Council Bluffs was a major outfitting point for Latter-day Saints and countless others heading west during most of the overland emigration period. Located across the Missouri River from Winter Quarters, Council Bluffs was one of the most significant Latter-day Saint settlements during the late 1840s and early 1850s.
The Latter-day Saints named this outfitting point—originally known as Miller’s Hollow—Kanesville in honor of Thomas L. Kane, an influential ally during their darkest years in Nauvoo. In 1853, following the departure of the Saints, it was renamed Council Bluffs. Orson Hyde, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and the leading ecclesiastical leader for the area, ran a newspaper in the community, the Frontier Guardian, which became an important source of information for thousands of people on the move to the West. As many as 90 Latter-day Saint settlements were scattered throughout Pottawattamie County, Iowa, and Kanesville was the most significant of these.
America’s Longest March
by Clayton C. Newell
When Captain James Allen of the U.S. Army rode into the makeshift refugee camp at Mount Pisgah (near present-day Thayer, Iowa) on June 26, 1846, he was met with something less than enthusiasm. Perhaps 15,000 men, women, and children, members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, were filtering through this encampment, driven from their homes and farms in or around Nauvoo, Illinois, by a citizenry that had turned vicious and a government—right to the top—that had turned the other way.
“Arrived at Council Bluffs. Here Coronel Allen, a goverment officer, was enlisting volunteers for the Mexican War. Brighams folks did not want me to enlist for I had been with them as chief cook and bottle washer, or as a necessary evil. . . . I told them I was going and all the kings oxen could not hold me. There was five hundred enlisted in this place. [They were] called [the] Mormon Battalion and started to Ft Leavenworth to fit out for the war.”
Frontiersman: Abner Blackburn’s Narrative, ed. Will Bagley (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press,1992), 39.
“The Government of the United States were at this time at war with Mexico, and not being satisfied with either having assisted, or by their silence acquiesced in driving and plundering thousands of defenseless men, women and children, and driving them from their pleasant and lawful homes, and of actually murdering, or through suffering causing the death of hundreds, they must now send to our camps, (While we, like Abraham, by the commandment of Heaven were enroute for a home, we knew not where; and after having expelled us from their borders), and call upon us for five hundred young and middle aged men, the strength of our camp, to go and assist them in fighting their battles.”
“This was quite a hard pill to swallow—to leave wives and children on the wild prairie, destitute and almost helpless, having nothing to rely on only the kindness of neighbors, and go to fight the battles of a government that had allowed some of its citizens to drive us from our homes, but the word came from the right source and seemed to bring the spirit of conviction of its truth with it and there was quite a number of our company volunteered, myself and brother among them.”
“Reminiscences of Zadok Knapp Judd,” 1902, 17, Church History Library, Salt Lake City.