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.
May 21, 1847
In the hour before the pioneers got the signal to move out in the morning, William Clayton prepared a "guide board" to be posted at the campsite. It bore the following inscription:
From Winter Quarters 409 miles.
From the junction of the North and South Forks, 93 miles.
From Cedar Bluffs, south side the river 36 miles.
Ash Hollow, south side of river, 8 miles.
Camp of Pioneers May 21, 1847. According to Fremont, this place is 132 miles from Laramie. N.B. The Bluffs opposite are named Castle Bluffs.
By 11:30 a.m. the wagon train had made seven and three-quarter miles and halted for noon, allowing the teams to feed. Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball, who were riding ahead to scout out the route, found a nest of five wolf cubs, caught and killed two with sticks. Three others escaped to their den.
After another four and three-quarter miles, the company reached a point where the bluffs run right to the Platte River, which at this place turns to the north (below present Mutton Creek). Clayton, in his journal, explained that a stretch of bottomland about a rod--sixteen and one-half feet--wide runs between the bluffs and the river, but it was so wet and soft that it was thought better to cross over the bluffs by veering more to the north. After traversing the bluffs, the pioneers found the route improved.
A mile or so along this flat land; the party discovered what they believed to be a petrified mammoth bone. Clayton thought it part of a shoulder, but Orson Pratt theorized it was a leg bone, from the knee joint down. He measured and found it to be seventeen and one-half inches long, eleven inches wide, six inches thick and weighed twenty-seven pounds, "after some had been broken from it." It was a curious specimen of ancient zoology, and if circumstances would have permitted, he said, worthy of preservation.
Making camp for the day, the alarm "Indians" swept the company. "Two Indians, a man and his squaw, came near," said Clayton. "They represented by signs that they were Sioux and that a party of them were on the bluffs north of the pioneers and not far distance. We could see several on the bluffs with their ponies, evidently watching our movements," he added.
"The squaw fled for the bluffs as fast as her horse could go, but by signs made to them they gathered courage and came up. Brigham Young gave orders not to bring them in camp and they soon rode off to the bluffs...The horses they rode are said to be work horses which makes us suspect they have stolen them from travelers."
Lorenzo D. Young brought two large ducks into camp; he used but one bullet to bag both. Heber Kimball told Clayton to leave blank whatever pages necessary to bring his journal up to date. "I am behind in copying and will start from the present to keep Kimball's journal up daily. He furnished me a candle and I wrote this day's travel by candlelight, leaving fifty-six pages blank." (The pages were never filled.)
In his wagon, Norton Jacob mused about the weather. "The air is very clear and serene in this country. Objects are seen at double the distance that they can be in the Mississippi Valley. We are very liable to be deceived as to distances. Frequently shoot at animals that seem to be quite near when the balls will fall to the ground before they reach the mark," he wrote. Apparently unaware of Lorenzo Young's duck hunt, Jacob added, "The men have been quite orderly about shooting since they got such a dressing down on Tuesday, not a gun having been fired at any living object except a rattlesnake lying in the path."
Distance traveled today: 15 1/2 miles.