Mormon Trail History

In 1846, Mormons left Nauvoo, Illinois because of religious persecution and traveled across Iowa, ending in Winter Quarters, Nebraska. On April 5, 1847, an advance company led by Brigham Young set off from Winter Quarters on their trek across the country, (1,040 miles) to a new home in the tops of the Rocky Mountains. This advance company was to arrive in the Salt Lake Valley as early as possible for the purpose of planting crops to feed the large numbers of saints to follow.

The company consisted of 143 men, three women, and two children. They chose to travel on the north side of the Platte River in order to avoid competition for forage and food with the emigrants on the Oregon Trail across the river.

They met and talked with several mountain men along the trail who gave them varying opinions about the prospect of settling in the Salt Lake Valley. After reaching Fort Bridger on July 7, the pioneers left the Oregon Trail and followed Hastings Cutoff, established by Lansford W. Hastings. The ill-fated Donner-Reed party and others took this route. Near the Bear River, Brigham Young was taken ill with mountain fever.

Orson Pratt, with twenty-three wagons and forty-two men, was sent ahead to locate the Donner-Reed Trail. They did so, and by July 19, the advance party reached the summit of Big Mountain. Two days later, Pratt and Erastus Snow scouted the valley and returned to the group.

Then on July 22, the first wagons moved downstream toward the mouth of Emigration Canyon. They chose not to follow the trail over Donner Hill, but instead, built a road at the base of the hill to the north. The end of the Mormon Pioneer Trail is generally considered to be at the mouth of Emigration Canyon, where This is the Place Monument is located. This is where the pioneers were first able to survey the valley which would be their new home. However, the advance party did not stop to camp at that site. They continued along the south side of Emigration Creek in a southwestern direction, and camped for the first time in the Salt Lake Valley on July 22. Brigham Young did not arrive in the valley until July 24th, and therefore this date was chosen as Pioneer Day, now a state holiday.

Orson Pratt and Erastus Snow were the scouts for the first group. They arrived on July 21 and explored major portions of the valley. From a discourse delivered by Erastus Snow on July 25, 1880:

"It fell to the lot of Elder Orson Pratt and myself to penetrate through the thickets and emerge into this valley and get a view of the Great Salt Lake...The thicket down through the Narrows, at the mouth of the canyon was so dense that we could not penetrate through it. I crawled for some distance on my hands and knees through this thicket, until I was compelled to return, admonished to by the rattle of a snake which lay coiled up a little under my nose, having almost put my hand on him; but as he gave me the friendly warning, I thanked him and retreated...We raised up to a high point south of the Narrows, where we got a view of the Great Salt Lake and this valley, and each of us, without saying a word to the other, instinctively as if by inspiration, raised our hats from our heads and then swinging our hats shouted, Hosanna to God and the Lamb!" (Discourse on the Utah Pioneers, reported by George F. Gibbs)

The first wagons moved downstream toward the mouth of Emigration Canyon. Since the route over Donner Hill was too rough, the Mormons spent four hours cutting a mile-and-a-half of new road around the north end of Donner Hill to rejoin the Donner tracks on the high ground south of present Hogle Zoo. Shortly after noon, they followed the Donner tracks on the south bank of Emigration Creek in a southwesterly direction into the valley. After the creek took a turn to the north the group continued west to a campsite in the vicinity of present-day 500 East between 1700 and 2100 South. They camped on the north bank of Parley's Creek that night. Thomas Bullock noted in his journal:

