In 1845 this day's travel brought Joel Palmer "8 miles. . .to the Dalles of the Platte, where the river bursts through a mountain spur. Perpendicular cliffs rising directly from the edge of the water, 500 or 600 feet high from the left bank of the river." Palmer climbed to the top, "which proved to be a naked, rough, black rock, with here and there a scrubby cedar and wild sage bush. It appeared to be a place of resort for mountain sheep and bears."
Edwin Bryant (1846) "noticed, to-day in the trail, immense numbers of insects, in color and motion resembling the common cricket. They are much larger, however, and their bodies more rotund. In places, the ground was blackened with them, and they were crushed under the feet of our animals at every step."
Passing by La Prele Creek and the Dalles of the Platte, Richard M. May (1848) emphatically proclaimed "Today decidedly the richest scenery surrounded us that we had the pleasure of seeing on the journey. . . .This country appears to have been in a volcanic state at some period or other from the appearance of the rocks and earth. In fact the whole face of it has a volcanic appearance."
"Today when our hunters came in," according to Elizabeth Dixon Smith (1847) "they brought one dead man he had shot himself last night accidentily he left a wife and six small children. . ."
"July first" brought Virginia W. Ivins (1853) "to the Sweetwater Mountains, and crossing the first range made our camp on the river of the same name, a beautiful stream, cold and clear as crystal. We were quite near Independence Rock. . .A number of men were hard at work hoisting a deserted wagon to the top, intending to roll it off the top to celebrate Independence day, so near at hand."
Camping on a branch of Bear River, Sarah Sutton (1854) philosophically noted that "here man and beast meet with the same fate. yonder is a grave, of one who spent their last days, in Jolting over the rock, and Jumping off places through the mountains. there lies a dead ox who have lost their lives in trying to drag people across the plains."
Approaching La Bonte Creek, "The country over which we passed was hilly, with much sand in the little valleys and plains", according to J.Quinn Thornton (1846). "The day was clear", he continued, "and the high winds blew about the sands much to our annoyance. . . .The face of the whole country wore a very dreary and barren aspect."
Young Sallie Hester (1849) "With great difficulty" carved her name on Independence Rock. Later in the day "Several of us climbed this mountain [Devil's Gate]-somewhat perilous for youngsters not over fourteen. . . .We were gone so long that the train was stopped and men sent out in search of us. We made all sorts of promises to remain in sight in the future. . . ."
After crossing South Pass, Henry Allyn (1853) expressed a very common opinion: "Make use of the waters of the Pacific for the first time. We are now in the verge of Oregon."
Camped on a branch of Bear River, Sarah Sutton (1854) and her party " were attack'd with the most savage warlike enemy and they gave us the alarm by the sound of their horn, and they had prepared themselves, and were well armed with a long sharp spear to meet us for war, and as soon as we met there was heavey battles fought, but on our side there was some blood shed it is true, but no lives taken, but on the enemys side hundreds kill'd and wounded but none missed." Mrs. Sutton identified the "attackers" as members "of the Musqueto tribe, and well known the world over."
"This day passed through what is called by mountain men the bad ground or Vermillion Hills", wrote Jacob Snyder in 1845. "The Vermillion Hills have the apperance of burned brick broken up & scattered over the ground."
In the same year, Jesse Harritt (1845) noted that "a general sleepy drowsiness has invaded the camp ever since we came on Big Platte River, and since we came on Sweetwater our men have been subject to severe pains in the head and back and other parts of the system with colic, cramps, sore mouths and lips. . ."
W.W. Chapman (1849) camped at Pacific Springs after passing the ice springs and traversing South Pass. "A person to be placed there of a sudden would wake in their dream that he had escaped from this earth, would think he was in realms unknown."
Mrs. Cecelia Adams (1852) "came to the river opposite Chimney Rock, which has been visible most of the way for the last thirty-five miles. It is said to be three miles from the opposite side of the river, but on these level prairies we cannot judge much of distances by the eye. It does not appear more than half a mile. . . .We very much regret that we could not cross the river and get a closed view of it, but we can see it very distinctly through our spyglass."
It was the opinion of Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853), given two days after passing Fort Laramie, that "To attempt a description of the country and roads over which we have passed today would be useless. One must pass over the black Hills to form any idea of their wild, barren ruggedness."
