The Mormons’ Exodus

The Mormons’ Exodus from the Midwest to the Great Basin in the Utah Territory was a massive movement of people retreating from religious persecution. After their founder Joseph Smith was lynched and murdered in 1844 by an angry mob, the remaining Mormons sought a peaceful location far away from persecution. The Mormons’ Exodus from 1844 until the turn of the 20th century involved over 100,000 people.

Important facts about the Mormons’ Exodus

  • The Mormon religion was founded by Joseph Smith during 1830 in upstate New York.
  • The Mormons faced religious persecution from Puritan based religions like Protestants, Methodists, and Baptists.
  • The Mormons were forced out of New York, Ohio, and Missouri before settling at Nauvoo, Illinois.
  • The lynching and murder of Joseph Smith in Nauvoo, Illinois, left Brigham Young in charge of the Mormons.

Joseph Smith

  • The Mormons left everything behind they had built when they exited Nauvoo. They asked the federal government for help to move to the Great Basin area.
  • The first Mormons left in 1846 and arrived in the Great Basin area during the spring of 1847. The first settlement made in the Great Basin was in the Salt Lake Valley.
  • The Mormons first traveled along the California Trail before establishing an original route named the Mormon Trail. By 1857 the Mormons had settled 90 original locations in the Great Basin area, also known as the Utah Territory.
  • By the time the Transcontinental Railroad was completed in 1869, over 70,000 Mormons had traveled to the Great Basin.


Joseph Smith founded the Mormon religion in 1830 in upstate New York. He created The Book of Mormon and declared himself a prophet sent from God. Puritan based religions like Protestants, Methodists, and Baptists did not like the new Mormon religion. The Puritan based religions harassed Mormons in New York, and they left for Ohio.

Once in Ohio, the Mormons encountered the same religious persecution and moved to Missouri. Each time they moved, the Mormons would buy a location or town to start a new life without religious persecution. After the Mormons had problems in Independence, Missouri, in 1838, they built the town of Nauvoo, Illinois.

Death of Joseph Smith

In June 1844, Joseph Smith and his brothers were in jail when an angry mob stormed the jail and lynched Joseph Smith and his brothers. The leadership of Mormons and members of the Church of Latter-Day Saints was given to Brigham Young. His followers were facing religious persecution once again in Nauvoo, Illinois, after the murder of Joseph Smith. Their homes were being burned, members were threatened daily, and their crops were destroyed.

The Mormons’ Exodus

Brigham Young had seen enough damage done to his followers. He decided it was time to move to another location in search of peace. Young thought about moving to the Mexican-controlled Southwest. He did not understand the geography or environment but prepared the Mormons for a mass exodus from Nauvoo, Illinois. In February 1846, a group of Mormons left Nauvoo to travel westward.

The Mormons crossed the frozen Mississippi River and sought refuge in Iowa. Young knew the trek westward needed to take place in stages. He made a deal with the federal government and President James K. Polk to seek funding for the exodus.

President Polk agreed to pay a battalion of Mormon men to go to California and fight in the Mexican-American War. Along the way, the battalion of men established a route through the Southwest. The expedition found suitable camping spots, the party dug wells, and even planted corn to help followers.

After spending the fall and winter of 1846 in Winter Quarters, Nebraska, a group of Mormons, including Young, started the last stages of their journey across the California Trail to the Great Basin in April 1847.

The first wave of Mormons led by Young included around 150 people. The Mormons traveled across the harsh land by horseback, hand carts, and oxen-pulled carts for the next three months. The Mormons arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in July 1847.

The new route established by the Mormons was named the Mormon Trail. After settling Salt Lake City, the Mormons constructed over 90 settlements by 1857 in the Great Basin Area. From 1847 until the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad in 1869, more than 70,000 Mormons migrated to the new Utah Territory.


  1. Who was the founder of the Mormon religion?
    Joseph Smith
  1. Which Mormon leader led the Mormons’ Exodus to the Great Basin area?
    Brigham Young
  1. What was the name of the new route explored by the Mormons’ Exodus?
    Mormon Trail
  1. What year did the first Mormons arrive in the Salt Lake Valley?
  1. By 1869, how many Mormons had emigrated to the Great Basin area, also known as the Utah Territory?