The Mormon Trail or the Mormon Pioneer Trail is the 1,300 mile route that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints traveled from 1846 to 1868. Today the Mormon Trail is a part of the U.S. National Trails System, called the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail.
The Mormon Trail starts from Nauvoo, Illinois, which was the major settlement of the Latter Day Saints from about 1839 to 1846, to Utah's Salt Lake City, which was settled by their leader Brigham Young and his followers beginning in 1847. From Council Bluffs, Iowa to Fort Bridger in the state of Wyoming, the Mormon trail follows much the same route(s) as the Oregon Trail and the California Trail; these two trails are collectively known as the Emigrant Trail.
The Mormon pioneer movement began in 1846 when, in the face of angry conflicts with neighbors, Brigham Young decided to leave and abandon Nauvoo and to re-establish a new home for the church in the Great Basin area. That year Young's followers crossed the state of Iowa. Along the way, some were assigned to establish smaller node settlements and to plant and harvest crops for later emigrants following. During the winter of 1846–47, the emigrants wintered in Iowa, and other nearby states, and the unorganized state territory that later became Nebraska, with the largest group staying in Winter Quarters, Nebraska. In the spring of 1847, Young led the followers to the Salt Lake Valley, which was then outside the boundaries of the United States and later became the state of Utah. During the first few years, the emigrants were mostly former occupants of the settlement of Nauvoo who were following Young's path to Utah. Later, the emigrants increasingly comprised of converts from the far off British Isles and Europe.
Once the Mormon settlers crossed the Missouri River they entered the plains indian territories and left the safety of the United States. At beginning, most plains tribes did not have a problem with a few settlers passing through their lands, however the many years of settlers moving through their native lands did cause conflict. Many became hostile and this is one of the reasons why the Mormon Trail dips north and south a lot and has alternate routes. If they could avoid any conflict with hostile indians they would travel the extra miles. In what is now Nebraska, Mormon Pioneers had to pass on many native tribal lands of the Omaha, Ponca, Pawnee, Lakota Sioux, Arapaho, and Cheyenne. Most of the indian treaties that were signed were not until the 1870s so any conflicts had to be settled without any U.S. local laws. The travel through the indian territories was mixed since the plains region was still not part of of United States and was not widely settled. Some of the friendlier tribes setup trading posts near the many settlements and forts along the trail to trade with the pioneers. However, the Mormon Pioneers and Oregon Trail travelers were still running the gauntlet from fort to fort until they got out of this territory to their destinations. Any tension or run-ins with local indians made the trip that much more dangerous. This is why there are so many large enclosed forts built along the trail. These include: Fort Kearney Nebraska, Fort Laramie Wyoming, Fort Casper Wyoming, and Fort Bridger Wyoming. Most of these forts were established around the 1840s to protect the many pioneers. Many unlucky pioneers that did encounter angry warrior scouts between forts had to barter their passage by trading flour, bacon, and items valuable to the indians.
The Mormon Trail landmarks and stops used to gauge their progress across the trail include: Sugar Creek, Richardson's Point, Chariton River Crossing, Locust Creek, Garden Grove, Mount Pisgah, Nishnabotna River Crossing, Grand Encampment, Kanesville, Winter Quarters, Elkhorn River, Platte River, Loup Fork, Fort Kearny, Confluence Point, Ash Hollow, Chimney Rock, Scotts Bluff, Fort Laramie, Upper Platte/Mormon Ferry, Red Butte, Sweetwater River, Independence Rock, Devil's Gate, Martin's Cove, Rocky Ridge, Rock Creek, South Pass, Green River/Lombard Ferry, Fort Bridger, Bear River, The Needles, Echo Canyon, Big Mountain, Golden Pass Road, Emigration Canyon, and Salt Lake Valley.