The Mason House Inn

Welcome to The Mason House Inn! 319-592-3133

Mormon Trail

Mormon Trail

The book ‘A Bicentennial History of Van Buren County, Iowa’ has this to say about our Mormon history:  “Historians agree that , in marked contrast with citizens of neighboring states, Iowa never joined in the persecution which Mormons endured in their early years.  Rather, Iowans enjoyed their music, made use of and paid fairly for, their skills and labors.  Many well built homes remain here, attesting to this.”

In 1846, many Mormons left the city of Nauvoo in Illinois and settled in Van Buren County, Iowa.  Bentonsport was the home of several of these early pioneers.  The men and women lived and worked here long enough to save enough money to get their wagon, oxen, horses, and supplies (called an “outfit”) in order to travel west to Salt Lake City, Utah.  Some stayed on here and did not leave until much later.  The following are excerpts from journals written by 5 of these early pioneers:

  • David Moore writes:  “On the eighth day of May 1846, I left Nauvoo and crossed over the Mississippi river, and camped on the west bank of the river for the night.  Solomon Conley was engaged by me to haul my effects to Bentonsport, Van Buren County, Iowa, some 35 miles from Nauvoo.  My health was still very poor from the sickness I had in the fall before.  We arrived in Bentonsport on the 12th of the month, it taking us 4 days or nearly so to make the trip.  On our arrival in town, I inquired for a room or house to rent, but found none.  I then moved on to the upper part of the town and camped by or on the bank of the Des Moines River.  On the second day after I crossed over to South Bentonsport where I obtained a room in a house belonging to John Smith.  I soon got some small jobs of work which was a material aid to me in the destitute circumstances in which I was at the time.  I then went to work at wagon making and cabinet making and any kind of wood work that I could do for a living and continued to do so while I lived at Bentonsport, which was a little less than three years.  On the 24th of Nov. 1846,  I left John Smith’s house and moved into one that Br. Jas. Lithead ( James Leithead) and I had built together on a lot belonging to Geo. C. Allender.  Br. Lithead also moved into said house with me. I lived in this house until the 4th day of April 1848.  I moved from this house to a house that Br. W.G. Wilson had built for which I had to pay one dollar per month rent.  I lived in this house until 19th of July when I moved into a house that was built for a Grocery, where I lived until I left for Salt Lake Valley.

  • James Leithead writes in his Journal: “While at Nauvoo I labored much on the Temple from the start until completed.  I was a bass drummer in Marshall Band.  Built a large frame barn for Hyrum Smith and did other work for him, was intimately acquainted with him and his family.  In the spring of 1846, myself and two others hired a flatboat and ferried the Saints across the Mississippi River, and in June hired a team to take us to Bentonsport on the River Des Moines in Iowa.  I stayed there until I made an outfit to cross the plains, and in 1849 I left Bentonsport for Kanesville and in 1850 crossed the plains in Captain Milo Andrus’ company of over 50 wagons, arriving in Great Salt Lake City in September.”

  • In his Autobiography, James Leithead writes:  “Myself and others hired a flat boat and when spring opened, commenced ferrying across the river, which we continued until the majority were across.  Having no team and wagon for the trip, I hired a man and team to take me and wife to Bentonsport on the Des Moines River in Iowa.  I there went to work, getting considerable work in a large flour mill.  I also joined in with a brother of the mill owner, a cabinet maker and made large quantities of bedsteads and other furniture and shipped it up and down river.  I worked also making wagons, anything to make an outfit for the journey across the plains to the valley of the Great Salt Lake which the Pioneers had found and located in.”  James and Deborah Leithead’s daughter, Ann Cross Leithead, was born here in Bentonsport on April 7, 1848.

  • In “A Short Life Sketch of Celia Anzenette Keyes Taylor”, (daughter of Elisha and Johanna Keyes) Celia Keyes writes:  “The teams were weak and the roads muddy so we could only go a few miles in a day.  The team took us as far as Bentonsport.  There we found some very kind people.  We stayed there two-and-a-half years.  Father and Mother both got work and we soon began to get some of the comforts of life around us.”

  • Eliza Rawson wrote in her Autobiography: “In the spring of 1846 we left Nauvoo and went to Bentonsport on the Des Moines River.  Here my parents lost a little girl.  We lived here two years.   We then moved to Winter Quarters where we remained one winter and then moved to Missouri near Saint Joseph.  Here Mother gave birth to another son.”

  • George Laub also kept a journal of his travels, dated October 1846:  “Now after we was camped at or in the pieraries (prairies) this side of Boneyparte (Bonaparte) and from thence to the camping place again & then to keosackey (Keosauqua) from thence to Bentensport (Bentonsport) and back to the camping place again.  Having visited these small towns on the Des Moines from thence we started and on two days journey towards the west & then came to Fox River and there halted for 4 days and washing & baking was done for the further journey and also refreshing our cattle for there was much provinder there.”   (This portion of George’s journal was provided by his descendent, Diana Hill.)