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Pioneers Cross Elkhorn River With Seventy-Two Wagons on Raft Trips
Harold Schindler
Published: 04/11/1997 Category: Nation-World Page: A2

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.

Sunday, April 11, 1847

The Sabbath dawns fine and warm over the encampment here on the Elkhorn River. A few of the party still are rafting wagons across the river, which at this point is some dozen rods wide and four feet deep. They swim the horses over. All teams of the advance company cross on the raft before 10:00 this morning. Just about then Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and Newell K. Whitney drive up. And it isn't long before some wagons of the second contingent of the pioneer camp can be seen approaching. The "ferry"--made of dry cottonwood logs--manages to cross another sixteen wagons by early afternoon, according to Norton Jacob.

Rafting continues steadily until twenty minutes to 4:00 when the 72nd wagon is floated over, making a total of sixty-nine pioneer wagons and three return wagons; 136 pioneers, two women and two children, plus three men who plan to return to Winter Quarters with the three wagons mentioned.

Ferrying is done using oxen to pull the raft across with ropes anchored on both banks of the Elkhorn. As each wagon crosses and is hauled to dry ground, Thomas Bullock makes note of its owner and occupants. A temporary camp forms on the west bank, its broad bottoms extending westward to the Platte River. John Brown with his outfit from Mississippi is among those who raft across in the afternoon. Lorenzo Dow Young pulls in later in the day. Once the last wagon is safely over, the teamsters move out for the place selected as a camp rendezvous--close to a well-timbered part of the plain about two miles downstream from the rafting site.

It is just one week since the first pioneers, Stephen H. Goddard and Tarlton Lewis, camped on the opposite bank. Those now in camp turn their horses out to grass and the animals seem to be doing very well. Willard Richards complained his lead mare has either strayed or was stolen by Indians.

Eight Mormon leaders--all apostles--now are in camp: Young, Kimball, Richards, Orson Pratt, Wilford Woodruff, George A. Smith, Amasa M. Lyman and Ezra T. Benson. Howard Egan and those traveling with him start early this morning from last night's camp and will join the main body west of Elkhorn about 2:00 this afternoon. Because Young, the apostles and a few others intend to return to Winter Quarters tomorrow to greet John Taylor on his return from a church mission to England, it is decided to call for a vote from the balance of the pioneer company on the question of whether to move fourteen miles west tomorrow or stay where they are. The vote is to move on.

One member of the camp is quite sick. Woodruff and Benson are called in their capacity as apostles of the church to administer to the afflicted man. "Brother Benson and myself laid hands upon him and prayed with him and he recovered," Woodruff records in his diary.

Meanwhile, some 1,260 miles to the south and west, Company C of the Mormon Battalion has been ordered to outpost duty at Cajon Pass forty-five miles east of Los Angeles, "to prevent the passage of hostile Indians--in defense of the ranchos in the vicinity."

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