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 6, 1847
From their camp on the banks of Blacks Fork in present Wyoming, the pioneers struck out this morning at ten minutes to 8:00 and, after three and one-half miles, crossed Hams Fork, a rapid stream about fifty feet wide and two feet deep. Without halting, the Camp of Israel wagon train went on another mile and a half and forded Blacks Fork of the Green River at a crossing little more than two feet deep at its channel. And thirteen miles more, according to Orson Pratt, the company recrossed Blacks Fork, then circled to make camp on its left bank. Here the grass was good with dense clusters of willow for browse and fuel. There were also four or five large cottonwood trees in the immediate vicinity of the camp.
What most pioneers noticed right away was the abundance of wildflowers and wild flax. The flax especially was thought to be the equal of any cultivated variety, according to William Clayton. There was much rich bunch grass for the teams and wild currants for the pioneers. "The prairies are lined with beautiful flowers of various colors--chiefly blue, red and yellow, which have a rich appearance and would serve to adorn and beautify an eastern flower garden," Clayton observed.
While Wilford Woodruff was the company's acknowledged Izaak Walton, it was Pratt who today recorded the welcome presence of "salmon-trout" on the Pacific slope. "A number of fish weighing from one to ten pounds have been caught with the hook in different streams on this side of the South Pass," he said. Woodruff, recovering from a touch of the mountain fever, was uncharacteristically brief in his journal this day. "Man and beast," he wrote, "harnesses and wagons all covered with dust. We crossed Blacks Fork at nine o'clock, Muddy Fork at ten and camped on the west side of Hams Fork at five o'clock. We did not noon at all today. Whole distance for the day, eighteen miles." (Hams Fork, a principal tributary of Blacks Fork of the Green, got its name in the spring of 1825 when it was trapped by Zacharias Ham, one of William Ashley's lieutenants.)
Like Woodruff, Norton Jacob was himself recovering from a bout with the influenza-like sickness. "I rest well and am gaining strength fast," Jacob scrawled in his journal. "Moved on upstream about three miles and crossed Hams Fork and about a mile farther crossed Blacks Fork and continued up the south side. We made 18 miles. Crossed back to the north side and camped."
Over in Thomas Bullock's wagon, the camp historian was doing what he could to keep a detailed record of the company's trail performance, noting as well that now Willard Richards, his mentor and patron, was sick in his wagon. Once Bullock had helped "gather up the teams," he could concentrate on his chronicle: "Started at 7:40 a.m. through a gulley, then a south by west course for about three miles, and crossed 'Kanes Fork' about four rods wide; some willows and grass, a pretty good camping place, then up a hill in a straight line towards some high bluffs. In about two miles crossed Blacks Fork about eight rods wide in a slanting direction. Continued over a tolerable good road, but very barren, saw many dog daisies and many beautiful blue flowers, also red flowers. Go around the high bluff in the form of a semi-circle, leaving it on our left, then descend to the bottom again in a straight line, until we reached Blacks Fork which we again cross in a slanting direction...camp on the west side. Tolerable grass, some blue grass, many thistles and mountain flax, the best we have seen."
Along the Platte River, men of the second Mormon emigration reported seeing a number of antelope, elk and "small animals resembling a puppy called prairie dogs. They burrow." Patty Sessions wrote, "We traveled eighteen miles and camped on the banks of a stream [an arm of the Platte] where Indians had previously camped. We burned their discarded wickiups [tipis] for wood. Some of the men waded the river to get wood which they carried on their backs."