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Mormon Trail Series
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While Pioneers Watch for Indians, A Falling Tree Bushwhacks an Ox
Harold Schindler
Published: 04/18/1997 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 18, 1847

It is cold again this morning, the wind is blowing from the east and southeast, and there was a light fall of snow during the night. About 10:00 a.m., seven more traders' wagons pulled in a quarter of a mile below the camp, and soon afterward six mules packed with buffalo robes and furs were driven in. These traders work for Peter Sarpy, a well-known trapper doing business with the Pawnees. Their presence is yet another vivid reminder that the Camp of Israel is in Indian territory and the pioneers should always be on guard and exercise all due caution.

Word is passed through camp: All those who are not driving teams are to carry their guns and walk by the side of the wagons when once more the camp moves out. Meanwhile, the availability of warm robes and furs from Sarpy's men is appreciated. The traders have plenty of dried buffalo meat, and Shadrach Roundy buys enough for the whole camp.

The weather changed some for the better in early afternoon when the sun came out and warmed things considerably. Orson Pratt took a barometric reading. James Case was involved in a strange accident when he decided to chop down a small tree for his horses to browse on. As he was cutting away, a strong gust of wind blew it in an opposite direction from what he had planned. One of the larger limbs cracked an ox on the neck and knocked it down. The branch drove one of the poor beast's eyes deep into its socket and out of sight. But in ten minutes the eyeball returned to its normal position and the ox seemed to have suffered little or no injury otherwise.

Ellis Eames, who has been in poor health for some time, has decided not to continue with the pioneer company. He will return to Winter Quarters. He carries back many letters from camp members to family and friends in Iowa; and he takes with him an epistle written for Winter Quarters Mormons, explaining the camp's progress and offering counsel regarding the Winter Quarters settlement until Brigham Young and other church authorities return in the fall. Foremost is advice to form an emigrant company prepared to follow the pioneers "as soon as grass is sufficient to support the teams." Every soul that goes with the second company must have at least 300 to 500 pounds of food to carry them through. The church authorities add this ominous note: "We are credibly informed that more than thirty souls of the Oregon emigrants perished from hunger in the mountains last season." [This is a reference to the ill-fated Donner party trapped in the Sierra Nevada during the winter.]

After the camp settles for the night, Wilford Woodruff finds a moment to write his diary. His thoughts turn to the Platte: "It is the most singular river I ever beheld. It is from a quarter to a mile wide and its shores and bed one universal body of quicksand. It is a rapid stream yet [in] many places a person can wade across it. Frequently nearly the whole bed of the river is covered with but a few inches of water and at other places it is deep and rapid.

"Notwithstanding it is quicksand, horses and cattle can walk down to the edge of the river and drink like walking on the edge of a smooth sea beach and...sometimes while walking on the apparent hard surface or bed of the river a man or horse will suddenly sink into the quicksand and the more he struggles to get out, the more he will sink and soon perish if assistance is not near. Many horses and men have been lost this way on the Platte"

At the other end of the continent, a number of the Mormon Battalion stationed in Los Angeles met today to discuss the "impropriety of behavior of some of those in camp, especially the conduct of John Allen, a hunter who became lost near the summit of the Rockies and joined the Mormons as a soldier in order to get to California." By unanimous vote, he is excommunicated from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because his behavior "did not entitle him to a place in respectable society of the world, much less in the church." No other details were given.

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