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Church History Maps

Updated: Sep 29, 2020

Maps help understand the rich history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A church history routes poster map and set of church history bookmark maps (one each for Zion's Camp, the Mormon Battalion, and the Mormon Trail) tell that story clearly and beautifully. They become a great resource while studying the Doctrine and Covenants or reading Saints. Starting from Joseph Smith's First Vision in 1820 in upstate New York to the arrival of the first wave of Latter-day Saint pioneers in Salt Lake City in 1847, members of the Church covered thousands of miles fleeing persecution, defending fellow Saints, and supporting the United States of America (even though many felt the United States had turned its back on them).

This project began in 2014 with a visit to the Mormon Battalion Center in San Diego, CA. I had already helped one historic site of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with a route-finding map, and I inquired if the Mormon Battalion Center could use a map to help inform visitors. I thought that perhaps some tourists in Old Town San Diego wouldn't have time for the full 45-minute experience (and it's an awesome experience!), so a map flier that tells the story might be a good giveaway. I created the map, but the Center ended up not using it. To accompany the full-page map, I had also made a bookmark version.

As I showed the bookmark to others, I would get questions such as, "Are you going to do one for the Mormon Trail, too?" Why not? So I started that but got only so far as the map portion, life took over, and the project lay dormant.

Fast forward to January 1, 2020—a time to make New Year's resolutions. My main resolution for this year was to complete the church history bookmark project! I had already scheduled a sabbatical from work before COVID hit, but the combination of sabbatical and stay-at-home orders open doors of possibility to finish the project. While I was showing it to some family members, they asked if there was going to be a poster, too. Well, I suppose I could do that!

It has been a joy to dive into the history of the Church and represent it in a powerful visual medium. The topic has been of interest to me since my youth, and I never tire of visiting Church historic sites. I am grateful to have lived within day-trip or short-road-trip distance of many of them throughout my life. I am also grateful to numerous ancestors who followed these routes. Their stories alone are inspiring.

Ira Ames joined the church in Vermont in 1832 and gathered to Kirtland the next year. He was present for the siege of Far West in 1838, and his wife, Charity, died shortly afterwards from deprivations associated with fleeing Missouri. Richard Sessions joined the Church in 1843 and moved to Nauvoo. When the Mormon Battalion was mustered, Richard—who was 47 and already a military veteran—joined with his son. After the 2,000-mile march, Richard made his way to Salt Lake City and then back to Winter Quarters to find his family only to turn around and walk back to Salt Lake. Maria Mousley Powell joined the Church in England—baptized secretly so her husband wouldn't know, only to find out he had also secretly been baptized three days earlier! He traveled to the US before the rest of the family to earn money for their passage. She was able to use the Perpetual Immigration Fund to get to Salt Lake. Her journey wasn't easy, though. She was unable to walk—either because she suffered from erysipelas (St. Anthony's Fire) or because of a sprained ankle. She buried two young grandsons—ages 17 months and 2 years—on the trail while simultaneously helping the two grieving mothers, who both happened to be pregnant. One gave birth on the trail and the other gave birth shortly after arriving.

The short history below is my own compilation. Any errors are my own, and I welcome your feedback. The maps are also my own and are not coordinated with or published by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. A complete list of my sources is at the end of the post.

A Brief History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1820-1847.

Joseph Smith was a young farm boy in Upstate New York and had many questions about religion and what church to join. Many Christian denominations preached for converts in his town of Palmyra. He decided to ask God, as James counsels in the Bible: "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him" (James 1:5).

He decided to pray in a grove of trees on his family's farm property. As he prayed, he struggled to get his thoughts out and felt surrounded by a darkness. He persisted in faith. A pillar of light descended from above him, and in the light, he saw two personages. One introduced the other, saying, "This is My Beloved Son. Hear Him!" God the Father and Jesus Christ appeared this 14-year-old boy, ushering in a new dispensation of prophets. They told him to join none of the churches.

Three years later, Joseph received another visitation, this time from an angel named Moroni. He told Joseph of a place nearby where ancient gold plates were buried. Those plates were a record of a people who inhabited the Americas thousands of years ago and were descendents of the House of Israel. Jesus Christ even appeared to them and ministered to them after his resurrection. Joseph was able to retrieve the plates in 1827 and translate them by the power of God. The book was published in 1830 and is known as The Book of Mormon: Another Testament of Jesus Christ.

Joseph organized a new church—The Church of Jesus Christ—on April 6, 1830. He proclaimed it as the church of Jesus Christ restored in the latter days in preparation for Christ's Second Coming. Christ led the Church and Joseph was His mouthpiece on earth, much as Abraham or Moses were prophets and witnesses for God in their day. The Church later added "of Latter-day Saints" to the end of their name by revelation, reflecting the use of the name "Saints" as were members of the Church called in Christ's time.

The Lord commanded the Saints in December 1830 to move from New York to Ohio. That move happened in 1831 to Kirtland, Ohio. Also in 1831, the location for the city of Zion was revealed to Joseph Smith to be in Independence, Jackson County, Missouri, and settlement there also began.

Zion's Camp

Local opposition led to the Saints being driven out of Jackson County and into Clay County in 1833.

With concern for the Saints, Joseph Smith received a revelation in Feb. 1834 to gather volunteers to redeem Zion—to march to Missouri and enlist state help to escort the Saints back into Jackson County.

