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 9, 1847
After breakfast, the Camp of Israel moved over the bluffs a short distance and then turned to the bottom land again three miles farther where the grass for livestock was somewhat better. Because it was Sunday, there was no traveling today. William Clayton walked three-quarters of a mile to the river and "washed my socks, towel and handkerchief as well as I could in cold water without soap. I then stripped my clothing off and washed from head to foot, which has made me feel more comfortable for I was covered with dust. After putting on clean clothing, I sat down on the river bank and gave way to a long train of solemn reflections respecting many things, especially regarding my family and their welfare for time and eternity." He then spent the afternoon reading and writing in Heber C. Kimball's journal. (Which explains why the two accounts are virtually identical.)
The camp was called to an afternoon church meeting for prayer and counseling. Among those speaking were Wilford Woodruff, Orson Pratt, Amasa Lyman and Ezra Benson. Erastus Snow also had a few words to say regarding self-government. He referred to the recent dressing down he got from Brigham Young and said that he was more qualified to discuss self-government now than before. He felt he deserved what Young said about him, because he did not govern himself, but had been angry when he should have been calm. He had apologized to Young and now he offered apologies to the company for neglecting his duties in watching over the camp livestock.
Orson Pratt was pleased that the camp was virtually on a small island. "Opposite the camp were a few cottonwood trees, the tops of which we cut off to feed our hungered teams, leaving the main body of the trees to grow for the benefit of others who might perchance pass this route." He also made note that "in many instances, upon this journey, our camp have, for want of a better substitute, made their fires off the dry excrement of the buffalo, which burns something like dry turf." He closed his journal entry for the day, remarking the wind has changed and now "blows from the north."
In the afternoon, Young took tea with Heber Kimball and later they started out together with one or two others to scout the country ahead. They went a few miles and found a small stream where it will be necessary for the pioneers to cross. There were multitudes of buffalo once again, but for the most part the animals look "poorly" because of the sparse feed. They were so numerous they ate the grass as fast as it grew. There were, however, good cottonwood trees and good water.
Distance traveled today: 3 miles.
In Los Angeles, General Stephen W. Kearny arrived from Monterey to inspect the troops. At the camp of the Mormon Battalion, he remarked to an officer: "History might be searched in vain for an infantry march to equal that performed by the Battalion, all circumstances considered. Bonaparte crossed the Alps, but these men have crossed a continent."
For the first time since the launching of the Mormon Trail Wagon Train, thirty wagons pulled out together Thursday morning, seven wagons from the southern train, twenty-three from the northern. They left Kearney, Nebraska, and headed toward Elm Creek, but ended up pitching camp on a prairie four miles south of Odessa and just a half-mile from Interstate 80. The "sag wagon," a bus that carries people who cannot walk any longer, followed behind the walkers most of the morning but left two hours before lunch, said Salt Lake City's Joseph Johnstun, who is walking all the way.
After the sag wagon pulled out, one of the day walkers had trouble breathing and was left behind. Johnstun had to run ahead and find someone on a wagon to help her. When another walker, Jonathan Dew, 18, pulled off his shoes in camp, he discovered "a blister about three inches long and an inch wide, filled with blood," Johnstun said. Johnstun fetched the camp nurse and later found Dew bandaged, immobile, but "playing tough guy." Sarah Robinson of West Jordan, 22, was the sole walker with the southern group of trekkers.
The southern group had few unexpected incidents, said Robinson who is walking home to Utah after finishing an LDS mission in Independence, Missouri. "We had a horse die," Robinson said. "It was a heart attack. We were riding along and he just fell over."
Because the southern group traveled up to thirty miles a day, sometimes the pace would be five to eight miles per hour. Robinson would leave early in the morning and walk or run as fast as she could, then exhausted, would jump on a wagon. Thursday's pace of the combined train was much slower and steadier, Robinson said. "I didn't have to run to catch up with the wagon."
Seeing all thirty trains pulling out "was a pretty impressive sight," said Tom Whitaker of Midway, Utah, who is driving one of the wagons. Whitaker said he tries to maintain a careful routine. "Every night, I sweep out the wagon, organize it, shake out the quilts, and get it ready for sleeping and for the next day," he said. "I don't think about July 22 [when the trek will end]. If I do I get kind of discouraged."
Whitaker said he finds a way to shower about every other day. When that is not possible, he heats a pan of water, takes it into his tent, puts his feet in it and then "works my way up." "You feel real good," Whitaker said.
Johnstun also found a great way to break the monotony Thursday. He and some friends discovered a nearby truck stop that had television sets. "We are going to watch the Jazz playoffs," he said.
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.