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 19, 1847
The Camp of Israel--in good health and spirits and teams in good order--resumed once again its journey westward. Some pioneers said their stock had fattened so much while at the upper crossing of the North Platte River they hardly knew them. "The grass appears to be rich and good," observed William Clayton, as he noted the first six miles of their route was nearly west over several considerably high bluffs. Descent on the reverse slope was rough, crooked and uneven.
At the ferry, the Mormons finished crossing the emigrants about noon and James Davenport was blacksmithing for the Missourians when word came that a young man, Wesley Tustin, eighteen, had drowned five miles below the upper crossing while trying to swim a horse across the river, according to Appleton M. Harmon.
About 1:00 p.m., the pioneer company halted for noon on a spot of good grass about a quarter-mile from a small spring, "the first water we've come to since leaving the ferry eleven and one-quarter miles back," Clayton remarked. "There is no timber [for fuel] nearer than the bluffs, probably two miles away and that is small cedar and little of it," he added.
Once the company started again, it found the road extremely rough and laced with cobblestones. "At 7:40 p.m., we formed camp in a small spot surrounded by high bluffs. Traveled this afternoon ten and one-quarter miles and during the day twenty-one and one-half which is the longest distance we have covered in one day since Winter Quarters and this is considered by all to be the worst camping ground we have had on the trek, but we are obliged to take it, even though there is neither wood, grass, nor water since we left the spring," Clayton reported.
The land was perfectly barren and sandy, nothing growing but wild sage and small prickly shrub "like those on the moors in England." The men use wild sage and buffalo chips to do their cooking. There are two small streams of water, one coming from the northwest is not too bad, but the other, from the southwest, was so foul even the cattle would not drink it. This alkali swamp and springs are said by trappers and traders to be poisonous. "It is strong in salts or saleratus and smells rotten. Its banks are so soft that a horse or ox cannot go down to drink without sinking nearly over their heads in thick, filthy mud, and it one of the most horrid, swampy, vile places, I ever saw," Clayton groused.
The pioneers found it necessary to keep a guard out to prevent the cattle from wandering into the bog. Mosquitoes swarmed in the area, adding to the loathsome, solitary scenery. Wilford Woodruff described the water as tasting as though it had "passed through a bed of salts, salpetre and sulphur...it was nauseating and horrible." Brigham Young called the campsite "Hell Gate."
Porter Rockwell returned from a hunting trip, reporting that he had killed a fat buffalo about two miles off. Lewis Myers, the Crow company hunter, killed two buffalo, but took only the tallow and tongues, leaving the rest on the prairie. John Norton and Andrew Gibbons left camp back at the spring to go hunting, expecting the pioneers would remain there a day. Norton returned, saying he had killed a buffalo and left it not far from the spring. Gibbons had not been seen or heard of since.
The second emigration of Mormons continued from the Elkhorn River to the Platte following the route taken by the pioneer company. As an indication of how well armed these emigrants were for hunting and protection from hostile Indians, Jacob Houtz's group of Fifty in the second One Hundred carried fifty muskets, seven pistols, 246 pounds of powder, 138 pounds of shot, 394 pounds of lead and two swords.
Jacob Weatherby, a teamster in George B. Wallace's Fifty, started back to Winter Quarters as a messenger from the camp. He was accompanied by Alfred B. Lambson and two women, Almira Johnson and Nancy Chamberlain, in an ox team. At a point eight miles from the Elkhorn, three naked Indians rose from the grass, walked up to the wagon and pointed their muskets at the travelers. Weatherby and Lambson jumped out of the wagon and closed in on two of the Indians. While they were grappling, the third Indian shot Weatherby in the back, the ball tearing through his hip into his abdomen. The Indians fled. Weatherby died a few hours later.