ATCHISON, Kan. About 450 Latter-day Saints from the Midwest and West gathered July 23 at Mormon Grove, a site four miles west of Atchison where in 1855 Latter-day Saint immigrants gathered and prepared to travel overland to Utah.
Scheduled to coincide with Pioneer Day, the celebration of the 150th anniversary of Mormon Grove was jointly planned by the Platte City Missouri and Topeka Kansas stakes. The Milo Andrus Family Association also assisted with the event.
In 1854, Milo Andrus was the stake president in St. Louis nearly 300 miles away who recommended that Mormon Grove be the outfitting station for immigrants to Utah in 1855, oversaw the site, and led the last of the eight companies that left from there in 1855 to travel to Utah.
About 20 of his descendants attended the commemoration, some traveling from as far away as from California, Utah and Idaho.
Activities for the commemoration took place at Benedictine College here. In the opening program, John Christensen shared some historical highlights about Mormon Grove and its significance in local and Church history.
He explained that the site was chosen because it was located in a cholera-free area near the Missouri River and near the fledgling town of Atchison, which needed laborers to help construct buildings and roads.
In 1855, about 2,000 saints from the United States, England and Denmark gathered in Mormon Grove, where they set up an orderly tent city, planted fields, built sod fences, and worked in Atchison, earning money for their overland trek and building up that new community.
The saints in Mormon Grove didn't have the persecution or animosity experienced by Church members just 20 years before in nearby western Missouri.
Unfortunately, cholera struck the way station and some of the companies that left from Mormon Grove. A makeshift cemetery outside the tent city was created for the victims.
Mormon Grove was used as an outfitting station for one company of saints in 1856, then abandoned. Today, this is private property. The only visual reminder of Mormon Grove is a Kansas State Historical Society marker erected in 1986 near the site on U.S. Highway 73, four miles west of Atchison, Kansas.
Other events of the opening program commemorating the 150th anniversary of the site included a multi-stake choir, which sang a pioneer medley; a choir of missionaries from the Missouri Independence Mission who were serving in the Platte City and Topeka Stakes; and music by descendants of Milo Andrus.
Many pioneer-related activities followed the introductory program. Hearty modern-day pioneers braved the near-100-degree temperature outdoors to take part in log-sawing and tug o' war competitions; handcart, 3-legged, and relay races; and stick pulling.
In the air-conditioned college gymnasium, activities included a pioneer brass band; pioneer dancing; pioneer crafts and chores such as basket weaving, corn husk doll making, butter churning, and candle dipping, and a demonstration of wagon-wheel weaving.
Tables with exhibits about Mormon Grove, Kansas Mormon history, Joseph Smith, Milo Andrus, and the Oregon-California trail were organized for browsing.
A writer for the Atchison Daily Globe wrote two articles before and after the event to inform local residents about the significant role Latter-day Saints played in developing the community. She highlighted Church members' knowledge of family history.
Those with an ancestor who died near or at Mormon Grove are asked to contact Laura Anderson at: [email protected] or 7499 Foothill Drive, Lake Point, Utah 84074.