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photos from Tribune file and courtesy Utah State Historic Society and Library of Congress Top row, L-R, are seen Brigham Young, Orson Pratt and Erastus Snow. The three women are Ellen Kimball, Harriet Young and Clarissa Young. Pratt and Snow became the first two members of Brigham Young's wagon train to enter the Salt Lake Valley when they arrived as scouts on July 21, 1847. The three women were the only three women in that first wagon train. The bottom photo shows a wagon train on the Mormon Trail near Mountain Dell during a re-enactment of the trek sometime around 1912. The photo is erroneously captioned as being from July 1847.
This is the place for facts you might not know about Mormon pioneers

Were they loyal Americans? How many pulled handcarts? How did they die? How many women were there?

First Published Jul 23 2014 03:30 pm • Last Updated Jul 23 2014 08:15 pm

You may be yawning at the thought of yet another Pioneer Day parade celebrating the heroic arrival of beleaguered Mormons into the Salt Lake Valley.

You’ve heard of the LDS prophet declaring on July 24 that "this is the right place." The tragic Willie and Martin handcart companies, trapped in snowy Wyoming. The crickets and sea gulls.

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But there’s a lot you might not know about Mormon pioneers and their historic trek.

We asked several historians to share little-known facts about the day, the people and the history for you to ponder as the colorful floats and trumpeting bands pass you by:

Who were the first Mormon pioneers to enter the Salt Lake Valley and was it on July 24?

Paul Reeve, University of Utah • Orson Pratt and Erastus Snow, scouts for the first group, arrived July 21. The first Mormon pioneers followed, on July 22, camping in the area of present day 1700 South and 500 East. The next day, they moved north and began plowing and planting. Brigham Young arrived July 24. His declaration that day was apparently a confirmation of a decision already made.

Were LDS pioneers loyal Americans?

Reeve • No, they were fleeing the United States. When the Mormons arrived in the Great Basin, they were actually arriving in northern Mexico. The U.S. war with Mexico was ongoing. When some Mormons first learned of that war, they hoped Mexico would win. Within seven months of the Mormon arrival in the valley, the war ended, and Mexico ceded the land which the Mormons occupied to the United States; the Mormons found themselves once again on American soil.


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How many women were in the vanguard company?

Andrea Radke-Moss, Brigham Young University-Idaho • Three. Harriet Page Young, wife of Lorenzo Young, Ellen Sanders Kimball, wife of Heber C. Kimball, and Clarissa Decker Young, wife of Brigham Young. The latter two joined the company to take care of Heber’s wife, who was sick. But there were some women with the Mississippi company that joined the vanguard company at Fort Laramie . ... Also, don’t forget that there were women and children with the Mormon Battalion, which was on its way to California.

What were the most common causes of death along the trail?

Radke-Moss • Contrary to popular belief, deaths on the California, Santa Fe, Mormon and Oregon trails due to Indian attacks were rare, with just over 300 Euro-American deaths due to violent altercations with Native Americans over a 20-year period. For Mormons, it was even lower. Instead, the top three causes of death on the overland trails were trail accidents, disease and accidental shootings. It was common for migrants, especially children, to be bounced out of a wagon and have the wheels ride over a head or limbs. People often "walked and walked," according to the Mormon children’s song, simply because it was safer to do so, not because it was a hardship. Diseases, especially cholera and typhoid, resulted from people cooking, drinking and washing in the same rivers that they used for bathing and personal waste disposal. As the season got later into July and August, rivers slowed down and were reduced to a trickle, making these disease outbreaks even worse. And, finally, accidental shootings, including self-inflicted, were so common that many train leaders banned the carrying of loaded weapons close to camps.

What percentage of the pioneers pulled handcarts?

Reeve • Handcarts were the least typical way of arriving in the valley, and the 1847 pioneers did not pull them. There were 10 total handcart companies that migrated between 1856 and 1860, bringing around 3,000 Mormons of the roughly 70,000 Mormon pioneers to the Great Basin, only about 5 percent of the overall migration. The vast majority of Mormon pioneers arrived in wagon companies. The irony is that in the 21st century at Martin’s Cove, Wyo., there are some weeks in which more people pull handcarts in re-enactment "treks" than pulled handcarts in the entire 19th century combined.  

What happened to the handcart pioneers’ supplies when the people were rescued in 1856?

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