The Mormon Trail

. . . across Van Buren County, Iowa


Part I

The Mormon Trail was traversed by thousands of Latter Day Saints beginning in 1846. The lead parties came in February to improve roads and clear campsites for those coming later. Van Buren County was partly settled at this time. Farmington was founded in 1833 and Keosauqua in 1839. Bonaparte was described as "40 to 50 houses and a fine flour mill."

The first parties came too early in the season for grass to be growing that would provide graze for their stock. They bought grain and hay for their stock, flour, beans and other supplies for themselves. Many earned money by splitting rails and shucking corn.

The spring mud in Iowa made traveling difficult. Crossing creeks and sloughs often required unloading the wagons, crossing empty, packing goods by hand and then reloading.

Brigham Young's party entered the county at Farmington from the south, traveled along the northeast side of the Des Moines River, camped at Reed's Creek, crossed the river down stream from the current bridge at Bonaparte, traveled southwest three or four miles across the Vernon Prairie and then angled northwesterly toward Lebanon.

Later parties took a more northerly route along the Dragoon Trail (about where highway 16 is now), the old Military Road southwesterly into Keosauqua, crossing the river at Ely's Ford and on to Richardson's Point Camp, where they spent several days. Later still the river crossing was made at Pittsburg.

Pitt's Brass Band, that traveled with the Brigham Young group, played for local merchants in Farmington and Keosauqua. Being requested to do so, the band played several concerts in the court room at the Van Buren County Courthouse in Keosauqua, while they were camped at Richardson's Point. In return the band received supplies and money which helped with their expenses.

The following are excerpts from the journal of the historian with Brigham Young's party, except as noted:

"Tuesday, March 3, 1846: Passed through Farmington and camped three to four miles up river on ten acres that had been cleared and fenced by the pioneers (In each company, those who went ahead, clearing roads and establishing camping sites and hiring out as laborers, were known as the 'Pioneers'). Several wagons damaged by bad roads and heavy loading. Weather warm and pleasant."

"Wednesday, March 4: Forty three degrees this morning. Most of the party laid over for rest and repairs. William Pitt's brass band was invited to play in Farmington this evening."

"Thursday, March 5: Crossed the river at Bonaparte late this morning. Ground thawing and bad roads. Made twelve miles. Camped seven miles West on Indian creek."

"Thursday, March 5: Sister Markham and I are nicely seated in an ox wagon on a chest with a brass kettle and the soap box for our footstools, thankful that we are so well off. The day is fine. We traveled two miles on the bank of the river and crossed at a little place called Bonaparte. I slung a tin cup on a string, and drew some water which was a very refreshing draught. After crossing the river the road was thro' timber and intolerably muddy, the banks on this side rising almost perpendicularly. The teams had hard work to draw the loads as we ascended hill after hill." (Eliza R. Snow's journal)

"Friday, March 6: Rested and regrouped."

"Saturday, March 7: President Young's company made sixteen miles to Richardson's Point (Located three miles West of Lebanon, near county road J40). Fifty five miles from Nauvoo. The lead wagons have averaged nearly eight miles per day."

"Tuesday, March 10: Intentions were to travel on today, but too wet and muddy. The band played in Keosauqua this evening."

"Tuesday, March 10: Spent the morning preparing for the Concert and about 1 o'clock p.m. started in company with the Brass Band for Keosauqua and arrived at 3 o'clock and being requested we went through town and played some.....we went to the court house to prepare for the Concert. At 7 o'clock the house was crowded and we commenced playing and singing till about 9 1/2. The audience seemed highly pleased, and gave loud applause. About the close one of the citizens got up and said it was the wish of many that we should repeat the concert the following evening, and he took a vote of all who wished us to go again. The vote was unanimous." (taken from the journals of William Clayton, edited by George D. Smith)

"Wednesday, March 11: The band returned to Keosauqua this evening by invitation."

"Tuesday, March 17: James Monroe Tanner died at five A.M. this morning."

"Wednesday, March 18: Edwin Little died this morning.

"Thursday, March 19: The company traveled on West."

Mormon Trail - Part II