Heritage Gateways

Official Sesquicentennial K-12 Education Project
sponsored by the Utah State Board of Education, the BYU-Public School Partnership and the Utah Education Network

General Information

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Council Bluffs General Area

In the Council Bluffs area the Mormons were not yet in the wilderness. The general area, up and down both sides of the river, had been discovered by French and Spanish explorer-trappers in the 1700s and had been an Indian trading site since at least 1804, when Lewis and Clark met with Indians north of there. Military forts, such as Fort Lisa and Fort Atkinson, had been built nearby as early as 1812, steamboats from St. Louis reached there as early as 1819, and it was an established point of departure for Oregon and California. Francois Guittau founded the first white settlement there at Trader's Point in 1824. In 1846 there was a village and a steamboat landing on each side of the river, with service to Fort Leavenworth, Independence, and St. Louis, and regular mail service. Indian agents were located on one, sometimes both, sides of the Missouri, and a Presbyterian Indian mission was on the west bank. Many goods and services, including some medical aid, were available.

When the Mormons arrived in 1846 they first called the area Miller's Hollow, then Kanesville (after a non-Mormon friend, Colonel Thomas L. Kane). By special charter in 1853 the State Legislature changed the name to Council Bluffs. The name derived from a council held by Lewis and Clark with the Indians in 1804 on the west side of the river about 12 miles upstream.

Source: Historic Resource Study - Mormon Pioneer National By Stanley B. Kimball, Ph.D., May 1991. (The study focuses on the history of the trail from its official beginning in Nauvoo, Illinois, to its terminus in Salt Lake City, Utah, during the period 1846-1869. During that time, thousands of Mormon emigrants used many trails and trail variants to reach Utah. This study emphasizes the 'Pioneer Route' or 'Brigham Young Route' of 1846-1847. The sections on Mormon beliefs and motivations for going west have been omitted. Interested persons can find ample sources for that information. The footnotes, bibliography, maps, pictures, pioneer companies by name and dates for the 22-year period, and historic sites - about 2/3 of the book - have also been left out for space considerations. Thanks to Dr. Kimball and the National Park Service for the availability of this information.)