Following persecution by mobs and their neighbors, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also known as the Mormon Church) began leaving Nauvoo, Illinois, on February 4, 1846. They planned to leave in the spring, but persecution was so fierce that they began to leave early. They crossed the Missisippi and traveled a while before setting up camp.On March 1, a large group of Saints began leaving the camp. Brigham Young, the leader of the Mormon Church at the time, had hoped that he could get a group of Saints all the way to the Salt Lake Valley that year, but travel across Iowa was slow. There were heavy rains, and the ground thawed, causing it to be muddy and hard to drive through with oxen and heavy wagons. Because traveling was taking so long, food supplies began to run low, and because of the weather many were sick.
That first group finally reached the Missouri River on June 14th. The trek across Iowa took 131 days. (The first company to leave the following year traveled all the way to Salt Lake in just 111 days and the distance was twice what the Saints had just covered in crossing Iowa.) It was too late in the year to continue on to Salt Lake as Brigham Young had planned, and so a settlement was built where the Saints could spend the winter. This decision was also made because the U.S. Government (the same government that was allowing them to be driven out of their homes) had issued an order that 500 of the men join the army to help fight in the Mexican War. These became known as the Mormon Battalion. The settlement had to be built quickly, and roads were laid out followed by cabins. Until cabins were finished the Saints lived in tents, dugouts, or caves.
Living conditions were still poor even in the cabins, because there were few furnishings. Because there was not enough time to build all the cabins that were needed before winter came, most cabins housed two or more families. In December of 1846, there were more than 5,000 people in the settlement the Saints called Winter Quarters. There were only 700 log cabins and 83 sod houses.
Back in Nauvoo many Saints had stayed behind, because they did not have the money to get provisions for the journey or because they were sick. The mobs began to be angry with those that were still there and opened fire on Nauvoo with six canons on September 10, 1846. The attack continued for several days until an agreement was reached. Every Mormon was made to leave, except five men and their families who remained behind to sell property. Between five and six hundred Saints crossed the Mississippi and camped in Iowa. None of them had the proper provisions and many were sick. The Saints in Winter Quarters heard of their plight. Many crossed Iowa again to help them, and others began gathering money to send to them.
The living conditions caused many problems.
“Much sickness was caused by malaria-carrying mosquitoes from the river marshes and by the lack of fresh fruits and vegetables for good nutrition. More than six hundred people died and were buried in Winter Quarters that fall and winter. Most of the people in Winter Quarters became sick, and the few who did not become sick spent all their time taking care of others. Vilate Kimball, wife of Apostle Heber C. Kimball, went throughout the settlement bringing food and taking care of the sick. She was so busy helping others that she seldom took time to eat or take care of herself. Many people were healed through fasting and prayer and the willingness of others to serve and take care of them” (see The Saints Build Winter Quarters on lds.org).
The Mormon Church has now built a temple in Winter Quarters, a visitors’ center, and a memorial to those who gave their lives for the Church.