Three years later, Helen M. Carpenter (1856) agreed with this assessment. One day beyond Fort Laramie, she indicated "The road today was varied, but mostly rough and up an down." That afternoon her party experienced an "unwelcome visitor" as "a terrific storm broke upon us." The lightning, rain, hail and wind were worse that she had ever seen, "even in the two years experience in Kansas storms."
According to Patty Sessions (1847), "a man broke his arm last night in our Co rasling his name is Martin DeWitt."
After celebrating July 4th at Independence Rock, David Leeper (1849) made an unpalatable discovery. "We used the river water for camp purposes. . .Imagine our chagrin and disgust when soon after breaking camp the next morning, we discovered the putrid carcass of an ox steeping in a brook that discharged into the river a short distance above where we had been using the water."
Robert Chalmers (1850) spent Independence Day ferrying the Green River. "The current is so strong and the water cold", he reported, "One man was drowned this morning by riding a mule over the river."
Eugenia Zieber (1851): "The cattle had a stampede to day. The only thing nearly that was done in the way of celebrating the fourth. The stampede was started by a dog jumping out suddenly from under one of the wagons No harm done."
The train to which Phoebe Judson (1853), her husband and children belonged had a picnic at Independence Rock. They had no flag to unfurl, no band to play martial music, "But more loyal hearts never entered upon the festivities of the day with greater enthusiasm than did these pilgrim travelers through the wilderness." Despite Mrs. Judson's disclaimer that the affair was not as elaborate as customary. the meal included "a savory pie, made of sage hen and rabbit, with a rich gravy; the crust having been raised with yeast, was light as a feather; cake of three varieties (fruit, pound and sponge), pickles, dried beef and preserves, rice pudding, beans and dried fruit. Beverages: tea, coffee, or pure cold water from the mountain stream, as we chose. . ."
Virginia W. Ivins' (1853) train celebrated the patriotic holiday at Devil's Gate "by opening a demijohn of wine, and demolishing that, and a large fruit cake which was baked for the occasion in our far away Iowa home."
". . .ice is found about sixty miles from Independence (Rock) up Sweetwater", according to Mrs. Maria Belshaw (1853). On this Independence Day, "Mr. McCarthy only dug eight inches, and found ice as clear and beautiful as ever was seen. A short distance from the ice is water warm enough to wash dishes in."
For the Shedd family (1864), this July 4th was marked by tragedy. Little Frankie, two years old, took sick about the time the train left the Platte for the Sweetwater. They camped at Independence Rock on the night of July 3rd, and shortly thereafter the little boy died. "The next morning his father made a very neat coffin as he was a good carpenter and in the afternoon they had the funeral, which was on Independence Day. On the fifth we resumed our journey. . ."
". . .after travelling 16 miles we encamped at a noted place called Independence Rock," wrote John Bidwell (1841), adding "It took its name from the celebration of the 4th of July at this place by Capt. Wm. Sublette, and it now bears many names of the early travellers to these regions."
In 1845, Joel Palmer found "an excellent camp ground" at Deer Creek, whose "banks are lined with timber. . .(and) Game in abundance, such as elk, buffalo, antilope, deer and bear."
John Wood (1850) was considerably impressed with Devil's Gate, noting in his diary "The sublimity and grandeur of the place are indescribably and is certainly a great display of God's works, and is well worth any traveler's attention."
Three years later, Mrs. Phoebe Judson (1853) had a markedly different reaction. "The larger portion of our party took time to inspect this place (Devil's Gate), so highly honored by the name of his satanic majesty. My curiosity was not at all excited, though I often concluded, when our way was rough and barren, that we must have traveled through his domain."
One day after crossing South Pass, Jesse Harritt (1845) noted a rapid change in the weather. "Morning warm until 10 o'clock," he wrote, "when the wind suddenly shifted, with a dark cloud from the west, followed by a shower of rain. Almost instantly it became so cold that it was uncomfortable traveling."
Camping two miles above the Upper Platte Ferry, Richard May (1848) noted that "The scenery at a distance is very beautiful. We have traveled parallel with a range of mountains on our left, the last hundred miles."
W.W. Chapman (1849) "Lay by until three o'clock in the afternoon (on the Big Sandy), then went for Green River 53 miles, (on the Sublette Cutoff) no water, first end of road good the last pretty rough. . ."
Major Cross (1850): "Our march today brought us in sight of the Red Hills" (Red Buttes; one day beyond the Mormon Ferry).
