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 22, 1847
The morning dawned quite cloudy with a mild threat of rain. Orson Pratt's advance party was hard at work chaining, chopping and cutting away the last determined clumps of willow and underbrush choking the creek bed at the mouth of what is now called Emigration Canyon. Pratt, George A. Smith, Erastus Snow, Orrin Porter Rockwell, John Brown, Joseph Mathews, John Pack, J.C. Little and another man, whose name is not recorded, started out as an exploring expedition into the valley. William Clayton watched as they rode off. He walked to the butte above the creek bed and contemplated the valley and all it implied.
"As we near the mouth of the canyon, there is a small grove of elder bushes in bloom and considerable oak shrubbery. It is evident that the emigrants who passed this way last year [the Donner-Reed party] must have spent a great deal of time cutting a road through the thickly set timber and heavy brush wood. It is reported that they spent sixteen days in making a road through from Weber River which is thirty-five miles, but as they did not work a quarter of the time, much less would have sufficed. It has taken us over three days, although a great many hours have been spent improving it. In this thick brushwood and around here, there are many large rattlesnakes, making it necessary to use caution," he explained.
"There is an extensive, beautiful level-looking valley from here to the lake which I should judge from the numerous deep green patches must be fertile and rich...There is but little timber in sight anywhere and that is mostly on the banks of creeks and streams which is about the only objection to my estimation of this being one of the most beautiful valleys and pleasant places for a home that could be found. There may be timber on the mountains...There is doubtless timber in all the passes and ravines where streams descend from mountains. There is no prospect for building log houses without a vast amount of time and labor. But we can make Spanish bricks [adobe] and dry them in the sun.
If I had my family to be with me, how happy I could be, for I dread nothing so much as the journey back again...I could almost envy those who have got safely through having their families with them, yet they will have a hard time of it the coming winter. Robert Crow's family especially has very little breadstuff with them. They say enough to last two months and they are dependent on the success of their hunter for support during the winter."
Once the advance party had opened the road into the valley in mid-afternoon, the pioneer company moved west and made camp on a stream bed (Parleys Creek) five and one-quarter miles from the mouth of the canyon. Here Clayton reported the soil looked black and rich, "sandy enough to make it good to work." Feed for the teams was excellent and the footsore oxen could relish the green grass and soft rushes.
Orson Pratt's exploring party rode up, having been as far as fifteen miles to the north. They reported the immediate area was as suitable as any for planting. On the far north end, they said, were hot sulphur springs, as many as fifty in number. Pack and Mathews of the exploring party were selected to carry a message to Brigham Young that they planned to plow and plant ten acres of potatoes and continue until all the seed was in the ground.
Erastus Snow was enthralled by the hot springs. "The largest and warmest spring...bursts forth from the base of a perpendicular ledge of rocks about ninety feet high and emits a volume of water sufficient for a mill. We had no instrument to determine the degree of temperature, but suffice to say it was about right for scalding hogs. "Here are the greatest facilities for a steam doctor I ever saw. And a stone in the center of the stream before the aperture in the rock seemed to say This is the Seat for the Patient!' At any rate, I tried it but had little desire to remain long upon it."
For Thomas Bullock, it was a day of celebration. He fretted as his wagon rattled through the narrow road, but was stunned when a turn to the right brought the lake into full view with its "bold hills and islands towering in bold relief...I could not help shouting: Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah! There's my home at last!" He also lamented the apparent absence of timber (in time, the pioneers would find Little Cottonwood Canyon thick with trees), but he recognized there were mountains of stone "to build stone homes and walls for fencing. If we can only find a bed of coal we can do well and be hidden up in the mountains unto the Lord."
In the evening, the pioneers gathered in camp (near 500 East and 1700 South) to hear Pratt's report on the day's exploration: "About four miles north from this camp are two beautiful streams of water with stony bottoms [confluence of the two branches of City Creek]. Beyond that is saline country and fifty mineral springs. One will do for a barber shop and the largest spring rushes out of a large rock having a large stone in the middle and would make a first rate Thompsonian [referring to herbal medicine] Steam House."