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Rattlesnakes and Sioux Souvenirs Keep the Pioneer Trail Interesting
Harold Schindler
Published: 05/13/1997 Category: Nation-World Page: A2

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, Neb., 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 13, 1847

Many men of the pioneer company visited the Indian camp discovered yesterday and helped themselves to moccasins, parts of buffalo robes, leather and similar articles apparently abandoned by the Sioux when they ended their hunt. To Thomas Bullock, it seemed the Indians were replacing all their old gear, halters, pouches and the like with new hides. It was cold enough this morning to warrant buffalo robes and overcoats; the sky is overcast with the wind from the northwest. When Howard Egan went out to tend his horses, he estimated the Sioux camp to have included as many as 300 wickiups.

The Camp of Israel moved into motion about 9:00 a.m. and drove four miles before stopping to feed its teams. Egan noticed the grass was improving, probably because there are fewer buffalo in the vicinity. At half past noon the company rolled out again, traveling six and three-quarter miles to a large stream about 100 feet wide and two feet deep with a quicksand bottom. William Clayton observed the sides of the stream were quite shallow. He theorized, "Travelers have never discovered this stream for it is not noticed in any works we have seen." There was no mark on the maps showing that such a stream flows, Bullock explained. Clayton says Brigham Young named it North Bluff Fork, while Albert Carrington understood it to be Junction Bluff Creek. (It is carried on today's maps as Birdwood Creek.)

Most diarists said the crossing was made without difficulty, but Orson Pratt watched at least three teams become mired in the quicksand and other teams sent to assist them. "It is necessary in fording streams with quicksand bottoms to keep the wagons in motion all the time, for the moment they stop they begin to sink in the sand and it requires considerable force to extricate them."

The pioneers circled the wagons and camped on its west bank. Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball rode out ahead, as usual, to scout the terrain. They reported the bluffs a half mile west run right down to the Platte River and were quite high. But they found several ranges through which the wagons could pass and avoid the bluffs by going about a mile off course. Young saw a large rattlesnake near the river, causing Kimball to remark it was the largest he'd ever seen in his life. Clayton, too, spotted a snake, but this was smaller and green, "pretty, with its back a light green and the belly a pale yellow." Bullock found a similar snake while collecting buffalo chips. It was "a pretty green snake," he said, "which I played with on the end of a thin stick. I was afterwards told that it was one of the most poisonous of snakes."

Some feelings were shown earlier in the day between Thomas Tanner and Aaron Farr because Tanner, who is captain of the night guard, took Farr "prisoner" last night for talking too loudly after the horn was blown for prayers. Clayton confided to his journal, "Perhaps Aaron was a little out of order, but Tanner's angry spirit was more to blame."

Traveled today, according to Clayton's roadometer: 10 miles. "We are 25 miles above the confluence of the north and south forks of the Platte and 341 miles from Winter Quarters. Have to use buffalo dung for cooking, there being no timber," he said.

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