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.
May 7, 1847
It was almost as cold as winter this morning. One of the first orders of business was a call by Brigham Young for extra teams to help haul the cannon. The horses and oxen assigned the duty are giving out for lack of feed, and Young ordered men in the company not to ride on the cannon while it was being pulled. The burned prairie is taking its toll on Mormon livestock that have to find grass overlooked by the thousands of buffalo and antelope roaming this area. Amasa Lyman allowed his teams to find what browse they could as he waited for a wagon axletree to be repaired. Campfires last night and this morning were fueled almost entirely by buffalo dung; wood is that scarce.
Young was still nettled over the spyglass he lost while trying to separate the camp's cattle from passing buffalo droves yesterday. He gave Erastus Snow a blistering this morning at a camp meeting for neglecting his duties. He criticized Snow for being lazy and said, "It was his turn to herd the cows, according to his own voluntary agreement." Snow wrote in his journal, "In attempting to exonerate myself from blame, I drew from him a severer chastisement; it is the first I have had since I have been in this Church, which is nearly fifteen years, and I hope it may last me fifteen years to come."
Young stressed that unless the company's livestock is watched closely, the animals will run with the buffalo, which now mill about the wagon train in great profusion. According to Norton Jacob, "They come within gunshot of us and we have to drive them off to prevent them from breaking through our wagon line."
A little before 11:00 a.m., Porter Rockwell, Tom Brown and Joseph Mathews took to the back trail to hunt for Young's telescope. As soon as they left, the camp proceeded on its trek. The day continued cloudy and cold. "Our course is northwest," William Clayton noted in his journal, "We traveled about seven miles and camped at 2:30 p.m. near several small islands on the banks of the Platte River."
Orson Pratt occupied the morning by determining the company's precise location. "Took a meridian altitude of the moon, from which the latitude was deduced, and found to be forty degrees fifty-one minutes eighteen seconds. From a lunar distance of moon from sun, determined the longitude to be 100 degrees five minutes forty-five seconds, differing only two seconds of a degree or ten rods [160 feet] from the longitude as determined by Captain John C. Fremont, taken on the opposite side of the river," Pratt recorded with self-satisfaction.
It was four o'clock in the afternoon when Rockwell rode up to the company waving the lost spyglass over his head, having found it on the trail. Rockwell was the hero of the day as he returned the errant instrument to a pleased Brigham Young. Wilford Woodruff, still feeling under the weather from an upset stomach, jotted a few lines in his journal. "I should judge we saw 10,000 buffalo today. We came near large herds with a greater proportion than usual of calves, yearlings and two-year-olds. We saw several larger ones mired, dead. Wolves had commenced eating some of them. We could see wolves upon every hand following the herds of buffalo to eat those who died of wounds, accident or poverty."
Pratt observed that four or five men went up the river a short distance to scout the country and search out a route, "for since we left Loup Fork ford, we have had to make our own road." The scouts, he said, returned from exploring, having encountered no dangerous animals, "with the exception of a polecat," which was shot by Amasa Lyman.
A sprinkle of rain fell in the early evening, and Young ordered the pioneers to be called out as a regiment and drilled in military fashion for an hour or so. He also ordered all weapons inspected. After dark a sentry reported what he thought was an Indian near the river, but nothing came of it.
Norton Jacob calculated the Camp of Israel has traveled 283 miles from Winter Quarters. Distance traveled today: 7 miles.