"The river (Green River) being to deep to ford a raft must be build before we can cross it" according to Marion W. Battey (1852). Building such rafts was hard work, and "A few of the boys as usual are sick, or pretend to be to get rid of work." The captain "salted" a bit of mud and dirt with gold foil or dust and "it is astonishing how quick the invalids leave their tents when the wonderful discovery is made known." "The plan works nicely and Captain Yale soon tells them they are able to build rafts if they are to dig gold."
Several days beyond South Pass, Henry Allyn (1853) "Met a California train who are returning back to the States with their wealth."
The train with which Anna Maria Goodell (1854) traveled "Crossed Sweet Water River three times. Stopped at two P.M. to shoe more cattle. . .There was a child fell out of a wagon and hurt quite bad."
"Another axle-tree broken. Encamped about 5 o'clock to repair", complained Jacob Snyder (1845). "The waggons are beginning to give out. The extreme dryness of the atmosphere shrinks the wood of the wheels to such an extent that the tires drop off no matter how well they might have been put on in Independence, the starting point. . ."
J. Quinn Thornton (1846) recorded a bit of advice for emigrants in his diary. "The emigrant should not fail to prepare for this intolerable dust, by procuring several pairs of goggles for the eyes of each member of his family" because the dust can cause serious eye problems. "The blindness of Mr. McKissick, whom we had met ten miles east of Ft. Laramie is an example in point."
"Late last evening" Richard M. May (1848) and his companions made preparations to ferry the North Platte. When finished "our ferry boat began to ply. Our wagons began to land on the opposite bank at the rate of about 4 per hour." "The most of the emigrants in this train" paid the Mormons in charge of the ferry (whom he described as "quite intelligent and manly") "in trade. I paid them in coffee at 25¢ lb. The coffee which paid them cost me 8¢ per lb."
Robert Chalmers (1850) "arrived at Bridger's fort and laid up a half a day. It is a trading Fort. . . .It is on a large flat and a rapidly running stream which winds through it of cold snow water. Camped four miles further on."
". . .our poor dog gave out with the heat and sand so that he could not travel," wrote Mrs. Amelia Stewart Knight (1853); "the boys have gone back after him. . ." [She got the dog back that evening]
Martha Missouri Moore (1860) "Laid over today while Mrs. Moore disposed of a thousand head of sheep at five dollars a head" at Fort Laramie.
Camping the night before was difficult for Reverend Edward Evans Parrish (1844) because "the Platte river is up and has thrown the water around between the timber and the camping place, so we had to wade the water above the waist, in order to get wood. . . our journey to day being up the Platte, we were most of the day passing the island. It is said to be thirty miles long."[the Grand Island]
"Today we had the most dreadful h ail storm that I ever witnessed," reported Elizabeth Dixon Smith (1847) "in which a young woman and I came near being caught, as we went out to visit the famous Chimney Rock. Fortunately we reached one of the foremost wagons just as the hail began to pelt us. It tore some of their wagon covers off; broke some bows, and made horses and oxen run away, making bad work."
Mrs. Amelia Stewart Knight (1853) described Steamboat Spring as a "great curiosity, situated near the bank of Bear river, it spouts up about a foot and a half, out of a hole in the solid rock it is about warm enough to wash in." Mrs. Knight "put my hankerchief in to wash, and it drew it under, in a moment it came up again, and I took better care of it. . ."
One day before reaching Ham's Fork, Henry Allyn (1853) "lay at camp to rest man and beast. The sick are recovering. The crippled mule does not appear to be hurt so bad as we expected. It walks about the feeds and limps but little. Emigrants that we passed yesterday, repass us today."
On the approach to Independence Rock, as described by J. Quinn Thornton (1846) "we saw a large pond of water so strongly impregnated with the carbonate or bi-carbonate of potash, that the water would no long hold it in solution. . .Along the edges of the pond it was found in broad and perfectly white sheets, from one to two inches thick. . .That which was taken up from the bottom of the pond looked precisely like fine salt. . .These ponds were numerous in the subsequent portions of our journey. The emigrants collected this salt, and used it, under the name of saleratus for the purpose of making bread light and spongy. Most persons liked the bread so made. I did not."
After making camp at Scotts Bluff, Elizabeth Dixon Smith (1847) recorded in her diary having seen "by the way side a bout 2 acres of fine white stone all cut up comparatively in to pieces a bout 10 feet square and 2 feet thick." She left the wagon barefooted to acquire some of the stone "but got my feet full of stickers and was glad to get back to my wagon."
