book “The 1851 Mormon Trail Emigration and Captain Morris
Phelps” will soon enter its second printing. Copies can be
ordered by contacting the author, Bruce R. Peterson at:
1333 Compton Rd
388-2185 cell (preferred)
(801) 447-4571 home
$42 plus $5 shipping and handling (shipping waived if picked
up in person)
Orders must be received by June 15, 2010. This is expected
to be the final printing.
The price is the actual cost of making the printing and no
profit is included.
book is comprehensively researched and documented. It is
printed with color graphics on archive quality paper and
hard bound in a leather cover, making it heirloom quality.
It is well over 200 pages in length. Many of the graphics
are original. The story of this emigration has never before
been recorded in its entirety. These pioneers took an
alternate route, the “Elkhorn Route”, which has never before
been identified in detail.
Included below are the Preface and the Introduction from the
book, as well as a sample graphic.
author began this work with the intention of developing a
chapter for a book on the history of his ancestor, Morris
The story was more involved than anticipated and that one
chapter grew into an entire book.
1851, Morris was a captain of a wagon train, leading Mormon emigrants
from Kanesville, Iowa (near Winter Quarters) to Salt
Lake City, Utah. Few written accounts have come to light
from persons directly involved with his wagon train company.
Fortunately, the author was able to piece together a puzzle
from accounts written by persons who were in nearby trains
that frequently interacted with Phelps.
To discover how the pieces fit, and to write the history of
the Phelps Company (wagon train), it was necessary to
reconstruct nearly the entire 1851 Mormon emigration. Many
key pioneer writings do not identify precise time and place
for events, although some do. The author put the pieces of
the puzzle together by comparing combinations of matching
geographic descriptions, comparing matching event
descriptions, evaluating time lapses, calculating rates of
travel, evaluating maps for potential camping places or
water crossings, comparing accounts of weather to get dates,
etc. The accounts are often ambiguous but processes of
elimination of alternatives led the author to be able to
answer many questions. One key question answered was the
path of the alternate route taken by the 1851 pioneers. The
result of the pieced together puzzle is this book,
containing accounts and maps that detail the emigration.
work took on a life of its own, much larger than intended
for a chapter of a book. Consequently, the history told
herein comprehensively covers the entire 1851 emigration,
while maintaining an emphasis on the Morris Phelps Company.
author chose to let the pioneers tell their own story as
much as practicable, relying heavily on quotations. He added
structure, narrative, maps, figures, and tables in order 1)
to integrate the numerous accounts into a single record, 2)
to place the events in historical perspective, 3) to help
resolve inconsistencies among the accounts, and 4) to make
the story more readable.
readability of the narrative, the author refers to companies
by the last name of their captain; e.g., “Phelps reached
the valley …” means “the Morris Phelps Company reached the
valley …” Likewise for readability and context, writers in a
company are referred to by their captain’s name; e.g.,
“Cordon wrote …” instead of the more cumbersome “Levi Hammon in
the Cordon Company wrote …” The specific writer (Levi Hammon in
this case) can be determined from the cross references. On
the other hand, when referring to a captain as a specific
person rather than as his company, his full name is used;
e.g., “Morris Phelps and his family were among …” Finally
for readability, each quotation begins with the bracketed
name of the company to which the writer belongs and ends
with a cross reference to a citation in the References
section, such as:
... and on Sunday held meetings and rested. Llewellyn &
Catherine and family would lead the camp in singing songs.
Following the martyrdom in 1844 of the Prophet Joseph Smith and
his Brother, Hyrum, Brigham Young became the leader of the
Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, known as the
Mormons. In 1846, due to increasing hostilities against the
Mormons, Young led a migration of epic proportions from the
city they had built, Nauvoo, Illinois, to a city they would
build, Salt Lake City, Utah. They called their new home
Zion, reflecting their belief in being called of God to
gather. Tens of thousands made this migration prior to the
completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. They
moved mostly by oxen train, herding their cattle along with
them. Due to difficult traveling conditions and complex
logistics the migration could not be completed in a single
year. The vanguard pioneers reached Salt Lake City in 1847,
but many would not arrive until years later. A large and
continuing number of new converts from the eastern United
States and from Europe added to the stream of
Mormon emigrants. Most of the Nauvoo refugees completed the
trip by 1852 with converts continuing thereafter.
