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 16, 1847
The main camp of Mormon pioneers was well within Red Fork Canyon--today's Echo Canyon--and Orson Pratt's advance company, seeking out the trail made a year earlier by the Donner-Reed party, was working its way along Main Canyon west of what is now Henefer, Summit County. In bringing Brigham Young and A.P. Rockwood up from their sick camp at The Needles, northeast of Cache Cave, Wilford Woodruff had to negotiate some bad road, and even though he was driving a carriage, the nine and one-half mile trip jounced his two passengers sufficiently to bring on a relapse of the fever and pain that had taken them "nigh on to death" the past few days.
As Woodruff made his way down the canyon, he noticed on the north side of the trail, a dark substance congealing on certain rock formations from which it had seeped. "It had some appearance of gum myrrh or opium, only it was hard and bitter as aloe." It was seen in places for ten miles along the canyon, Woodruff said.
The main body of pioneers was making its way down the canyon, but not without some difficulty. Modern contouring through highway construction has radically changed the canyon of 1847. Then, steep slopes crowded the trail and at times there was barely room for the wagons. In one spot the crossing of Echo Creek was so bad teams had to double up. Harvey Peirce broke the reach and bolster on his wagon, causing some delay. William Clayton complained, "The mountains seemed to increase in height and come so near together as to leave merely enough room for a crooked road." Then Porter Rockwell rode in from the advance party to report that the trail over the mountains had been located.
The pioneers made it far enough down the canyon to camp for the night about a mile from the mouth. "We crossed the creek a number of times--In places we had to pass close to the foot of perpendicular red mountains of rock supposed to be from 660 to 1,000 feet high. Grass is plentiful. At this place, grass is about six feet high and on the creek eight or ten feet high. "There is a very singular echo in this ravine, the rattling of wagons resembles carpenters hammering at boards inside the highest rocks. The report of a rifle resembles a sharp crack of thunder and echoes from rock to rock for some time. The lowing of cattle and braying of mules seem to be answered beyond the mountains," Clayton added. At camp, the blacksmith was unlimbering his forge to repair an axletree from Solomon Chamberlain's wagon, broken down two miles back. John Wheeler brought the part in to be mended and returned to refit it, Chamberlain being ill with the fever.
In California, the five companies of the Mormon Battalion this evening formed at Pueblo Los Angeles while the notoriously antagonistic commanding officer Lt. A.J. Smith marched through the ranks. Smith, who made no effort to conceal his dislike for the Mormons, said in a low voice: "You are discharged." That was the entire mustering-out ceremony for this veteran corps that had made the longest infantry march in U.S. military history--1,200 miles from Winter Quarters to San Diego. None of the men regretted Smith's brevity. "In fact, it rather pleased them," wrote Sergeant Daniel Tyler.
Now under command of Lt. James Pace, a fellow Mormon, the soldiers marched back to their quarters and celebrated. Many left at once on animals they had purchased and went to a new camp three miles up the San Pedro River in preparation for their return to Council Bluffs, Iowa Territory, and their families.