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. 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.
Friday, April 9, 1847
A fresh breeze is blowing gently from the west this morning. The pioneer camp is in good spirits; so good, in fact, that they do a little dancing--"one cotillion," according to Thomas Bullock--to while away the time, until the rest of the wagons arrive from Winter Quarters and from the haystack camp on the west branch of the Little Papillion. Early in the forenoon, Wilford Woodruff takes advantage of the lull to turn his carriage back to the settlement at Winter Quarters for a visit with his family and possibly a chat with Parley P. Pratt, fresh from his mission to England. (During these early days of preparation, various groups of Mormons made frequent trips between camp and Winter Quarters, prolonging until the last possible moment farewells to families staying behind.)
Just a half-mile from home, Woodruff meets other members of the Mormon Council of Twelve Apostles headed for the pioneer camp. He turns about and joins them. Word of their approach precedes the small party of church authorities and, when they rein in at the pioneer camp, Orson Pratt already has issued orders for teams to be hitched and wagons ready to roll. Some of the company has been here for two days and is anxious to be on the way. The order to move out is given when Brigham Young and his counselors arrive; by mid-afternoon, most of the pioneers have departed the Little Papillion and are rolling west.
The wagons traverse broken country and cross one particularly muddy section that forces two or three wagons to double-team. Thirty or so men pitch in to help rig the teams and wagons and tow them through the mire. It is but a brief delay and done with little difficulty. During the next decade, this method of double and triple-hitching to negotiate bad stretches will come to be known among wagon masters on the overland trail as "Mormon teaming."
Sixty-four wagons and carriages of the pioneer company circle in a small valley where there is water, "a pretty sprinkling of grass," but no wood. Camp is made about 7:30 p.m., and a number of pioneers set immediately to cutting grass for their oxen. Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and Willard Richards inspect teams in the camp "to see that all was right." The company makes ten miles this day.
Howard Egan and others, having spent the previous night at Winter Quarters, return to their wagons at haystack camp and begin the westward journey in company with William Kimball, who intends to stay with the pioneers as far as the Elkhorn River. After four miles or so, Egan's group overtakes the main camp, but does not stop. Instead, they roll on another three miles to fresher ground. They make thirteen miles for the day (and are seven miles from the haystacks).