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This is the place for facts you might not know about Mormon pioneers

First Published Jul 23 2014 06:43PM      Last Updated Jul 23 2014 08:15 pm

This engraving depicts a scene of a Mormon handcart company passing through a town somewhere on their trek west to Salt Lake City.

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.

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.

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.



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