Grand Encampment

Distance: 255 miles from Nauvoo

This broad, open area became the stopping place for pioneer companies as they approached the Missouri River. At this site, the current location of the Iowa School for the Deaf, more than 500 volunteers of the Mormon Battalion officially mustered into the U.S. Army for service in the war with Mexico.

Journal Entry

Thomas L. Kane

Summer 1849

"This landing, and the large flat or bottom on the east side of the river, were crowded with covered carts and wagons; and each one of the Council Bluff hills opposite was crowned with its own great camp, gay with bright white canvas, and alive with the busy stir of swarming occupants.

In the clear blue morning air, the smoke streamed up from more than a thousand cooking fires. Countless roads and bypaths checkered all manner of geometric figures on the hillsides. Herd boys were dozing upon the slopes; sheep and horses, cows and oxen, were feeding around them, and other herds in the luxuriant meadow of the then swollen river. From a single point I counted four thousand head of cattle in view at one time.

As I approached the camps, it seemed to me the children there were to prove still more numerous" (Thomas L. Kane, The Mormons: A Discourse Delivered Before the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, March 26, 1850 [Family and Church History Department Library, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Satins, 1850], microfilm, 25–26).

"They did dance! None of your minuets or other mortuary porcessions of gentles in etiquette, tight shoes, and pinching gloves, but . . . French fours, Copenhagen jigs, Virginia reels, and the like forgotten figures executed with the spirit of people too happy to be slow, or bashful, or constrained.

Light hearts, lithe figures, and light feet, had it their own way from an early hour till after the sun had dipped behind the sharp skyline of the Omaha hills. Silence was then called, and a well cultivated mezzo-soprano voice, belonging to a young lady with fair face and dark eyes, gave with quartette accompaniment a little song, the notes of which I have been unsuccessful in repeated efforts to obtain since—a version of the text, touching to all earthly wanderers:

By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept.

We wept when we remembered Zion" (Wallace Stegner, The Gathering of Zion: The Story of the Mormon Trail [1964], 81-82).