Church History
Departure from Nauvoo

“Departure from Nauvoo,” Church History Topics

“Departure from Nauvoo”

Departure from Nauvoo

Between February and September 1846, thousands of Latter-day Saints departed Nauvoo, Illinois. The previous fall, Church leaders had developed plans for a large exodus, intending to organize 25 companies of 100 wagons each that would leave in the spring of 1846. Rising hostilities, however, prompted Brigham Young and other leaders to negotiate a truce during fall 1845, which stipulated that Church members would begin their exodus that winter. Between February 4 and March 1, 1846, about 400 wagons ferried around 2,000 Latter-day Saints across the Mississippi River into an encampment at Sugar Creek, Iowa. Another 12,000 Saints crossed into Iowa during the spring and summer, and the remaining hundreds joined the migration in September.1 Church members covenanted to assist the poor among them to make the trek. Church leaders attempted to sell the Nauvoo Temple and other Church properties to help the poor, but they were unable to find a buyer for the temple.

Some past depictions of the departure have suggested that a mob forced the Saints to cross the frozen Mississippi River on the ice. Though the first companies departed earlier than initially planned, the agreement Church leaders made the previous fall prevented mob attacks. Most companies crossed the river peacefully using ferries, though a few may have crossed on the ice between February 25 and March 1.2

As the summer wore on, enemies of the Church in the area grew impatient with the few Latter-day Saints who remained in Nauvoo. Tensions between locals who opposed the Church and citizens of Nauvoo—including many people who weren’t members of the Church but were sympathetic to the plight of the Saints—reached a climax in September 1846. A group of several hundred armed men attacked Latter-day Saints and other defenders of the city. The two sides exchanged several volleys of cannon fire and gunfire, resulting in at least three deaths and a few dozen injuries. A neutral committee stepped in to negotiate the end of fighting, and the remaining Latter-day Saints and their sympathizers were forced to leave the city quickly.3

Most Latter-day Saint evacuees during 1846 made their way to Council Bluffs, in western Iowa, but many remained scattered throughout the surrounding area for months or years. Only a few families stayed in Illinois.


  1. William G. Hartley, “The Nauvoo Exodus and Crossing the Ice Myths,” Journal of Mormon History, vol. 43, no. 1 (Jan. 2017), 30–33; Matthew S. McBride, A House for the Most High: The Story of the Original Nauvoo Temple (Salt Lake City: Greg Kofford Books, 2007), 304–6.

  2. Hartley, “The Nauvoo Exodus and Crossing the Ice Myths,” 34–42, 45–46, 54–56.

  3. Kenneth W. Godfrey, “The Battle of Nauvoo Revisited,” John Whitmer Historical Association Journal, 2002 Nauvoo Conference Special Edition (2002), 133–46.