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.
Monday, April 12, 1847
The night guard called the main body of pioneers out at daybreak to begin moving the camp to the banks of the Platte River. At the same time, Brigham Young and members of the Council of Twelve Apostles headed back to Winter Quarters where they hoped to meet John Taylor on his return from a church mission to England. They reached the Nebraska settlement toward evening. After some general discussion regarding church affairs and assorted observations about provisioning the wagon trains, Young pointed to Thomas Bullock and said, "I want him to go with the pioneers, to keep a history of the Camp of Israel and to come back in the fall."
Even as he spoke, the main body of pioneers with its sixty-nine wagons trudged across a dozen miles of sandy bottomlands to the Platte before spring runoff on the Elkhorn from the Loup River rose and made the road too muddy to travel. Howard Egan made note, "We went on and encamped on the banks of the Platte River, the width of which much surprised me, it being larger than I had anticipated." It is Egan's way of acknowledging a frontier maxim about the Platte: It is miles wide and inches deep. But the name explains it all. Platte is French for flat, shallow or broad.
The plan is to make camp and stay put until Young and the apostles join them; but Stephen Markham has instructions. A few men familiar with the proposed route to the Great Basin are to move out ahead and act as scouts. James Case, Return Jackson Redden and two others prepare to start in the morning for that purpose.
The trail north of the Platte has been long established. Blazed by John Jacob Astor's fur parties of 1812, William H. Ashley's men of a decade later, and Presbyterian missionaries of 1835, the Platte River "road" has been well traveled. But it is when Brigham Young takes his "saints" on it, that the trace becomes, once and forever, the Mormon Trail.
The thin sheet of water coursing over silt and sand gives the Platte a dominant umber shade; through the years some will describe it as a river of gold, others, "a moving mass of pure sand."
In Los Angeles, Company C of the Mormon Battalion takes up the line of march today for Cajon Pass and outpost duty. Before departing, however, Colonel Richard B. Mason, a veteran officer of the 1st Dragoons, recognizes the battalion's proficiency in military tactics while in garrison. He praises the Mormons for excelling any volunteers he had ever seen in performing the Manual of Arms.