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 15, 1847
Two rafts were busy hauling wagons across the unruly North Platte River this day, but the work was slow because of the strong winds sweeping the area. Norton Jacob towed a raft and used a yoke of oxen to haul the wagons off the beach until noon. Then he, Stephen Markham, Lewis Barney and George Mills rode up river two miles to build yet another raft out of dry cottonwood. "We put oars on it, and it worked better than running with poles alone," he said.
The afternoon was marred by a tragic accident. The men were swimming Robert Crow's Mississippi company livestock across the river. But they neglected to remove the lariats used to rope some of the horses. One, an Indian breed known as a buffalo pony, started over with the rawhide rope around its neck attached to a piece of chain and a billet of wood. It soon became apparent the animal was in trouble and in danger of drowning. Some men clambered into the leather skiff and went to its aid, but the pony became tangled in the rawhide and chain and could not swim. By the time they managed to pull the stricken pony to shore it had drowned.
Yesterday's stormy weather also was taking a toll on the health of the pioneers. Wilford Woodruff, for instance, was still battling excruciating pain from a broken tooth suffered several days ago. His exposure to the drenching rain only added to his misery. Nathaniel Fairbanks was making a slow recovery from a rattlesnake bite of three weeks back. So prevalent were these reptiles, the pioneers were forced to keep a constant lookout for them. Joseph Scofield killed a large rattler today, which Willard Richards skinned, obtaining a large quantity of fat and oil.
Thomas Bullock, fighting an upset stomach, spent the day watching over the camp's oxen and noting the profusion of wild onions as he sat under a cottonwood tree and contemplated a large eagle aerie six feet deep and five feet wide nestled in the branches above him.
Another party of Missourians was approaching the North Platte ferry and from one of its number, William Clayton learned of a large company of emigrants coming up on the north side of the river above Grand Island. "They are doubtless some of our brethren and if so, they will probably reach us before we get through." Clayton was wrong in his assumption, for the second Mormon emigrant train was still assembling on the Elkhorn, far from Grand Island.
Albert Carrington, driving one of Amasa Lyman's wagons, was busy repairing its running gear. He thought to himself that it was a pity "we could not keep on the north side of the Platte and avoid the time and expense of crossing at Fort Laramie and the labor and time here" in recrossing. Twenty wagons were ferried over today. Only twenty-eight more to go.
In California, the Mormon Battalion today learned of the terrible suffering by Lansford Hasting's emigrant company, many of whom perished in the Sierra Nevada last winter. The survivors subsisted for some time on the bodies of the dead. This was the ill-fated Donner-Reed party.