Polly Coon's (1852) party "left our camp very early & crossed the 2nd & 3rd ford of Sweetwater" when an accident happened. Approaching the third crossing, one of the teams rushed in "before the drivers were ready & running up on to the bank turned over the wagon into the middle of the river. The Dr jumped out & tried to hold up the wagon but could not & it crushed him down under it draging him a rod under water. He was hurt considerable-his medicine chest was overturned & nearly everything which was valuable floated off down the stream & was lost."
"Returning to the Sweetwater. . .we encamped near a cluster of small willows (Willow Springs), after a continuous march of nine hours. . . .The atmosphere is filled with swarms of mosquitoes, which bite with a fierceness far greater than their civilized brethren of the 'settlements'." Thus did Edwin Bryant (1846) describe one of the hazards of trail travel.
James Akin, Jr. (1852): "Travel 13 miles; good roads; crossed Sweet Water the last time; passed over the summit of the Rocky Mountains; camp at Pacific Springs; pleasant day."
On Bear River Henry Allyn (1853) paid 25 cents per wagon and team. The ferry was "kept by a man that had been in the employ of a Hudson Bay Company, who has left it and taken up with these Indians and has lived with them five years."
The train of Reverend Edward Evans Parrish (1844) "stopped to kill buffaloes; they are found here in vast quantities. . .Mr. Simons says they are thicker than he ever saw stars in the firmament." [The next day Parrish estimated that "Forty thousand pounds of the best beef spoiled in one night. . .God forgive us for such waste and save us from such ignorance."]
Crossing the "sandy plain" between the Platte and the Sweetwater, Jacob Snyder (1845) reported "The wind blowing very strong it was almost impossible to proceed for the clouds of sand. The cattle suffered much & we met some on the road belonging to other companies that were left behind." "Cattle and men this evening were completely worn out," he noted, "The Sweet Water was truly a pleasant sight to them."
After crossing "Thompson's Fork on a toll bridge at 50 cents per team. . .we soon leave the valley of Bear River and again encounter the everlasting hills" wrote Henry Allyn (1853). "After gaining its summit. . .this landed us a second time into the valley of Bear River. Here we pass a blacksmith's shop, who has established himself here to repair crippled wagons, and it is to be feared more to skin emigrants, if we may judge from his price for setting wagon tire, which was $8.00 per wagon."
The day before reaching South Pass, Celinda E. Hines (1853) reported that "some Indians came to the camp. One came riding up to another and pitched upon him seemingly with the intention of doing him harm, pulling his hair and threatening him with an axe above his head. We thought that perhaps it was but a maneuver to attract our attention so that others might have an opportunity to steal. . .The men guarded the cattle all night as we are among the blackfeet, having left the Crows."
"This day we arrived at Independence Rock" wrote Joel Palmer (1845). The dimensions of the rock he gave as "about one-eighth of a mile long and some six or eight rods wide, and. . .elevated about sixty or seventy feet above the plain." Palmer, of course, also noted that "Portions of it are covered with inscriptions of the names of travelers, with the dates of their arrival-some carved, some in black paint, and other in red."
Edwin Bryant (1846) commented extensively on how gradual was the ascent to South Pass, as well how broad and open was its topography. He also noted that the "distance from Fort laramie, by the route which we travelled, to the 'Pacific Spring', according to our estimate, is three hundred and eleven miles."
In 1853, Celinda Hines (1853) "camped for dinner" near Pacific Springs after crossing South Pass with the "Road good all the way". "Soon after dinner a wagon just ahead of our train was upset" she reported, "But no material damage done. The same train have had two killed by lightning."
Arriving at the Green River ferry at 3 o'clock this afternoon," Mrs. Maria Belshaw (1853) was disturbed by the verbal behavior of those present. "I thought there was wickedness carried on at the Missouri Ferry-but it was nothing compared to this. I've heard nothing scarcely, but peal after peal of oaths. It chills my blood to hear them."
Passing through central Nebraska in 1857, Sarah Maria Mousley reported that "an aged Sister who had been subject desease of heart and died from fright by her husband being kicked by one of his oxen the kick did not injure the man but she witnessed the scene and died from fright. . ."
Joel Palmer (1845) passed "the Gap or Devil's Gate, as it is sometimes called. The Sweet Water breaks through a spur of the mountain, which from appearance is four or five hundred feet high."
Encamped on the Little Sandy, Edwin Bryant (1846) indicated the "stream had a shallow, limpid current, running over a bed of yellowish sand and gravel, through a channel about fifteen or twenty feet in breadth." The grass was good, but "The mosquitoes manifest an almost invincible courage and ferocity. We were obliged to picket our mules and light fires, made of the wild sage, around and among them, for their protection against the attacks of these insects."
