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 26, 1847
t was cold enough that "considerable ice" froze in the water pail during the night, but the pioneers were up and on the trail before eight o'clock. Orson Pratt went ahead to try to determine the highest point of South Pass. "We evidently are at the east foot of the pass," said William Clayton, "[John C.] Fremont represents that he did not discover the highest point on account of the ascent being so gradual that they were beyond it before they were away of it."
The Camp of Israel had wondered as one about the food supply; they hadn't seen a buffalo for weeks. But now the pioneers were in antelope country. Other than the occasional rabbit, antelope was the only game seen. Pratt said the camp halted at noon at the largest and last of the main branches of the Sweetwater River, "quite high" on the eastern slope. In fording the Sweetwater itself, the runoff was so heavy that the water poured into the wagon boxes. "It was as high as when we first crossed it at Independence Rock," said Erastus Snow.
"Soon after our noon halt," Clayton reported, "Eric Glines came up, having left the men at the upper ferry on the North Platte River last Wednesday. He camped one night alone, the other nights with Missourians. He does not assign any reason why he followed us, but evidently considering to repent and obey counsel than to continue obstinate and rebellious." (Glines had remained behind with the Mormon ferrymen, against Brigham Young's advice, but had a change of heart.)
"It was interesting to see an abundance of good grass intermixed with various plants and flowers upon the bottoms of this stream, while on the same bottoms and only a few yards away were large banks of snow several feet deep" commented Pratt. The pioneers still were eight miles east of the summit of the pass. "This country called the South Pass," Pratt went on, "is for some fifteen or twenty miles in length and breadth, a great undulating prairie, thickly covered with wild sage from one to two feet high." He calculated the distance from here to Fort Laramie at 275 miles.
Accompanied by George A. Smith, John Brown and Heber C. Kimball, Pratt drove his carriage over the summit and four miles west of the pass, while the main wagon train searched out a campsite for the night just north of the trail on the banks of the Sweetwater, where water and grass were plentiful. Clayton logged the day's travel at eighteen and three-quarter miles. Pratt camped on Pacific Springs, "a few rods from a small company from Oregon on their way to the States." The Mormon had chanced upon a pack party of eight mountaineers, among them the celebrated Moses "Black" Harris, a trapper and hunter who knew the country almost as well as the legendary Jim Bridger.
Harris told Pratt, Kimball, Brown and Smith that the packers had left Oregon on May 5, and that while he accompanied them this far, he intended to hire out to some of the emigrant companies needing a guide. After all, he was a man of twenty-five years of experience in the mountains and knew the great interior basin of the Salt Lake as well as anyone. While Harris entertained Pratt and Smith with his adventures, Kimball set off on foot to rejoin the pioneers, leaving his companions to spend the night with the pack party.
Brigham Young, meanwhile, already had set signal fires and ordered out searchers for the four Mormons when they failed to return by nightfall. The party soon found Kimball, who had seen the signal fires. In all, during the day, he had walked fifteen miles and was tired out, both feet being badly blistered. From him the company learned it was still two miles short of South Pass and the Continental Divide. But, Kimball said, he had seen waters that run to the Pacific.
The companies with the second Mormon emigration in the Platte Valley traveled one mile apart, so that loose cattle could not mingle. In the early afternoon, the advance companies had crossed Looking Glass Creek and reached Beaver Creek, stopping only long enough to construct a bridge over the Looking Glass. They made eighteen miles for the day.