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 18, 1847
A few Oregon- and California-bound Missouri wagons remained to be rafted across the North Platte River this morning, but otherwise the pioneers were occupied in completing the large ferryboat made from dugout canoes. The original plan was for the Camp of Israel to continue its westward trek today, but Brigham Young decided it would be best to wait for the ferry boat to be launched and for all the provisions earned in rafting other emigrant companies to be brought up and distributed. In all, the pioneers received from the Missouri emigrants 1,295 pounds of flour (at two and one-half cents a pound), plus meal, beans, soap and honey at corresponding prices, and two cows in total payment of $78 in ferrying charge.
The new twin-hull canoe boat was launched in the early afternoon and floated well, considering the dugout cottonwoods still were green. As constructed, it could carry an ordinary size wagon and its load, with three ferrymen operating oars and rudder. It was described in Mormon chronicles as "two large [25-foot] cottonwood dugouts placed parallel to each other a few feet apart, pinned firmly with cross pieces, on top of which were nailed flat slabs running lengthwise. With a rudder, oars and a little iron work, the ferry was of sufficient strength to carry over loaded wagons."
In council, Brigham Young suggested that nine men remain at the crossing with the new boat and ferry over any emigrant wagons they could at $1.50 each. Named to stay behind with the ferry were Thomas Grover, John S. Higbee, Luke S. Johnson, Appleton M. Harmon, Edmund Ellsworth, Francis M. Pomeroy, William Empey, James Davenport, and Benjamin F. Stewart. Eric Glines asked permission to stay, but it was denied. Young would not approve it, but told Glines he was free to do as he pleased. Glines tried to offer an explanation, but Young ignored him, saying Glines did not "manifest a good spirit." And that, "When I give a man counsel, I do not want him to reject it or bring up arguments to try and alter it. For when he does that, I turn on my heel and leave him." Glines stayed behind.
Heber Kimball gave a coil of rope worth $15 to the ferry party, for which he received 263 pounds of flour, 100 pounds of meal and twenty-seven pounds of soap, at going rates toward payment. William Clayton and John Pack took fishing poles "to the last creek we crossed about a mile and a half back. I caught sixty-five nice fish which would average about a half-pound each." Joseph Hancock killed two antelope.
For Thomas Bullock, the day got off to a bad start. Awakening at dawn, he discovered the oxen he had picketed for the night had vamoosed, "leaving no signs of being there through the night." Bullock the clerk had little interest in being Bullock the herdsman, and he was duly concerned, because "this is the second time Willard Richards has ordered me to tie up the cattle this week and each time they have been turned loose at night."
He waded through wet grass for "five or six miles" to once more round up the cattle, "among which were two I tied up last night." The camp historian was acutely uncomfortable and complained, "It was through getting wet feet that brought on the ague before and this morning's jaunt will, I am afraid, bring it back again." Orson Pratt took observations and calculated this upper crossing of the North Platte was 4,858 feet above sea level.
Daniel Spencer's one hundred of the second Mormon emigration left the Elkhorn camp and journeyed across the prairie about twelve miles to a point on the Platte where Ira Russell raised a flagpole designating the place as a general rendezvous for emigrating companies. As the camp of more than 500 wagons moved toward the Platte, some members discovered the remains of a human skeleton. Eleven-year-old Jerusha Hambleton found part of a pair of pants containing two letters and two musket flints. Both letters--enclosed in one envelope--were dry and directed to Alexander McElvoy, superintendent of Pawnee Farms. John Smith said writing found on the body indicated the dead man was an express rider sent to the Pawnees from a Major John Miller. The body was almost entirely ravaged by wolves and apparently had lain there for days. The bones were reburied where found.
In May 1931, workmen building a road three miles west of Fremont, Nebraska, uncovered a portion of skeleton buried under two feet of sand. It was determined the bones were those of an express rider found originally in 1847. Four French traders, who visited the Pawnees on business, learned the dead man at "Sandy Willow" was a Pawnee killed by Omahas.