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The Pioneers Have Laramie's Black Hills in Sights--and Minds
Harold Schindler
Published: 05/30/1997 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, 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 30, 1847

With the dawn, members of the Camp of Israel could see clouds breaking away and as the sun came up deep blue skies began making an appearance. Because of the Sabbath, there was no travel, and many pioneers planned to do their washing; but the memory of Brigham Young's angry discourse yesterday on the conduct of the company still hung heavily over the camp.

About noon, Young invited members of an ecclesiastic organization known as the Council of the Kingdom of God to a prayer session. Among those attending, were Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, Orson Pratt, George A. Smith, Wilford Woodruff, Amasa Lyman, Ezra T. Benson, Phineas Young, John Pack, Charles Shumway, Shadrach Roundy, Albert P. Rockwood, Erastus Snow, William Clayton, Albert Carrington and Orrin Porter Rockwell. Thomas Bullock, according to Clayton, was the only Kingdom of God member absent, "he could not be found." The group went to the bluffs and when out of sight of the camp, conducted the religious service with Carrington and Rockwell standing guard to prevent interruption.

Returning to camp, Clayton spent most of the afternoon writing Young's remarks of the day before in his journal. In another part of camp, Thomas Bullock was devastated at having missed the prayer meeting. He could not understand why he was reported as "cannot be found," when he had not been forty-five yards from camp, "nor out of sight since last night." He was prepared for the meeting, perfectly ready and "in sight of my wagon all the time. For a moment's notice, I have been deprived of one of my greatest and sacred privileges!"

In the late afternoon, Erastus Snow accompanied fellow members of the Council of Twelve Apostles to a high bluff three miles northwest of the camp, "where, near sunset, we scanned the surrounding country. Chimney Rock was still visible down river and the towering heights of the Black Hills above us [due north].  To the north and northeast the country was little else than sand hills as far as the eye could see." Orson Pratt, too, using his telescope, observed Chimney Rock forty miles away, and turned his scrutiny to "the lowering peaks of the Black Hills west of Laramie, which present themselves like blue clouds stationary in the horizon."

The Black Hills of which Snow and Pratt spoke, would become legendary as a treasure trove of minerals, including gold, silver, beryl, feldspar and mica. This range just over the border from today's Wyoming in South Dakota has been called the richest place on Earth. In 1874, an expedition led by Lt. Colonel George A. Custer would discover gold in the Black Hills and by 1877, when an act of Congress took the region away from the Sioux, the Hills bristled with prospectors.

Dakota lore is as rich in tales of Black Hills gold as the ore itself. Father Pierre DeSmet told the Sioux of the value of gold and its importance to the whites and warned the yellow metal would destroy the Sioux Nation if whites ever learned of the rich deposits. Even so, DeSmet could not resist tantalizing the outside world with cryptic tales of the grandest of all mother lodes. In St. Louis, as a dinner guest of fur trader Robert Campbell, the Catholic missionary dropped the comment that "there was a place in the Rocky Mountains so rich in gold that if it were publicly known, would astonish the world."

Back in the Mormon wagon camp, still far removed from the Black Hills, Norton Jacob reflected on his supper. "At 3:00, broke our fast for the day and had a pot of boiled beans with hard biscuits. Our meat is getting scarce. My cow affords milk so that we have mush and milk every night for supper for nine of us. The Black Hills are in sight."

 

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