Many Paths West

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"Mormon Trail--Ox Carts." Courtesy the Utah State Historical Society via the Mountain West Digital Library.

The Oregon Territory was not the only destination for settlers in the mid-nineteenth century. Mormon settlers emigrated to Utah beginning in 1847 to escape religious persecution. Their route and destination were inspired in part by John C. Fremont’s maps published earlier in the decade. Between 1847 and 1860, over 43,000 Mormon settlers followed what is now known as the Mormon Trail into Utah.

In 1848, gold found in California’s American River sparked frenzy, prompting thousands to rush to California to seek their fortune. Maps played a valuable role in directing emigrants to their prospects in the West. The ”49ers” crossed through portions of the Oregon Trail, coupled with a route discovered by Kit Carson into the American River Valley. Other settlers followed the Truckee Route into the Sacramento Valley. Once they made it to California, regional maps provided more specific information about (and often marketed) “desirable” locations. Towns sprouted up along routes heading west and within the new western territories. Many modern roads would be paved along the same routes traveled by settlers in the nineteenth century and the native peoples who first walked them centuries before.