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 17, 1847
The peculiar qualities of Red Fork Canyon (today's Echo Canyon) worked magic on the oxen and mules of the pioneer camp. William Clayton noticed the teams "seem very uneasy and continue lowing and braying all morning." He finally came to the conclusion that it was in consequence of the "singular echoes. They no doubt think they are answered by others over the mountains."
Again, Brigham Young's health was the topic of conversation in camp. He seemed improved yesterday, but this morning found him "very poorly," according to Wilford Woodruff. To make matters worse, nine horses were missing when the men went to hitch up. The best Woodruff could do was drive his carriage three miles west along the Weber River and camp. Young's condition then was so bad that the Mormon leader refused to travel any farther. "The horses were found ten miles back. I fished with a fly and caught several trout," Woodruff said.
Thomas Bullock, in the camp a mile above the mouth of Red Fork Canyon, watched as blacksmith Thomas Tanner repaired Solomon Chamberlain's axletree. Then the camp hitched up and moved out just before 10:00 a.m. "In about one mile [we] turned round a high bold rock [Pulpit Rock] to the right, following the course of the Weber River and camped on the east bank [south of Henefer]." The waters of the Weber were clear and boasted some fine speckled (native) trout, which fishers among the pioneers spent the afternoon catching for dinner. There was a drawback. It was a warm, clear day, which brought out mosquitoes in clouds.
Orson Pratt and his advance party were camped along the left bank of East Canyon Creek, about twenty miles from the main company. Pratt awoke early and set out alone on foot, hoping to determine whether there was a better trail for the companies in the rear than the one he and John Brown had followed. "I was soon satisfied that we had taken the best and only practicable route."
Pratt looked up and found himself staring into the eyes of a large gray wolf fifty feet away. The two took each other's measure, and warily backed off. "I returned to camp and counseled the [advance] company not to go any farther until they had spent several hours labor on the road over which we passed yesterday afternoon. John Brown and I rode on to explore." Pratt and Brown occupied the rest of the day traversing East Canyon Creek, finding it increasingly difficult because of the dense underbrush. "We followed dimly traced wagon tracks up this stream for eight miles, crossing the same thirteen times. The mountains on each side rise abruptly from 600 to 2,000 feet above the stream bed." They returned to find the advance work party had moved ahead four and three-quarter miles from where they were camped in the morning.
Back on the Weber with the main camp, John Nixon returned from a look around the area and brought with him a strange species of thistle that the pioneers had not seen before. They grew in profusion here, Nixon explained. Clayton described the plant as having a stem four feet long, six inches wide and a quarter-inch thick. "It is ornamented with prickles from bottom to top. But the great curiosity about this thistle is a perfect resemblance of a snake coiled around the crown as though in the act of guarding it against foes."
The second Mormon emigration camped along the North Platte River was having problems feeding its teams. Immense herds of buffaloes, running to many thousands, had so overgrazed the prairie that there was scarcely enough for the oxen. Today the Mormon companies met an Oregon wagon party eastbound with letters given them by the pioneer camp at South Pass.