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Mormon Handcart

Historic Sites

Time Line: U.S. Migration, Mormon Emigration, and the Handcart Experiment

1805

Lewis and Clark expedition reaches the Columbia River and the Pacific Ocean. Their reports spark further interest in Oregon Territory.

1820

During the 1820s and 1830s, trappers and adventurers establish a route for freight wagons across South Pass to Fort Hall in Oregon Territory (present-day Idaho).

1836

The Whitman-Spalding missionary party becomes the first immigrant wagon train to travel from Independence, Missouri, to Fort Hall. Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Hart Spalding are considered the first European-American women to cross South Pass.

1840

Robert Newell and Joseph L. Meek lead the first immigrants to the Columbia River by wagon, opening the final leg of the Oregon Trail.

1841

The Bartleson-Bidwell wagon party travels from Missouri to California. They pioneer a route along the northern shore of the Great Salt Lake. Companies in later years establish trails north of this route.

1842

A second organized wagon train travels from Missouri to Oregon; John C. Frémont publishes inviting accounts of lands wide open to settlement.

1843

Nearly 1,000 immigrants travel overland to either Oregon or California. Numbers continue to increase over the next decade.

1846

The California-bound Donner-Reed party blazes a trail into the Salt Lake Valley before becoming trapped by snow in the Sierra Nevadas.

1846

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints begin an exodus from Nauvoo but are forced to establish “Winter Quarters” along the Missouri River; the Mormon Battalion is enlisted to serve in the U.S. war with Mexico.

1847

More than 6,600 immigrants travel west, including 2,200 Latter-day Saints.

1847

Brigham Young and the advance company of Latter-day Saints reach the Salt Lake Valley. They establish the Mormon Trail, which largely follows the north side of the Platte River. At least 12 additional organized companies reach the valley that year.

1848

Gold at Sutter’s Mill sparks California gold fever.

1848

Members of the Mormon Battalion open wagon roads from California to Salt Lake City. The route over Carson Pass becomes the preferred wagon route to California.

1849

Nearly 27,000 immigrants travel west, most bound for the California goldfields.

1849

The Perpetual Emigrating Fund is launched, providing Latter-day Saints loans to pay for immigration expenses, with the promise that they will repay the loans forward to other immigrants gathering to Zion.

1849

Brigham Young conceptualizes handcart travel after learning of a California-bound immigrant who pushed his belongings in a wheelbarrow.

1850

More than 52,000 individuals immigrate west. Thousands die as a result of cholera.

1852

Largest migration year; more than 60,000 people of other faiths travel to California and Oregon.

1852

Largest Latter-day Saint migration year; 10,000 Latter-day Saints travel to Utah.

1855

Overland immigrant travel to Oregon and California drops to around 2,000 because of a new route to the Pacific coast through Panama.

1855

Nearly 5,000 Latter-day Saints immigrate to Utah.

1855

Brigham Young stipulates travel by handcarts for those using the Perpetual Emigrating Fund to relieve the fund’s debt burden.

1856

More than 2,400 Latter-day Saints immigrate to Utah, most by handcart.

1856

Five Latter-day Saint companies are the first to use handcarts for immigration. Three of these companies (Ellsworth, McArthur, and Bunker) arrive with few problems. The Willie and Martin handcart companies become stranded and need to be rescued.

1857

The sixth and seventh handcart companies (Evans and Christiansen) reach Salt Lake City with few problems.

1858

Latter-day Saints postpone travel to Utah as they await the outcome of the U.S. Army’s march to the territory. The situation is resolved without violent conflict.

1859

The eighth handcart company (Rowley) travels to Salt Lake City with little difficulty.

1860

The last two handcart companies (Robinson and Stoddard) reach Salt Lake City; only one person dies along the way.

1861

A down-and-back system is implemented to bring Latter-day Saint immigrants to Utah, eliminating the need for both handcart and traditional wagon companies. Over 3,000 Latter-day Saints come to Utah, 1,700 in down-and-back wagons.

1868

The down-and-back system is used to gather people to Utah for the last time.

1869

The transcontinental railroad allows immigrants to travel west by train cheaper, faster, and more safely than by wagon.