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 31, 1847
The vagaries of the weather on the Great Plains exacted a painful toll on the pioneers. In the dozen or so journals reporting the trek west, it is apparent that frosty mornings, constant rain and exposure to the elements, and the exhausting routine of wagon-train travel awakened all sorts of ailments among the pioneers, aside from the expected problems such as snakebites and accidents on the trail.
William Clayton reported being sick for the second straight day and confined himself to puttering about his wagon after the company had stopped to camp. Wilford Woodruff complained that when he responded to the bugle's call this morning he found "a crust of frost over the grass." He rode ahead to help select a route for the day, despite feeling "unwell with aching teeth and canker at my mouth." He did, however, remark that the countryside bore "great quantities of prickly pear and they are excellent to eat, though covered with thorns like needles, which have to be carefully pared off with a knife and fork. Quite delicious, a bit tart but pleasant."
And Thomas Bullock, the camp historian, was also on sick call. Since these represent only journal accounts, the implication is strong that more pioneers may have been ailing. At any rate, Bullock's problems were with "ague and fever." He was obliged to turn over the duties of driving his team to Conrad Kleinman, and in the afternoon Willard Richards had Bullock removed to Richards' wagon where the doctor could give him "composition tea." When Bullock showed little signs of shaking off the ague and fever, Richards administered "a lobelia emetic." It was frontier medicine practiced in all its discomforting aspects.
In his wagon, Clayton noted the company soon struck a wagon trail which evidently led directly to Fort Laramie. They passed some high sandy bluffs and during the day were able to cover 16 miles over what Erastus Snow described as "a barren country, the last four miles being deep sand. We camped on quite a large creek that came winding its way from the bluffs through this sandy bottom to the North Platte River." Here the pioneers found grass spindling up, but thinly. In some places, Clayton said, there was nothing but a few weeds and "garlick." Some of the men picked a considerable quantity of the garlic to eat.
For the teams, the feed was less than satisfactory. Norton Jacob mentioned that his horses, with only scattering bunches of grass and little or no browse, were faring poorly. "But oxen that were poor when we started are thriving, they are decidedly the best teams for a journey of this kind. Mules stand it very well, too."
Wood was becoming somewhat more plentiful, though there was a time when the men followed the river bank and its adjacent islands all day to pick up driftwood, bark or sticks that might have floated ashore in the rising storm waters. Because there were no buffaloes in the neighborhood, the staple fuel of buffalo dung was almost nonexistent.
Jacob described the stream on which they camped as "a creek of muddy water twelve feet wide, that may well be called Sandy Creek, for it is the character of the whole country around." It wasn't Sandy Creek, but Rawhide Creek on which the pioneers camped. The hunters went out and John S. Higbee shot a deer. Charles Harper bagged a badger and someone killed a rattlesnake. Though jackrabbits abound in the area, none of the hunters brought any in.
Distance for the day 16 miles, being 531 miles from Winter Quarters.