"Traveled 16 miles, over a sandy plain, still up Sweet Water" wrote Richard May (1848). "This is the only pass to the great south pass. A few more days will bring us to the point when we will have to say we are out of the Mississippi Valley."
On this day Henry Allyn (1853) visited Soda Springs for about an hour. This spring "belches up as though forced by a gas, which is contained in bubbles, which on reaching the surface bursts and the vapour, if inhaled, has the same effect on the olfactory nerves as ignited sulphur."
"We nooned on the Big Sandy, under a high bluff" reported Edwin Bryant (1846), pointing out that "The emigrant trail known as 'Greenwood's Cut-off,' leaves the old trail via Fort Bridger to Fort Hall at this point." "Greenwood's Cut-off is said to shorten the distance on the Fort Hall route to Oregon and California some fifty or sixty miles. . .(but) The objection to the route is. . .there is no water." [Better known as Sublette's Cut-off, this trail "short-cut" was originally named after Caleb Greenwood, one of the earliest of the mountain men who, though in his eighties, participated in the attempt to rescue members of the Donner Party in the high Sierras in 1846]
This day Major Osborne Cross (1850) observed what "may be looked upon as a natural curiosity, by digging into the ground at this place, about 12 inches, we came to a bed of excellent ice. The bog is in a plain or small sandy valley, and exposed to the direct rays of the sun."
Three years later, as she "passed Avenue Rocks", Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853) expressed some concern "as it is uncertain about finding grass again before we reach Sweetwater." But other provisions were in hand since "Our men killed a buffalo today and we have a good supply of beef."
A murder was committed on Ham's Fork of Green River in 1852 and members of Abigail Jane Scott's train were "called upon as jurymen". She reported that "The jury after an impartial investigation of the tragical affair brought in a verdict" of not guilty by reason of self-defense.
Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853): "Traveled four miles to a clear spring creek, thence three miles to Willow Springs, thence passed over Prospect Hill, from the top of which we had a most beautiful view of the surrounding country."
On this Sunday, Martha Missouri Moore (1860) "Left camp 1/4 to 7 and come to a fine spring branch before 8, crossed Box Elder at 1/2 past 9 & come out on the prairie to noon One of the largest steers died today of murrain". [ The term for anthrax.]
Heading for Fort Bridger Edwin Bryant (1846) described in some detail the country through which he passed :
"Black's Fork is a stream varying in width from fifty to one hundred feet. Its water are limpid and cold."
"A well-defined cornice surrounds the western and southern sides of this temple of nature, and its roof is surmounted by three immense domes, in comparison with which those of the Capitol. St. Peter's, and St. Sophia are toys."
"Its shape (Church Butte) is irregularly oval. It is about five hundred feet above the level of the plain. In general shape and ornament it presents the appearance of a magnificent structure erected by human labor, but crumbling into ruins. Surrounding it there are a multitude of columns of unknown architecture orders, and grotesque figures in statuary and carving in alto and bassa relievo."
In 1852, the Reverend John McAllister noted that "The road here leaves the Platte river and turns to the right between two steep red Bluffs (Red Buttes), a little sand in places, but good solid road."
"We have been visited by many Indians today," wrote Polly Coon (1852) as her party camped on the Big Sandy, "traded some with them, hard bread for Moccasins & beads." "They seem perfectly friendly & kind," she noted, "our fears of Indians have all disappeared."
"At length we arrive at the ferry on Partenith (Port Neuf) and cross at $3.00 per wagon without mules, which we swam" according to Henry Allyn (1853). "We were here attacked by an army of the most blood-thirsty and resolute mosquitoes that we had yet encountered."
For two or three days before crossing South Pass, Louisa Cook (1862) "ate my breakfast shivering with my shawl wrapped close round me. When I combed my hair there was so much electricity about it that I could scarcely get it done up."
"This has been a day of events" reported Reverend Edward Evans Parrish (1844), "Wolves, antelopes, and buffalo were seen during the day. In the afternoon a herd of buffalo was seen in the forks, between the south and north branches (of the Platte)." The ensuing "scene was so interesting that some of our women actually joined in the chase."
