Two years after the martyred death of the President of the Mormon Church at Carthage, Illinois in 1844, the Mormons, led by their new leader Brigham Young, were forced to move their settlement due to increased anti-Mormon sentiment and occasional mob violence. These pioneers made their destination the Great Salt Lake Valley and first arrived there on July 24, 1847. During this migration, nearly five hundred Mormon men left and joined the United States army to fight in the Mexican War. Known as the Mormon Battalion, these men were assigned to posts in Alta California, located quite near to the American River, the source of the first gold strike.
Altogether, the Mormon Church created seven denominations with different designs, four of which were for $5 Half Eagles, dated 1849, 1850 and two in 1860. On the earliest coins dated 1849, they used the all-seeing eye symbol of Jehovah on the obverse, similar to that found on their temples at the time, and clasped hands symbolizing friendship on the reverse. (It should be noted that this was the first time a $20 gold piece was struck for circulation within the United States!) For reasons uncertain, nine stars were added to the same design on the only issue struck in 1850, the Half Eagle. On the issues dated 1860, the recumbent image of a lion was used on the obverse, and an eagle with outstretched wings protecting a beehive (the symbol for industriousness) appears on the reverse.