Across the street from the Mormon Pioneer Cemetery at Winter Quarters, Nebraska, stands the newly completed Mormon Trail Center. Within its walls is told the tale of the Saints’ journey from the temple city of Nauvoo, Illinois, to the temple city of Salt Lake City, Utah. Featured is the poignant story of Winter Quarters, built on the western bank of the Missouri River and west of its sister settlements in Iowa. The Saints, who began to leave Nauvoo in February 1846, made an arduous, mud-laden 330-mile trek across Iowa. They developed Winter Quarters during the fall of 1846 and throughout 1847. From there, in April 1847 President Brigham Young led an advance, exploratory party west, setting the course for the migration to the Salt Lake Valley. He later returned to Winter Quarters for the 1847–48 winter season.

Mormon Trail Center at historic Winter Quarters

The Mormon Trail Center at historic Winter Quarters is located in modern-day Omaha, Nebraska.

The story of the Saints’ suffering and death from cold and illness during their first winter in Nebraska (1846–47) is usually all that is known about this one-time headquarters of the Church. The Mormon Trail Center uses art, artifacts, maps, and video and sound clips to tell a much more complete story of the Saints on the Missouri River between 1846 and 1852. Since little remains today of the city of Winter Quarters except the cemetery, a detailed model of the city is of special interest.

facade of Nauvoo Temple

The exhibit begins with a facade of the Nauvoo Temple and the story of the Saints’ life there.


Violence, which climaxed in the martyrdom of the Prophet Joseph Smith and his brother Hyrum by a mob on 27 June 1844 in nearby Carthage, eventually forced the Saints from Nauvoo. (Painting by Gary Smith.)

pioneer possessions

Saints gathered possessions such as these and headed west across Iowa.

William Clayton

Along the way, William Clayton wrote “Come, Come, Ye Saints,” which quickly became a dearly loved trail song.

pioneer wagon

Visitors to the center can pack a wagon with blocks labeled to represent items the pioneers took west.

log cabin exterior log cabin interior

Visitors can enter this log cabin and hear journal accounts of life in Winter Quarters, Nebraska.

steamship Wyoming

Between 1871 and 1890, the steamship Wyoming carried more than 10,000 Latter-day Saints from Liverpool, England, to New York City. The trip averaged 11 days.

improved transportation

With improved transportation, pioneers could bring a few of their most precious possessions.

completion of railroad

Later, with the completion of the railroad in 1869, emigrants traveled in relative speed and safety to Salt Lake City.

handcart wheels

In an early attempt to reduce the weight of their handcarts, pioneers wrapped their wooden wheels with strips of rawhide rather than using iron rims.

Right: To help secure California in the Mexican War, nearly 500 men from Latter-day Saint camps in western Iowa joined the U.S. Army as the Mormon Battalion. Pioneer artifacts (below) and a large relief map showing the Mormon Trail across Iowa (background) help visitors understand this part of the trek to Zion.

Restored stained glass doors (above, left) lead into a memorial room (inset, left), which provides a full view of the Winter Quarters cemetery across the street. A model (right) shows the city of Winter Quarters, Nebraska, in detail. On the wall behind the model is a relief map with small lights showing nearly 100 Latter-day Saint settlements along the Missouri River, ferry boat crossings, and other sites.

Right: In what would become Kanesville, Iowa, in December 1847, the First Presidency was reestablished, with Brigham Young as President.

Below: Between 1846 and 1869, the majority of Latter-day Saint pioneers traveled to Utah by ox-drawn wagons.

Photography by Welden C. Andersen.