From The Rockies To Salt Lake Valley

More than one day's march was now made without finding water or

grass. Banks of snow were observed on the near-by elevations, and

overcoats were very comfortable at night. On June 26 they reached

the South Pass, where the waters running to the Atlantic and to

the Pacific separate. They found, however, no well-marked

dividing ridge-only, as Pratt described it, "a quietly undulating

plain or prairie, some fifteen or twenty miles in length and

breadth, thickly covered with wild sage." There were good pasture

and plenty of water, and they met there a small party who were

making the journey from Oregon to the states on horseback.

All this time the leaders of the expedition had no definite view

of their final stopping-place. Whenever Young was asked by any of

his party, as they trudged along, what locality they were aiming

for, his only reply was that he would recognize the site of their

new home when he saw it, and that they would surely go on as the

Lord would direct them.*

* Erastus Snow's "Address to the Pioneers," 1880.

While they were camping near South Pass, an incident occurred

which narrowly escaped changing the plans of the Lord, if he had

already selected Salt Lake Valley. One of the men whom the

company met there was a voyager whose judgment about a desirable

site for a settlement naturally seemed worthy of consideration.

This was T. L. Smith, better known as "Pegleg" Smith. He had been

a companion of Jedediah S. Smith, one of Ashley's company of

trappers, who had started from Great Salt Lake in August, 1826,

and made his way to San Gabriel Mission in California, and thence

eastward, reaching the Lake again in the spring of 1827. "Pegleg"

had a trading post on Bear River above Soda Springs (in the

present Idaho). He gave the Mormons a great deal of information

about all the valley which lay before them, and to the north and

south. "He earnestly advised us," says Erastus Snow, "to direct

our course northwestward from Bridger, and make our way into

Cache Valley; and he so far made an impression upon the camp that

we were induced to enter into an engagement with him to meet us

at a certain time and place two weeks afterward, to pilot our

company into that country. But for some reason, which to this day

never to my knowledge has been explained, he failed to meet us;

and I have ever recognized his failure to do so as a providence

of an all-wise God."*

* "Address to the Pioneers," 1880.

"Pegleg's" reputation was as bad as that of any of those reckless

trappers of his day, and perhaps, if the Mormons had known more

about him, they would have given less heed to his advice, and

counted less on his keeping his engagement.

With the returning Oregonians they also made the acquaintance of

Major Harris, an old trapper and hunter in California and Oregon,

who gave them little encouragement about Salt Lake Valley, as a

place of settlement, principally because of the lack of timber.

Two days later they met Colonel James Bridger, an authority on

that part of the country, whose "fort" was widely known. Young

told him that he proposed to take a look at Great Salt Lake

Valley with a view to its settlement. Bridger affirmed that his

experiments had more than convinced him that corn would not grow

in those mountains, and, when Young expressed doubts about this,

he offered to give the Mormon President $1000 for the first ear

raised in that valley. Next they met a mountaineer named

Goodyear, who had passed the last winter on the site of what is

now Ogden, Utah, where he had tried without success to raise a

little grain and a few vegetables. He told of severe cold in

winter and drought in summer. Irrigation had not suggested itself

to a man who had a large part of a continent in which to look for

a more congenial farm site.

Mormons in all later years have said that they were guided to the

Salt Lake Valley in fulfilment of the prediction of Joseph Smith

that they would have to flee to the Rocky Mountains. But in their

progress across the plains the leaders of the pioneers were not

indifferent to any advice that came in their way, and in a

manuscript "History of Brigham Young" (1847), quoted by H. H.

Bancroft, is the following entry, which may indicate the first

suggestion that turned their attention from "California" to Utah:

"On the 15th of June met James H. Grieve, William Tucker, James

Woodrie, James Bouvoir, and six other Frenchmen, from whom we

learned that Mr. Bridger was located about three hundred miles

west, that the mountaineers could ride to Salt Lake from Fort

Bridger in two days, and that the Utah country was beautiful." *

* Bancroft's "History of Utah," p. 257.

The pioneers resumed their march on June 29, over a desolate

country, travelling seventeen miles without finding grass or

water, until they made their night camp on the Big Sandy. There

they encountered clouds of mosquitoes, which made more than one

subsequent camping-place very uncomfortable. A march of eight

miles the next morning brought them to Green River. Finding this

stream 180 yards wide, and deep and swift, they stopped long

enough to make two rafts, on which they successfully ferried over

all their wagons without unloading them.

