February 4 marks the anniversary of the Latter-day Saint exodus from the city of Nauvoo, Illinois.
The murders of Joseph and Hyrum Smith in the Carthage Jail on 27 June 1844 had not satisfied the mob elements in western Illinois. Late in 1845, lawless bands resumed raiding Latter-day Saint homes and farms outside the Nauvoo city limits.
Concerned for the safety of the city, Brigham Young purchased four New Orleans cannon and placed them in strategic defensive positions.
Church leaders studied the latest books and maps pertaining to the American West, particularly the region lying west of the Mississippi River. Fremont’s journal, giving an account of his travels to California, and Hastings “Account of California” were read in their entirety to the Quorum of the Twelve.
While leaders charted the journey, families acquired the goods and materials needed for overland travel to a new home. Plows, shovels, hoes, augers, seed corn, wheat, buckwheat and thousands of pounds of flour filled wagons, along with supplies of cayenne and black pepper, mustard, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, saleratus, salt, sugar and vinegar were also secured. Church leaders recommended taking one gallon of alcohol and 20 pounds of soap along with tents, mirrors, rope, rifles and muskets. Tea kettles, dishes, plates, forks, spoons, pans, tubs, barrels, baskets and crocks were also packed. Saints were encouraged to bring books, checkers, chess sets and even dolls for diversion. A few bulky, heavy pianos went west with their owners, as did other less-cumbersome musical instruments.
Brigham Young gave instruction that each family bring a medicine chest stocked with remedies of the day. These included lobelia, African cayenne, mayberry bark, cloves, cinnamon, flower of slippery elm and poplar bark, as well as kerhana (Ohio golden seal), crude ammonia, oil of peppermint, ginger root, gum myrrh, witch hazel leaves, oily hemlock and cream of tartar.
By November, Nauvoo “was alive with preparation.” Two months later, more than 3,000 families had been organized for travel, with 2,000 wagons either completed or in the final stages of construction.
In January, the Hancock County sheriff warned Church authorities that elements within the state militia were forming plans to suspend county government, arrest more Church leaders, and confiscate the Mormons’ firearms.
On February 2, the Twelve, Nauvoo trustees and other leading citizens met in counsel and agreed that it was imperative the Saints start moving west immediately, rather than waiting for spring as had been planned.
On Wednesday, 4 February 1846, Charles Shumway was the first to ferry across the Mississippi River. Within days, under the direction of Hosea Stout and the Nauvoo Police, the Saints were crossing night and day on any available craft.
From February through September of 1846, thousands of Latter-day Saints abandoned Nauvoo, fleeing to the West in barges and ferries across the Mississippi River. Some who crossed in late February did so on ice, as the wide river froze solid in sub-zero temperatures.
The majority, some 7,000 or more, left between March and May. By September only six or seven hundred remained in Nauvoo. Known as the “poor Saints,” they were either physically or financially incapable of traveling west by themselves to join the main body of the Saints now near the western edge of Iowa. Mobs forced this last group from the city in mid-September, 1846, in what came to be known as “the Battle of Nauvoo.”
In the following excerpt from the 1997 production Faith In Every Footstep, President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910-2008) recounts the Mormon exodus from Nauvoo.
Re-enactors trek down Parley Street, the “Trail of Hope” in Historic Nauvoo, commemorating the Feb. 4, 1846, exodus of Mormons led by Brigham Young. More than 2000 people took part in the commemoration in 2011, including LDS missionaries, out-of-town visitors and local residents.