Mormon Pioneer Immigration Experience


The BYU Library has an excellent collection of primary and secondary sources which document and give life to the immigration experience of Mormons who traveled to their refuge in the Salt Lake Valley. These accounts cover the pioneer period from the 1846 Nauvoo, Illinois expulsion to the joining of the transcontinental railroad at Promontory, Utah, on May 10, 1869. During these years there were more than 250 organized companies which brought over 60,000 Mormons to Great Salt Lake City. The diaries, journals, letters, photographs, and art works which comprise the available primary collections help us better understand the human experience of the overland trail and, in many instances, sea voyages of individual immigrants and entire families.

Secondary Sources and General information

The experience of reading original diaries, journals, and letters will be greatly enhanced by placing these individual accounts into a broader perspective of both the Mormon immigration experience and the general western movement.

  • Bibliographies
    • Bashore, Melvin L., and Linda L. Haslam. The Mormon Pioneer Companies Crossing the Plains (1847-1868) Narratives: Guide to Sources in Utah Libraries and Archives. Rev. ed. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1989.
    • (For a more up-to-date and dynamically changing online version please click on the following URL for the “Mormon Pioneer Overland Travel, 1847-1868” URL.
    • Mattes, Merrill J. Platte River Road Narratives: A Descriptive Bibliography of Travel over the Great Central Overland Route to Oregon, California, Utah, Colorado, Montana, and Other Western States and Territories, 1812-1866. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988.
    • Mintz, Lannon W. The Trail: A Bibliography of the Travelers on the Overland Trail to California, Oregon, Salt Lake City, and Montana during the Years 1841-1864. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1987.
    • Mormon Immigration Index: . . . LDS Immigration Voyages to the United States for the Years 1840-1890. Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1999. [CD]
  • Context: the American Westward Movement
    • Faragher, John Mack. Women and Men on the Overland Trail. Yale Historical Publications Miscellany, 121. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1979.
    • Mattes, Merrill J. The Great Platte River Road: The Covered Wagon Mainline via Fort Kearney to Fort Laramie. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1969; reprint, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1987.
    • Myers, Sandra L. Westering Women and the Frontier Experience, 1800-1915. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1982.
  • The Mormon Trail
    • Allen, James B., and John W. Welch, eds. Coming to Zion. Provo: BYU Studies, Brigham Young University, 1997.
    • Hafen, LeRoy R., and Ann W. Hafen. Handcarts to Zion: The Story of a Unique Western Migration, 1856-60. The Far West and the Rockies Historical Series, vol. 14. Glendale, CA: Arthur H. Clark, 1960.
    • Kimball, Stanley B. Historic Resource Study: Mormon Pioneer National Historical Trail. Denver: National Park Service, 1991.
    • Madsen, Carol Cornwall. Journey to Zion: Voices from the Mormon Trail. Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1997.
    • Madsen, Susan Arrington. I Walked to Zion: True Stories of Young Pioneers on the Mormon Trail. Salt Lake City: Deseret book, 1994.
  • Primary Sources/Sample Collections
    • C. R. (Charles Roscoe) Savage (MSS 1424) Savage was one of the leading landscape and portrait photographers of the 19th Century Western United States; a charter member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; and one of the three photographers to “photodocument” the joining of the transcontinental railroad at Promontory, Utah on May 10, 1869. Born in England, his diaries include a vivid description of his ship voyage in 1855-1856 on the “John J. Boyd,” and his family’s crossing of the plains to the Salt Lake Valley in 1860 in the Franklin Brown Company.
    • Wright Family Letters, 1860-1884 (MSS 1450)A collection of correspondence between George Wright and his family during his immigration from England to Utah. Especially interesting are his letters detailing his handcart journey, 1860-1861, in the ninth handcart company. See the following URL and do a “call number search” MSS 1450, to see a more detailed outline of what is contained in this collection.
    • Trails of Hope: Overland Diaries and Letters, 1846-1869 (See URL Trails of Hope is a digital collection of original diaries of the overland trail experience penned by 49 diarists. The collection is includes trail diarists as follows: 23 Mormon Trail; 20 California Trail; three Montana trails; and three Oregon Trail.

This Popular Search Topics page offers only samplings of materials included in the 20th-21st Century Western and Mormon Americana Collection . To examine the complete collection inventory (and any other additional manuscript materials related to this topic), go to the L. Tom Perry Special Collections EAD Search page, and enter the term “Utah and Western American Literature.”

Last Modified: June 2, 2015

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