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.
April 26, 1847
Indians! Indians! The cry, punctuated by gunfire, exploded through camp at half past three this morning. Three men on guard, John Eldredge, Levi N. Kendall and Stephen Kelsey, raised the alarm after Eldredge attempted to shoot at what he thought were "a couple of wolves" approaching the horses. The percussion cap burst with a loud bang, but his pistol misfired. And the "wolves" turned out to be two braves creeping toward the horse herd. At the shot, they leaped up and ran. Eldredge called to Kendall and Kelsey who fired at the retreating Indians, at which time four others jumped from the tall grass and bolted. Now the bugle blared and the company was fully roused. A stronger guard was placed around the camp and the cannon loaded with a charge of canister shot until sunrise.
After daylight, moccasin tracks could be plainly seen where the marauders had crept down the embankment and occasionally stepped into the stream. Their objective obviously was the horse herd. Some pioneers who professed to know about such things, pronounced the tracks to be Sioux and not Pawnees as supposed.
Camp broke shortly after 8:00 a.m. with Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, George A. Smith and Amasa Lyman leading out on horseback to point the way for the wagon train since there was no road to follow. Horse teams moved out first to break down the high, coarse grass and make the trail more comfortable for the oxen. The hunters struck out in different directions, staying within a few miles of the wagons. They journeyed about ten miles before making a noon halt, stopping near a few small water holes to rest and feed teams. They traveled over a prairie covered with dry grass and dotted with blue and white prairie daisies.
Thomas Bullock remarked in the camp journal, "The face of the country is beginning to change, we have to cross many sloughs and small ridges." A few stunted, scrubby trees and willows were seen on the margin of the river. There were small fish in abundance in the sloughs. Blue skies and a west wind made for a pleasant spring day, as the company took up the journey once more in the early afternoon.
Travel was slow, making only seven miles in four and a half hours because of two sloughs in the trail, the first soft ground the company encountered since Winter Quarters. The country here was hillier on the north side of the Loup River than on the south side, forcing the pioneers to make new road all day.
About 4:30 p.m., the company passed within a short distance of a ruined Indian village on the south side of the river. And for the next hour, crossed a hundred or so trails leading to the river and the village. In some places, from ten to thirty such trails were seen close together. Some were Indian, but most had been made by buffalo going to the river to drink. Evening camp was pitched on the east bank of Sand Creek, a clear stream with a hard gravel bottom, "the first one of its kind we had met with on the road," said Wilford Woodruff.
At dusk, another alarm was raised that Indians again had crawled up to the camp and made off with two horses. Joseph Mathews came into camp after a failed search for his horses and reported seeing an Indian ride off on a horse Mathews believed was one of Jesse Little's animals. A mare owned by Willard Richards also was missing. These two horses were among the most valuable the pioneers had. Two parties of armed men went out in search of the horses and the thieves. They hunted until 11:00 p.m. to no avail.
For the first time this week, a warm sun shone on the Mormon Trail Wagon Train re-enactment. Temperatures reached the seventies as the modern pioneers moved eighteen miles from Fremont to Schuyler, Nebraska. More than 250 walkers joined the trekkers for the day, including a Mormon youth group from Salinas, Kansas and thirty LDS members from Houston, Texas.
Once again there was trouble with some of the animals. A team of horses from Alberta, Canada, had to pull out for a few days, said wagon-train leader Leon Wilkinson. "The different elevation and humidity bothered them greatly," Wilkinson said. One mule got his foot caught on the railroad tracks, pulled some muscles and seemed to suffer heat stroke, said Tom Whitaker. "He went into a complete dripping sweat," he said. During lunch, the mule was given anti-inflammatory medicine and water and "he seemed to snap out of it."
Thursday night, the Whitakers sneaked out of camp to a high school to take a shower. "There was not a drop of hot water, but it felt good anyway," Whitaker said. Friday morning when Joseph Johnstun of Salt Lake City put on his hiking shoes, they hurt his still-tender left ankle--he pulled a muscle Wednesday. So he dropped out of Friday's hike and bought some new boots.
Johnstun walked last year from Nauvoo, Illinois to Council Bluffs. Because he plans to walk the whole way to Salt Lake City, today he--will leave early, retrace the eighteen miles the wagon train moved Friday and then continue on with the day's additional seventeen miles. "I'm doing two days in one so I can say I did the whole trail," Johnstun said. "I've built my life around this trek for the last five years so I have to do it. It's a macho thing."
Speaking of macho, two "mountain men" dropped into the evening camp and offered shooting practice with their black-powder muskets to the wagon train participants and tourists. "I got
to shoot a couple of times," Johnstun said. "I still have a little ringing in my ears."