Gold-Rush Wagon Trains

“Two events occurred in 1848 that forever changed the course of American history and the lives of tens of thousands of American families:” wrote Myrtle Stevens Hyde in NGSQ in 1988. “[T]he United States wrested California from its Spanish owners; and word leaked out that gold had been discovered there on the farm of John Augustus Sutter.”[1] What followed were massive waves of westward migration that brought migrants from across the United States and its territories to the edge of the frontier. There, most migrants formed wagon trains to brave the wilderness in safer numbers. They gathered at new towns then springing up along the Missouri River, towns like Independence and St. Joseph in Missouri and Kanesville in Iowa.

The former Kanesville is now better known as Council Bluffs, Iowa, a city on the east bank of the Missouri, just across the river from Omaha, Nebraska. But from 1848 to 1851, Kanesville was a Mormon community and a key focal point for migrants headed west, including both Mormons and “Forty-niners.” The latter, in particular, represented a significant economic opportunity for local residents.

Orson Hyde, editor and proprietor of the semi-monthly Frontier Guardian, recognized that he could use his newspaper to publish the names of migrants going through Kanesville. He then offered to send copies to friends and family back east so they would know what had become of the migrants, with which company they had joined, and when they had left Kanesville for the daunting journey. Some 140 years later, Myrtle Stevens Hyde extracted two such lists of migrants from surviving copies of the short-lived Frontier Guardian, copies she accessed not at the Family History Library, but from the Historical Department Archives of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Salt Lake City.

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