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Young Orders Pioneers to Set Up Shop Ferrying Emigrants Across Platte River
Harold Schindler
Published: 06/16/1997 Category: Nation-World Page: A2

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 16, 1847

A strong west wind still buffeted the Camp of Israel as it began the fourth day of rafting wagons across the unruly current of the North Platte River here (near the site of today's Casper, Wyoming,) 648 miles from Winter Quarters. While they continued to experiment with different methods of moving loaded wagons across the river, the Mormon ferries in various manifestations remained in heavy demand by emigrant companies willing to pay cash and provisions for the service.

Brigham Young, tired of struggling with the problem, decided shortcuts were no solution. He ordered a work party of twenty men to a stand of timber three miles downstream to dig out two cottonwood tree canoes twenty-five feet long. Another work party journeyed a half-mile upriver to chop slabs and puncheons to top the canoes. Wilford Woodruff said this "ferry boat" would also be employed in crossing the large companies of emigrants arriving every day. Young planned to leave a party of nine men behind to keep the ferry going until the second Mormon migration reached the river. "Emigrants will pay $1.50 a wagon, acceptable in flour, beans and cows at a rate of $2.50 per hundred pound of flour, and $10 per cow," Woodruff said.

William Clayton added, "They will thus earn a good stock of provisions for themselves and be prepared to cross the Mormons of the next company over without delay and will also be able to preserve the boat for our use. It is the instruction of Brigham Young that when they have ferried our people over, to cache the boat and come on with them."

Still, until this ferryboat was completed, the pioneers did whatever was necessary to get their wagons to the north bank. The efforts to cross Stephen Goddard's wagon was typical. Goddard, James Craig and William Wardsworth were using a raft to float Goddard's wagon. Clayton, who was an onlooker, said Craig and Wardsworth were on the raft with poles. "When they got nearly halfway, Craig's pole stuck in the sand and threw him overboard. He swam to shore and in spite of Wardsworth's exertions, the wind and current carried the raft about two miles down river. "It was finally brought to shore with the help of the Revenue Cutter [leather skiff] and without accident."

At the end of the day, Clayton noted, "There still are a number of wagons on the south shore. Those which had been brought over could not easily be counted because of their being scattered all along the banks of the river for about a mile." Norton Jacob said he learned there were 108 emigrant wagons within four miles all wanting to cross and ready to pay.

At the wagon owned by Amasa Lyman (who was at Fort Pueblo guiding the Mormon Battalion and Mississippi companies back to the main company), Albert Carrington helped Barnabas L. Adams and Starling G. Driggs as they prepared to join the canoe work party. Carrington, lame and sore from the arduous labor of the day before, remained with the Adams, Driggs and Lyman wagons. "I read all day," he said.

Twenty-one wagons from Pike and Adams counties in Illinois finished fording the river at the lower crossing four or five miles below the Mormon camp, while two other emigrant parties from Missouri, still on the south bank opposite the pioneer camp, were bound for Oregon and California. They reported two deaths along the way, a young man and woman, both within 150 miles of this place. "It is the first deaths we have heard of in any of the companies," Carrington said.

Woodruff still complained of "ague of the face" while he and Orson Pratt walked out on the prairie about three miles to some bluffs. "We saw mountains to the north towering into the clouds...We had our guns with us and I hunted some. I shot one antelope, cut his throat with a bullet and he fell dead in his tracks. Pratt shot at another, but missed. It is my first antelope. I tried to pack him to camp, but could not. So I got two men to help me."

In Nauvoo on this day, the Mormon Temple was sold to a committee of the Catholic Church for $75,000. They plan to use the building for educational purposes. The last of the Mormon settlers have left the city with Daniel H. Wells to join the church's western emigration.

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