The path the Mormons took to reclaim their garden from the desert of the Utah territory was rocky and violent. Difficulties plagued them wherever they went, be they from dissenting factions from within or from persecution visited on them by the outside world. Nevertheless, the Mormons did manage to arrive in a cohesive group in the Great Salt Lake Basin in 1848 under the leadership of Brigham Young, sucessor to Joseph Smith, First Prophet and founder of Mormonism.


Brigham Young

The first cohesive Mormon community was in Kirtland, Ohio. One observer commented that Kirtland "presented the appearance of a modern religious Mecca. Like Eastern pilgrims [the Mormons] came full of zeal for their new religion. They came in crude vehicles, on horseback, on foot. They came almost any way, filling on their arrival every house, shop and barn to the utmost capacity." Unfortunately, Kirtland was something of a failure; although Smith sought to institute his plan of a communal economy, the financial panic of 1837 as well as the fact that many of the new Mormons were indigent and thus unable to contribute divided the new town between those who believed in Smith's entirely self-sufficient kindom on earth and those who believed the prophet should merely concern himself with religious matters.

A sister Mormon community to Kirtland had been simultaneously established in Jackson County, Missouri. This group came immediately under fire from their non-Mormon neighbors for attempting to build a "temporal kingdom or government...not...subject to the laws of the state." Instead, the Missourians believed, the Mormons would "make their own laws, have their own civil officers to execute them, Joseph, the prophet, being dictator, aided by revelation and his cabinet or council." This perception of the Mormon plan was not that far off the mark, and clearly it was incompatible with the competitive, free-market sway of the times. Thus, in 1834, the Mormons of Jackson County were forced to flee their homes and land to escape the violence of the local Missourians.

Joseph Smith attempted to take this matter to court and was rebuffed; taking matters into his own hands, he organized a militia in Kirtland called Zion's Camp and marched to Jackson Country. There, he wisely decided that the situation was beyond repair. With Kirtland falling apart and the Jackson County Mormons displaced, Smith decided to reconvene the church in Caldwell County, Missouri. This also raised the ire of local Missourians (who had presumably been aware of the skirmishes in Jackson County), and they attacked soon after the Mormons' arrival. About seventy-five Mormons and a group of local people engaged in the Battle of Crooked River on October 25th, 1838. On October 30th, "a large company of armed men, on horses" attacked a group hiding at Haun's Mill; seventeen Mormon men and two boys were massacred, and with the encouragement of Missouri's governor, all Mormons were driven from the state.

The winter of 1839 found the Saints taking refuge in Commerce, Illinois. Renamed Nauvoo, by 1844 the town became a thriving haven for the Mormon community with a population of twelve thousand.


Nuavoo
Mormons were told this was a translation of "Beautiful" from Hebrew.

However, Smith realized the encroachment of the Illinois government on Nauvoo would only grow more insistent and would ultimately limit his power in the politically and socially discrete kingdom he had created. He began to look elsewhere for land; at the same time, Smith sought to gain even greater control of the population in Nauvoo, silencing dissenters and instituting martial law. Meanwhile, the antagonistic pressure from the local non-Mormons grew exponentially. All came to a head with Smith's arrest and subsequent murder at the hands of a mob in Carthage, Illinois.

Smith's successor, Brigham Young, clearly took Smith's murder as a sign that the Mormons needed to move on. He looked far to the west to the territories that had come under American control following the Mexican War. The saints conceived of their kingdom on earth as the State of Deseret; it covered parts of what is now California, Oregon, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming, and all of Nevada and Utah. The exodus from Nauvoo began in February of 1846. By September of that year, the evacuation was nearly complete. Many of the first group spent the winter of 1846-47 in "Winter Quarters" in Omaha, Nebraska where, according to Leonard Arrington, one in thirty of the party died. Early in April, the advance scouts left Winter Quarters, followed closely by most of the party that had survived the winter. On July 21, 1847, the first members of the "Camps of Isreal" reached the Salt Lake Valley.

The migration to Salt Lake City continued over a number of years and thousands of miles. Many converted Saints continued to arrive from Europe; boatloads landed in New York and either took wagons or handcarts provided by waiting Mormons across the country. Later, these immigrants would take the train to Missouri and walk with handcarts from there.

The arrival in Great Salt Lake City was, of course, only the beginning. The Mormons, now in the garden, had to build their kingdom of Zion literally from the ground up.