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 12, 1847
The morning was cool and the weather fine, but there was an element of apprehension in the air--some pioneers found evidence that a large band of Sioux have been hunting in the area recently--perhaps within the last week. After the pioneer company had traveled a dozen miles or so today and made camp near three small islands forming a bayou of sorts on the north fork of the Platte River, Wilford Woodruff rode to the bluffs three miles distant to take a look at the countryside. Before long, he found ample sign that the Mormons were traversing the Sioux hunting ground.
Two pioneer hunters, Luke S. Johnson and Phineas H. Young, also brought news that a large gathering of Indians had been in the vicinity not long before. There may even have been as many as 500 or a thousand, judging from the wickiups, pony tracks and moccasin tracks "without number" discovered around the bluffs.
Johnson and Young counted more than a hundred buffalo carcasses strewn over the prairie. They had been skinned, the sinews cut away, thighbones removed and shattered for their marrow, and the flesh left to rot. "A great waste of animal life," opined Thomas Bullock. "They took the brains from the larger animals," said Woodruff, "also their hides and some of the hump meat." [The brains are used in tanning the skins.] A hundred calf carcasses were found with nothing taken but the tongues, entrails and legs to the knees. In another place, thirty-five calves were found dead and washed in heaps where adult buffaloes had been chased across the river, only to trample the calves in their pell-mell rush to climb the opposite embankment.
"I found on the bluff a Sioux medicine bag tied to a stick six feet long and stuck in the bank. In it was kinikinnick, composed of tobacco and bark, to smoke. I also found a saddle tied to a large heap of buffalo dung, I suppose to show the next party which way the buffalo had gone," Woodruff said. Bullock wrote in his journal, "The valley through which we have this day traveled, may aptly be called the Valley of Dry Bones from the immense number of bleached buffalo bones we found."
Orson Pratt mentioned that William Clayton, with the assistance of Appleton Milo Harmon, a mechanic, constructed a machine from Pratt's plans and attached it to one axle of Heber C. Kimball's wagon. The device, dubbed a "roadometer," indicated the number of miles traveled by ticking off the revolutions of a wheel of certain circumference. "It is constructed on the principle of the endless screw," Pratt explained. "By this mile machine, we came this forenoon about six miles. We traveled during the day eleven and one-half miles," he said.
Howard Egan, in conversation with Heber Kimball, was told the company had passed the junction of the forks of the Platte "two days ago." Clayton calculated the Mormons were now about fourteen miles above the junction. Some pioneers tried their hand at fishing and a number of small fish, called dace, were caught in a nearby stream.