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Caravan Passes a Sea of Flax As Battalion Tracks Horse Thief
Harold Schindler
Published: 07/07/1997 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.

July 7, 1847

On this western slope of the Continental Divide, it seemed to the pioneers that the Camp of Israel wagons were constantly fording the dozens of small creeks and streams flowing from snow-capped mountaintops. The caravan was off and rolling at 7:35 a.m. and after two and one-half miles forded Blacks Fork of the Green River once more (the third time in two days). They noticed the abundance of good grass so important to the health of the teams. There also was a profusion of wild flax and flowers. Norton Jacob and others of the company looked at the flax and thought of the linen it could produce if woven and the linseed oil its seeds might provide.

A halt to refresh the teams at noon and the wagons once more were rolling west on a trail interrupted by patches of cobblestones. "After seven and one-half miles," wrote William Clayton, "we arrived opposite nine Indian lodges on the south side of the road." These were occupied "by the families of the trappers and hunters who have taken squaws for wives. Some few half-breed children were seen playing about their lodges," Orson Pratt observed. Here they found Tim Goodale, one of the packers who passed the Mormon company at the North Platte ferry on June 7. Goodale was a frontiersman and mountain man who early on had lived in the Greenhorn settlement of what is now eastern Colorado. He operated a Green River ferry from 1854 to 1856, and in 1857 signed on with the Utah Expedition as a hunter and guide.

After fording four more creeks, the wagon train arrived at Fort Bridger, a small trading post consisting of two connecting double log houses. Indians around the trading post were Snakes, western Shoshoni friendly to whites. Orson Pratt calculated the height above sea level here at 6,665 feet, and, according to the roadometer, the trading post was precisely 397 miles from Fort Laramie.

Something else that caught the eye of the pioneers was the grass around the fort. It was knee-deep and lush--rich pasturage for footsore and hungry oxen. Some men caught brook trout, "the first I have seen since I left England," Wilford Woodruff wrote in high anticipation. "Before we got onto our camp ground, we crossed more than a dozen trout brooks." But there was business other than deep grass and game fish to concern the Mormon Battalion men who had joined the company. They had their eyes peeled for the horse thieves who ran off a dozen head at Pueblo. The battalion boys, as fellow Mormons called them, had succeeded in recovering all but one of the animals. Now they sought satisfaction.

They tracked one thief to the trading post and discussed the problem with him. The culprit admitted he was with the party of traders, but told the soldiers the horse in question was on its way to Oregon, and, he insisted, he no longer was associated with the miscreants. Horse thieves in that day and age were only slightly less objectionable than murderers on the social scale. And Thomas S. Williams, the battalion sergeant, was not a man to trifle with. Still, the record is silent regarding the fate of the offender. Although the journals do not mention the name of the horse thief, the only trader newly arrived from Pueblo still at Fort Bridger was Tim Goodale.

Orson Pratt reported that the main company of pioneers had pulled in at the fort after crossing four branches of Blacks Fork "without any road better than a footpath." Three-quarters of a mile brought them to Bridger's door. They "turned to the south and crossing three more branches, camped within a half-mile of the post," he wrote. "Blacks Fork is here broken up into quite a number of rapid streams, forming a number of islands, all containing 700 or 800 acres of most excellent grass with considerable timber, principally cottonwood and willow," he added.

Erastus Snow said bartering at Bridger was disappointing. "We traded some with those at the fort and with the French and Indians camped near there, but we found that their skins and peltry were quite as high as they are in the States, though they allow a liberal price for the commodity we had to exchange."

Patty Sessions, fifty-two, with the second Mormon emigration following the Platte, reported this day that her son, Peregrine Sessions, had had an accident. A wagon wheel ran over his foot and so lamed him that he could not drive his team, and his doctor's boy had to take over for him.

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