Encountering Missouri emigrants

Sunday, June 6, 1847:

On this Sabbath day, the pioneer company spent the morning hours in the spirit of devotion and worship. A prayer meeting was held, followed by a preaching meeting. The meeting came to an end on account of rain. Although the Saints generally did not travel on Sunday, as the events of the day unfolded, President Brigham Young decided that some journeying was necessary.During their brief stay at Ft. Laramie, the Mormons learned that there were three companies of Missouri emigrants along the Oregon Trail. The day before, one of the groups was seen, but on this day, the pioneer company actually experienced two separate encounters with the "gentile" companies. At 11 a.m. four mounted Missourians entered the pioneers' camp. Some of the brethren recognized them as former mobocrats.

William Clayton wrote, "They seem a little afraid and not fond of our company. . . . I feel to wish that their fears may follow them even to Oregon."

In the afternoon, a second train of Missourians with 19 wagons passed by. Their guide, a settler from Oregon, indicated that the pioneers would find water again in a few miles, but that they would not see water again until Horseshoe Creek, 15 miles ahead.

While traveling, a friendly encounter ensued with one of the Missouri groups, comprised of 19 wagons. Several of the men came to look at the pioneers' roadometer. Another said he had broken a spring in his carriage and wondered if there was anyone in the Mormon encampment who could fix it. Burr Frost set up his blacksmith forge and repaired the man's spring.

Monday, June 7:

This day's journey of 13 miles to a wooded spot on Horseshoe Creek was generally uneventful for the pioneers. They kept brushing by the three different trains from Missouri headed to Oregon. This leapfrogging was common on the Oregon Trail. Groups often tried to vie with each other for the best campsites.

Wilford Woodruff remarked at day's end that the camp had "the most splendid feed we have met with on the journey." Their camp was in the bottom lands in the midst of a grove of ash, cottonwood, willow, and box elder.

Tuesday, June 8:

The trail in the morning included a 3/4-mile ascent that was the most difficult that they had yet encountered. There were seven steep rises in this short distance. The brethren had to double their teams.

In the afternoon, the brethren felt a deep chill from the mountain cold. They had to pass over a succession of hills and hollows.

William Clayton discovered that the roadometer ceased to work well, so he had to pay strict attention to it. The pioneers made 15.5 miles during the day, camping near present-day Douglas, Wyo.

In the evening, several fur traders coming from Fort Bridger to Fort Laramie stopped in the camp. Church leaders enjoyed conversing with these traders, who reported that the last crossing of the North Platte was 50 miles away and Fort Bridger was another 250 miles. They also described the valley of the Great Salt Lake and the beautiful valley surrounding Utah Lake. The traders also agreed to carry mail east and many of the men wrote quick letters to their families.

Wednesday, June 9:

In the morning, the mountain men spoke about a boat or ferry that they had made out of buffalo hides that they had left hanging in a tree farther ahead at the North Platte crossing and said that the pioneers were welcome to have it. They also traded buffalo robes, moccasins, skin shirts, and pants for food.

Brigham Young and his council decided to send 40 men ahead with 19 wagons to get ahead of the Missouri immigrants so that they could be the first to establish a ferry at the crossing of the North Platte. They were also to kill game, construct a large ferrying raft, and do any other advance work in preparation for the arrival of the main pioneer company.

The main company covered 191/4 miles this day, a record for the entire journey. The well-traveled, nearly flat terrain resulted in the faster movement. William Clayton decided to put up signs every 10 miles for Mormon groups that were to follow.

Thursday, June 10:

This day was another good traveling day - a total of nearly 18 miles - before reaching Deer Creek near the North Platte River bottoms.

In the morning they passed by a natural wonder - a rocky arch 30 feet high and 50 feet wide. (This formation is the highlight of present-day Ayers State Park.) Soon after camping, a number of pioneers went fishing in the clear Deer Creek.

Friday, June 11:

The company moved along the banks of the North Platte River which they found were swollen from the spring runoff. While traveling along, some pioneers rode their horses into the river several times to see if they could find a fording place. No acceptable crossing was located. They journeyed a total of 17 miles and crossed numerous small streams. They would have gone farther, but they saw two Missouri groups ahead of them.

The advance company arrived at the location where the Mormons would establish a ferry to assist emigrant companies across the North Platte River.

Saturday, June 12:

The pioneers reached the last crossing of the North Platte at the site of present-day Casper, Wyo. Here, they would spend five days fording the 100-yard wide, fast-moving river, that was 15 feet deep in some places.

During the day the men of the advance company negotiated with Missourians who had also reached the crossing to be paid to help the latter in ferrying over the river. The Mormons' leather boat, the "Revenue Cutter," was capable of carrying more than 1,500 to 1,800 pounds at a time. The emigrants agreed to pay the equivalent of $1.50 a load to have their supplies delivered to the other side.

However, the Mormons took mostly flour in exchange for payment. "We received it as the providence of God in getting the supplies we needed," noted Erastus Snow.

Blacksmiths with the advance party also set up their forges and did some repair work for the Missourians. In conversations they found out that the immigrants were chiefly from Jackson, Clay, Lafayette, and Daviess Counties in Missouri where the Saints had experienced so much trouble in the 1830s. At first there was tension between the Mormons and the Missourians, but this was abetted when Stephen Markham and James Case rescued a Missourian who was drowning in the current while trying to swim across the river.

Sources: An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton, 339-41; Comprehensive History of the Church 3:195-97; William Clayton's Journal, 218-36; Ensign to the Nations, 127-31; Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 557-559; Orson Pratt, "Journal," Millennial Star 12 (15 April 1850): 114-15, (1 May 1850): 129; Pioneering the West, 1846 to 1878, 66-73; Personal Writings of Eliza Roxcy Snow, 177-78; Wilford Woodruff's Journals 3:197-202.

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