Editor’s Note: To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Mormon Trail, The Salt Lake Tribune is offering this day-by-day account of the Mormon Pioneers’ original trek from Winter Quarters, Nebraska, to the Great Salt Lake Valley. Tribune history writer Harold Schindler, using diaries, letters, journals and reminiscences that have come to light this century, has fleshed out the following narrative.
July 10, 1847
The closer the Camp of Israel got to the Great Salt Lake Valley, it seemed the rougher the terrain became. For as the pioneers left Muddy Creek, they passed a clear mineral spring (Soda Springs) that carried the disagreeable taste of copperas and alum. It coursed over red sand, which abounded in the region, until the water took on the appearance of flowing blood. From there the trail wound around the foot of nearby mountains until at last the wagon train faced an almost impassably steep and boulder-strewn patch of ground leading to what now is known as Pioneer Hollow.
There were more hills to climb and steep pitches to negotiate along with a remarkable S-turn that took them to a small creek that smelled of rotten eggs (Sulphur Spring). Here they made camp. Looking back from the bottom of the trail, Thomas Bullock said the nearly perpendicular descent was like “jumping off the roof of a house to a middle story. Thank god, no one was hurt.” The wheels on some wagons had to be locked in order to negotiate the drop. William Clayton put up a guide board: “30 miles to Fort Bridger.”
Orson Pratt fortunately found a fine spring of clear, sweet, cold water about 100 yards southwest of the camp. As he was returning from the spring, Pratt saw smoke two miles in the distance and immediately suspected it was an Indian campfire. George A. Smith, Porter Rockwell and a few others rode out to determine who their neighbors were. It was a party of seven from “the bay of San Francisco on their way home to the States.” One was the mountaineer Miles Goodyear, who was bringing a horse herd back from California. In the party with Goodyear were his two Indian herders as well as John Craig of Ray County, Missouri; Samuel Truitt from Shelby County, Illinois; and two unidentified California immigrants.
Goodyear was a slight, wiry fellow who sported a thatch of fire-red hair. A Connecticut-born Yankee, he had started from Sutter’s Fort near Sacramento with three Indian wranglers and his horses when the party tangled with hostile Indians near Truckee Lake. Goodyear was slightly wounded in the fracas; one of his hired hands was killed. He had planned to take the band of horses to Missouri, but when he was told that the Oregon emigration had started, Goodyear changed his plans. He would intercept them at Fort Hall with the idea of doing some horse-trading. His traveling companions, Craig and Truitt, would continue to the States.
From Craig, Wilford Woodruff learned that Levina Murphy, a woman he had baptized, had apostatized and was among the Donner party emigrants involved in cannibalism at Truckee Lake. From Goodyear, Brigham Young learned of two roads from the present camp to the Great Salt Lake Valley; the mountaineer recommended the northernmost route.
Clayton, in his wagon, noted in his journal that Goodyear “is the man who is making a farm in the Bear River Valley.” He said it was seventy-five miles to his place. His report of the valley “is more favorable than some we have heard, but we have an idea he is anxious to have us make a road to his place through selfish motives.” But Clayton was jumping to unwarranted conclusions. Goodyear not only described the two routes, but guided Porter Rockwell, Jesse Little, Joseph Mathews and John Brown along both. The first was by way of Coyote Creek and the Needles, and the other (the southern route) was along Yellow Creek.
Both routes came together near Cache Cave at the head of Echo Canyon, but the northern trail was considerably shorter. The distance from that point to Goodyear’s fort was precisely the same; it made not a whit of difference to him. From Echo Canyon, the Camp of Israel had only to follow the Donner-Reed trail into the Valley. Young and his counselors favored the southern route; the rest of the pioneer camp voted for the high road. They took that route.