On foot and in horse-drawn wagons, more than 100 Latter-day Saints set out from the city their ancestors founded to re-create a historic journey west to flee religious persecution.
But while hundreds of Mormons died in the 1,100-mile trip to Salt Lake City in 1846, the Mormons who left Nauvoo on Monday are traveling in more comfort, taking video cameras, portable toilets and trailers for some to sleep in along the way.They also enjoyed summerlike weather instead of the bone-chilling February winds their ancestors endured.
"We're doing it for the greater love and appreciation of our pioneer ancestors," Utah rancher Montel Seely said. "When you do something that someone else has done before you, then you experience the thirst, the fatigue, the hunger. You say, `Now I know what they endured.' "
On Monday, men wrestled horses and covered wagons aboard a ferry to cross the Mississippi River, near this city of about 1,100, as the group headed for Iowa. Women and children watched, some of them videotaping events from beneath sunbonnets. In 1846, the Mormons drove the horses over the frozen river.
The train of 17 wagons and a handcart will crawl across Iowa at 5 mph and then stop at the Nebraska border. That part of the trip is expected to take three weeks, with about 20 miles traveled a day.
The group will continue their trip to Salt Lake City next summer, breaking up the event into two summer vacations. Another wagon train starts a similar journey next week.
Linda Whitaker and her husband Tom brought four children out from their Utah ranch to make the trip. Tom is driving a wagon, while Linda is walking.
"It's something we want to give to our children," said Linda Whitaker, dressed in calico. "We have it easy, but I think we still go through a lot of what they did."
"Having it easy" means the train is accompanied by a water truck and portable toilets, and many of the voyagers will sleep in trailers driven along the route by relatives. The group will camp in friendly towns planning cookouts and festivals to welcome them.
But the travelers still have to face the summer heat and dust, the smell of the horses, the bone-jarring wagon ride. Those who walk will start earlier and finish later than the faster-moving wagons.
Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints founded Nauvoo, making it one of early Illinois' largest cities. But the new religion met hostility from its neighbors. When founder Joseph Smith was killed by a mob, his followers fled, driving their wagons west.
Mormon leader Brigham Young began thinking of heading west after reading explorer John Fremont's accounts of what is now Utah, Oregon and California.
About 70,000 Mormons left in February 1846, founding towns along the way in Iowa and Missouri. Discussions with travelers en route may have helped Young choose to end his journey in Salt Lake City.