Some of the first travelers to Iowa arrived by oxen or horse-drawn wagons. Some stayed ... others were just passing through. Dan Kaercher sees part of the trail the Mormons took through southern Iowa.
Some of the first travelers to Iowa arrived by oxen or horse drawn wagons. Some stayed. Others were just passing through like the Mormons trekking through Southern Iowa. Here in the quiet countryside or rural Wayne County where you may see an occasional Amish horse and buggy on the road it is not hard to imagine the area when wagon wheels from another era traveled here. I am talking about the Mormons who in the mid-1800s fled fear, controversy, and hostility in Nauvoo, Illinois and journeyed to Utah. Their trek crossed all of Southern Iowa and there are roadside signs for those interested in those following the route. Tour information on trail history and on how a famous Mormon hymn came to be written here can be found at the Prairie Trails Museum of Wayne County in Corydon. I am here with Albert Pidcock, known locally as Pid, who wrote a booklet about the Mormon Trail through Wayne County. He says he is not Mormon but rather a history buff.
Pidcock: I talked to people and didn't get much information, much help on it, until I found out that the county was surveyed one year after the Mormons had been through. And I also found out that the original surveyor’s notes were available in the county courthouse. I went out and started walking where the field notes indicated the trail should be here. The particular significance, as far as I know, in Wayne County was the fact that the song which is related to the Mormons was written in Wayne County.
Kaercher: "Come, Come, Ye Saints" was written by William Clayton. Moved by news of the birth of his son back in Illinois, Clayton has said to have written the lyrics here at Locust Creek Camp number two during his 1846 journey across Iowa. The exact site is now on private property but there are historical markers across the road from the camp at Tharp Cemetery. Well Albert, here we are at Tharp Cemetery in Southeast Wayne County. Tell me what are the markers that led you to find the spot where the hymn was written?
Pidcock: A convert from England had a knack for describing where they were at certain times and so this spot, he says there is a beautiful timber to the east, a beautiful timber to the south, and to the north it looks to be upgrade all the way. And this place fits that description.
Kaercher: Pid's eight years of researching the Mormon campsites and the trail in Wayne County have been authenticated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City. The church wanted to spotlight the history and so in 1973 it installed a permanent exhibit at the local museum.
DeVore: Well, the wagon that we have back there is local. The other item such as the oxen, all the signage that we have back there, all the hymnals of the various languages came from the Latter-day Saints. They've definitely wanted to put the exhibit here because of "Come, Come, Ye Saints" because they knew it had been written in Wayne County but until Pid helped do the research they didn't know exactly where.
Kaercher: Maps that guide you to the cemetery are available at the museum. Brenda says, while the museums Mormon Exhibit draws visitors from across the country and abroad who are following the entire historic trail the museum does have many other displays. For example, in the Main Street Exhibit there is the local bank vault robbed by Jesse James in 1871. There is a 1930s era service station and a separate building dedicated to antique farm equipment. But if you just want to follow the Mormon Trail the next stop west of Corydon would be Garden Grove in Decatur County where there is an informational sign about the Mormons who camped here until 1851. Outlines of cabin walls are visible in the grass and a pioneer cemetery is near by. Here is wishing you happy Iowa trails of your own.