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Mormon Handcart by Torleif S. Knaphus

A bronze sculpture depicting a Mormon family pulling a handcart on the Mormon Trail was created in 1947 by Torleif S. Knaphus.

The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 was key to the United States’ westward migration in the 19th century.

The purchase of more than 800,000 square miles of French territory from New Orleans to Canada and the Rocky Mountains opened up travel routes into little-known terrain west of the Mississippi.

While western migration often led to lands west of the Rocky Mountains, some of the first settlers who crossed the prairie found a new home where only American Indians and a handful of fur trappers had traveled.

The first band of Mormons arrived July 24, 1847, in the Salt Lake Valley in what was then Mexican territory. Utah became U.S. property when Mexico ceded the Southwest to the U.S. in the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

The first waves of Mormons, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, came to Utah in covered wagons. But later, they traded in their more costly wagons and oxen for Mormon handcarts, an abbreviated version of the traditional covered wagon that was pulled and pushed by people instead of livestock.

Between 1856 and 1860, more than 3,000 Mormons pushed handcarts 1,300 miles on the 85-day trip to reach the Salt Lake Valley.

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Mychel Matthews reports on rural issues and agriculture for the Times-News. The Hidden History feature runs every Thursday in the Times-News and on Magicvalley.com. If you have a question about something that may have historical significance, email Matthews at mmatthews@magicvalley.com.

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