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Journey to Zion

'The Journey to Zion' by Roy Purcell depicts Mormon pioneers traveling across the plains to the Salt Lake Valley.

Editor’s note: This column ran March 26, 2015, in the Times-News and at

Seven paths led west in the 19th century: the Lewis and Clark Trail, the Santa Fe Trail, the Oregon-California Trail, the Mormon Trail, the Pony Express, the Transcontinental Telegraph and the Transcontinental Railroad.

Of the emigrant trails, the Mormon Trail was the longest.

After Joseph Smith, the founder of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, was imprisoned in 1844 in Carthage, Ill., and was killed when a mob stormed the jailhouse, remaining church officials searched for a refuge in the western frontier, far away from criticism and persecution.

The church by then had gathered a large following in the United States, but an even larger group of converts waited overseas.

“The Mormon Trail of those years stretched all the way from Liverpool to Salt Lake City, making it by far the longest of any trail west,” wrote Arthur King Peters in his book “Seven Trails West.”

In the 30 years between 1847 and 1877, 85,000 Mormons settled in the Salt Lake area. About 70,000 of those were Europeans, mainly from England and Wales.

The Mormon emigrant ship Amazon left the London dock in 1863 with Charles Dickens aboard to record the trip.

“I... had come aboard this emigrant ship to see what eight hundred Latter-day Saints were like,” Dickens wrote.

In 1847, Brigham Young declared the Salt Lake Valley as the new home to Mormons. In 1849, the Provisional State of Deseret — a large region around Utah extending north from Los Angeles and San Diego into Oregon, east into Wyoming and Colorado, and south into New Mexico and Arizona — was formed by the church.

Starting in 1850, Congress started whittling away at the proposed state and changed the territory’s name to Utah. But that didn’t stop the church from “colonizing” towns outside the area.

Oakley was one of these towns, settled by Mormons from the Grantsville, Utah, area in the early 1880s.

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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 If you have a question about something that may have historical significance, email Matthews at


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