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 19, 1847
The blare of the bugle cut through the cold crisp air at 5:00 this morning, and after some expected early confusion the pioneers broke camp and were on the trail by 7:30, two teams traveling abreast in a westerly direction. A mile out, the pioneers came to a place that obviously had been an Indian battleground. The site stretched out for another mile as the emigrants picked their way through the graves, located in a corridor several hundred yards wide, evidently containing the remains of warriors who had fallen in battle.
Eight miles farther along the sandy flat plain, they came upon several lake-size pools, and hunters among the Mormons took time to shoot some waterfowl. Making good time, the wagon train stopped to about noon at the north bend of the Platte River to rest and feed the teams. Orson Pratt took an observation and found the location to be in latitude forty degrees twenty-seven minutes five seconds.
Here Jesse C. Little, Return Jackson Redden, Orrin Porter Rockwell and Nathaniel T. Brown overtook the pioneers and distributed a mail of thirty letters from Winter Quarters. Colonel Thomas L. Kane, a friend of the Mormons from Philadelphia, sent gifts to several of the church leaders. Wilford Woodruff received a boxed mariner's compass small enough to carry in the pocket. "It was a splendid present--God bless Colonel Kane," Woodruff wrote in his diary. Rockwell brought William Clayton some fishhooks and line and six pencils. He also had Willard Richards' mare, which he found with an Omaha tug (native harness) around its neck.
The camp broke about 3:00 p.m. and resumed its order of travel, journeying some five miles, and halted for the day near a stand of timber about halfway between North Bend and Rogers stations on the Union Pacific line. Travel for the day: twenty miles.
The river at this point was muddy, deep and swift. To now, William Clayton had been measuring distance traveled with a homemade counter. He found a wagon wheel that would turn 360 times in a mile and tied a piece of red flannel to one of its spokes. Clayton marched alongside the wagon and counted the number of revolutions, and in that way was able to estimate distance covered. This evening, however, he consulted with Orson Pratt about building a contraption that would do the counting for him. Pratt designed a device that would fit on the axle of one of Heber C. Kimball's wagons and click off the distance on a circumference of wooden cogs. The two described the general shape of the invention to Appleton Milo Harmon, a carpenter, who set about building one to Pratt's specifications. It was not unique, but this Mormon "roadometer" was among the first used in overland travel in America.
Once camp was formed for the night, Stephen Markham asked Luke S. Johnson to take his team and the leather boat the pioneers called the Revenue Cutter back down the road two miles so it could be used for fishing in one of the small lakes. Since the cutter was placed on a set of wheels like a wagon box, Johnson drove the boat much as he would a small wagon. After launching the boat, Johnson, John Higbee and others tossed out a seine and began a retrieve. After two hours, their catch included one snapping turtle, four smaller turtles, a duck, two catfish and two creek suckers. It was not the largest haul made by boat fishers by any means--Wilford Woodruff would in subsequent months unpack a fly rod and artificial flies he brought from his mission to England, and become the first fly fisher to test the streams west of the Missouri.