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.
Saturday, April 10, 1847
There is a skim of ice on the water barrels of the pioneer camp this morning. Water is plentiful in the vicinity. Because the grass is fairly good, the pioneers spend the early hours cutting hay for the cattle. At twenty minutes past seven, the teams begin rolling up the hill. Morning is delightful; a slight northeasterly breeze clears the air.
After some distance along the divide of a rolling prairie, the wagons cross Big Papillion Creek and a smaller marshy creek. However, both places require "Mormon teaming." In other words, the wagons are trundled over the soggy terrain one at a time by doubling and tripling the number of yoked oxen. A few scattered trees provide firewood for those who stop to cook. Wood was scarce in the earlier camp and a number of pioneers made do with a cold meal and no fire. This is an opportunity to improve the situation.
The balance of the company, including Orson Pratt, Wilford Woodruff and Erastus Snow, take a southwesterly course from the creek and strike the Elkhorn River about noon. They continue down river about eight miles to the "old crossing," making the day's journey eighteen miles.
Five teams pull in at the "Horn" about 6:00 p.m. The immediate vicinity of the ford is a scene of noisy, bustling activity, as the business of rafting wagons gets under way. The stream at this point is about twelve rods across. Several of the party (Woodruff and Snow among them) cross the Elkhorn in the evening on a raft fashioned by a few of the pioneer company sent ahead a few days earlier for just such purpose. Woodruff's teams make it to the west bank by 6:30 p.m. It is anything but easy.
Lorenzo Dow Young, Brigham's brother, echoes the sentiments of many in camp as he settles down to sleep this night: "A hard day's work" Thomas Bullock, writing with the soul of a botanist, takes note of "Cotton Wood Trees in full bloom, Slippery Elm Trees in leaf, also Willows" along the embankment. With Willard Richards' wagons still on the near bank, Bullock, the scribe, expressed delight in discovering that "the river we had seen in the distance was none other than the celebrated 'Platte,' the highway of our future journey, which caused joy & rejoicing in my Soul"
Norton Jacob muses, "When we were in sight of the Elk Horn and the valley of the Great Platte it afforded a full view of the river stretching away for many miles to the west; it looked like a line of silver glistening in the setting sun through the scattered timber."
Because of prowling Indians in the vicinity, an eight-man guard is detailed for night duty. According to Pratt's astronomical calculations, the encampment is in forty-one degrees, sixteen feet and thirty inches North Latitude. (Not far from present Waterloo, Nebraska.)
Back at Winter Quarters, William Clayton has spent the day close to home. He is troubled and has sought Brigham Young's counsel.