A Trail is Only a Set of Tracks

A trail is only a set of tracks, a road is a human institution. And it is a fact at first a little disconcerting to realize that what made the Mormon Trail into a human institution was actually as much the work of Gentiles as of the Mormons themselves. The Mormons popularized the route, and it turned out to be a better route in many ways than the Oregon-California Trail from Independence or St. Joseph. But the principle of the Gathering, the impulse to concentrate their strength in the “Kingdom,” discouraged the permanent settlement of Saints along the way, and Brigham’s plans to settle certain stations to serve his Y.X. Express were disrupted by the conflict with the federal government and the cancellation of his contract. The other stations which were established, essentially supply and stock depots for the Church Trains, turned out to be as ephemeral as the Mormon Ferry at Last Crossing—when the immediate need for them ceased, their people were likely to be pull back to Salt Lake City. The Gentiles, who had from the beginning contributed trading posts, ferries, bridges, army posts, banditry, other humanizing elements to the trail, in the end inherited it.