|Lee County played an important part in Mormon history, both before and
after the exodus from Nauvoo to Utah. To commemorate the historical
events in Lee County the Mormon Historic Sites Foundation has erected
three interpretive panels at historical locations in Lee County. The
National Park Service has erected a pavilion with interpretive panels in
Linger Longer Roadside Park. The Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail,
the first of its kind developed by the National Park Service, begins its
Iowa leg at Montrose, across the river from Nauvoo.
Between 1933 and 1940 the Civilian Conservation Corps of the Iowa
Conservation Committee erected wooden markers that approximated the
route of the Mormons. In 1972 the Mormon Pioneer Trail Foundation
replaced most of these signs with the approximately one hundred blue and
white metal road signs across the state. Many of these 1972 road signs
have been replaced by brown and white National Park Service Mormon
Pioneer National Historic Trail signs.
The following are significant Mormon sites in Lee
County and are arranged in general chronological order:
Fort Des Moines, 1834–1837
Following the Black Hawk War of 1832, Iowa was opened
to permanent settlement by whites. In order to establish a presence in
the territory several companies of a U.S. dragoons (the cavalry of the
early 1800s) built the first Fort Des Moines along the banks of the
Mississippi River. As settlers moved in, the dragoons were not needed
for peacekeeping and in 1837 they were transferred to Fort Leavenworth
and Fort Des Moines was abandoned. The fort became a temporary refuge in
the winter of 1838-39 for about 40 refugee Mormon families who had been
driven out of Missouri. When the Mormons left Nauvoo in 1846, most of the Mormons of Lee County
went west. The old fort gradually disintegrated. When the dam at Keokuk
was completed in 1913, the river level rose about twelve feet, and the
shoreline receded about fifty yards. The original site of the fort is
now covered by water.
An interpretive panel about the first Fort Des Moines
is one of two located in Riverview Park in Montrose. A bronze plaque set
in a boulder at the south end of the little park was erected in 1923 by
the Montrose Womans Civic Club.
Mormon Sojourn in Lee County, 1839–1846
In January 1839, the barracks of the abandoned Fort
Des Moines that had once quartered 180 soldiers now provided shelter for
about 40 Mormon refugee families from Missouri, led by Israel Barlow.
The families of Brigham Young, John Taylor, and Wilford Woodruff, all
future presidents of the Church, were among those taking rooms in the
barracks. Based on information provided by Barlow the Mormon Church
purchased twenty thousand acres stretching westward from the village of
Montrose that grew up around the fort. In 1841 Joseph Smith declared
that it was now time to build Zarahemla, a new town adjacent and just
west of Montrose. Thirty houses may have been built at Zarahemla, but
only one lot was recorded as sold, and no trace of the community
remains. Most of the Mormons of Lee County went with Brigham Young as he
blazed the trail to Utah.
An interpretive panel about the Mormons in Lee County
is one of two located in Riverview Park in Montrose.
Pioneer Trail Memorial Pavilion
After the deaths of Church leaders Joseph and Hyrum
Smith violence increased with attacks on outlying Mormon communities.
Smith's successor, Brigham Young, eventually struck a deal to abandon
Nauvoo. Mormons began leaving in January of 1846. By early autumn only
about 700 Mormons remained in Nauvoo and other Mormon settlements. Many
of those left behind—too poor, too ill, or too infirm to travel—were
driven out by anti-Mormon raiders in September 1846. Some of these
refugees found shelter and work in surrounding communities, while others
congregated two miles above Montrose at the “Poor Camp.” Church
leaders sent back three rescue wagon trains to move these people to
places where they could spend the winter safely. Mormons who had already
left sent back some wagons with provisions. Before these arrived a
multitude of quail fell all along the river for forty miles in what was
thought to be an act of divine favor. The “poor Camp” was deserted by
the end of October.
Linger Longer Park is 3/4 of a mile north of Montrose
off US-61 along the Mississippi River. This roadside park has has a Pioneer Trail Memorial pavilion with exhibits about the
“poor Camp,” Nauvoo, and about the Mormon trek to Utah. Linger Longer
Park is the approximate site of the Miracle of the Quail and offers a
panoramic view of the Mississippi River.
Sugar Creek Historic Site
Sugar Creek Camp was the staging ground where the
first group of emigrants gathered and waited for Brigham Young while
preparing for their journey west. The main camp was east of the creek;
later, the company also camped briefly on the west side. The Mormons
departed Sugar Creek on March 1, 1846.
Sugar Creek Historic Site is directly west of Montrose, on Road J-72
(the road to Argyle.) The site is on privately owned pastureland and no
traces of the original camp are visible and no on-site interpretation is
provided. Please view from the road and do not enter property without
Mormon Immigrants’ Camp, 1853
On April 1, 1853, a steamboat docked at Keokuk and
discharged some two hundred passengers, the first of twenty-five hundred
Mormon immigrants to arrive in Keokuk that spring. Keokuk had been designated as that
year’s outfitting post and the camp nearly doubled the town’s population,
which was 3,256 by late 1852. The campground was located north of the
city limits, stretching along the bluff on open-range pasture belonging
to Charles Mason of Burlington, former chief justice of Iowa Territory.
The camp was described as a long street lined by wagons instead of
houses. From April through July, over 2,500 mostly European Mormons
formed into 10 wagon trains and headed west. While camped at Keokuk, the
Mormons left a lasting mark on Keokuk, most notably by the improvement
to its streets.
An interpretive panel about the Mormon Immigrants’
Camp is located at Triangle Park on the corner of 5th & Grant Avenue.
Triangle Park is located in close proximity to the actual encampment
site. Like the Latter Day Saints who passed through Keokuk in 1853,
Mormon Historic Sites Foundation assisted the city by repairing the
curbs and gutters that surrounded the park.
Visiting the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail
Sites along the
Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail can be
visited daily from dawn to dusk.
Brochures with maps of
Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail can be obtained at the Nauvoo
Visitor's Center or
Route Interpretive Guides can be downloaded
from the National Park Service.
There is no charge to visit the Mormon Pioneer
National Historic Trail.
Sites along the Mormon Pioneer National Historic
Trail are located throughout Lee County.