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 22, 1847
All was peaceful in the pioneer camp. There has been no sign of Indians since the sighting of the Sioux yesterday. The wagons moved out at 8:00 this morning, making a more crooked trail than usual, having to bend south near the banks of the Platte River because of the soft, swampy, and uneven bottom lands.
After five and a half miles, the pioneers crossed a shallow stream they named Crab Creek because someone thought they saw a crab in it. The crab was more than likely a crayfish, and the stream, today's Coldwater Creek, was about twenty feet wide. According to William Clayton's description, the bluffs and the North Platte River are about a mile apart here, but on the other side the bluffs recede for two miles and have lost their craggy, steep appearance. On the north side, however, they begin to be craggy and almost perpendicular, though not very high. The wagons halted at noon after seven and one-quarter miles and, from the appearance of the terrain, some believe heavy storms are frequent in this region.
Porter Rockwell rode up to say that he had been on a high bluff about a mile to the northwest and could clearly see Chimney Rock from there. Clayton was especially eager to sight the famous landmark in order to further determine the accuracy of John C. Fremont's distances according to his map. Clayton climbed to the bluffs this afternoon and found the top to be a slightly arched quarter-acre of barren surface with "very little grass on it." On one of the smoother rocks he wrote in red chalk: "Wm. Clayton, May 22, 1847."
Clayton estimated Chimney Rock to be twenty miles away. But Orson Pratt, who also made calculations, remarked: "With glasses, Chimney Rock can now be seen at a distance of forty-two miles up the river." The difference in estimates only serves to confirm Norton Jacob's observation that the clean, crisp air in this region makes distances deceiving. Willard Richards has named the landscape Bluff Ruins, which has been entered on Mormon maps as Ancient Bluff Ruins.
At 5:45 p.m. the pioneers formed camp for the night within a quarter-mile of the river, having traveled eight and one-quarter miles this afternoon. Feed on the lower bench is tolerably good. The men saw many petrified bones in the vicinity, some very large. George R. Grant and Orson Whitney caught a young bald eagle in a nest on one of the high bluffs and brought it to the camp. Though still young and not able to fly, the bird's wingspan from tip-to-tip measured forty-six inches. Six or seven rattlesnakes have been killed; the reptiles seem to abound here.
There is some levity in camp this evening. A mock trial was conducted in the case of the Camp of Israel vs. James Davenport for blockading the highway and turning women from the road. (Precisely what Davenport did to "blockade the highway" and turn the women away was not mentioned in Clayton's journal.) Return Jackson Redden was appointed presiding judge; Edson Whipple was named defense attorney, and Luke S. Johnson prosecuted.
Clayton said, "We have many such mock trials which are amusing enough and help pass away the time during leisure moments." He did not report the outcome. "We have one man in camp who has earned the title of being the most even-tempered man than any other. And that is Solomon Chamberlain, who is invariably cross and quarrelsome." Chamberlain's reputation in camp is that of chief curmudgeon.
Distance for the day: 15 miles, 440 miles from Winter Quarters in five weeks and 3 days.
As the Mormon Trail Wagon Train snaked up one hill and down the next in deep sand and over wide prairies Wednesday, it seemed to many participants that they had been transported back in time. Unlike other days when they walked on highways of blacktop, this day felt authentic, real. "It was so much more spectacular than yesterday," said Tom Whitaker of Midway, Utah. "The terrain was harder and deeper with dust, and every wagon made it through."
Joseph Johnstun of Salt Lake City, one of the walkers, also relished the day undisturbed by 20th-century wires or vehicles. "It was rough going. We were blazing a trail," Johnstun said. "The stalwarts were loving it, but the tender feet [day walkers] were having trouble keeping up." The day was not without mishaps, however.
About 5:00 a.m. a man came running through the camp calling for a veterinarian. A horse caught its nose under the corner of a horse trailer and, in trying to free itself, gouged the side of its eye. "He must have hit an artery," Whitaker said. "There was blood everywhere." The vet stopped the bleeding with pressure and then wrapped the horse's head with gauze.
Later in the morning, a horse stepped into a deep hole and stumbled, throwing its rider, Walter Okamoto of West Point, Utah. The horse then rolled over on Okamoto. Those standing nearby thought Okamoto had broken his leg or maybe even his neck. They put him on a board and dragged him off the prairie to a hospital. Luckily, his leg was only bruised. "We dodged another one," Whitaker said soberly.