10 Little-Known Facts About the Pioneer Trek West


Today, we as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints celebrate our pioneer heritage. Stories will be told and heroes will be remembered—the bravery of the Saints at Winter Quarters, the sacrifice of the selfless young men on the banks of the Sweetwater, and the deep relief of Brother Brigham's famous declaration, "This is the right place. Drive on."

But not every detail of the pioneers' trek west is widely known. So with some help from The Mormon Book of Lists, we're providing you with this collection of little-known facts about the early Saints in hopes that you'll take some time to remember, celebrate, and thank God for the courageous men and women who came before us.

1. During John Taylor's mission to England, generous Saints in the area contributed over $2,000 in gold to help the pioneers in their journey. Brother Taylor brought that money to the Saints when he joined them in Winter Quarters.

2. The pioneers would measure the miles of their journey by tying a rag to a wagon wheel and assigning somebody to count the revolutions. But on April 19, 1847, William Clayton suggested a form of odometer that the Saints would use for the duration of their travels.

3. Pioneer companies communicated with those following by writing on posts and placing them prominently in the trail. Other methods included placing letters in improvised boxes or writing on sun-bleached buffalo skulls.

4. At Fort Laramie the Saints learned that an old nemesis was only slightly ahead of them on the trail: Lilburn W. Boggs, the governor of Missouri who had issued the infamous Extermination Order. Some 150 miles later the Saints caught up with Boggs and his fellow Missourians. In exchange for much-needed flour, meal, and bacon, the Saints ferried the Missourians across the Platte River.

5. The first two Latter-day Saints to enter the Salt Lake Valley were Orson Pratt and Erastus Snow. Using one horse between them, they rode down into the valley on July 21, 1847.

6. Orson Pratt made the initial survey of Salt Lake City. Beginning at the southeast corner of the Temple Block, he marked the city out into blocks of ten acres each.

7. The new colony suffered its first death on August 11, 1847, when 3-year-old Milton Therlkill drowned in City Creek. Four days later his parents were comforted with the birth of a daughter, the second child born in the valley. (The first was born August 9.)

8. To protect themselves from Indians, in August 1847 the pioneers began to build a stockade three blocks south and three west of the Temple Block. The fort’s east wall was built of logs, with the other three walls being built of adobe. The Saints built their first homes within the walls of the fort.

9. Brigham Young named the new city “the Great Salt Lake City, of the Great Basin of North America.” Heber C. Kimball named the river running to the west of the settlement “the Western Jordan.”

10. President Brigham Young and the Apostles stayed in the valley for only one month before beginning the return trek to Winter Quarters on August 26.

Lead photo from iStock

For a hilarious and heartwarming family movie, check out Trek: The Movie.

Trek follows a young Mormon teenager named Tom and his friends on their handcart journey. Along the way, they try to smuggle in unsanctioned food, battle sibling rivalry, encounter a "special ops" Young Men leader, match wits with a Twinkie-loving skunk, and ponder doctrinal brain teasers like, "Do General Authorities go to PG-13 movies?" But, when they encounter unexpected trouble, their faith is tested much like that of their pioneer ancestors. Whether you've been on a trek or not, your family will laugh along and ultimately be inspired as you enjoy this delightful film.

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