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 9, 1847
Because of the poor feed at camp, the pioneers awoke early this morning and moved at least a mile to better grass and forage for the teams. And while the animals grazed, a few of the pioneers visited the mountaineer camp nearby and did some trading for robes, moccasins and buckskin shirts and pants. The traders told Brigham Young that they had made a bullboat of buffalo hides for use at the crossing of the North Platte River and that Robert Crow's company of Mississippi Mormons was welcome to it. The boat was lashed high in a tree at the ford about seventy miles away. The traders offered it to Crow's company because of their friendship with the party's guide, hunter and mountain man Lewis B. Myers.
Since there were at least three Oregon-bound Missouri emigrant parties ahead of the pioneers, Young decided to send a select company with the best teams to overtake the Missourians, reach the Platte crossing first and take possession of the bullboat. Once at the Platte, the advance party would also hunt game in anticipation of the pioneer company's arrival and make appropriate preparations for ferrying the Camp of Israel wagons. Nineteen wagons and teams with forty men and horses were dispatched, including the Crow company, plus Aaron Farr and Return Jackson Redden with the Revenue Cutter, the pioneers' leather skiff.
After the advance party had left, the main pioneer company took the trail and almost immediately had to negotiate a steep gully. Not long afterward, a party of five fur traders and mountaineers from Bent's Fort on the Arkansas driving twenty or so pack horses and mules overtook them. "They say they are from Santa Fe and going to San Francisco," said William Clayton. One was Tim Goodale, a mountain man of some note who would in a decade act as guide for Colonel Albert Sidney Johnston's Utah Expedition against the Mormons.
The packers told Young and Heber C. Kimball that the Mormon Battalion had crossed the mountains last January and gone to California; and the Sick Detachment and Mississippi Saints from Fort Pueblo would soon be following on the pioneers' trail. James Brown, they said, was in Santa Fe to collect pay due the detachment and would join the pioneer company as soon as possible.
While the pioneer camp prepared to continue its journey, Clayton fixed the balky roadometer and posted another guide board for future companies: To Fort John [Laramie] sixty miles. The company crossed a small stream known as Little Timber Creek and sent out a work detail to improve the route. Orson Pratt, nursing rapidly callusing hands, remarked in his journal: "We think that we fully work our road tax, for we have ten to twelve men detached daily whose business it is to go in advance and improve the road. Moreover, we measure the road with our mile machine and place mile boards every ten miles since Fort Laramie."
The pioneers finally camped for the night on a stream John C. Fremont called "a la Prele" Creek [River of the Horsetail]. Grass is good and timber about the same quantity. Starling Driggs killed an antelope and a deer.
Albert Carrington noted that, "About twenty rods back of our camp on the south side of the road, is a grave with a headstone cut J Hembree 1843." [This was the last resting place of 6-year-old Joel Hembree, who died accidentally under the wheels of a wagon four years before.] Norton Jacobs reported the pioneers passed the Arkansas traders on a stretch of red rock but that the packers passed the pioneers later in the day. "Our boys killed a bird that the traders call a sage cock, a species of grouse," Jacob added.
Brigham Young and Kimball also mentioned seeing for the first time "a large toad which had horns on its head and a tail. It does not jump like a toad, but crawls like a mouse." And Patty Sessions, hundreds of miles back, on the Elkhorn, told of the troubles the second Mormon emigrant company endures in ferrying its wagons across the river. On this day one of the wagons almost tumbled, while another wagon sank their raft and went overboard with a full load. "After considerable labor by the men, the wagon was finally fished out of the river."