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 25, 1847
Most of the Dacotah Sioux responded to the sound of the bugle awakening the Camp of Israel this morning and they circulated freely among the Mormons, some bartering with the pioneers, others simply trying to get something to eat. John Higbee negotiated a horse trade and Stephen Markham traded for a mule. Most bartering, however, was done for moccasins and buffalo robes.
The Dacotah had come with letters from P.D. Papin, agent of the American Fur Company, attesting to the chief, Owash-to-cha, and his band being friendly Indians. Thomas Bullock, historian of the camp, provided the Sioux with a letter signed by Willard Richards and himself as company scribe, proclaiming that the band had visited the Mormons and "behaved themselves civilly and peaceably."
"Once we started for the day, the Indians left us and returned to the other side of the Platte River," said William Clayton.
A mile from where they started, the wagon train began to climb a low ridge which projects to the river (just east of present Northport) and in another three-quarters of a mile descended again to the level prairie. Shortly before ten the wagons reined in to allow the teams to rest and graze in a spot where the grass and water were good. After the noon halt, the caravan continued over soft, wet, but level prairie for almost five miles. Clayton said, "We stopped to rest and recruit the teams once more, as they have been hard drawn nearly all day. We have seen no game for several days except a few antelope and hares." The buffaloes seemed to have left the region. The feed is poor, mostly last year's growth and short.
One of the hunters killed an antelope, which was brought to camp and divided among the captains of tens. The camp moved out again and traveled until 5:45 p.m., having gone four and three-quarter miles and during the day, twelve miles. Heavy rains greeted the pioneers. "We have camped on a very wet spot," said Clayton, "but the feed being poorer where it was drier, it was decided to stay here for the benefit of the teams."
Chimney Rock can be plainly seen in the distance and appeared to be not more than two miles away, but likely was more than five. Distances are deceiving. Orson Pratt is taking an observation to determine the height of Chimney Rock for comparison to Fremont's figures, Clayton added. Another antelope has been killed and brought in by the hunters.
Pratt wrote in his journal, "I here took a lunar distance for the longitude, also by an imperfect trigonometric measurement with the sextant, at the distance of about three miles, Chimney Rock appeared to be about 260 feet in altitude. Mosquitoes quite troublesome this evening. The soil being of a soft, marly formation, causes water to stand in ponds and pools, which have been numerous for fifteen or twenty miles, making good harbor for frogs, which by their music seem to enjoy themselves." In 1842, Charles Preuss, a cartographer who accompanied John C. Fremont's topographic expedition that year, estimated Chimney Rock tower around 200 feet above the North Platte.
The evening was rather pleasant and the company passed away their time until after 9:00 p.m. dancing. Amasa Lyman, one of the hunters, jotted in his journal the hunter who killed the two antelope today: Porter Rockwell. He also shot two wolves. A. Lyman killed two hares.
Wilford Woodruff was not feeling good. "Had the rheumatism in my shoulders and back, and teeth ache. Had to keep to the carriage. I read Lansford Hastings' account of California and Oregon."
"Camped about two miles from the river. Men dug a number of wells and found very good water," said Howard Egan.
And Erastus Snow remarked that the camp "had traveled thirty-six miles since we first discovered Chimney Rock, which we then thought to be only twenty miles away. This is not the first instance in which we have been deceived in measuring distances with the eye. We are able to distinguish objects much more clearly than we could see in the east, on account of the atmosphere, which may account for our being deceived in the distance." In so saying, Snow repeated Norton Jacob's observation of four days ago.