Many of America’s pioneers can thank Mormons who plotted, organized and paved the wagon trail west in a mass migration in 1846. (About 4,000 people fled from Nauvoo, Illinois, where they had built a thriving community and church overlooking the Mississippi River.)
A well-done introductory movie with narrations from journals tells about increasing acts of violence that led to the arduous exodus. And it shares background: It took the Mormons from February to July to cover the 327 miles across Iowa. Along the way, the government asked for 400 men to fight in the Spanish-American War and granted land for winter quarters along the Platte River. Despite many being sick and exhausted, the Mormon families built 500 log homes and 83 sod houses for the winter.
The movie and museum exhibits explain the difficult challenges during their two-year journey west, which took them from Nebraska to Utah’s Salt Lake Valley. Check out a pioneer cabin, artwork illustrating the journey, a wagon with a typical family’s supplies and a room facing the cemetery where those who didn’t make it through the winter are buried.
Young Mormon missionaries happily offer tours, provide additional personal stories from the pioneers or their own ancestors, and can help kids try on pioneer clothing. Their religious testimony, though, can feel intrusive in what otherwise seems much like a national monument site. We came to learn about the pioneers, not for personal testimony.
The downstairs hosts rotating exhibits, which included an impressive display of quilts while we were there. It's open daily, and admission is free.