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 14, 1847
Streaks of lightning and rumbling thunder accompanied breakfast, followed by a hard, but much-needed rain. Just before the downpour, Brigham Young ordered the teams harnessed and after the storm ceased the camp moved out. Time was quarter past 10:00. After traveling a mile, the company passed among and around some high bluffs. William Clayton, keeping careful track of the route for a travel guide he was preparing for future emigrants, noted the pioneers headed north, then turned south and upon approaching the Platte River veered southeast.
Three-quarters of a mile from the river, the wagon train halted to feed the teams, having traveled six and one-quarter miles. "We have got on the level bottom again and are probably not more than three miles in a direct line from where we started this morning," Clayton wrote. By taking this circuitous route in and around the various ranges, the pioneers avoided having to cross directly over the steep bluffs that sorely test the endurance of the teams. There is better grass in this region than the company has seen in quite some time. This plain between the north and south forks of the Platte runs for about twenty-five miles and is perfectly flat and level, but without timber.
Norton Jacob welcomed the rain showers, for it leaves the prospect of having the grass grow some. "We have had one continued drought during the whole journey," he said. Jacob added an ominous note: "We are now in the country of the Sioux. It was a hunting party of theirs whose signs we saw on the bottoms below. We found some of their moccasins, which are very peculiar in shape. Sioux moccasins have pointed toes and are made to fit the foot, right and left."
Clayton also mentioned the discovery of fresh tracks where Indians recently have gone up the north stream (Birdwood Creek). At 3:00 p.m., the company moved out again, "keeping above the lower prairie, which appears soft and swampy." There was another high range of bluffs about a half-mile to the east, extending to the river. Heber C. Kimball rode across several ranges to the west and hunted for a road in various directions. But it seemed unlikely there is a route between the bluffs without going many miles off course. After hearing all scouting reports, Young and Kimball conclude it would be best to camp where the wagons are, and tomorrow cross right over the bluffs by doubling the teams. Total travel today: 8 miles.
Amasa Lyman, one of the hunters who kept track of such things, reported that Tom Brown and Phineas H. Young each killed an antelope; John Higbee killed a badger; and Luke Johnson and Eric Glines shot a bull buffalo, as did O.P. Rockwell. Lyman, John Brown, and Roswell Stevens chased the wounded animal some distance into the bluffs and killed it.
After sundown music filtered from different parts of the camp, according to Orson Pratt. While all seems well, petty jealousies have begun to stir over the "roadometer" used to calculate mileage. The device was born as an idea by Clayton, developed and designed by Pratt and constructed by Appleton Milo Harmon. But Clayton on this day jotted in his journal--which was available to anyone wishing to look at it--that Harmon is claiming undeserved credit. Clayton wrote: "I discovered Harmon is trying to have it understood that he invented the machinery to tell the distance we travel, which makes me think less of him than I formerly did. He is not the inventor of it by a long way, but he had made the machinery, after being told how to do it. What little souls work."
And, of course, Howard Egan, who borrowed Clayton's journal to copy, saw the entry. He remarked in his own journal: "I have understood Harmon claims to be the inventor, which I know to be a positive falsehood. He knew nothing about the first principles of it, neither did he know how to do the work, only as Clayton told him from time to time. It shows the weakness of human nature."
Just before midnight, Rodney Badger, one of the guards, alerted by the mules, thought he saw an Indian creeping up to the horses and took a shot, but missed. Brigham Young ordered all the horses and mules outside the wagon circle brought in and the cannon brought up, charged and ready.
Egan, on the other hand, was skeptical. "In my opinion, the guard was mistaken, as we could not see any sign of Indians, neither could we see any tracks in the sand." Orson Pratt was not so sure. He believed "Indians have discovered our camp and are lurking around for the purpose of stealing our horses."