At this point the pioneers met a brother Mormon who had made the

journey to California round the Horn, and had started east from

there to meet the overland travellers. He had an interesting

story to tell, the points of which, in brief, were as follows:--

A conference of Mormons, held in New York City on November 12,

1845, resolved to move in a body to the new home of the Saints.

This emigration scheme was placed in charge of Samuel Brannan, a

native of Maine, and an elder in the church, who was then editing

the New York Prophet, and preaching there. Why so important a

project was confided to Brannan seems a mystery, in view of P. P.

Pratt's statement that, as early as the previous January, he had

discovered that Brannan was among certain elders who "had been

corrupting the Saints by introducing among them all manner of

false doctrines and immoral practices"; he was afterward

disfellowshipped at Nauvoo. By Pratt's advice he immediately went

to that city, and was restored to full standing in the church, as

any bad man always was when he acknowledged submission to the

church authorities.* Plenty of emigrants offered themselves under

Orson Pratt's call, but of the 300 first applicants for passage

only about 60 had money enough to pay their expenses,

* Pratt's "Autobiography," p. 374.

Although it was estimated that $75 would cover the outlay for the

trip. Brannan chartered the Brooklyn, a ship of 450 tons, and on

February 4, 1846, she sailed with 70 men, 68 women, and 100


* Bancrofts figures, "History of California," Vol. V, Chap. 20.

The voyage to San Francisco ended on July 31. Ten deaths and two

births occurred during the trip, and four of the company,

including two elders and one woman, had to be excommunicated "for

their wicked and licentious conduct." Three others were dealt

with in the same way as soon as the company landed.* On landing

they found the United States in possession of the country, which

led to Brannan's reported remark, "There is that d--d flag

again." The men of the party, some of whom had not paid all their

passage money, at once sought work, but the company did not hold

together. Before the end of the year some 20 more "went astray,"

in church parlance; some decided to remain on the coast when they

learned that the church was to make Salt Lake Valley its

headquarters, and some time later about 140 reached Utah and took

up their abode there.

* Brannan's letter, Millennial Star, Vol. IX, pp. 306-307.

Brannan fell from grace and was pronounced by P. P. Pratt "a

corrupt and wicked man." While he was getting his expedition in

shape, he sent to the church authorities in the West a copy of an

agreement which he said he had made with A. G. Benson, an alleged

agent of Postmaster General Kendall. Benson was represented as

saying that, unless the Mormon leaders signed an agreement, to

which President Polk was a "silent partner," by which they would

"transfer to A. G. Benson and Co., and to their heirs and

assigns, the odd number of all the lands and town lots they may

acquire in the country where they settle," the President would

order them to be dispersed. This seems to have been too

transparent a scheme to deceive Young, and the agreement was not


The march of the pioneers was resumed on July 3. That evening

they were told that those who wished to return eastward to meet

their families, who were perhaps five hundred miles back with the

second company, could do so; but only five of them took advantage

of this permission. The event of Sunday, July 4, was the arrival

of thirteen members of the Battalion, who had pushed on in

advance of the main body of those who were on the way from

Pueblo, in order that they might recover some horses stolen from

them, which they were told were at Bridger's Fort. They said that

the main body of 140 were near at hand. This company had been

directed in their course by instructions sent to them by Brigham

Young from a point near Fort Laramie.

The hardships of the trip had told on the pioneers, and a number

of them were now afflicted with what they called "mountain

fever." They attributed this to the clouds of dust that enveloped

the column of wagons when in motion, and to the decided change of

temperature from day to night. For six weeks, too, most of them

had been without bread, living on the meat provided by the

hunters, and saving the little flour that was left for the sick.

The route on July 5 kept along the right bank of the Green River

for about three miles, and then led over the bluffs and across a

sandy, waterless plain for sixteen miles, to the left bank of

Black's Fork, where they camped for the night. The two following

days took them across this Fork several times, but, although

fording was not always comfortable, the stream added salmon trout

to their menu. On the 7th the party had a look at Bridger's Fort,

of which they had heard often. Orson Pratt described it at the

time as consisting "of two adjoining log houses, dirt roofs, and

a small picket yard of logs set in the ground, and about eight

feet high. The number of men, squaws, and halfbreed children in

these houses and lodges may be about fifty or sixty."

