Thursday, December 09, 2010

Mormon Trail Passes Through Lucas County

This is another article written by John G. Pierce.  It appeared in the Herald Patriot on January 24, 1991.

     The Mormons started their westward trek on February 6, 1846 from Nauvoo, Ill.  Led by Brigham Young, this Mormon Pioneer Trail crossed 11 counties in southern Iowa.
     This first rail across southern Iowa is now in the process of being recognized by the National Park Service as a Pioneer Historic Trail.
     Finding the initial trail to be rough in nature, the Mormons who followed were advised to try a more northerly route.  This is when the Mormon exodus rolled through Lucas County.
     Starting near Iconium in Appanoose County, the northern trail took off in a northwesterly direction, reaching Lucas County about two miles north of the Wayne County line.  It should be noted that the area near Iconium was then known as Dodge's Point, and previously, Ballard's Point.  The northern route cut through the southwest tip of Monroe County.
     The accompanying map shows not only the main route through Lucas County, but two other trails to the north and the northeast.  There is also a short branch trail which runs south of Russell.
     The northeast trail may have led to a Mormon settlement just east and north of Attica in Marion County.
     The band of Mormons that settled near Attica left Nauvoo on January 20, 1846.  They arrived near the present town of Attica in March of that year, where around 100 Mormons stayed and planted crops.
     It was of this last settlement that a photograph was said to have been unearthed in the 1850's.  This photograph was said to show the golden tablets that Joseph Smith claimed to have found in New York in 1830.  This photograph could be seen at the Iowa State Historical Building in Des Moines, according to curator E.R. Harlon, as reported by a 1930's Knoxville newspaper.
     The other norther trail crossed into Marion County, just west of Newbern and then passed into Warren County.
     The main trail in Lucas County was used by the Mormons from 1846 to 1852.  However, many others were also using this trail.  Early settlers of the bounty and emigrants on their way to points west also followed the trail.
     This main trail went in a northwesterly direction to Russell after entering Lucas County.  The trail then went mostly west to Chariton, passing the site of the current airport before heading southwest towards Last Chance.
     The trail then heads toward Smyrna in Clarke County.  At Smyrna a trail heads south to Garden Grove in Decatur County.
     At Garde Grove, much work and restoration has been accomplished on the Mormon settlement at that site.  Paul and Karla Gunzenhauser have worked several years identifying grave and cabin sites.  Portions of the old trail can also be seen.  It is well worth a drive to see the wonderful results of their work.
     The trail in Lucas County was mentioned in the 1847 government surveyors notes.  These notes mark the exact location where the trail crossed section lines.  In between the section lines, one has to use their imagination and common sense to "see" the route.
     This writer and Ernie Edwards with map in hand, retraced the route across Lucas County.  We retraced by driving in a pickup on the closed road, but got a good feel of how the trail crossed Lucas County.
     One amazing fact was the ridge that crosses Lucas County.  I had the impression that wagon trains had to go up and down hills, just to cross the county.
     The only true "hill" and "valley" was southwest of the airport in section 33 and 34 of Whitebreast Township.  This area is known as Grave Hollow.
     A Mormon reportedly died of a broken neck, sustained in a fall from a crowded wagon.  Verle Reynolds tells of a nearby cemetery that could be his place of burial.
     There is a branch of the trail that starts near Greenville in Washington Township.  This trail was probably used after 1849 and heads west-northwest, joining the main trail near Salem Cemetery.
     Surveyors notes on this branch of the trail do not exist.  My other trail hunting partner, Charlie Turner of Columia and I "mapped" it out one evening.  Charlie used to run the Gamble's Store in Chariton, which qualified him to hunt for trails.
     Following some vague directions and a little common sense, one could find the probable route.
     This last trail crosses Honey Creek, west of the old settlement of Greenville.  It is believed that two or three Mormon children are buried on the hill just west of Honey Creek.
     N.W. Kendall recalled a 1911 Chariton leader article, telling about 15 or 20 Mormon wagons camped in the area for several weeks.  The graves remained as the wagons treked on westward.
     Chariton Point was the name given the settlement located on the northern most bend of the Chariton River.
     Six Mormon families totaling about thirty people elected to settle here in the fall of 1846.  That first winter, these hardy Mormons wintered in lean-to shacks along the Chariton River.  They cut elm and lynn trees for their cattle to feed on.
     In the spring of 1847, these Mormon families moved from the banks of the Chariton River to where the timber meets the prairie.  There, six log shanties were erected.  A rock now marks the general location of the site.
     This rock was one of two such markers erected by the Daughters of the American Revolution, in cooperation with the Historic Department of Iowa in 1917.  The other marker rock is on the lawn of the Lucas County Courthouse in Chariton.
     The Mormons who settled at Chariton Point sold the land to Thomas Brandon in June of 1847.  Brandon relates how he tracked three heifers for their claim.
     Brandon further related how the Mormons livestock hadn't survived the winter very well on the bark and small branches of the elm and lynn trees.
     No one can say for sure how many Mormons crossed Lucas County on their westward trek.  One early settler recalled counting as many as 300 wagons in a single day in 1851.
     Other early settlers noted that 100 to 150 wagons being seen was an every day occurrence.  If there were five Mormons to a wagon, that would mean between 500 and 750 Mormons a day were passing westward.
     Henry Giffinger noted that 25,000 to 40,000 Mormons probably passed through Lucas County.  That figure would probably be hard to dispute.
     As of this writing, only two names of Mormon settlers at Chariton Point have surfaced.  Thomas Brandon relates how he did business with a Mr. McGuff when he traded for the land at Chariton Point.
     One David Rowland, a much married Mormon, was supposed to have wintered at Chariton Point.  The body of a Lafyette Sherwood lies in the Last Chance Cemetery.  Sherwood was a Mormon who reportedly died in 1851 after being kicked by an oxen, about one mile west of the Goshen Church.     Other Mormon burial sites are supposedly located at Salem and the old cemetery at Chariton Point.  There are undoubtedly other burials along the Mormon Trail, which has been described as the longest cemetery in the world.
     The above map shows the route taken by the Morman travellers, from Nauvoo, Ill., to settlements in the western United States.  The solid black line shows the main route taken by most of the parties.  The dotted lines show branches of the trail, possibly to temporary settlements in Iowa.


rdwleonard said...

Thanks for the post! Fascinating. Is this the John Pierce from Columbia?


Bob Leonard

Lynne said...

Yes John Pierce does live in Columbia.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone know how big Last Chance was. I live there now and just south about quarter of a mile of the trail. Any info whould be great. thanks!!

Lynne said...

Jeff, visit the following website for more information on Last Chance -

Post a Comment