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 5, 1847
Several yoke of oxen turned up missing when the pioneers went to hitch the teams this morning, but it was discovered they had strayed to an island in the North Platte River and were wandering among the cottonwood shrubs. Heber C. Kimball gave George Billings a lecture about mistreating his team, kicking them and so forth.
The camp rolled out at 8:30 a.m. and again had a difficult grade to ascend. After reaching the top, the road ran along the bluff for a half-mile, then down the reverse slope where it descended to a prairie. Erastus Snow said, "We came in sight of where the river [North Platte] forces a passage through a defile in a high range of the Black Hills. We were compelled to leave the river and take a circuitous route over a rough and hilly road. We struck the bed of a creek and followed it until noon, at which time our trail intersected the main Oregon road." While negotiating this terrain, Benjamin Crow's cart overturned. It was soon righted with no harm done.
The pioneers stopped at Warm Springs, which Orson Pratt described as being of sufficient quantity to "carry a common flour mill." While the cattle and horses were grazing, a small company of Oregon emigrants came in ahead of the pioneers, having taken another branch of the road from Fort Laramie and intercepting the Mormon route a short distance above Warm Springs. Two men from the emigrant company rode down on mules; it was from them William Clayton learned of the shorter road from Fort Laramie to the springs. Clayton also recorded in his journal that he "put up two guide boards today; one at ten and the other at twenty miles from Fort Laramie."
In the afternoon, the pioneers "climbed another steep hill onto a gently undulating plain and found a good road, struck a dry bed of Cottonwood Creek, followed it up until we found wood and water and good feed," according to Erastus Snow. George Billings had some trouble reaching the top of a bluff, so Appleton Milo Harmon took a yoke of his oxen and helped Billings double-team to the summit. Then Luke Johnson took a yoke of Billings' steers, hitched them ahead of his team and hauled Johnson's wagon up. Harmon and Johnson then took all three yokes and fetched up Harmon's wagon. Clayton grumbled that this "threw us nearly in the rear of all the wagons, none of the rest doubling teams."
The pioneers halted for Sunday, having traveled seventeen miles. The Oregon emigrants camped a quarter-mile below on the same stream. They had only eleven wagons and were bound for the St. Mary's River, a tributary of the Columbia River in Oregon. Albert Carrington noticed the emigrants were mostly from Illinois, not far from Chicago, and were guided by "Gabriel Priedeaum, who belongs to the missionary station on the St. Mary's." Carrington counted nine wagons, one cart, one handsome cab, a two-horse carriage, horses, mules, oxen; women and children comprised the little company.
Carrington misspelled the guide's name, he was Gabriel Prudhomme, who lived among the Flathead Indians even before the Jesuit missionaries arrived and gave valuable aid to the priests. Prudhomme was one of the deserters from Peter Skene Ogden's party of 1825. He served as an interpreter for Father Pierre DeSmet and was with the Indian delegation which met DeSmet in 1841 and led him to the Bitterroot. He later was a guide-interpreter at St. Mary's Mission. Over the next few days Prudhomme would give Mormon leaders valuable trail information and advice, helpful in their journey to the Great Salt Lake Valley.
Norton Jacob learned that four men among the Oregon emigrants are from Fort Laramie, headed for Vancouver Island to obtain seashells for trade to the Indians. Meanwhile, on this day at Winter Quarters, a large company of Mormons, including Parley P. Pratt and families and Perigrine Sessions and families, left for the mountains. Patty Sessions wrote, "We left Winter Quarters and started for the mountains. It is ten years ago today since we left our home and friends in the State of Maine and now we leave many good friends here, but I hope they will soon follow us. I drove a wagon with a four-ox team and we camped for the night after traveling four miles!"