Editor's Note: To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in Utah, The Salt Lake Tribune is offering this day-by-day account of their 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 narrative. Not only is this series rich in pioneer trails history, but it is the history of those who founded and established the state of Utah.
Wednesday, April 7, 1847
In the forenoon, Wilford Woodruff, discouraged by yesterday's downpour, along with others chosen to be part of the pioneer company, begin assembling for the journey. Woodruff leaves his family and friends at Winter Quarters and starts with his section of wagons, eight in all, for the rendezvous point. When he reaches the ridge west of the cluster of log huts and dugouts that will shelter the Latter-day Saints until the pioneer party has located a new settlement west of the Rockies, Woodruff pauses to contemplate the scene.
"I took a view of the place and looked at my wife and children through my glass," he writes in his journal. After awhile, he nudges his team forward and leads the party some three miles to the old campground (near Cutler's Park, Nebraska). From there he turns on to the old Ponca road and drives four miles farther to a small valley offering excellent shelter for the horses. A small stream branching from the Little Papillion provides water. They are ten miles from Winter Quarters, a good day's travel.
Not much later, Orson Pratt and his company pull into the same campground, followed within an hour by Brigham Young and his party. The three groups, numbering twenty-five wagons in all, camp together. The night is windy and cold. Meanwhile, Thomas Bullock, "Clerk of the Pioneer Camp," is busily taking care of business at Winter Quarters: completing a list of instructions for those staying behind and he assembles 300 to 400 letters for the Mormon Battalion. Those volunteers are marching along the Santa Fe Trail under the command of Colonel Philip St. George Cooke en-route to California to fight the war against Mexico.
Bullock also packs Willard Richards' papers, fetches Richards' cow, and by afternoon, with others, is able to leave Winter Quarters with Richards' teams. Traveling by way of the "new and old burying grounds" and without wood or water, Bullock makes camp for the night on the prairie. A keen north wind knifes through the Mormons huddled in their wagons, bemoaning the lack of wood for campfires to warm them. Norton Jacob, holding the rank of captain in the Mormon Nauvoo Legion, is also part of the advance company and he is responsible for hauling the Legion's six-pounder cannon and its collateral equipment.
Good sound practical judgment has been exercised by the New England-born Brigham Young in choosing the right men to comprise the advance company of pioneers. Young and his advisers sought builders, mechanics, masons and resolute men to form the Mormon vanguard that will push the frontier beyond the Rocky Mountains. Somewhere in the Great Salt Lake Valley, Young is certain, the church members will build their city. The pioneers have been chosen for their competence in making roads, building bridges, putting up temporary quarters, and otherwise blazing a trail for the thousands who will follow this year and the next and the next. And when it comes to individuals he can depend on in good times and bad, Young looks first to his close friend, Wilford Woodruff, then in his forty-first year, to head up the first contingent of the pioneer party.