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 13, 1847
Church services occupied most of the morning in the Camp of Israel, but once the meetings concluded, Brigham Young and the captains of Tens conferred on the best methods of ferrying the pioneer company across the North Platte River. With Edmund Ellsworth rowing the leather skiff, Revenue Cutter, Young, Orson Pratt, George A. Smith, Ezra T. Benson and Lorenzo Dow Young floated the Platte to determine its depth, which they found varied from four to six feet and rising with the spring runoff. Luke S. Johnson and James Case looked for other fords on horseback along the riverbank.
Meanwhile, the pioneers towed a yoke of oxen over the river for pay for the Missouri emigrants. These Oregon-bound Missouri parties, comprised mostly of settlers from Jackson, Clay, Lafayette and Davies counties, were among the most violent anti-Mormons in the state. When the pioneers first came in contact with them this side of Fort Laramie, the Missourians kept a wary eye peeled and their pistols and Bowie knives handy in case there might be vengeful Mormons about, according to Thomas Bullock. But the business of westering creates strange alliances.
In the days that followed, the two factions, thrown together by mutual needs, cooperated albeit cautiously at lower and upper crossings of the river. The Missourians wanted help in ferrying the river; the pioneers needed provisions. By the time all the emigrants' wagons had crossed with Mormon assistance, they were inviting the pioneers to share coffee and biscuits and even hosted a dinner before striking out for Oregon.
With the Missourians gone and on the trail, Young could direct his efforts to the problem at hand, ferrying seventy-one wagons and their loads over a rising swift current. He decided to send one work party across the river to begin building rafts, while a larger work force took to the mountains with wagons and teams to cut pine logs to be used in lashing wagons two abreast to prevent them from overturning in the current. The plan was to float the wagons over using the skiff and ropes, and take the contents over on rafts.
In the evening the flour, meal and bacon paid to the advance party by the Missourians for helping them ferry was distributed through the Camp of Israel. It amounted to five and one-half pounds of flour, two pounds of meat and a small piece of bacon for everyone in camp. Wilford Woodruff remarked, "It looked as much of a miracle to me to see our flour and meal bags replenished in the middle of the Black Hills as it did to have the Children of Israel fed with manna in the wilderness. "We have been blessed thus far on our journey. Our horses and cattle have been wonderfully preserved from death and accident and our wagons from breaking down."
Orson Pratt recorded the departure of the Missourians: "The emigrants whom we crossed over, pursued their journey this morning and were followed a few hours later by the company which crossed about eleven miles below." Albert Carrington, who was with the work party at the "pineries," noted that, "One of the tongue hounds on Amasa Lyman's wagon broke in going to the bluffs for a load of pine poles." Norton Jacob also found "beautiful timber growing on the sides of this mountain, Norway pine and fir."
Thomas Bullock, ailing with an upset stomach, spent the day writing Heber Kimball's journal, while Kimball and Howard Egan were busy across the river with five or six others, building a raft.