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

Life On The Trail

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To keep the emigrant companies together, or at least to keep in touch with the various leaders, mounted couriers were appointed to ride back and forth, and bells, bugles and different colored signal flags were used to communicate messages and call meetings throughout the entire migration period. Beyond the Missouri River, the pioneers occasionally wrote messages on animal skulls and scapula. An example of this sort of "bone mail" read "Pioneers double teamed. 8 June 1847. Camp all well. Hail storm last night, fine morning. T[homas] Bullock, no accident." Sometimes they wrote on rocks and boards, tied notes to trees, or left letters enclosed between two pieces of wood. A trail "post office" was sometimes made by setting up a pole by the side of the trail, drilling a hole in it for a letter then plugging the hole. After October 24, 1861, when the Overland Telegraph wires were joined in Salt Lake City, the Mormons also used the telegraph, especially with church headquarters in Salt Lake City. Mormons also liked to leave their names behind, a common practice of emigrants in trail days, and many can be found along the trail today in such places as Avenue of Rocks, Independence Rock, Devil's Gate in Wyoming, and in Cache Cave in Utah.

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.)