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 24, 1847
Level prairie allowed the pioneer camp to make ten miles this morning before halting to allow the teams to feed and rest. The bluffs on the north were two miles away and the North Platte River was a mile distant on the left. It was quite cold when the bugle sounded this morning, but at noon the weather began to moderate and grow warmer.
Two Indians approached the camp while the pioneers rested. They turned out to be Sioux. Wilford Woodruff said, "We gave them some dinner and showed them an Indian dog that had followed us for several days, but the dog would not follow them." Nevertheless, William Clayton said that when the Indians left, they took the dog with them.
In the afternoon, the wagon train made another six and one-half miles and camped near what Woodruff called "the quicksand mountain that runs in a ridge from the river back." The sand, he thought, had been heaped up by the wind. Clayton was concerned that the horse teams were giving out and indeed were failing, while the oxen seemed to gain daily. Mule teams, he said, stand the journey well, as do the other teams, considering the scarcity of grass.
About 5:30 p.m., the pioneers discovered a party of Indians moving west on the other side of the river, and when the Mormon camp was formed, the Indians began crossing the Platte toward them. "Some of the men went out to meet them carrying a white flag," Clayton reported. When the Indians saw this, they began to sing, and their chief unfurled a large American flag with the eagle, stars and stripes. Amasa Lyman, who was in the Mormon party, said the chief, Owash-to-cha, handed him two letters written in French. "They were recommendations signed by fur traders at Fort Laramie," said Norton Jacob.
The letters were deciphered in part by Albert Carrington. One letter, signed by P.D. Papin, commended Owash-to-cha as a friendly Sioux chief, the other letter was not signed, but commended a Sioux called Louis Brave or Brave Bull. The letters were dated at Fort John on December 24, 1846. (Pierre Didier Papin, was a famous fur trader and the bourgeois, or boss, of Fort Laramie.) The Indians, members of the Dacotah Sioux, wanted to visit the camp and Brigham Young gave his approval for the grand tour. Thirty-five tribesmen were shown six-guns and fifteen-shot repeating rifles and, of course, the six-pounder cannon. "The gunners went through the evolutions a number of times, which seemed to please the Indians very much," said Clayton.
The Sioux also impressed the Mormon camp with their appearance. Among the thirty-five, Orson Pratt noticed "a few squaws and boys," and all of them "being much better dressed than other Indians on the frontier. Many wearing broadcloth, blankets, and fur caps ornamented with an abundance of beads, and having bows, steel-pointed arrows, together with some firearms."
"For cleanness and neatness," Clayton commented, "they will compare with the most tasteful whites."
Added Jacob, "Noble looking fellows. Some of their squaws are pretty brunettes."
In describing the camp surroundings, Clayton commented that opposite the camp on the south side of the river was a "large rock resembling a castle of four stories in a state of ruin." (Today it is called Court House Rock.) And a little to the east of camp was a rock, said Clayton, which looks like a fragment of a thick wall. (Jail Rock.) Henry G. Sherwood, who accompanied the Indians to the other side of the river, returned after dark and brought with him the chief and a woman. Owash-to-cha apparently desired to stay the night with the Mormons.
The men fixed a tent for them to sleep under and they were furnished with "some victuals," according to Clayton. Porter Rockwell made them some coffee, which was much appreciated. "The old chief amused himself by looking at the moon through a telescope for as much as twenty minutes at a time," Clayton said.
Nathaniel Fairbanks, who was bitten by the rattlesnake yesterday, is much better this evening. Clayton spent most of the night writing in Heber Kimball's journal. "I have had but little chance to write as much as I want in my own and his both. But I feel determined to do all I can to keep a journal of this expedition which will be interesting to my children in after days and perhaps to many of the Latter-day Saints." John Higbee swapped horses with some of the Sioux. And Woodruff commented that "the Indians remained about the camp all night, but were good and stole nothing."
Distance traveled for the day: 16 miles.