The Trek West

Doctrine and Covenants and Church History Seminary Teacher Resource Manual, (2001), 238–40


Two years before his death, the Prophet Joseph Smith prophesied that “the Saints would continue to suffer much affliction and would be driven to the Rocky Mountains” and that some of the Saints would “live to go and assist in making settlements and build cities and see the Saints become a mighty people in the midst of the Rocky Mountains” (History of the Church, 5:85). Twelve thousand or more Saints were living in Nauvoo at the beginning of 1846, but by 1852 most of them had arrived in the Salt Lake Valley in the Rocky Mountains, 2,100 kilometers (1,300 miles) to the west. The first pioneer company arrived in the valley in July 1847 under the direction of Brigham Young. Over the next 22 years, approximately 62,000 pioneers followed them, coming in ox-drawn wagons or pulling their possessions in handcarts. They forded rivers, traveled through broad, unsettled plains, and traversed high mountains. On average they could only travel about 25 kilometers (15 miles) each day.

A monument in Omaha, Nebraska, depicts the agony of a pioneer couple as they bury their child. The inscription reads:

“That the struggles, the sacrifices and the sufferings of the faithful pioneers and the cause they represented shall never be forgotten. This monument is gratefully erected and dedicated by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (Church History in the Fulness of Times, 309).

Some Important Gospel Principles to Look For

  • We receive guidance from living prophets. As we follow their lead, the Lord will direct, strengthen, and bless us (see “The Trek West [1845–47],” Student Study Guide, pp. 159–63, par. 1–3, 13, 23–29; see also D&C 136 heading).

  • The early Saints left a legacy of faith, courage, and determination for Church members worldwide (see “The Trek West [1845–47],” Student Study Guide, pp. 159–63, par. 1–32).

  • During our afflictions we can receive manifestations of God’s power to build us up and help us endure (see “The Trek West [1845–47],” Student Study Guide, pp. 160–63, par. 4–16, 20–22, 26–29).

Additional Resources

  • Church History in the Fulness of Times: Religion 341–43, pp. 309–29.

Suggestions for Teaching

“The Trek West (1845–47),” Student Study Guide, pp. 159–63, par. 1–32. The early Saints left a legacy of faith, courage, and determination for Church members worldwide.

(80–90 minutes)

Tell students: Imagine that you lived in Nauvoo when President Brigham Young instructed the Saints to move to a new home in the West.

  • How do you think you would respond to this instruction?

  • What might you need to take with you to make the move? What might your family need?

  • What responsibilities do you think your Church leaders would have in this move?

  • How long do you think it would take to move so many people?

Invite students to imagine that they were among the early Saints, and then read together paragraphs 1–2 of “The Trek West (1845–47)” in the student study guide (p. 159). Discuss what they might have thought and felt as they prepared to leave Nauvoo.

Divide students into groups of two or three. Tell each group to imagine that they are part of the exodus from Nauvoo, Illinois, to Winter Quarters, Iowa, and that they travel with one of the pioneer “companies” (D&C 136:2) from Winter Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley. The journey from Nauvoo to the Salt Lake Valley will take them about 18 months. Their success or failure will depend on how well they prepare, both temporally and spiritually.

Tell them that before they can leave, each company must pack a wagon with supplies for their journey. Give each group a copy of the “Journey Supplies Form” from the appendix (p. 309), and have them mark what they want to take on their journey. Each company will eat 50 pounds of food per month. Each company has $200 to spend, and a wagon can hold 1,800 pounds.

After students have “packed their wagons” by filling out the first part of the Journey Supplies Form, read “The Trek West” in the student study guide as described in the following outline. Stop at the end of each “time period” and have students fill in the “Company Journal” portion of the Journey Supplies Form. Explain that it is likely some companies will run out of food on the journey, but they can borrow, trade, or buy from other companies. If no one cooperates, the people in those companies without food will die and be added to the graves that dot the trail to the West.

Note: Use a variety of methods for reading “The Trek West.” You could read to your students, have students take turns reading aloud, or have students read silently. You may want to have students report at the end of each time period how much food they have left.

Months 1–2: February–March 1846

Read paragraphs 3–5 of “The Trek West.” Ask students:

  • How would you feel if you had to walk across a frozen Mississippi River in the snow and cold?

  • What concerns would you have?

Tell them that some in their company get sick and slow the company’s progress. Have them deduct 150 pounds for food for the first two months instead of the expected 100 pounds.

Months 3–4: April–May 1846

Read paragraphs 6–7. Sing or read the words to “Come, Come, Ye Saints” (Hymns, no. 30). Ask:

  • Why is the beginning of a task often the most difficult part?

  • What teachings or ideas have helped you complete difficult tasks?

Have students deduct 100 pounds for food eaten during these two months. If they did not bring a tent, have them deduct 100 pounds for food that is ruined because of the unusually wet weather.

