After 17 months and many miles of travel, Brigham Young leads 148 Mormon pioneers into Utah’s Valley of the Great Salt Lake. Gazing over the parched earth of the remote location, Young declared, “This is the place,” and the pioneers began preparations for the thousands of Mormon migrants who would follow. Seeking religious and political freedom, the Mormons began planning their great migration from the east after the murder of Joseph Smith, the Christian sect’s founder and first leader.
Joseph Smith was born in Sharon, Vermont, in 1805. In 1827, he declared that he had been visited by a Christian angel named Moroni, who showed him an ancient Hebrew text that had been lost for 1,500 years. The holy text, supposedly engraved on gold plates by a Native American prophet named Mormon in the fifth century A.D., told the story of Israelite peoples who had lived in America in ancient times. During the next few years, Smith dictated an English translation of this text to his wife and other scribes, and in 1830 The Book of Mormon was published. In the same year, Smith founded the Church of Christ–later known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–in Fayette, New York.
The religion rapidly gained converts, and Smith set up Mormon communities in Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. However, the Christian sect was also heavily criticized for its unorthodox practices, which included polygamy. In 1844, the threat of mob violence prompted Smith to call out a militia in the Mormon town of Nauvoo, Illinois. He was charged with treason by Illinois authorities and imprisoned with his brother Hyrum in the Carthage city jail. On June 27, 1844, an anti-Mormon m