Marker identifies point of departure for 1860s pioneers

You probably won't find this 19th Century town on any highway map. And there is no visitors center here identifying it for what it is, a significant site pertaining to the westward gathering of the Latter-day Saints.

"There's nothing there today, just a cornfield," commented LaMar C. Barrett, BYU Church history professor emeritus and prominent author on LDS historical subjects.That's not exactly true anymore. His family association, the John Watts Barrett Family Genealogical Organization, gathered at the site Oct. 9-10, where they placed and dedicated a historical marker to honor the old town, its cemetery and the pioneers buried here.

(Note: References in this article to "Wyoming" pertain to this 1800s Nebraska town, not to the state with the same name.)

The town was named by founder Jacob Dawson after his former home of Wyoming, Pa. He platted the town in 1856, with the intention of developing it and selling off lots. But it was not until the Latter-day Saints decided to make Wyoming their outfitting place during the three years of 1864-66 that the town prospered. Afterward, the outfitting place was moved to North Platte, Neb., and Wyoming began to decline, eventually becoming a ghost town.

The new marker makes note that 16 "Church trains" were driven from Utah to Wyoming and back to transport poor European emigrants across the 1,000 miles. In addition, nine independent Mormon wagon trains made the journey, making a total of 25 wagon trains and 7,000 emigrants who prepared for their journey in Wyoming and started from here.

"While the exact locations of most of the 15 Mormon outfitting places used between 1846 and 1868 are spoken of in generalities, the Wyoming historical sites are known with more specificity," Brother Barrett noted.

"In Wyoming, a person can walk on the site of the Wyoming wharf or levee along the Missouri River, where steamboats landed to unload Mormon emigrants and cargo. They can know the approximate site of the Mormon warehouses, where goods were stored; where the public square was and public park was planned to be; where the Mormon emigrants lived in their `tent city,' and where Mormon ancestors are buried in the Wyoming cemetery. They can walk down the very road (Market Street) that the Mormon pioneer emigrants walked as they traveled toward their Zion in Utah Territory."

Brother Barrett said that among the better known Church members who came to Wyoming as pioneer emigrants was John Smith (familiarly known as "Uncle John"), an uncle to the Prophet Joseph Smith and a brother to Joseph Smith Sr. In 1864, he led 974 Saints across the Atlantic and was captain of a Mormon Independent Wagon Train that traveled in 1864 from Wyoming to the Salt Lake Valley with about 150 emigrants.

George Reynolds, British convert to the Church and a member of the First Council of the Seventy, also came through Wyoming as a pioneer emigrant, as did Elder B. H. Roberts, also of the First Council of Seventy and author of A Comprehensive History of the Church, and Andrew Jenson, who became assistant Church historian.

At the placement and dedication of the marker, Brother Barrett said, were 31 descendants of two women memorialized who are buried at the cemetery, Ann Marie Chatters Hookway and her daughter, Mary Ann Hookway.

A fireside was held in the Nebraska City Ward meetinghouse on the eve of the dedication, with 125 people present for a lecture given by Brother Barrett.

Some 75 people attended the dedication the next day at the home of Jim and Mary Johnson, about seven miles north of Nebraska City. The program included a tour of the old cemetery and town site, conducted by Brother Barrett and by Mr. Johnson, the property owner, who is not a member of the Church.

"He had a rig set up with a big trailer, and he took us all over the town and the cemetery," Brother Barrett noted.

A pleasant surprise was the attendance of Russ Leger, one of the wagon masters of the Mormon Trail Sesquicentennial Wagon Train of last year and the wagon master of the recent wagon train that went from Preston, Idaho, to Cardston, Alberta, commemorating the LDS settlement of Cardston.

Wyoming is 44 miles south of Omaha and seven miles north of Nebraska City. It can be reached via Highway 75 south from Omaha or north from Nebraska City. The townsite is 17 miles south of where Highway 34 turns east to Plattsmouth, 3.6 miles south of where Highway 34 turns west to Union and 1.5 miles south of the Otoe and Cass County line in eastern Nebraska.

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