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Collection Meeting of Frontiers

Religious Flight and Migration: Mormons

This essay was published in 2000 as part of the original Meeting of Frontiers website.

The story of Mormon settlement in the American West parallels that of Russian religious minorities on the Russian frontier. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints was established in 1830 in New York by Joseph Smith Jr. after he claimed to have received a revelation from God and Christ. Smith and his followers fled angry opponents, first to Ohio, then to Missouri, and next to Illinois where, in 1844, mobs killed Smith and his brother.

Led subsequently by Brigham Young, the Mormons decided to move again, this time to the West. In early 1846 they began their epic trek to Utah. When the Mormons arrived in Salt Lake Valley in 1847 they became the first permanent white settlers in the Great Basin.

Although their relations with other colonists and the federal government remained volatile for decades, the Mormons quickly built model colonies based on productive farms and self-reliant communities and attracted a continual flow of migrants. Salt Lake City became the Mormon capital and an important freight and transportation hub of the West.