Bonaparte, Van Buren, Iowa

Bonaparte, Van Buren County, Iowa. Photo by Kenneth Mays.
Bonaparte, Iowa as seen from the Route W40 bridge over the Des Moines River. Photo by Kenneth Mays.

Located along the Mormon Pioneer Trail in southern Iowa, the town of Bonaparte has historic ties to the story of the Mormon exodus west.

The first wave of Latter-day Saints left Nauvoo for the west in early 1846. During the first week of March they reached the community of Bonaparte or Bonaparte Mills, Iowa. It is there that the Des Moines River flows southeast toward the Mississippi. On March 5th Brigham Young and the Camp of Israel forded the Des Moines River at Bonaparte as they headed west.

Des Moines River at Bonaparte, Van Buren County, Iowa. Photo by Kenneth Mays.
Des Moines River at Bonaparte, Van Buren County, Iowa. Photo by Kenneth Mays.

The river is about two feet deep with a rocky bottom. As Eliza R. Snow rode across in a wagon, she drew some water from the river to drink and noted that it was “a very refreshing draught.” The Saints found muddy roads on the opposite side. A number of Latter-day Saints found employment at Bonaparte.

Sign noting the Mormon crossing at Bonaparte, Iowa. Photo by Kenneth Mays.
Sign noting the Mormon crossing at Bonaparte, Iowa. Photo by Kenneth Mays.

Presently, Bonaparte has between 400-500 residents. The Bonaparte Historic Riverfront District was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1989. The sign seen at the left notes that Bonaparte is the place where Brigham Young and the Saints decided to ford the Des Moines River. The text that reads “and band of Mormons” is humorous to many. An interpretive panel in nearby Riverview Park gives information with regard to the Mormons passing through in 1846. The park is located on Route J40 on the bank of the Des Moines River. The river flows southeast to its confluence with the Mississippi near Keokuk, IA.

Map & Directions

Beginning at Fort Madison, IA on the Mississippi River, follow SR 2 west for about twenty-five miles. The center of Bonaparte is located at the intersection of County Road W40 and Route J40 about a mile and a half north of Highway 2. The town is situated on the north side of the Des Moines River. GPS coordinates are: 40°41’52.80″ N; 91°48’11.04″ W.

Photos

Old mill at Bonaparte, Van Buren County, Iowa. Photo by Kenneth Mays.
Old mill at Bonaparte, Van Buren County, Iowa. Photo by Kenneth Mays.
Bonaparte, Van Buren County, Iowa. Photo by Kenneth Mays.
Bonaparte, Van Buren County, Iowa with the Des Moines River in the foreground. Photo by Kenneth Mays.

Articles & Resources

Sources

William G. Hartley and A. Gary Anderson, in LaMar C. Berrett, ed., Sacred Places, Vol. 6, Iowa and Nebraska, 41-43.