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.
Thursday, April 15, 1847
Brigham Young, Ezra T. Benson and others crossed the Elkhorn at the ferry shortly after sunrise, and were followed within hours by Heber C. Kimball, Newell K. Whitney and William Clayton, who also made a successful ferry crossing. They overtook Young and his company about noon, and the entire party traveling together over the flat to the main pioneer camp on the Platte River arrived about 3:00 p.m.
Thomas Bullock and George A. Smith had some trouble--their wagons becoming mired in mud. But by double-teaming combined with a lot of backbreaking tugging, hauling and digging, they were able to pull free and join the encampment shortly before 5:00 p.m.
Distance from Winter Quarters to this place by way of the old Indian trail: forty-seven miles. The camp is near a cottonwood grove, not far from the present site of Fremont, Nebraska.
Late in the evening the pioneers were surprised by the arrival of Jesse C. Little, fresh from the eastern states. He spent much of the night relating what news he had gathered during his journey and he carried words of encouragement from Thomas L. Kane, a Philadelphian who had become a staunch friend of the Mormons since the time of the troubles at Nauvoo. At dusk Brigham Young climbed to the front of his wagon and shouted: "Attention, the Camp of Israel!" Young then gave the gathering some words of advice, telling them to take care of their teams and to cease all music, dancing and "light-mindedness."
He warned them to be vigilant, and told the men he had learned that traders and other missionaries had been stirring up the Pawnees, encouraging them to plunder the Mormon camp of horses and goods. Young's caution was understandable; trouble between emigrants and Indians was inevitable. Since 1845, when some 600 wagons traveled the Platte River road, emigrant parties had consumed all the firewood within easy reach along the lower Platte; they had driven off the game and their great oxen herds were grazing away the wild pastures. Platte Valley had become a white man's thoroughfare to the West.
Now, the Mormon migration was making a new road up the north bank of the Platte, placing the white man's mark on that side of the river as well; emigrant parties headed for California and Oregon already spoiled the south bank for Indians. Worse, the emigrants were so afraid of the Indians that most were inclined to shoot first and think afterward. The Pawnees especially, destitute and savaged by their enemy the Sioux, were easy prey for trouble-making traders who goaded them into raids on wagon parties and horse herds at a time when the existence of the Pawnees as a tribe was in the balance.
Rufus Sage, a mountaineer of the 1840s, reported that Pawnees were especially feared by travelers on the prairie, because of their reputation for robbing and killing anyone less well armed or of inferior strength.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles at the camp of the Mormon Battalion, the day was spent in drilling.