Country Facts and Folklore
By Andy Reddick


We Were Kind to the Visitors

In many cases, the Mormons made their own trails and forged their way slowly, but surely, from Nauvoo to Utah.

The Iowa History Project by Hubert L. Moeller begins by saying “the first important trail or route across southern Iowa was not made by Indians, traders, or settlers. It was made by a religious group of people who were on their way to a new home in the West because they had been driven from their former homes.” He of course, is referring to the Mormons.

This is a general blanket statement that is no doubt basically true. However, from the diary accounts of the people themselves, we learn that in Van Buren County they followed existing trails. These trails were originally the Indian trails that connected Indian villages at Iowaville, along Town Branch above Pittsburg, through the hills of Lacey-Keosauqua State Park, and to sites along the river near Bonaparte. Early settlers had followed some of these to locate their claims. Many were still no more than cow paths, while a few had been broadened by the ox-driven wagons of the pioneers.

Most of the Mormon migration was between 1846 and 1856. It has always been pointed out, however, that Mormons settled across the river in Iowa long before their famous migration. A tiny village called Nashville (sometimes called National) existed across the river from Nauvoo in Lee County as early as 1827. Many of the first settlers of Lee County, such as Dr. Isaac Galland, were of the Mormon faith. Some of them had taken Indian wives so that they could legally claim land in the “Half Breed Tract.” Galland hired Berryman Jennings from Nauvoo to teach his children in Iowa’s first school, opened in 1830. Nashville later became known as Galland in Dr. Galland’s honor.

About a decade later, Mormon leaders began sending emissaries into southeast Iowa in preparation for the anticipated sojourn to Utah. In 1839, Governor Lucas of Iowa Territory promised a Mormon elder that his people would be given all the rights and privileges of other people while they lived in this territory. Iowa was the first territory or state to treat the Mormons kindly, with respect. Some of the Mormons remained here and did not follow the pack to Utah.

The first Mormon emissaries that came to Van Buren County and other places built cabins and planted gardens, raising crops to help feed and finance those who followed.

In February, 1846, hundreds began to cross the Mississippi from Nauvoo, on the ice. Several thousand reached Bonaparte and Keosauqua where they camped and waited for the ice of the Des Moines River to go out so that they could safely cross and follow the trails across the remainder of the county.

By May of that year, 16,000 had crossed the Mississippi and an estimated 10,000 of them had passed through Van Buren County with 3,000 wagons and 30,000 head of livestock.

What is not always mentioned, is that the Mormons sent missionaries to Europe where hundreds of people were converted. Many wanted to go to Utah, but were broke. In the summer of 1856, about 1,300 foreign people (mostly from Great Britain) arrived in Iowa City. Church leaders had told them that although the railroad only went to Iowa City, they would be given hand carts there so that they could walk to Utah and carry their goods in these hand carts, which had to be pushed along the way. Most of them were unprepared for a 1,500 mile journey.  Iowa people were good to them and helped them all they could in their sojourn to reach their “promised land.”

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Contributed to the Van Buren Co. IAGenWeb Project by Andy Reddick