Harold Schindler, Mormon Trail Series
Editor's Note: To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in Utah, The Salt Lake Tribune is offering this day-by-day account of their 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 narrative.
April 30, 1847
A cold, biting north wind greeted the pioneers as they awoke to the sound of the bugle this morning. The unwavering routine continued: Tending to the cattle and horses before eating breakfast, then hitching teams and moving out by 8:30 a.m. Within the first mile from camp, the wagon train found the remnants of an Indian camp covering several acres of land. Again, Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and Amasa Lyman moved ahead of the company to seek out a route, having thus far followed an Indian trail which was so overgrown with grass and so little used that it was barely discernable. Wind-blown sand and dust was bad.
William Clayton started ahead on foot early this morning and noted the prairie was level and green with grass. "There are many wild geese also buffalo dung, but none recent," he said. "There are immense patches of blue grass, which from all appearances, the buffalo are fond of. Also numerous patches of buffalo grass which is very short, thick on the ground and curly like the hair on a buffalo's hide, and much resembling it, except in color." Clayton complained the wind "blows strong from the north and the dust is very bad."
The company nooned beside a clear little stream they called Grass Creek, which was "well supplied with watercress," the first that Thomas Bullock had seen "in this country." At half-past noon, the company started off again, with the north wind strong and billows of sand swirling from beneath the wagon wheels. "It has turned very cold and gloomy," according to Clayton.
The pioneers decided to camp a little after 5:00 p.m., having traveled another eight miles. "The wagons were formed in an imperfect circle in such a manner as to have the wagon mouths from the wind, which took nearly an hour. We are about a mile from water and a mile and a half from timber with very little grass for our teams. "It is now so cold that every man wants his overcoat on and a buffalo robe over it. We have had no accidents and the men feel well, some are wrestling to keep themselves warm," Clayton reported.
"Some have the good luck to bring a little wood with them but it seems as if many will have a cold supper. And some perhaps little or nothing as they have no bread cooked. At 8:00 p.m., the camp has found a good substitute for wood in the dried buffalo dung that lies on the ground here in great plenty and makes a good fire when properly managed. "After supper I went and gathered some dried buffalo dung (politely called buffalo chips) to cook with in the morning. I went to bed early to get warm, but having only one quilt for covering, I suffered much from the cold."
Some men set to digging and in half an hour had managed to reach water at four feet; they excavated three small wells to water the cattle. Luke Johnson found a buffalo skull which he adapted as a chimney for his fire--"the smoke coming out at two holes between the horns, combined the useful & the ludicrous," Bullock noted.
Hans C. Hansen entertained the camp with his violin until lights out. Wilford Woodruff mentioned that Orson Pratt took observations on the north bank of the Platte, seventeen miles from last camp. "Thermometer read forty-one degrees. Camped without wood or water. Grass was short, affording but little feed."