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 19, 1847
Rain fell most of the night and it was quite gloomy and cloudy when the horn sounded rousing the camp well before dawn. Because the feed here was so poor, the pioneers moved on a few miles before breakfast to seek better grass for the teams. Howard Egan mentioned he awoke before midnight to put his harness under the wagons, along with Heber C. Kimball's saddle and other things that would be damaged by rain. He discovered Return Jackson Redden, captain of the night guard, already had picked up the tack and put it under cover. "He is a praiseworthy man who works for the good of camp," Egan said.
The search for good grass almost became a race when the second division, whose turn it was to lead off, was not quite ready and a part of the first division moved ahead. Not to be outdone, the second division left the trail and ran the teams to take their proper place at the head of the wagon train.
The pioneers traveled three and one-quarter miles along a winding route across two streams a quarter-mile from Cedar Bluffs and a mile from the North Platte River before halting for breakfast about 6:30 a.m. The main body of the camp, William Clayton recorded, has "stopped a quarter-mile back." He described the route as sandy, with tall grass of last year's growth. It continued to rain sporadically with a light north wind. Heber C. Kimball, who has scouted beyond the bluffs, found that the bluffs project entirely to the river and are sandy, but he is of the opinion that the company can cross without wandering off course.
Once all the wagons had come up, they moved ahead and crossed a stream about twenty feet wide that they named Wolf Creek (today's Otter Creek). It got its name when Kimball, riding alone on his scouting mission, saw two large wolves no more than 100 feet away. "One was as large as a two-year-old steer," he said. Neither wolf moved, but kept staring at him. Looking around, he saw several more "all gazing fiercely at him," but otherwise making no move to retreat or attack. He noticed the pack had been at a carcass and that is what kept them from leaving the scene. Kimball turned his horse and headed back to the wagon train. In mentioning the incident to Brigham Young, it was decided to name the creek after the wolves.
Now, after fording Wolf Creek, the pioneer company reined in at the foot of the bluffs and began the ascent without doubling teams. The bluffs are three-quarters of a mile from the east to the west following virtually a straight trail over. It rained continually, and shortly after 3:00 p.m. the decision was made to form a semi-circle encampment on the banks of the Platte and wait for more favorable weather. The company has made slow progress over the worst road it has traversed since Winter Quarters. It has been the most uncomfortable day yet and hard on the animals. Ox teams were improving, but horses did not stand the work as well.
Wilford Woodruff wrote in his journal: "Traveled during the day, eight miles by Clayton's 'Wheelometer.'" Thomas Bullock, the camp historian, took time to make a tracing of John C. Fremont's route and the North Fork of the Platte from its confluence (with the South Fork) to beyond Fort Laramie. And in Willard Richards' wagon, Richards read an account of a game of chess involving Napoleon Bonaparte to Brigham Young, Heber Kimball, Amasa Lyman, and Ezra Benson until dark.