Artist's view of the Mormons entering Salt Lake Valley, from a painting by William Henry Jackson.
In the heat of July 1847, 143 Mormons drove wagons down Emigration Canyon into the Salt Lake Valley, intending to plant fields, build homes, and stay. They were hundreds of miles from the nearest town or city.
Why had they come so far to live?
A lot of people in Illinois and Missouri didn’t like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (nicknamed the Mormon church). They persecuted Mormons and drove them out of their states.
A mob killed the Mormons’ leader, Joseph Smith, in 1844. And still the violence didn’t get any better. So the new leader, Brigham Young, decided to take his people west in the hope that they might find a new land where they could live and worship peacefully.
In spring 1847 the first band of pioneers headed for the Rocky Mountains, with Brigham Young leading the party. After 111 days on the trail, on July 22, 1847, the first group entered the valley. Right away they started to plant crops and irrigate the new fields.
Brigham Young was sick and riding in a wagon further back. On July 24 his wagon came within view of the Salt Lake Valley below. He sat up, looked it over, and said, "It is enough. This is the right place. Drive on." (Or at least, that’s what someone said he said—33 years after that day! So no one knows his exact words for sure.)
After months on the trail, the Mormon settlers were home. Their arrival changed and defined the region forever.
Their route, which came to be called the Mormon Trail, was more than 1,000 miles long. Until the railroad reached Utah, as many as 70,000 Mormons traveled on the emigrant trails to reach the new “Zion” of their faith. Some of the settlers came in wagons, some pulled handcarts, and some walked the trail.