Months 5–6: June–July 1846

Read paragraphs 8–9. Have students deduct 100 pounds for food eaten during these two months. Have them add 100 pounds if their company brought fishing line and hooks or if they can borrow some from another company. Tell them someone gets sick in their company and needs extra care. Have them deduct another 100 pounds of food if their company did not bring medicine or dried fruit.

Months 7–8: August–September 1846

Read paragraphs 13–19, and ask:

  • What did the Saints think of the idea of leaving their families to go to war?

  • What could persuade you to go to war?

  • Why did many Saints join the Mormon Battalion?

  • Why didn’t they all stay in California after finishing their military service?

  • How can we show this kind of faithfulness today?

Have students deduct 100 pounds for food eaten during these two months. Have them deduct an additional 100 pounds for company members who need food for their journey with the Mormon Battalion. Tell them that someone wants to trade food for shoes. Have them add 100 pounds of food if they brought extra shoes and want to sell them.

Note: Paragraphs 20–22 are about the Saints who traveled by ship to California and then came overland to Utah. Briefly summarize these paragraphs.

Months 9–11: October–December 1846

Read paragraphs 10–12. Have each company write a brief description of what they think a day in the life of a young man and young woman living in Winter Quarters would have been like. Invite each group to report what they wrote.

Have students deduct 150 pounds of food for these three months. Have them deduct an additional 100 pounds of food if they did not bring bedding and blankets. Tell them that someone in their company gets sick because of the cold weather and needs extra food—deduct 50 more pounds. Have them deduct another 50 pounds of food for the birth of a child in their company.

Months 12–14: January–March 1847

Read paragraphs 23–24. Ask:

  • What have you or your family done to prepare when you have gone on a trip?

  • What can you do to be happy and avoid contention on a long journey?

Have students deduct 150 pounds of food for these three months. Tell them that they come across some wagon teams that are stuck in the mud and the owners offer them food to help them. Have students add 50 pounds of food if they brought rope.

Months 15–17: April–June 1847

Read paragraphs 25–29. Invite students to think of a long journey they have made, and ask:

  • What was the hardest part?

  • What was the best part?

  • How can the hardest part of a journey also be the best part?

Have students deduct 150 pounds of food for these three months. Tell them that their wagon wheel breaks. If they brought a wheel repair kit or can find another company willing to carry their supplies in their wagons, they can continue. Remind them that a wagon can only hold 1,800 pounds. Tell them that their company comes to a long stretch of prairie that has no water. If they brought water containers, they can continue. Otherwise they die on the trail.

Month 18: July 1847

Read paragraphs 30–32. Tell students that a terrible windstorm ruins half of their remaining food. The next morning the captain of their company yells: “There it is, the Valley of the Great Salt Lake! You have reached the promised valley!” Tell students that if they have any food left and they brought farm tools, they will survive. If they did not bring farm tools, they must find someone who is willing to lend them to them.

Discuss what students learned from this experience, using questions like the following:

  • What were the major causes of suffering for the Saints?

  • How did you react when you ran out of food?

  • How could the principle of preparedness apply to our spiritual journey toward exaltation?

  • What have our Church leaders said about temporal and spiritual preparation today?

“The Trek West (1845–47),” Student Study Guide, pp. 160–63, par. 4–16, 20–22, 26–29. During our afflictions we can receive manifestations of God’s power to build us up and help us endure.

(25–30 minutes)

Have students read paragraphs 4–16, 20–22, 26–29 of “The Trek West (1845–47)” in the student study guide (pp. 160–63). Have them look for and list what they think are the five most difficult trials the early pioneers faced. Invite several students to share their answers, and discuss them as a class. Ask:

  • What are some challenges that Church members face today that the pioneers did not?

  • How are these challenges different?

  • How are they alike?

Have students scan Doctrine and Covenants 136:1–30 and look for counsel from the Lord that they think would help the pioneers endure their trials. Ask:

  • How could you apply this counsel in your journey through life?

  • Which of these commandments do you think apply just to the pioneers? Which apply to us today? (Have students explain their answers.)

Read the following statements. Elder Dallin H. Oaks, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, said:

“In every nation, in every worthy occupation and activity, members of this church face hardships, overcome obstacles, and follow the servants of the Lord Jesus Christ as valiantly as the pioneers of any age. They pay their tithes and offerings. They serve as missionaries or as Church Service volunteers, or they support others who do so. Like the noble young mothers who postpone the pursuit of their personal goals in order to provide the needs of their children, they sacrifice immediate pleasures to keep commitments that are eternal. They accept callings and, in the service of others, they willingly give their time and sometimes their lives” (in Conference Report, Sept.–Oct. 1989, 79; or Ensign, Nov. 1989, 64).

Elder Neal A. Maxwell, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, said:

“I’d like to make this … promise to you. If you are faithful, the day will come when those deserving pioneers whom you rightly praise for having overcome the adversities in their wilderness trek will instead praise you for having made your way successfully through a desert of despair, for having passed through a cultural wilderness and having kept the faith” (Faith in Every Footstep Instructor’s Guide [Church Educational System manual, 1996], 14).