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Woodruff Fly-Fishes the Bear River; An Ill Brigham Young Stays Behind
Harold Schindler
Published: 07/12/1997 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 12, 1847

While the Camp of Israel was preparing to move this morning, Wilford Woodruff saddled his horse and rode three miles to the Bear River; he looked out over the Bear River Valley with anticipation. There was considerable grass in the valley and some timber and thick bushes on the banks of the river. Instead of turning back to join the pioneers, Woodruff dismounted and unwrapped a small thin bundle he carried with him. As his horse grazed on the sweet bunch grass, Woodruff deftly assembled the fourteen-foot cane fishing rod he had purchased nearly two years before in Liverpool.

He opened a wallet of artificial flies and selected a half-dozen, which he fastened two feet apart on the line. Woodruff stood for a moment, contemplating the current and eddies of the deep channel in front of him. He lifted the rod and, in a single easy motion, cast the line upstream and watched as the feathered artificial flies dappled the surface: "My object in visiting the river before the camp was to try my luck in ketching trout as it was a stream famed for containing that kind of fish. The morning was cloudy and cool. I found it a difficult stream to fish in with the fly in consequence of the thick underbrush. I fished for several hours and had all sorts of luck, good bad and indifferent.

"I some of the time would fish a half an hour and could not start a fish. Then I would find an eddy with three or four trout in it and they would jump at the hooks as though there was a bushel of trout in the hole. And in one instance, I caught two at a time. I fished some of the time on horseback riding in the middle of the stream which was about three rods [fifty feet] wide and when I could not descend any longer in the stream for swift and deep water, I would have to plunge my horse through the bear thickets...hard work...I knew not at what moment I would have a grizzly bear on my back or an Indian arrow in my side, for I was in danger of both...I finally wound up my fishing and started after the camp having caught [several speckled] trout in all."

Woodruff caught up with the wagon train about noon as the pioneers rested their teams "a little east of a pudding stone formation" (the Needles), as Orson Pratt described it. The camp had crossed Bear River (a dozen miles or so southwest of Evanston) and followed Coyote Creek to the Needles. Here Brigham Young was taken sick, so sick that he chose to stay behind. A.P. Rockwood had been stricken for several days and, in fact, had been left "quite deranged" by fever. Many historians and scholars have for years thought that Young and others in camp suffered from Rocky Mountain spotted fever. But it is conceivable, even likely, that they were taken with a high-altitude malaria carried by anopheles mosquitoes from infected animals. Heber C. Kimball, Ezra T. Benson, and Brigham's brother Lorenzo Dow Young with their six wagons elected to stay behind with him.

The rest of the camp moved on, following Coyote Creek to where it empties into Yellow Creek. They crossed and made camp five miles farther, just in sight of a cave that Return Jackson Redden scouted that morning. It bore signs of having been used as a camp; the pioneers had been told trappers frequently used it as a cache. And it was home to numerous swallows. They dubbed it Redden's Cave, but today it is known as Cache Cave. Hunters brought in ten antelope and the pioneers unhitched teams to browse. The valley featured excellent spring water and deep black soil from which sprang tender, sweet grass. The pioneers named it Mathews Vale, for Joseph Mathews. Woodruff, a notoriously poor speller, called it "Mallers Valley" in his journal.

In the Platte River Valley this day, John Smith, with the second Mormon emigration, sat down to a breakfast of buffalo meat. "The first we ever tasted. It was excellent."

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