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 19, 1847
Forty-one teams hitched up and moved out at a quarter of eight this morning, leaving Brigham Young with Heber C. Kimball and several other wagons at the camp just above the mouth of Red Fork (Echo) Canyon. The pioneers were becoming rather spread out, with the advance party camped on East Canyon Creek and riders keeping a line of communication open between them.
Though the morning dawned cold and frosty in Orson Pratt's words, it warmed as the day grew on. Soon after sunrise, he and John Brown had started out to explore the route and the country ahead. They followed the creek to a ravine off to the west. "We ascended this ravine gradually for four miles, and came to a dividing ridge," Pratt wrote in his journal. He was describing the climb from today's Mormon Flat (south of Utah Highway 65 on the road to Jeremy Ranch and Interstate 80) west to Big Mountain Pass. "Here we fastened our horses and ascended on foot a mountain on the right for several hundred feet," Pratt added.
From that vantage point, Brown said they could see "what we supposed to be one corner of Salt Lake." But he was mistaken; the lake itself is hidden from view even at the summit of Big Mountain itself. The two men did have a clear view of a portion of the Great Salt Lake Valley "an extensive level plain," their destination these past three months and more. The two excited pioneers rode down the excessively steep southwest slope of the mountain and explored for several miles before determining an arduous, but passable, trail could be negotiated by wagons.
Returning to the advance camp that had moved forward some six and one-quarter miles since morning, they sent the redoubtable Porter Rockwell with a message to Young and the oncoming main wagon company. To cap this already heady day, Pratt discovered the fresh track of a buffalo in what now is called Little Emigration Canyon. "It had rubbed off some hair on the brush in its path. Probably the only buffalo within a hundred miles," Pratt wrote.
The main party of pioneers turned north from the mouth of Echo Canyon and in two and one-quarter miles found the ford across the Weber River just south of today's Henefer. Less than a mile farther, William Clayton posted a guide board: "Pratt's Pass [Main Canyon] to avoid canyon [meaning the impassable Weber Canyon]. To Fort Bridger 74 miles." It was here that Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, George A. Smith and Howard Egan rode up on horseback to inspect the road. Later, unfortunately, the wheels on one of Smith's wagons gave way going down a particularly steep pitch, and the spokes, which had been loose in the hub, "dished" and collapsed inward. The load was transferred to other wagons while men pulled the wheels and set out to find a blacksmith.
The main company made camp on East Canyon Creek and, after putting the teams out to graze, cut bundles of dry willows to make a coal pit for Burr Frost's forge. Howard Egan explained that Willard Richards had lost one of his oxen in the morning and was delayed in hitching until it was found. "We found Erastus Snow with his wagon broken down" and under repair. "We found flies very troublesome to our horses," Egan confided to his diary. Hosea Cushing and Carlos Murray with some others rode ahead to see the canyon. Some men caught a number of trout. "Kimball's health is pretty good," Egan noted, "but he is generally rundown, fatigued by anxiety and riding out scouting for roads." Otherwise, all the sick were recovering.
Albert Carrington, in yet another wagon, reported that one pioneer, Henson Walker, had wandered off and apparently was out all night before finding his way back to camp.