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 27, 1847
Stephen Markham's Indian pony strayed during the night and it was only after some difficulty that Markham was able to locate it while others rounded up ox teams. Thomas Bullock, the camp historian, spotted "two parrots or parroquets [parakeets] with their yellow breasts, chattering away." William Clayton finished making a map of the camp route to Chimney Rock for Willard Richards, and Orson Pratt derived a trigonometric measurement with his sextant to determine the width of the North Platte River at the Mormon campsite to be 792 yards. Porter Rockwell killed two antelope and Amasa Lyman one, which were brought to the wagons and distributed.
Wilford Woodruff noted that he and Heber C. Kimball searched out the day's route in the forenoon, and "it was left to me in the afternoon. I piloted the road as straight as any road that had been made on the whole route and picked out a camping ground on the bank of the river in good feed. Travel for the day 13 miles."
The noon halt brought the company "opposite a steep bluff resembling a fortress," wrote Bullock. "Before leaving I planted three seeds of white corn near Willard Richards' wagon to show the next camp of Mormons Indian corn growing on the prairie." The afternoon journey took the pioneer company past "the meridian of the northern most peak of Scott's Bluff," according to Pratt. As was the case with Chimney Rock, all the pioneers were in awe of Scott's Bluff, another remarkable demonstration of the forces of erosion in nature.
It is fitting to include here some account of how the bluff came to be named for Hiram Scott, one of the "enterprising young men" recruited for the Rocky Mountain Fur Company by William H. Ashley in 1822. Scott was hired to guide Ashley's supply wagon to Bear Lake in 1825. The business agent with him at the time was one James B. Bruffee. It appears that Scott fell ill near the mouth of LaBonte Creek in today's Nebraska on the homeward journey. For the rest of this sketchy story we turn to the journal of William Marshall Anderson, a mountaineer who camped near the bluff on May 28, 1834.
Here is what he wrote seven years virtually to the day before the Mormons pitched their camp across the river: "We camp tonight a little below Scott's Bluff. The wind has been so violent all day that we have made but little headway. This place bears the name of an old mountaineer who died here from sickness and starvation. The desertion and abandonment of this poor man, by his leader and employer, was an act of the most cruel and heartless inhumanity, uncalled for and unnecessary. His death has left here a traveler's landmark, which will be known when the name of the canting hypocrite and scoundrel who deserted him, will be forgotten, or remembered only in hell. Two of his companions remained with him for several days, bearing him along as weakness increased, and only left him when compelled by the want of food. The unburied corpse of poor Scott was found at this spot, having crawled more than two miles towards his father's cabin, and his mother's home. The only witness, the only watcher of his death-agony was the dark raven and the ever-hungry wolf. And keen, sharp and eager was the watch. I know the name of the soulless villain, and so does God and the devil. I leave him to the mercy of the One, and the justice of...Had such a being a father? I know not. For the sake of humanity, let us hope that he never had a mother, but dropped from the tail of a dung-cart.'"
Anderson's fury at Scott's "betrayer" was understood to be directed at Bruffee.