“Association Formed to Preserve Pioneer Trails,” Ensign, Jan. 1992, 77–78
A group of history enthusiasts recently organized the Mormon Trails Association (MTA) to help preserve early Latter-day Saint pioneer trails across the United States.
The association is an “umbrella organization” with the goals of promoting exchange of information, enhancing cooperation between interested individuals and agencies, and accurately identifying, using, interpreting, and preserving the trails.
“The Mormon Trails Association is not intended to be a hands-on operation but to be a communication base,” said Garn Hatch, MTA vice president. It will not take over the activities of organizations that now work to preserve pioneer trails. Rather, “Our concern is that these groups all work harmoniously together.”
The association is open to all interested individuals and organizations, said Brother Hatch. No dues will be collected, and no political lobbying agenda or consensus making are planned.
Early in 1991, Michael J. Duwe, the U.S. National Park Service coordinator for the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, observed that unlike other pioneer trails such as the Oregon trail, the Mormon trail did not have one association with which the park service could deal.
This led to the organization of the MTA in September, with representation from the Church Historic Sites Committee, Sons of the Utah Pioneers, Daughters of the Utah Pioneers, the Oregon and California Trails Association, the Mormon Battalion, Inc., the Boy Scouts of America, and federal and Utah state agencies.
“If we get together and work together, then we can get something done,” said LaMar C. Berrett, who served as interim president during the organization of the MTA.
And there is much to do, according to Brother Berrett, who has spent the last four years identifying camping grounds of the original Brigham Young party in 1847. There are twenty 1847 pioneer trail campsites in Utah—and of the seventeen of those sites which are outside the Salt Lake Valley, only one marker has been erected.
“All of the campgrounds are known,” Brother Berrett said. “We want the pioneer story preserved and the trail accurately marked and interpreted. The trail is still identifiable in many places. We can actually walk right on the trail.”
The U.S. National Park Service will provide the resources along the trail. Private groups can do the actual work of placing markers, Brother Hatch says. As the MTA gathers information, groups can coordinate their efforts. Although many organizations are based in Utah, the association hopes to increase involvement along the entire length of the trail.
Of the approximately 1,400-mile-long pioneer trail, the U.S. National Park Service administers only about 200 yards of it (in the Fort Laramie National Historic Site), Mr. Duwe said. Thus there is a need to have an association to coordinate events.
“Desire is there and money is there,” said Brother Berrett, “so with some direction, cooperation, and information sharing by interested people through MTA, the commemoration of the trail can be properly managed.”
The use of the word trails in the name is not by accident, since the association hopes to gather information on all the major trails used by Latter-day Saints in the West, said Brother Hatch.
These trails include the Booneslick trail in Missouri, which Joseph Smith followed when he first went to Independence; the Zion’s Camp trail; the Kirtland Camp trail in Ohio; the Mormon Battalion trail; the Carson Pass trail used by Mormon Battalion soldiers to travel from California to Utah; the San Bernardino trail, also used by Mormon Battalion soldiers and pioneers traveling to and from California; the Santa Fe trail; the “Honeymoon Trail” to the temple in St. George, Utah; and a trail from Texas used by converts to the Church led by Preston Thomas in 1853.
The president of the association is William G. Hartley, associate professor of history at Brigham Young University. Other officers include M. Dell Madsen, secretary, and Stanley B. Kimball, historian.
Writing in a historic resource study on the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail, Brother Kimball points out some of the uncommon aspects of the pioneer migration: the pioneers were religiously motivated, they did not use professional guides, the Mormon trail was a two-way road, the wagon trains were well organized, and it was a movement of a community.
The Latter-day Saints also shared many common experiences with other pioneers who were on their way to California and Oregon. These difficulties included problems with food, danger, and sickness.