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 17, 1847
Ice was an inch thick on the water buckets this morning; a strong northwest wind accompanied by frost thoroughly chilled the Camp of Israel as it prepared to move. Members of the night guard complained bitterly about the severe cold,--most of the men had to bundle themselves in buffalo skins and heavy blankets to stay warm during the night. The wind whistled and whipped grit from the sandy road in great swirls around and between the wagons, burning eyes and stinging faces of the pioneers. The animals, too, spent an uncomfortable night huddled together.
After attending to the cattle and oxen, the order came to roll out in companies of tens. At five minutes after 9:00 a.m., Heber C. Kimball's division led the way, traveling over a deep, sandy plain surrounded on all sides by willows, high weeds and dry grass. In three hours, they made eight miles and nooned along a north-south line fronting a beautiful grove of cottonwood on the west. Shortly after 1:00 p.m., a large bed of rushes was discovered. The cattle were driven there and left until evening.
Luke S. Johnson told Thomas Bullock he had seen some "large mounds" about a mile from camp and it looked to him "as if there had been a great battle fought and the slain buried there." There was another stir in camp when a solitary Indian, believed Pawnee, was spotted watching the pioneers this afternoon from the south side of the Platte River.
About half-past five, Brigham Young ordered the bugle sounded and the camp assembled to receive instructions. Because the wagon train is journeying deeper into Indian country, it was decided to reform the units of one-hundreds, fifties and tens, into more of a military organization with both divisions of the camp treated as one regiment under the command of Stephen Markham, holding the rank of colonel. Two majors, Shadrach Roundy and John Pack, were appointed, and Thomas Tanner was placed in charge of the camp proper. Then each of the fourteen captains was authorized to command his ten as an individual unit, in case of an Indian attack. Young again emphasized the necessity of keeping firearms within easy reach while paying strict attention to the rules of safety in handling weapons around others in the company. He did not want anyone being shot through carelessness.
Just before sunset, some traders rode into camp from the Pawnee village with a wagon load of buffalo robes and pelts. They stopped for the night about a mile below the pioneer camp. The traders also told the pioneers they were within two days drive of the whole body of Pawnees. In the evening, Ellis Eames and Hans C. Hansen brought out their violins and for half an hour the camp and the still prairie night resounded with the strains of folk music as the pioneers sought to relax and gird themselves for the hardships ahead.