read more

The Bridge

This article examines a little-remembered piece of history that connects early members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with Abraham Lincoln. In 1856, the steamboat Effie Afton crashed into a much-contested and newly completed railroad bridge over the Mississippi River. A lawsuit ensued, and Abraham Lincoln, who at the time was one of the premiere lawyers on the frontier, along... Read more

The Mormons of the Wisconsin Territory: 1835–1848

There is currently no description for this title. One will be added shortly. Read more

The Closedown of LDS Iowa Settlements in 1852 That Completed the Nauvoo Exodus and Jampacked the Mormon Trail

After the Mormons were forced out of Nauvoo, Illinois, in 1846, many temporarily settled around Kanesville (now Council Bluffs), Iowa. The first Mormon pioneers founded Salt Lake City in 1847, but five years later, many thousands of Mormons were still in Iowa, trying to collect resources to make the long trek across the Great Plains. They lacked food, wagons, and other supplies they would need... Read more

Environmental Lessons from Our Pioneer Heritage

As the pioneers began to build Zion, they reshaped the environment to make the land more productive and suitable for their needs. Occasionally, however, their policies and practices were not environmentally sound—over time, the land's ability to provide for them was diminished rather than enhanced. Fortunately, they and their posterity established a pattern of striving to correct their... Read more

British Travelers View the Saints, 1847–1877

Historians who have made extensive studies of the Latter-day Saints' image in nineteenth-century American plays, novels, periodicals, newspapers, and pictorial representations have found the image was decidedly negative, or, as Burton put it, "anti-Mormon." No one has made a similar investigation of the Church's image in another popular nineteenth-century medium, the travel account, in which... Read more

The Move South

In spring 1858, Mormons in Salt Lake City anticipated an invasion of U.S. troops sent by President Buchanan. They feared a continuation of previous persecution in Missouri and Illinois, and tensions were high. Inspired by the 1855 Crimean War event in which Russian forces destroyed their military stronghold before surrendering to French and British forces, LDS Church president and political... Read more

Lower Goshen: Archaeology of a Mormon Pioneer Town

There is currently no description for this title. One will be added shortly. Read more

Violence and Disruptive Behavior on the Difficult Trail to Utah, 1847–1868

One aspect of the Mormon pioneer experience has not been studied: violence. Did the pioneers have problems with fighting and other aggressive behavior? How did company leaders prevent problems and handle disputes when they inevitably arose? This article reports pioneer records mentioning arguments, punishments, and other violent actions. The stories range from a threatened whipping for children... Read more

The Mormon Pioneer Odometers

The wooden odometers built and used by the first Mormon pioneer company of 1847 have fascinated students of western history for one hundred and fifty years. Two odometers were constructed. The first built by Appleton M. Harmon during the westward journey, was used from a point near present day North Platte, Nebraska, to the Great Salt Lake Valley—May 12 to July 24, 1847. The second, built by... Read more

The Significance of "O My Father" in the Personal Journey of Eliza R. Snow

*This article is being offered free as a courtesy to as it was footnoted in two expanded Gospel Topics. ( Topic 1 , Topic 2 ) 'O My Father' is primarily a hymn of orientation. It speaks of place, habitation, sphere, wandering, residing, and dwelling. Eliza R. Snow's first-person declaration of her relationship to God through primeval past, earthly present, and eternal future becomes the... Read more

The Judicial Campaign against Polygamy and the Enduring Legal Questions

For lay people the chief virtue of our Constitution is not in its distribution of power or in its guarantees of participation in governmental processes but in the protections it affords individual liberties, not least of which is freedom of conscience. Yet ratification of the Bill of Rights did not fix in stone the content of constitutional guarantees. Instead, it was left to the judiciary to... Read more

The Miller, the Bishop, and the "Move South"

When approximately 30,000 Saints deserted their homes during the 1858 "Move South," most of their wagons contained sacks or boxes of wheat. As the endless stream of wagons rolled south from Great Salt Lake City along the State Road, one wagon after another stopped at a newly erected gristmill on Big Cottonwood Stream. Gladly the uprooted Saints paid miller Archibald Gardner to grind their wheat... Read more

President Buchanan Receives a Proposal for an Anti-Mormon Crusade, 1857

There is currently no description for this title. One will be added shortly. Read more

"Is Not This of God?": An 1847 Proposal for Mormon Settlement

On September 30, 1847, Charles Root Dana, who had been sent on a fund raising mission to the East by Brigham Young, got off the train in Washington, D.C. For the next month he worked diligently in the capital city to enlist support for his fellow Mormons, asking for "Liberal donations commensurate with the suffering circumstances of an afflicted and oppressed people." If the Washington campaign... Read more

