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.
June 8, 1847
The wagons of the pioneer camp rolled forward about 7:30 a.m. and crossed the sixteen-foot expanse of Horseshoe Creek without incident. After little more than two miles took them winding around the foot of high bluffs, they began an arduous climb up a series of steep grades that was especially difficult on the teams. The first ascent was very bad, prompting Albert Carrington to grump, "It might have been avoided with a little labor."
They spied a buffalo "capering on the prairie," about a half-mile to the south, the first seen since the 21st of May, according to William Clayton. The wagon ascent covered three-quarters of a mile and seven steep climbs in that span. Most wagons had to double-team to reach the top, but all succeeded, much to the satisfaction of camp historian Thomas Bullock, who took time to inscribe on a buffalo skull the following: "Pioneers, Double Teams--June 1847--Camp all well--Hail Storm last night fine morning--T Bullock--no accident"
From the top of the bluff, he had a splendid view of the country on all sides for almost 100 miles. But in descending the reverse slope, the pioneers found it necessary to lock their wagon wheels to slow them down. The teams stopped during the descent to rest briefly and unlock the wheels. Benjamin Crow's wife, Harriet, took a moment to quench her thirst. She stepped on the tongue of their wagon to get a drink, when the oxen suddenly moved and the lurch threw her under the wheels. Her husband made a frantic grab and tried to pull the woman from beneath the wagon, but her coat became tangled in the wheel brake hammer and trapped her.
The wheel passed over her leg below the knee and rolled downward over her foot above the toes. "She screamed and appeared in great agony," Clayton said. "We thought her leg was broken, but it was not." She was badly bruised, however. One woman washed the leg in camphor and put Mrs. Crow in a wagon while the company moved on.
The party stopped for noon on a bluff where there was good grass. "I had the ill luck to break a wagon tire, but Burr Frost unlimbered his forge and welded it during the noon halt without detaining the camp," said Erastus Snow. Lewis Myers, the Crow family hunter, knocked down and killed an antelope.
The company sent out a work party including Willard Richards, Albert P. Rockwood, Albert Carrington, Jacob Weiler, James Craig, Horace Thornton, H. K. Whitney, Burr Frost and Artemas Johnson with picks and shovels to clear the trail of stones blocking the way. Wilford Woodruff remarked that they had seen nothing of the three companies of Oregon-bound Missouri emigrants today. But John Higbee, one of the Mormon hunters who had left before the Camp of Israel started this morning, saw the Missourians when they awoke. "They had such strife one with another in trying to be the first to start they did not stop to milk their cows and in finishing breakfast they strewed meal, salt, bacon, short cake, johnnie cake, beans and other things all over the camp," Woodruff said. "When we came up, three wolves were feeding on the fragments. I picked up a pocket knife and spoon left upon the ground," he wrote.
After the pioneer company had moved five miles over "a perfect succession of hills and hollows," the wagons began a gradual descent and crossed a stream known to trappers as the Big Timber, but labeled by John C. Fremont as "LaBonte Creek." Clayton discovered the roadometer was not working properly and paid particular attention to the turning wagon wheels once again. Temperatures became winter-like and the cold chilled the bones.
As the pioneers approached valley bottom, they found fires the Oregon companies had left. "We piled on the wood and soon got warm," said Woodruff. Orrin Porter Rockwell came in with a deer he shot and an antelope bagged by another hunter. He said he had ridden to the North Platte River some four miles from here by following the LaBonte. Orson Pratt was told a small company of wagons loaded with peltries and furs from Fort Bridger was camped about a mile away. It is headed for Fort Laramie, then on to the Missouri River to deliver cargo. Woodruff said, "We carved up the antelope, stuck it on sticks and roasted it on the fire. It satisfied our appetites finely without salt." The pioneers were camped in a circle on the west bank of the LaBonte when William Tucker and another trapper rode in. Tucker was sick with chills and fever and Luke S. Johnson administered to him.
Presently, James H. Grieve, James Woodrie, James Bonoir, and six other Frenchmen, who, with the American, Tucker, came to visit and meet Brigham Young. They told him their camp of "two squaws, two wagons, and three carts" was a mile and a half to the west. They said the North Platte ford where the wagons could best cross was yet fifty miles away; there was good feed along the trail, and that Jim Bridger's trading post was some 300 miles distant. They also told Young that mountaineers ride to Great Salt Lake Valley from Bridger's fort in two days and that the Utah country was beautiful.
The other Mormon emigrant train carrying Parley P. Pratt and Perigrine Sessions' families, remained in their camp on the Elkhorn River while the men prepared to ferry the company across the river and the women were busy washing and ironing.