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Council Bluffs, Kanesville Iowa

by Richard E. Bennett

Between 1846 and 1852, Council Bluffs, then known as Kanesville, was the headquarters for a substantial LDS presence in western Iowa. During the exodus from Illinois to the Rocky Mountains in the late 1840s, thousands of Latter-day Saints wintered at the Missouri River. After many proceeded westward, winter quarters, their original headquarters on the western bank, was abandoned in early 1848 in response to governmental pressure to leave Indian lands. Latter-day Saints who had not gone west relocated on the east bank of the river, in Iowa.

The new townsite was laid out in December 1847, on what originally had been Henry W. Miller's encampment on Indian Creek, in a hollow below the east bluffs of the Missouri River. That same month, Brigham Young was sustained as president of the church in a reorganization of the First Presidency in Kanesville. The new town of Kanesville took its name from a non-Mormon emissary of U.S. President James K. Polk, Colonel Thomas L. Kane, who had proven himself a friend of the Latter-day Saints.

President Brigham Young assigned Orson Hyde of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles to remain in Kanesville to supervise the movement of Latter-day Saints to the West as quickly as possible. The town's location on the Missouri River was particularly advantageous for several thousand British converts who had postponed their migration to America until a new gathering place and headquarters in the West had been established. By sailing to New Orleans, steamboating to St. Louis, and then upriver to Kanesville, these immigrants were spared the rigors of overland travel at least that far.

At one time, as many as thirty-one small encampments were clustered in and about Kanesville. At its height, Kanesville consisted of 350 log cabins, two log tabernacles, a post office, and numerous shops, stores, and other business establishments. Wheat, corn, and many vegetables thrived then, as they do today, in the rich riverbed soil near the bluffs. The town's most pressing problem, to provide adequate food, shelter, employment, and wagon outfits for large numbers of poor immigrants "passing through," was made easier by the California Gold Rush of 1849-1851, which resulted in a boom for Kanesville and other outfitting towns. The gold rush greatly expedited LDS migration while transforming Kanesville from a Mormon into a "Gentile" town.

By the summer of 1852, more than 12,000 Latter-day Saints—6,100 from Great Britain alone—had traveled west via Kanesville, ending the period of concentrated LDS presence in the area. In December 1853, non-LDS residents incorporated Kanesville and renamed it Council Bluffs, in memory of Lewis and Clark's council with the Indians in 1804 on or near the city site.

Kanesville is also remembered as the place where Oliver Cowdery was rebaptized by Orson Hyde in November 1848, ending years of estrangement from the Church he had helped organize in 1830.

(See Daily Living home page; Church History home page)


Aitchison, Clyde B. "The Mormon Settlements in the Missouri Valley." The Quarterly of the Oregon Historical Society 8 (1907):276-89.

Bennett, Richard E. Mormons at the Missouri 1846-1852. Norman, Okla., 1987.

Webb, Lynn Robert. "The Contributions of the Temporary Settlements Garden Grove, Mount Pisgah and Kanesville, Iowa, to Mormon Emigration, 1846-1852." Master's thesis, Brigham Young University, 1954.

Wyman, Walker D. "Council Bluffs and the Westward Movement." Iowa Journal of History 47 (Apr. 1949):99-118.



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Encyclopedia of Mormonism, Vol. 1, Council Bluffs (Kanesville), Iowa

Copyright © 1992 by Macmillan Publishing Company