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 25, 1847
Brigham Young's fine saddle horse, John, is dead. The wound suffered last night when he was accidentally shot by a herdsman, proved mortal. While Young is deeply hurt by the loss, he attaches no blame to John Holman, whose carelessness with a musket was responsible. Again the Camp of Israel moved out, and within a quarter mile found it necessary to ford the Sweetwater River. This was the sixth crossing of that twisting body since leaving Independence Rock.
Before taking a noon rest, the pioneers crossed the river twice more. A.P. Rockwood, having studied the windings of this stream, was certain that one hour's labor by 100 men would dig down a foot of sandy ridge so as to make it possible for wagons to pass, thereby avoiding having to climb the steep ridge and thus save another mile of travel. At the top of a ridge some miles distant, Albert Carrington says there was every appearance of a rich lead deposit.
The rest of the day was spent crossing smaller streams and pulling through snow banks as the pioneers moved higher and higher up the eastern slope of the Rockies toward the legendary South Pass. They camped off the trail on the north bank of a creek five feet wide, which provided water and willows for fuel. A mile below camp was a grove of white poplar "in which house logs sixteen-feet long and a foot thick at the base may be obtained," according to William Clayton. On the banks of the creek are groves of gooseberry bushes, strawberry roots and a little white clover. "Yet there is no appearance of the abundance of things travelers have represented," Clayton said.
It has been hard wheeling today. Earlier, Edson Whipple complained he could not find a yoke of his oxen, so Howard Egan went to the top of a bluff and looked back to the north. He spotted the exhausted team lying down in a ravine near the river. "I told George Billings, who was hunting them, and pointed the team out to him. I stayed at the river until he drove them up."
Erastus Snow contemplated the vagaries of the weather in these parts. "When we started it was warm but as we move higher in the mountains we meet the cold blasts from the snow and ice, we gather our vests, coats and finally our overcoats and still complain of the cold. We pass drifts of snow and large bodies of ice, and during the night our milk and water freeze as in winter. Two of our riders who follow the course of the Sweetwater up to within two miles of camp report that its fall is very great, presenting little less than a cataract most of the way."
Thomas Bullock said a few men had visited the ten-foot-deep snowdrifts in the vicinity. One brought two solid lumps of ice into camp and gave one to Willard Richards. Harriet Young gave Richards one-third of a pound of butter, which he put some ice to, making it hard and cold, and having some light bread, had a perfect feast in the wilderness. Jesse Little came up with a fine sample of sandstone grit.
At the upper crossing of the North Platte, John Battice [also known as Jean Baptiste] and his company of three Frenchmen were ferried across. About 5:00 p.m., John Higbee discovered the body of Wesley J. Tustin floating down river. He drowned June 19th while trying to swim his horses across the river, two and a half miles above here at Hill's ferry. The youngster was buried near the ferry.
As for the companies traveling with the second Mormon emigration in the Platte Valley, four Frenchmen came up to C.C. Rich's camp at Fishing Slough and informed him that the man found murdered a week ago at Sandy Willow was a Pawnee messenger and had been killed by some of the Omaha tribe. They learned of this at the Pawnee Village where they had business.