West With the Wagons (5) Unexpected Meetings
We Stop at Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Meet People We Might Not Expect Going West
How Long Is This Post? About 3,600 words, or 18 minutes
Dear Nonnie Friend,
Look, I never want you to think the journey West is predictable, whether we’re talking the people who took covered wagons in the mid-19th century, or me and Hoosen in our gerbil-powered rental car in 2018. I promise: This journey continues to surprise, and I promise to mess with your head all the way to Sacramento.
So far at West With the Wagons (WWW), we have barely touched the West itself. Sure, we followed the people of 1849 to the original “jumping off point” of Independence, Missouri, where so many in the 1840s bought supplies.
But then, after Independence, as you know, Hoosen and I did something the mid-19th century migrants didn’t do: We went north.
We took a quick detour to have a look at St. Joseph, Missouri, the upstart “jumping off” town that overtook Independence for market share of the lucrative profits from supplying the well-heeled people headed west to California for the Gold Rush.
Now we’re going north just a little farther, this time to Council Bluffs (aka Kanesville) the third and final “jumping off” place we’ll visit at WWW.
I’m not just checking off a list, I swear! Council Bluffs (formerly Kanesville), in Iowa, is unique among frontier jumping-off points.
Mormons! Lots of Mormons! Or, to give these folk their proper name, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints! Or, if you're a woman of a certain age, the people who later brought us the Osmonds! Especially Donny!
Mormons on their way to the West gathered at Council Bluffs before they set out for the new settlement of Salt Lake City. Many of them were from cities my UK readers (and more than a few US readers) might be familiar with, like Manchester and Liverpool.
Yes, UK readers, that Manchester, and that Liverpool. They’re places, not just football teams! But I’m getting ahead of myself here. Forget I said that.
Today is also the day that Hoosen and I cross the Missouri River, and finally start west—really west. We find a bit of the prairies that has changed drastically since 1849. And yet the buffalo still run through this place (she says mysteriously).
First, though, a quick visit to Council Bluffs. Quick? Oh, it had to be. See, Hoosen and I had a whole lot to see between here and Salt Lake City, capital of Utah and of the international Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (aka the Mormons, who really, really would prefer we say LDS Church these days but, for history, I'll still use Mormon for historical history reasons.)
And, by no coincidence, our first stop in Council Bluffs was a museum owned by the LDS Church itself.
Taking Our Wagons Into Mormon Territory
I had no expectation that a museum owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS Church, aka the Mormons)—or any museum with a definite point of view, and no gadfly historians in charge— would attempt to show history in an unbiased way, warts and all. So let's get that out of the way.
But I was still interested in checking out the museum about the Mormon settlement (and recreated Tabernacle) in Council Bluffs. I was also pretty sure that, since we were about to visit LDS property, there would be some effort to convert us to the Church.