At the camp, half a mile from the fort, that night ice formed.

The next day the blacksmiths were kept busy repairing wagons and

shoeing horses in preparation for a trail through the mountains.

On the 9th and 10th they passed over a hilly country, camping on

Beaver River on the night of the 10th.

The fever had compelled several halts on account of the condition

of the patients, and on the 12th it was found that Brigham Young

was too ill to travel. In order not to lose time, Orson Pratt,

with forty-three men and twentythree wagons, was directed to push

on into Salt Lake Valley, leaving a trail that the others could

follow. From the information obtainable at Fort Bridger it was

decided that the canon leading into the valley would be found

impassable on account of high water, and that they should direct

their course over the mountains.

These explorers set out on July 14, travelling down Red Fork, a

small stream which ran through a narrow valley, whose sides in

places were from eight hundred to twelve hundred feet high,--red

sandstone walls, perpendicular or overhanging. This route was a

rough one, requiring frequent fordings of the stream, and they

did well to advance thirteen miles that day. On the 15th they

discovered a mountain trail that had been recommended to them,

but it was a mere trace left by wagons that had passed over it a

year before. They came now to the roughest country they had

found, and it became necessary to send sappers in advance to open

a road before the wagons could pass over it. Almost discouraged,

Pratt turned back on foot the next day, to see if he could not

find a better route; but he was soon convinced that only the one

before them led in the direction they were to take. The wagons

were advanced only four and three-quarters miles that day, even

the creek bottom being so covered with a growth of willows that

to cut through these was a tiresome labor. Pratt and a companion,

during the day, climbed a mountain, which they estimated to be

about two thousand feet high, but they only saw, before and

around them, hills piled on hills and mountains on

mountains,--the outlines of the Wahsatch and Uinta ranges.

On Monday, the 18th, Pratt again acted as advance explorer, and

went ahead with one companion. Following a ravine on horseback

for four miles, they then dismounted and climbed to an elevation

from which, in the distance, they saw a level prairie which they

thought could not be far from Great Salt Lake. The whole party

advanced only six and a quarter miles that day and six the next.

One day later Erastus Snow came up with them, and Pratt took him

along as a companion in his advance explorations. They discovered

a point where the travellers of the year before had ascended a

hill to avoid a canon through which a creek dashed rapidly.

Following in their predecessors' footsteps, when they arrived at

the top of this hill there lay stretched out before them "a

broad, open valley about twenty miles wide and thirty long, at

the north end of which the waters of the Great Salt Lake

glistened in the sunbeams." Snow's account of their first view of

the valley and lake is as follows:-- "The thicket down the

narrows, at the mouth of the canon, was so dense that we could

not penetrate through it. I crawled for some distance on my hands

and knees through this thicket, until I was compelled to return,

admonished to by the rattle of a snake which lay coiled up under

my nose, having almost put my hand on him; but as he gave me the

friendly warning, I thanked him and retreated. We raised on to a

high point south of the narrows, where we got a view of the Great

Salt Lake and this valley, and each of us, without saying a word

to the other, instinctively, as if by inspiration, raised our

hats from our heads, and then, swinging our hats, shouted,

'Hosannah to God and the Lamb!' We could see the canes down in

the valley, on what is now called Mill Creek, which looked like

inviting grain, and thitherward we directed our course."*

* "Address to the Pioneers," 1880.

Having made an inspection of the valley, the two explorers

rejoined their party about ten o'clock that evening. The next

day, with great labor, a road was cut through the canon down to

the valley, and on July 22 Pratt's entire company camped on City

Creek, below the present Emigration Street in Salt Lake City. The

next morning, after sending word of their discovery to Brigham

Young, the whole party moved some two miles farther north, and

there, after prayer, the work of putting in a crop was begun. The

necessity of irrigation was recognized at once. "We found the

land so dry," says Snow, "that to plough it was impossible, and

in attempting to do so some of the ploughs were broken. We

therefore had to distribute the water over the land before it

could be worked." When the rest of the pioneers who had remained

with Young reached the valley the next day, they found about six

acres of potatoes and other vegetables already planted.

While Apostles like Snow might have been as transported with

delight over the aspect of the valley as he professed to be,

others of the party could see only a desolate, treeless plain,

with sage brush supplying the vegetation. To the women especially

the outlook was most depressing.

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