Illinois mobs drove
the entire population of Mormons from their Nauvoo homes in
1846, the Mormons needed to establish temporary communities
along their exodus trails. Thus temporary communities sprung
up across Iowa, with many of those being near the
Missouri River in the western part of the state. These
western communities were centered on Kanesville (later
called Council Bluffs), Iowa. During the winter of 1846-47,
before the initial push to what would become Utah, the
primary village was called Winter Quarters, located on the
western bank of the Missouri River in Indian Territory
(present day Omaha, Nebraska). Those who did not go on to
Utah in 1847 or 1848, moved back across the river from
Winter Quarters to Kanesville and to surrounding
communities. There they prepared wagons, raised stock, grew
food crops and obtained provisions, helping their brethren
and sisters while waiting their turn to go on to Utah.
his family were among those who remained in Kanesville .
He remained partly because of his poverty from being driven
by the religious persecution heaped upon the
Mormons multiple times: from Independence, Missouri in 1833,
from Clay County, Missouri in 1835, from Far West Missouri
in 1838, and finally from Nauvoo in 1846. He also remained
partly by assignment to prepare the way for others, as well
as for his own family. He helped the preparation by building
wagons. By 1851, the Church leaders were pushing to bring
the rest of the Saints in from the Kanesville area. Later in
the summer, the First Presidency issued a directive to all
those remaining to come to Salt Lake City, and in 1852
nearly all did.
Beginning in 1849, after the discovery of gold in
California, the number of immigrants along the Mormon/Oregon/California
trail increased dramatically, as did the associated commerce
in Kanesville. This both helped and hurt those remaining in
Kanesville. The increased commerce helped them to pull out
of extreme poverty, but it also caused competition for
scarce resources and drove prices up, making it hard for the
Mormons to continue their journey to the west.
spring of 1851, Mormons had
developed the trail between Kanesville and Salt Lake City
relatively well as compared with the initial 1847 migration.
They understood camping places, fuel locations, and trail
obstacles. They had mitigated and prepared for problem spots
on the trail. Morris Phelps and hundreds of others were
ready to go.
plans took a dramatic upset when before most of them could
get started, an unusually wet spring forced them to alter
their route. The Elkhorn River has
its confluence with the Platte River some 19 miles west of
the abandoned Winter Quarters. In previous years, the
Mormons had built a ferry on the Elkhorn to get the
emigrants across, but in 1851 the water swelled to a deluge,
up to 16 miles wide. Thus at the direction of Apostle Orson
Hyde, who was directing operations from Kanesville, many of
the companies (wagon trains) decided to "head the Horn",
meaning to go northwesterly up the Elkhorn River on trails
that were neither established nor charted (refer to Figure
2). The route eventually worked back to the original
Mormon Trail in the middle of Nebraska. For purposes of this
history, the author has dubbed this route as the
“Elkhorn Route”, and the route as described by William
Clayton  as the “Main Trail”.
did not know how horrible the Elkhorn Route would
be. The stage was set for a migration as dramatic as any
that ever crossed the plains by oxen company. This journey
to Zion is a story of trials: of suffering from
Indian depredations; of the horror death by stampedes, by
lightning, by illness, by childbirth, and by murder; of the
extreme burden on man and beast of sandhill
desert crossings; and of the consternation of revolts
against captains. On the other hand it is a story of glory,
of spiritual growth, of endurance, of valor, and of the
immense joy of reuniting with the Saints in Zion.