It is impossible to identify exact number of pioneers

Although historians have estimated that anywhere from 50,000 to 90,000 Mormon pioneers crossed the plains between 1847 and 1868, it is impossible to know exactly how many pioneers immigrated to Salt Lake Valley during that time, said Melvin L. Bashore of the Church Historical Department.

Explaining the statistical information shown in graphic form on this page, Brother Bashore said that historical documentation is not available for every Mormon pioneer who traveled to the Salt Lake Valley.Brother Bashore, who has been compiling data on the pioneers for the last decade, said where documentation exists an exact count of the number of people in immigrant companies was calculated. However, for companies where the number of people and wagons was not documented, conservative estimates were made in the graphic at right.

Pioneer records were generally kept by clerks and captains in the immigrant companies, but the records were not all preserved. They were directed to deposit rosters and camp journals in the Historian's Office upon arrival in Salt Lake City, but some postponed or neglected to turn in company records. As a result, there are no rosters for more than 60 companies and only partial rosters for a great majority of the companies, explained Brother Bashore.

There are also other reasons why an exact count of immigrants cannot be determined. Some Church members traveled to Utah in non-Mormon wagon trains and non-Mormons traveled in Mormon companies. This made it difficult to gather information and inflated the counts in some Mormon companies. Counts of people also often included returning missionaries, who may have crossed the plains in a previous company, in addition to immigrants. Other pioneers withdrew from companies after being included on the rosters, or died en route to the Salt Lake Valley.

A simple mathematical method was used to derive estimates where statistics were missing for the accompanying graphic, said Brother Bashore.

In this process, averages were calculated by year for various types of companies. It was reasoned that independent companies with more financial means at their disposal would probably have had fewer people per wagon and that the cost of the trip would vary each year. Therefore, averages were calculated separately for independent companies and Church companies by year.

For instance, in 1850 Church companies averaged 4.3 passengers per wagon while independent companies averaged 3.4 passengers per wagon, Brother Bashore said. These averages were used to compute the number of people for companies where this information was missing, but where the number of wagons was recorded.

In companies where the number of wagons was unknown, a simple estimate was derived based upon the average of the number of wagons that had been in the independent and Church companies in that particular year.

There was also not enough information to make estimates for some freight companies and independent companies, he said.

"This may, in part, explain why the total number of Mormon immigrants calculated to have traveled across the plains to Utah between 1847 and 1868 is considerably lower than previous estimates," said Brother Bashore.


Pioneers crossing the plains

Estimated number

1847 1,637

1848 2,408

1849 1,598

1850 3,760

1851 1,735

1852 5,543

1953 3,037

1854 3,005

1855 2,046

1856 1,594 and 1,872 handcart immigrants

1857 894 and 479 handcart immigrants

1858 285

1859 1,404 and 235 handcart immigrants

1860 1,702 and 359 handcart immigrants

1861 4,408

1862 5,148

1863 3,721

1864 2,508

1865 973

1866 3,489

1867 560

1868 4,174

Total - 1847-1868: 58,574

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