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 2, 1847
A fine morning, but cold. There is a half-inch crust of ice in the water bucket. Most pioneers in camp fell into an exhausted sleep after yesterday's buffalo hunt, but during the night their slumber was shattered by the sound of gunfire from the sentries. It seems a buffalo and calf came within a short distance of the wagons and one of the guards shot at the calf, wounding it. It was killed later.
About six in the morning, the company was glad to see Joseph Hancock, the hunter who had set out on foot yesterday morning and had not made an appearance by nightfall. But when he did show up, he came into camp lugging a substantial chunk of buffalo meat. William Clayton heard him tell of killing a large buffalo yesterday about noon back on the bluffs. With no one around to help, Hancock decided to stay with his kill during the night to protect it from wolves. He made a fire and scattered some gunpowder around the buffalo to discourage scavengers. And finally he did what he could to fence in the carcass with some stakes.
A few wolves came close during the night, but eventually drifted away. Hancock cut the choice hump meat and packed it back to camp. Now, having had some breakfast, he and three other men prepared to retrieve the game on horseback, since wagons could not negotiate the bluffs. Brigham Young had decreed no hunting on the Sabbath, so all hands kept busy, some cooking, some drying meat and some making horse halters and lariats from the buffalo hides.
About noon, Young, Heber C. Kimball and a few others saddled up to search for a better camping place; while back on the bluffs, Hancock and his party found that wolves had gotten to his buffalo, but the men managed to salvage the balance of what remained. On their return, they added two antelope to the camp supply of fresh meat.
A little after 2:00 p.m., Young, Kimball and their group rode in and gave the order to move the camp a few miles west. The wagon train rolled out about 3:15 p.m. and by 4:00 p.m. was setting up camp beside a long lake of shoal, clear water near the banks of the Platte River. There was no timber, but plenty of grass, mostly last year's growth, for the teams to graze. The Platte appeared about two miles wide at this place, but shallow and muddy. Young, Kimball and the others rode out again, this time to search for a place to cross these shallows. There was some thought to tarrying a day longer and have some blacksmithing done.
Part of the hide from the face of the bull Porter Rockwell shot yesterday was brought into camp. "I found where Porter's shot struck the skull," William Clayton said. "The ball made a small hole, barely cutting through the outer surface or grain of the hide which was near an inch thick. The hair near the top of the head was about a foot long." It was convincing proof as far as Thomas Bullock was concerned that to shoot at the head of a buffalo "is only to waste powder and ball." And it only serves to further annoy an already angry animal. Wilford Woodruff reported that Indians had set fire to the prairie two miles ahead of the pioneers.
The sesquicentennial Mormon Trail Wagon Train endured a gray, chilly and wet twenty-one-mile day that took its toll on walkers and horses. After a bitter Wednesday night, Thursday's temperatures never rose above the low 50s, said wagon-train leader Leon Wilkinson. By the time the wagon train reached camp, several miles north of Palmer, Nebraska, a steady rain was falling. "We didn't have the best day today," Wilkinson said. Many of the horses seemed lethargic, he said.
A horse belonging to the Whitaker family of Midway, Utah, came down with a fever. We gave him a shot of penicillin and an antihistamine," said Tom Whitaker. "He'll pull out of this." Whitaker said the sodden weather has muted spirits somewhat, but he and his family are making the best of it. "So far the most authentic thing about this wagon train has been the weather," he said. "There's not a blasted thing we can do about it. Come hell or high water, we're on that road every day."
Many of the walkers accepted a Palmer farmer's offer to sleep in his house Thursday night, said Joseph Johnstun of Salt Lake City. Johnstun said his ankle, which he injured last week, still is swollen. Nevertheless, he walked all twenty-one miles Thursday. "Even the people having foot problems are beginning to walk a lot better," he said. For the wagon train, the weather might get worse before it gets better. Today's central Nebraska's forecast was for more rain and thundershowers.