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.
June 3, 1847
Ferrying the first division of pioneer wagons over the North Platte River began at 5:00 a.m. using the flatboat chartered from the American Fur Company at Fort Laramie. The morning was rather dull and cloudy and, while their wagons and baggage were being transported from the north to the south bank of the river, many members of the company amused themselves by picking Indian beads from the numerous anthills in the area. In their never-ending quest for large bits of sand to strengthen their cone-like mounds against wind erosion and the occasional trampling horse or mule hoof, the hard-working ants collected beads lost from moccasins or legging decorations and carried them home.
While this was going on, Thomas Bullock copied letters for Brigham Young to Captain James Brown of the Mormon Battalion and Absalom P. Dowdle in charge of Mississippi Saints who wintered at Fort Pueblo. Amasa Lyman, Thomas Woolsey, John H. Tippetts and Roswell Stevens would be leaving this morning for Pueblo, 250 miles to the south, and these letters were instructions for Brown and Dowdle to use Lyman as a guide and join the pioneer company on the trail. The pioneer company also made up a mail of 349 letters for the battalion members; Woolsey was charged with seeing them safely delivered or returning them.
Young told Bullock he was angry with President James Polk for ordering that not more than one-third of the Mormon volunteers be enlisted in the Army. He also told Lyman to bring the sick detachment back with him to join the pioneers and if the main body of the battalion were in Santa Fe to go there and tell them to follow the Camp of Israel also. "And if General Stephen W. Kearny objects, tell him the pioneers are headed for California and that the battalion will travel with them!" Young ordered. He also instructed Dowdle in his journey to join the pioneers to "keep a sharp lookout for buffalo, Indians and bears, all of which may be met and endanger the life and liberty of men, women and children, beasts and property." The four men started out for Pueblo with horses and mules at 11:15 a.m. They forded Laramie fork and were on their way.
Heavy rain fell again this afternoon in a symphony of hail, thunder and lightning. It subsided after awhile, but delayed the wagon crossings. When the first division was ferried, the task of crossing the second division was turned over to John S. Higbee. He averaged a wagon every eleven minutes (compared to the fifteen-minute average of the first division). Rain again about 7:00 p.m. and the ferrying halted, with fifteen wagons remaining on the north bank. They would have to wait until the next day.
Wilford Woodruff noted that all three Mormon blacksmiths set up shop in the ruins of old Fort Platte down river and were hard at work. Fires had been made so that pioneers could do their washing. Woodruff said Jacob Burnham, the cook for his Ten, "did my washing today, the first time my clothes have been laundered since I left Winter Quarters." Burr Frost, one of the smithies, set six horseshoes for Woodruff and two for William C. Smoot.
Last evening three riders arrived on packhorses at the fort from St. Joseph, Missouri. Erastus Snow said they reported 5,000 emigrants and 2,000 wagons on the road in detached companies heading west; they would begin arriving at the fort the next day, the riders said. According to Orson Pratt, the emigrants were principally from Missouri, Illinois and Iowa. The tide of emigration would seem to be on the increase. However, William Clayton remarked that "we are satisfied the report is exaggerated."
Exaggerated or not, the pioneers had to be wondering to themselves how 5,000 emigrants would survive traveling on prairies destitute of grass and depleted of firewood. (To say nothing of the effect on the game population along the trail.) James Bordeaux reminded the Mormon company that the day's rain was a blessing, for there had been little or no rain in the vicinity for two years.