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Woodruff Shows Twelve Wyoming Trout Just What Fly-Fishing Is All About

Harold Schindler
Published: 07/08/1997 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 8, 1847

Some wagon tires needed setting, so it was decided to stay an extra day at Fort Bridger. This offered members of the pioneer company an opportunity to do a little trading and catch up on other small chores. As for Wilford Woodruff, the extra day gave him some leisure, and though he didn't know it at the time, he would make history this day. "As soon as I got my breakfast I rigged up my trout rod that I had brought with me from Liverpool, fixed my reel, line and artificial fly and went to one of the brooks close by camp to try my luck at catching trout."

A man at the fort had told Woodruff there were very few trout in the streams and a good many pioneers were already in the creeks with their rods and lines, trying their skill baiting with fresh meat and grasshoppers, but no one seemed to catch any. That did not dissuade Woodruff from trying his luck: He was a better-than-average angler, and he was equipped with a fly rod. "I went and flung my fly onto the water and it being the first time that I ever tried the artificial fly in America, or ever saw it tried, I watched as it floated upon the water with as much intense interest as Franklin did his kite when he tried to draw lightning from the skies. And as Franklin received great joy when he saw electricity or lightning descend on his kite string, in like manner was I highly gratified when I saw the nimble trout dart my fly, hook himself and run away with the line.

I soon wearied him out and drew him to shore. I fished two or three hours including morning and evening and I caught twelve in all and about half of them would weigh about three-fourths of a pound each, while all the rest of the camp did not catch during the day three pounds of trout in all--proof positive to me that the artificial fly is far the best thing now known to fish trout with." Woodruff's record of his excursion establishes a claim for his being the first fisherman to cast an artificial fly west of the Missouri River.

Elsewhere in camp, a council was conducted to settle differences between George Mills and Andrew Gibbons, the former having charged the latter with assault and abuse. The dispute was resolved amicably. Sgt. Thomas S. Williams of the Mormon Battalion reminded Brigham Young that he came clothed with authority to arrest the horse thief who helped steal a dozen animals from the battalion at Pueblo. And Williams was prepared to exercise that authority against Tim Goodale, the trader who brought a pack train up from Pueblo; and if not Goodale, at least one of his men, for stealing horses. Trouble was, Williams could get no encouragement from Young to make the attempt.

However, Williams was a headstrong and independent soul. He seized a horse of Goodale's in lieu of a mule stolen by one of Goodale's men; and he gave Goodale a receipt, leaving it to the trader to recover damages from his own man. "Goodale seemed anxious that no other man should come upon his man for it; the receipt satisfied him," said Thomas Bullock.

Howard Egan traded two rifles--one belonging to Edson Whipple, the other to George Billings--and received in return nineteen buckskins, three elk skins, and some other articles for making moccasins. At this stage in the trek west, many pioneers were in tatters and going barefoot. Later in the afternoon Woodruff swapped his flintlock rifle for four buffalo robes, large and nicely tanned and dressed. The trader rated the firearm as worth $20 and put the price of buffalo robes at $5 each.

Woodruff complained that prices at Bridger's post were at least one-third or one-half higher than at any other trading post in America "that I ever saw." He then compared prices with those at Fort Hall. But Woodruff, if his diaries are any indication, had no firsthand experience with trading posts, having seen only Fort Laramie at that point in his life, and could have learned of Fort Hall's prices only through Sam Brannan, who visited that outpost the month before as he made his way to meet the pioneers.

By the end of the day, Brigham Young had decided that Thomas Williams and Brannan should double back on the trail until they met Captain James Brown and the Mormon Battalion sick detachment, and then guide them to the main company. Thomas Bullock made a copy of Lansford Hastings' directions from Fort Bridger to the settlements of California and a map of the route--and returned the originals to Brannan.


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