The Legislative Antipolygamy Campaign

"Presumptions," Orma Linford has pointed out, "are the balancing blocks in striking a balance between majority rule and minority rights, between liberty and order, between established social rules and religious freedom." Two interrelated presumptions underlay the nineteenth-century campaign against Mormon plural marriage that is reviewed in this essay. The first was that an institution so... Read more

Mortality on the Mormon Trail, 1847–1868

Over two decades, staff and volunteers at the Church History Department compiled a database of thousands of pioneer records, now available at , containing diaries and company reports of known Mormon pioneers from 1847 to 1868 (56,042 of them). Data were then compiled in tabular format in an Excel file, available at ... Read more

Pleasing to the Eyes of an Exile: The Latter-day Saint Sojourn at Winter Quarters, 1846–1848

Early on the cold, clear morning of November 21, 1846, John D. Lee "arose from sleep," dressed, and "walked out" into the streets of Winter Quarters. Struck by his first view in daylight, he wrote: I was astonished when I looked around and saw what serious enterprise and industry had brought to pass within 6 weeks past. A city of at least 400 houses had been erected in that short space of time,... Read more

George Catlin, Brigham Young, and the Plains Indians

There is currently no description for this title. One will be added shortly. Read more

Francis Webster: The Unique Story of One Handcart Pioneer's Faith and Sacrifice

One of the best-known and best-loved stories of the Mormon pioneers is the testimony of Francis Webster, a member of the Martin Handcart Company. Although his name has increasingly become associated with his statement, he is still better known as the unnamed old man in the corner of a Sunday School class who arose to silence criticism directed toward those who allowed that company to come west... Read more

Dancing as an Aspect of Early Mormon and Utah Culture

Under Joseph Smith's leadership, dance and other forms of recreation were sponsored because his followers were socially isolated, because they were organized with intimate social relationships, because they were good followers, and because the doctrine had been propounded "Man is that he might have joy." Brigham Young is credited with having had a revelation, which reads in part: "If thou art... Read more

Zion in the Far West

The following review of Leonard J Arrington's Great Basin Kingdom appeared in Amudin, no 366, a Hebrew language monthly publication of the Religious Kibbutz Movement, Tel Aviv, Nissan 5736 (April 1976) 24:286-87. It was translated by the author and sent to Dr. Arrington at the suggestion of Cyrus Mckell, the Utah State University professor mentioned in the review. It struck our interest because... Read more

Cholera and Its Impact on Nineteenth-Century Mormon Migration

Nineteenth-century migrants traveling across America suffered from many diseases as they journeyed to new homes in the West. The disease that was most common and caused the highest rate of illness and death was cholera. Historian Robert Carter notes, "It was a disease with which people were . . . familiar, yet it was little understood. It would strike suddenly, with no warning, often killing the... Read more

Eliza R. Snow's "Sketch of My Life": Reminiscences of one of Joseph Smith's Plural Wives

The weather in Daviess County, Missouri, was exceedingly warm in July 1838. It had also been very dry for some time. By the first Monday of August, which was election day, the weather was still warmer, and at the county seat of Daviess County, Gallatin, it was very hot. On that day the heat caused by the emotions and tensions between the Mormons and gentiles in Missouri matched that of the... Read more

Thomas L. Kane Meets the Mormons

Thomas Leiper Kane, a well-born Philadelphia lawyer-diplomat soldier, first became acquainted with Mormonism at a conference of the Church held in Philadelphia on May 13, 1846. After listening to a discourse by Elder Jesse C. Little, a Scotch-Irish convert from Maine who was presiding over the New England and Middle States Missions, Kane requested an introduction. Within two days of their... Read more

Authority Conflicts in the Mormon Battalion

There is currently no description for this title. One will be added shortly. Read more

Handcart Trekking: From Commemorative Reenactment to Modern Phenomenon

Youth groups in many LDS wards and stakes currently participate in a handcart trek. These events teach young people about Mormon pioneer history and strengthen their faith. While the widespread modern practice of treks can be credited somewhat to the 1997 pioneer trail reenactment, reenactments have their roots in Pioneer Day parades and reenactments and in activities begun in the 1960s, when... Read more

Joseph Smith and the West

As early as 1834, Joseph Smith saw the Church's eventual settlement in the Rocky Mountains. Many contemporary accounts, from members of the Church and others including Governor Ford of Illinois, tell of Joseph's prophecies and plans to move westward. In March 1844, Joseph organized a General Council, or the Council of Fifty, whose immediate responsibility was to plan the Saints' exodus. In the... Read more