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Mormon Trail Series
The Salt Lake Tribune Arch
Getting Last Wagon Across River Makes Happy Campers of Pioneers
Harold Schindler
Published: 06/17/1997 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 17, 1847

Despite the wind and cold, the pioneers renewed their efforts at the ferry, and soon after noon they rafted the last wagon safely across the North Platte River. It was a matter of rejoicing through the whole camp, for all believed they had spent too much time conquering this surly stream. Two companies of Missourians bound for Oregon and California pulled in and applied to the Mormons to be taken across for a fee. A contract was made with the first company to take them over as soon as the last pioneer wagon had crossed, and it was with the understanding that the charge would be a straight $1.50 a wagon. But the second Missouri company with its ten wagons, offered a bonus of fifty cents each to the ferrymen if they were hauled across first. Ten pioneers were needed to operate the rafts, and they found it difficult to turn away the extra five dollars in pay.

Albert P. Rockwood, on the other hand, had made the contract and felt he had to honor it, even though he ordinarily held Missourians in low esteem for the way they treated Mormons during the troubles in Jackson and Caldwell counties a decade earlier. However, another pioneer reminded Rockwood that it was Stephen Markham's turn to operate the ferry this day, and Markham was under no obligation to the first Missouri company. Rockwood took the hint and stepped aside in favor of Markham, who accepted the second company's offer and rafted them across, with his crew collecting the bonus money.

Once the Mormon wagons were safely circled on the north bank, Howard Egan looked to the chore of swimming his horses across, but Brigham Young and Heber Kimball cautioned it was too cold, and counseled Egan to wait until morning when the weather might clear. Wilford Woodruff already had started his stock across and came near drowning a mule that tangled in a harness rope. Counting the time the advance party had been here, Woodruff observed that six days had been spent at the ford (known thereafter as the "upper crossing of the Platte"); "the longest hindrance I ever saw at a ferry or crossing a river." Woodruff continued to nurse his aching teeth, sore mouth and lips. He was not a happy pioneer.

Mosquitoes were plaguing Thomas Bullock. He found them particularly troublesome since he was sent out to herd up the oxen and corral them for the night. "Mosquitoes are more numerous here than any other place on our route," he said, swatting at the annoying insects. "In the course of this day I have traveled about twenty-four miles after the oxen and was very tired by night. Fastened two yoke to stakes and went to bed."

The twenty-man work party was busy finishing the large twin-canoe hulls for the ferryboat they were assigned to build. Albert Carrington, who had been left in charge of the wagons in his Ten, spent the afternoon over a hot stove. "Barnabas Adams and Starling Driggs were with the others all day working at the canoes. I made some apple pies and sent them a large one for dinner; the first we have had on this trek. The canoes are finished and ready for planking."

At the Elkhorn River, William C. Staines counted wagons in the camps of Parley P. Pratt and John Taylor a half-mile apart and found the total to be 421. One group had seined 700 fish from the river. The catch weighed more than a ton. A thunderstorm and heavy shower of rain had soaked the camps during the early afternoon. At a general meeting of the companies, Pratt announced they were ready to start west once John Scott brought up a cannon, a boat and the Nauvoo Temple bell. Meanwhile, the camp was organized into hundreds in care of Daniel Spencer, Edward Hunter, Jedediah M. Grant and Abraham Smoot.

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