"...when we turned round the hill to the right-& came in full view of the Salt Lake in the distance, with its bold hills on its Islands towering up in bold relief behind the Silvery Lake- a very extensive valley burst upon our view, dotted in 3 or 4 places with Timber- I should expect the valley to be about 30 miles long & 20 miles wide-I could not help shouting "hurra, hurra, hurra, theres my home at last"-the Sky is very clear, the air delightful & all together looks glorious; the only drawback appearing to be the absence of timber- but there is an Ocean of Stone in the Mountains, to build Stone houses, & Walls for fencing- if we can only find a bed of Coal we can do well, & be hidden up in the Mountains unto the Lord- we descended a gentle sloping table land to a lower level where the Soil & grass improve in appearance- as we progressed down the Valley, small Clumps of dwarf Oak, & Willow appear, the Wheat Grass grows 6 or 7 feet high, many different kinds of grass appear, some being 10 or 12 feet high- after wading thro' thick grass for some distance, we found a place bare enough for a Camping ground, the grass being only knee deep, but very thick; we camped on the banks of a beautiful little stream which was surrounded by very tall grass." (Thomas Bullock, Thursday, July 22, 1847, LDS Church Archives)

Also on this day, Orson Pratt and eight others conducted an extensive survey of the area to determine the best location for planting crops. A site about two miles north of this campsite was chosen. From William Clayton's journal:

"Agreeable to President Young's instructions, Elder Pratt, accompanied by George A. Smith, John Brown, Joseph Mathews, John Pack, Orrin Porter Rockwell, and J. C. Little started on this morning on horses to seek out a suitable place to plant some potatoes, turnips, etc., so as to preserve the seed at least...There is an extensive, beautiful, level looking valley from here to the lake which I should judge from the numerous deep green patches must be fertile and rich...The intervening valley appears to be well supplied with streams, creeks and lakes, some of the latter are evidently salt...There is but little timber in sight anywhere and that is mostly on the banks of creeks and streams of water which is about the only objection which could be raised in my estimation to this being one of the most beautiful valleys and pleasant places for a home for the Saints which could be found...The land looks dry and lacks rain, but the numerous creeks and springs must necessarily tend to moisten it much." (William Clayton Journal, July 22, 1847, LDS Church Archives)

On this morning, the group backtracked about a mile to avoid the very tall grass and marshy areas where Parley's, Emigration, and Red Butte Creeks converged. Then Pratt guided the wagons north from about 11th East and 17th South through present Liberty Park ending between 3rd and 4th South and between Main and State Street to an area on the east bank of the south branch of City Creek. Plowing was begun at once and that evening Pratt dedicated the land as a place for the future home of the saints. William Clayton stated:

"The brethren immediately rigged three plows and went to plowing a little northeast of the camp; another party went with spades, etc., to make a dam on one of the creeks so as to throw the water at pleasure on the field, designing to irrigate the land in case rain should not come sufficiently." (William Clayton Journal, July 23, 1847, LDS Church Archives)

This is the day which Brigham Young arrived in the valley. When he "emerged from the mouth of Emigration Canyon he lifted himself up in his bed and peered out of his wagon which overlooked the valley, the cottonwoods on the creek and the camp on the east side of the creek in fair view", President Young said "that this was the place he had seen long since in vision; it was here he had seen the tent settling down from heaven and resting, and a voice said unto him, Here is the place where my people Israel shall pitch their tents." (Erastus Snow discourse delivered July 25, 1880) The location where he made his famous statement was not determined until 1915. At that time a group including George Albert Smith, B.H. Roberts, and Andrew Jenson placed a temporary marker in the spot where This is the Place Monument now stands. There was much rejoicing in the group when Brigham Young first arrived.

On July 26, nine men were chosen to accompany Brigham Young and explore such places as the warm springs (present-day location of Wasatch Plunge) and Ensign Peak.

On July 27, Amasa M. Lyman, Sam Brannan, Rodney Badger, and Roswell Stevens arrived into the valley on horseback and probably made their own trail to the camp on City Creek.

On July 29, a large group of the Mormon Battalion entered the valley. They apparently turned north at the canyon mouth, then headed west, crossing Red Butte Creek and leaving the bench near what is now 9th South and 13th East. From there the trail turned northwest to the camp on City Creek.

Later the main immigration route into the city from Emigration Canyon shifted north to the head of 3rd South which became known as Emigration Street.

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