The historic Winter Quarters encampment represents one of the most famous and enduring staging points for the westward migration of the early Latter-day Saints. In June of 1846, the first company of Latter-day Saint Pioneers arrived in the middle Missouri River valley, in the area now known as Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska.
After a brief survey of the area, a site was chosen and a community was laid out and organized. Temporary homes and facilities were constructed to house the saints and crops were planted to provide much needed food for current and future individuals and families arriving to the area. The resulting community was referred to as Winter Quarters. The town of Winter Quarters (in the area now known as Florence, Nebraska) became a bustling community, affording a modest level of refuge and protection to the saints as they prepared to weather a bitter Midwestern winter. In addition to the town of Winter Quarters, many other communities were established on both sides of the river, the largest and most notable of which was Kanesville on the eastern banks of the Missouri River (now Council Bluffs, Iowa).
The winter was harsh, and despite their best preparations, many of the saints found themselves ill prepared to survive the season. Due to the arrival of many of the saints so late in the season, coupled with a lack of adequate resources, a good number of the shelters that were constructed were incapable of affording adequate protection from the elements. Hundreds of Latter-day Saints perished from a combination of harsh weather, hunger, and disease. A modest cemetery was constructed on a hill overlooking the valley. The very young and the elderly were disproportionately numbered among those occupying spots in the new cemetery, but more than a fair share of individuals in their prime succumbed to the harsh environment. While no exact data exists, it is estimated that as many as 300 – 400 people were buried in and around the Winter Quarters area by the end of that first cruel winter.