Joseph had difficulty enlisting volunteers. Barely 100 began the march. Recruits joined along the way, totaling about 180. Hyrum Smith, starting in Michigan, led a separate group of about 40 that joined the main body at the Salt River on June 8. Volunteers peaked at 207 men, 11 women, and 11 children. Before long, the Camp became foot-sore and complained about bad food and water.

In the end, the state of Missouri would not help. Mobs threatened the Camp along the Fishing River in Clay County on June 19, but an unexpected thunderstorm protected them against attack. Joseph received a revelation soon after that the redemption of Zion had been delayed. Camp members were disappointed; some apostatized.

Cholera also struck, killing 14 and fulfilling a prophecy by Joseph that if dissension among them did not stop, a scourge would hit the Camp.

On July 3, Joseph disbanded the Camp. Some stayed in Missouri, but most returned East.

While Zion’s Camp did not redeem Zion, it provided many lessons for future church leaders. Significantly, eight of the first 12 apostles marched with the Camp.

The Church continued to grow in both Ohio and Missouri. In 1836, the Kirtland Temple was dedicated, a monumental task for a people of very poor means. The beautiful building still stands today and is open to visitors. By 1838, Church headquarters had officially been moved to Far West, Missouri, but the Saints were driven from Missouri by mobs, with the governor issuing an order for their extermination. They fled across the state and took refuge in Illinois, eventually founding a city called Nauvoo. Members of the Church from across the country and around the world flocked to Nauvoo, helping it grow in a few years to be one of the largest cities in the state. Beautiful red brick homes and shining white temple were built up in the flats near the Mississippi River and atop the river bluff. But persecution and opposition continued to follow them.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints fled Nauvoo in Feb. 1846 while facing heavy persecution. They sought to make a new home in the Rocky Mountains. Church leaders had hoped the first wave would make it all the way that summer, but crossing muddy Iowa proved to be a larger task than anticipated. And when many men were called away to serve in the Mormon Battalion, they decided to set up Winter Quarters on the banks of the Missouri River.

Mormon Battalion

Influenced by church representative Jesse Little, Pres. James Polk sent Capt. James Allen to Iowa to recruit 500 Latter-day Saint men to help secure territory in California during the Mexican-American war. In exchange they would receive pay, clothing, and arms. Thus began one of the longest infantry marches in American history.

Many Saints opposed joining the battalion, but Brigham Young persuaded them that they were needed and would be protected from enemy fire. The Mormon Battalion—approx. 496 soldiers, 34 women, and 44 children—departed Council Bluffs on July 20, 1846. They were outfitted at Ft. Leavenworth after arriving Aug. 1. The trek from Ft. Leavenworth to Santa Fe lasted from Aug. 13 to Oct. 9. They faced heat, a lack of water, and long marches. The first of three sick detachments was sent to Pueblo for the winter.

At Santa Fe, command of the Battalion was turned over to Col. Philip St. George Cooke. They were to cut a wagon road to California. Two more sick detachments were sent to Pueblo at or shortly after the Battalion left Santa Fe on Oct. 19, leaving 335 soldiers and four women. After wintering in Pueblo, the sick detachments headed north to Ft. Laramie where they traveled with Brigham Young’s party to the Salt Lake Valley.

The only battle of the march occurred southeast of Tucson on Dec. 11, when a herd of stampeding bulls surprised the Battalion. No soldier was killed, but several were injured in what became known as the Battle of the Bulls.

The Battalion arrived at the Pacific Ocean on Jan. 27, 1847, completing a 2,000-mile march. Duty stations were split between Los Angeles and San Diego. Those in San Diego helped build a courthouse, dig wells, make bricks, and fix up and whitewash existing structures.

The Battalion members were discharged July 16, 1847. Eighty‑two re-enlisted for 6 months. The rest journeyed to find their families, taking some of them to Sutter’s Mill near Sacramento. While there, gold was discovered in Jan. 1848.

Mormon Trail

Brigham Young and the lead pioneer company started the next spring and arrived in the Salt Lake Valley July 24, 1847. More than 350 companies of pioneers crossed the plains, and the vast majority were wagon trains. Most pioneer journeys were busy, filled with relatively mundane tasks like preparing food, taking care of livestock, mending wagons, and walking as far as 15 or 20 miles a day. Handcarts were used by 10 companies as a less expensive and quicker means of travel. Unfortunately, two of those companies—the Martin and Willie Companies—started late in the 1856 season and faced devastating winter conditions in Wyoming. However, the overall death rate among pioneers was not much higher than the rest of America.

Many pioneers found their way to the trail by ship or train or both. The ship Brooklyn took a unique approach in getting Saints to Salt Lake City—leaving New York, sailing around South America, landing in Yerba Buena (now San Francisco) and then traveling to Salt Lake City.

About 70,000 Saints journeyed to Salt Lake City via the Mormon Trail between 1847 and the completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869. The Saints created their new home in the tops of the mountains, establishing settlements throughout the Intermountain West.

Sources used throughout the poster and bookmark series:


New York to Kirtland

Zion's Camp

Missouri to Nauvoo

Mormon Battalion

Mormon Trail

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1 Comment

John Bernhisel
John Bernhisel
Jan 17, 2021

I purchased for my wife who is teaching seminary. It is perfect for her to help students understand the timeline of LDS Church History. Thanks!!

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