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 2, 1847
The Mormon pioneers have pitched their camp almost directly across the North Platte River from Fort Laramie and after breakfast this morning Brigham Young called members of his Council of Twelve Apostles and several others to join him in visiting the storied outpost. First constructed from timber in 1834 as Fort William by the fabled mountaineers William Sublette and Robert Campbell, the post was sold and rebuilt in 1836 by new owners, Milton Sublette, Jim Bridger and three others for an outlay of $10,000. They named it Fort John. In 1841, the American Fur Company took over and began calling it Fort Laramie after one Jacques LaRamie or Loremy, a free trapper killed by Indians in the vicinity in 1821.
James Bordeaux is the boss and administers to eighteen men and their families, "mostly French, half-breeds and a few Sioux," according to William Clayton. They send their furs to Fort Pierre by land along the Missouri River some 400 miles distant and receive all their stores and provisions by the same teams, except meat, which they kill, there being buffalo within two day's drive. Bordeaux's last shipment to Fort Pierre consisted of 600 bales of robes, ten robes to the bale. The wagons have been gone forty-five days.
Young's group (Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, Albert P. Rockwood, Thomas Bullock, Amasa Lyman, Erastus Snow, William Clayton and Orson Pratt) crossed the river in the Revenue Cutter, the camp's leather skiff, but stopped long enough to visit the adobe ruins of Fort Platte abandoned the previous year. Fort Laramie is two miles to the west and it was a quarter past ten in the morning by the time Young arrived. The party was greeted by Bordeaux and shown to an upstairs room where they could relax and ask questions concerning what lay ahead on their journey.
"We learned that we cannot travel more than four miles farther on the north bank of the North Platte," Clayton reported, "because there are bluffs [the spur of the Haystack Range] which cannot be crossed with loaded wagons. The road on this side is better, because it is hard and not sandy, but feed now is scarce, most of it in patches on the trail."
After a while, Bordeaux opened his store to the Mormons, explaining that he traded solely with the Sioux. The Crows, he said, come here for nothing but to steal. "A few weeks ago a Crow party came down and stole twenty-five horses within 300 yards of the fort in broad daylight and with a guard around the corral," he said, shaking his head in wonderment. The Sioux will not steal on their own land, he said. Moccasins cost $1, a lariat the same, a pound of tobacco $1.50; sheeting, shirting and calico, $1 a yard; a butcher knife, $1; buffalo robes, $3 to $5; buckskins, $2 to $3; cows from $15 to $25; horses and ponies, $40; flour $25 per hundredweight, and a gallon of whiskey $32. Right now the fort has no sugar, no spices and no coffee, because its spring stores have not yet arrived.
Bordeaux mentioned to Young that Lilburn W. Boggs, former governor of Missouri, had stopped at the trading post last summer with the Harlan-Young emigrant company bound for California. Boggs became a sworn enemy of the Mormons after he ordered their "extermination" in 1838 by Missouri militiamen. He later was shot in the head in a failed assassination attempt, some said by Porter Rockwell, but no one ever proved it.
"Boggs warned me to watch my horses and cattle because you would steal them," Bordeaux said. Boggs tried to prejudice the trader against the Mormons all he could. "His people quarreled all the time and most of the company deserted him. I finally told him that as bad as the Mormons might be, they could not be any worse than he and his men were," Bordeaux said.
After dinner at the Mormon camp, Clayton watched as a few pioneers took the Revenue Cutter out to fish Laramie Fork with a seine. They caught sixty or seventy small fish, mostly salmon and suckers. Later in the evening Brigham Young decided that Amasa Lyman would accompany Thomas Woolsey, John Tippetts and Roswell Stevens to Fort Pueblo, 250 miles to the south, and guide the Mississippi Saints and members of the Mormon Battalion to join the pioneer company on the trail. They will leave tomorrow.