Beginning in February of 1846, the vanguard of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons) struggled across southern Iowa on the way to their "New Zion" in the Rocky Mountains.
The trek from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Kanesville (Council Bluffs), Iowa, tested the endurance of humans, animals, and equipment. The frozen landscape of an Iowa February soon turned into a thawing mixture of nearly impassable mud and muck. Their unshakable faith and determination sustained them, however, and thousands of men, women, and children arrived at the Missouri River, having completed this first portion of the journey west under extremely difficult conditions.
After wintering in the present-day Omaha/Council Bluffs district, the Saints continued across Nebraska and Wyoming to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Today, a marked 1,624 mile long auto tour route closely parallels this historic route.
The Mormon Pioneers struggled across the Iowa prairies, traversed the Great Plains of Nebraska, climbed the backbone of the continent at South Pass, Wyoming, and descended the Pacific slope of the Rocky Mountains to the Great Salt Lake Valley of Utah.
Deprived of their traditional homelands in the Great Lakes region, 2,500 Pottawattamie/Ottawa/Chippewa Indians were moved to southwest Iowa in 1837. About 450 of these refugees settled the village of Mi-au-mise (me-ah-mees) on the hillside to the west. They lived in this village near the Nishnabotna River until their final removal to Indian Country in northeast Kansas in 1847.
The Mormon Pioneers crossed the Nishnabotna River in the valley below you, in early June of 1846. At first, Indian leaders demanded payment for passing near their village and for the grass the emigrant's [sic] stock would eat. When the Mormons pointed out the utility of the bridge they had built, the Indians consented to let the wagons pass.
Some of the members of this exiled tribe were educated and cultivated people, and there were friendly sessions in which Indians and Mormons exchanged opinions about the United States.
These excerpts, selected from thousands of faded Pioneer journals, tell us how it was on the trail for the Mormon Pioneers, who in spite of daily toil, hardships, and death, left us a thousand windows into the past.
Orson Pratt, June 14, 1846
"...came on a few miles and passed an Indian village. Scores of their men, women and children collected around us as we were crossing the two forks of the Nishnabotna river."
William Clayton, June 10, 1846
"...arrived at their village, which is situated on a very beautiful ridge skirted by timber and beautiful rolling prairie. It seemed that the whole village turned out, men, women, and children, some on horses and many on foot. Their musicians came and played while we passed them...we were perfectly surrounded by Indians apparently from curiosity and friendship."
Eliza R. Snow, August 21, 1846
"About 5 in the eve, we came in sight of an Indian Settlement of about 100 wigwams of the Pottawattamie tribe. When [with]in about a mile of the first huts, we were amused to see them riding at full speed to meet us-bringing sacks of corn & beans which they were very anxious to sell for money or "swap" for meat baskets &c. They were all pretty well cloth'd & well decorated-talk English some-appear happy & very friendly.