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.
July 23, 1847
First order of business this morning was to move the pioneer camp near the spot Orson Pratt and Erastus Snow had selected as a planting field. And while the routine of eating breakfast and hitching the teams was under way, John Pack and Joseph Mathews saddled up to ride to Brigham Young's camp with a full report. From its initial campsite on Parleys Creek near today's 500 East and 1700 South, the pioneer company backtracked a mile, then headed north for four miles, bringing it to about 400 South and State (where the Salt Lake City-County Building now stands). Pratt reported the camp was near the bank of a beautiful creek of pure cold water (City Creek).
William Clayton observed that, "the grass here is even richer and thicker on the ground than where we left this morning. The soil looks indeed rich, black and a little sandy. Grass is about four feet high and thick on the ground and well mixed with rushes. "If we stay here three weeks and our teams have any rest they will be in good order to return," he said.
Willard Richards took the opportunity to lecture the pioneers on the importance of getting their potatoes, turnips and buckwheat into the ground, and cautioned against greed, selfishness and avarice in regard to sharing the harvest. Otherwise, he warned, they might meet a fate similar to the Donner emigrants. The camp then joined in prayer and asked the Lord to send a little rain. Three plows were unlimbered and William Carter, George W. Brown and Shadrach Roundy shared the honor of running the first furrows plowed by white men in the valley of the Great Salt Lake, according to Erastus Snow.
The planting, "a little northeast of the camp," was done within the two blocks bounded by today's Main and 200 East, and 100 and 200 South. The soil was hard and dry and plows broke several times during the day. Some of the men built a dam across the creek to divert water from the stream to the plowed land. By early afternoon three plows were working at once along with a harrow and a drag. Norton Jacob and Lewis Barney had made two harrows ready to use and by nightfall, three acres of ground had been broken.
Thomas Bullock, who had been copying letters to Brigham Young, enclosed a table of distances and a map of the route from the Weber River to the valley camp, for Pack and Mathews to carry. Then Bullock leaned back to survey his new home. "A hare crossed the road two wagons ahead of me," he said. "We are camped on the banks of a beautiful stream [City Creek] covered on both sides with willows and shrubs. Rich land, deep grass and the intended location for a farm."
Fresh sets of teams were ordered to be ready every four hours during the planting and every pioneer was to plant his own potatoes and seeds as he pleased, Bullock noted. Almon S. Williams was in charge of making and firing a coal pit, while George A. Smith suggested the men collecting firewood only pick up dead timber, leaving live timber standing.
At East Canyon Creek some twenty miles to the east, Howard Egan and Brigham Young's company began moving out on a rough and rocky road to traverse Big Mountain. The descent on the west slope was treacherous as usual, with most of the wagons going down with rear wheels locked. Halfway, Lorenzo D. Young's ox-drawn wagon overturned with his two little boys in it. Providentially, they escaped injury, though part of the load had broken loose and fallen on them, at the same time sealing off the rear. The frightened youngsters were freed by cutting a hole in the wagon cover.
Pack and Mathews rode up as the small company reached Mountain Dell. The wagons made it over Little Mountain and camped on Last (Emigration) Creek as Pack and Mathews made their way back to the valley with word that Brigham Young would join the main camp tomorrow.