Harold Schindler, Mormon Trail Series
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 24, 1847
Wilford Woodruff wrote in his journal: "This is an important day in the history of my life...Brigham Young has expressed his full satisfaction in the appearance of the valley as a resting place for the Saints and was amply repaid for his journey." These are Woodruff's comments written the day he made them while the memory was fresh in his mind. The remarks that Young was said to have uttered that morning--("This is the place!" "This is the right place!" "This is the place Jim Bridger described!")--are from statements made years after the fact. Only the reader can decide what really was said, not that it matters a great deal.
What is important is that the Mormon pioneers reached their destination--the Great Salt Lake Valley--enduring some hardship, but no loss of life. They succeeded in breaking ground and planting seeds while the season was still with them. And, they made sufficient headway to allow Young to reach out to the members of his church on the overland trail and say their new home in the mountains awaited them. Young and his small company of companions, some sick with the influenza-like fever of the mountains, and others who cared for them in their time of need, rolled through the narrow road at the mouth of Emigration Canyon and saw the pioneer camp a few miles to the northwest.
The messengers John Pack and Joseph Mathews had informed Orson Pratt and Erastus Snow that Young likely would reach the pioneer camp this morning, then the two horsemen backtracked to repair two bridges at the mouth of the canyon. When Young, in Woodruff's carriage, and Heber C. Kimball and his wagons hove into view shortly before noon, it was obvious Young was on the mend from his bout with the mysterious malady that so savaged him these past two weeks.
Most new arrivals said they were pleased with the valley, but worried over the apparent absence of timber in the area. There was unanimous agreement about the richness of the soil and good prospects for fattening stock with little trouble. "But what of the timber and the lack of rain?" was the underlying complaint. William Clayton said, "We can easily irrigate with an unfailing and certain source of water, for springs are numerous and the water appears good." As if to offer a counterpoint, the pioneers were treated to a thundershower later in the day. "The Lord listens to prayers," several pioneers remarked.
Of the three pioneer women who made the journey, Harriet Young, the eldest, had a differing opinion. Said she: "Weak and weary as I am, I would rather go a thousand miles farther than remain in such a forsaken place as this." Ellen Kimball agreed, but Harriet's daughter Clarissa D. Young was less pessimistic: "My poor mother was almost brokenhearted; terribly disappointed because there were no trees. I don't remember a tree that could be called a tree."
Erastus Snow pointed to progress in the pioneer camp. "We have the creek dammed and the water turned onto our land and several acres of potatoes and early corn already in the ground." Woodruff was more specific. "They pitched camp on the banks of two small streams of pure water and commenced plowing; had broke about five acres of ground and planted potatoes. As soon as we were formed in the camp, before I ate dinner, having half a bushel of potatoes, I went to the plowed field and planted, hoping with the blessings of God at least to save the seed for another year...Toward evening, in company with Kimball, Smith and Ezra Benson, I rode several miles up the creek into the mountains to look for timber. It rained." (In the months to come, the pioneers would discover Little Cottonwood Canyon was a trove of excellent timber: rock maple, white oak, fir and Norway pine, all suitable for sawing into lumber.)
The Mormon pioneers had their foothold in the Great Basin and the Great Salt Lake Valley. Within months, their nearest neighbor, Miles Goodyear at Fort Buenaventura on the Weber River in today's Ogden, would discover several thousand emigrants scattered throughout the valley. For the Mormons it was a new beginning. For Goodyear, it was time to move on.