The location of Fort Bridger was superb according to Edwin Bryant (1846), but the establishment itself was shabby. "The buildings are two or three miserable log-cabins, rudely constructed, and bearing but a faint resemblance to habitable houses," he wrote, but "Its position is in a handsome and fertile bottom. . .(which) produces the finest qualities of grass, and in great abundance." Furthermore, "The water of the stream is cold and pure, and abounds in spotted mountain trout, and a variety of other small fish."
Back up the trail, in 1852, Reverend John McAllister came by Willow Springs, observing that, while the spring provided "good cool water. . .(the) willows are nearly all cut down, but plenty sage for fuel."
On this day, Henry Allyn (1853) "came to the bank of the south fork of the Columbia River, called Lewis Fork and Snake River."
On this day in 1843, Joel J. Hembree's son, also named Joel, "fel off the waggeon tung & both wheels run over him". [The little boy died the next day.]
Heading for Pacific Springs through South Pass, Richard May (1848) made a philosophical observation. "Just suppose," he wrote, "thousands of wagons and teams crossing the great ridge dividing the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific without an effort, at the height of near 8000 feet above the Gulf of Mexico and that too in the immediate vicinity and full view of the snow capped mountains and you will come to the conclusion that this pass was washed out by nature's hand for great and noble purposes in days and years yet to roll by. . ."
Commenting upon how easy is the ascent to South Pass "from Rock Independence, over a gradually ascending plain, one hundred and twenty miles in length," J. Quinn Thornton (1848) pointed out that "in this peculiarity (it is) entirely unlike the winding ascent by which the traveler toils up the Alleghany." Even so, the journey was not without cost. "As we journeyed through the pass," he continued, "I saw several oxen that had died. . ."
"This evening Eliza and I preceded by Ella and Octavia, went to the (Devil's) Gate and went through, a more splendid natural curiosity we never beheld", wrote John S. Zeiber (1851) in his diary. "It would be impossible to take a horse through and it is a tedious undertaking to go through afoot. before night we passed around the place where the river passes between the rocks."
After camping at the Little Sandy, J. Quinn Thornton (1848) encountered some difficulty, or at least his driver did. "Upon each side (of Little Sandy)," he noted, "there were dense groups of tall willows, and an undergrowth so thick as to make it almost impossible to pass through. The idea of hiding among the close and thick-leaved willows, here got into the heads of Star and Golden, the two greatest rogues in my team; and they in consequence gave my driver, Albert, some trouble to find them. . ."
John Wood (1850) expressed the majority reaction to the Fort Bridger Valley. After passing through "a rather pisturesque (sic.) part of the country we reached a beautiful valley of fertile soil. In this valley there is a fort, called Fort Bridger, after the old pioneer who built it and lives there near where we have camped. This valley is certainly very rich and affords the best of grass. It is watered by 7 beautiful streams. . ."
On this day Thomas Flint (1853) "Killed a huge yellow rattler. Drove today to Alder Clump (Box Elder) at which there is a large spring and a trading post. Had 10 sheep poisoned by eating some poisonous vegetable. Saved five of them by giving them lard. Wolves numerous."
On this, his second trip to Oregon [his first was in 1850], Orange Gaylord (1853) "Drove to the Malheur River and laid by on the Malheur on the 20th.
J. Quinn Thornton (1848) reached the Big Sandy at 3 o'clock. There was "an abundance of good grass", but "Our fuel was driftwood, bois de vache (buffalo chips), and artemisia; the latter of which, burning with a quick and oily flame, made a very hot fire, and was always acceptable, when sufficient abundant."
Camping at Fort Bridger, John Wood (1850) was "told that over 100 lodges of Indians are to meet here today at the fort to exhibit 5,000 horses, a prize they have taken from the Utah tribe, with whom they have been at war." While he expressed some desire to "see them exhibit their trophies of war,. . . something seems to say, stay not till tomorrow's sun. We gathered our teams and marched away toward the land where we hope to rest."
Passing Ice Springs, Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853) "Saw the main chain of the Rocky mountains to the north, with their snow-clad tops towering to a great height. The sight is truly grand and worth a journey across the plains."
"This proved to be far the hardest part of our travel, and yet we must go (on) or perish by the road side" wrote Harriet A. Loughary (1864), adding that "Every man, woman and child must walk in order to lessen the weight on our axletree to prevent breaking."
Mary Ringo's party was "detained at the Fort (Laramie) on account of having shot at that friendly Indian [the day before] and had to recompence them by paying them some flour, bacon, sugar and coffee and were glad to get off on those terms."
It may have been the middle of the summer, but approaching Bear River Edwin Bryant (1846) reported that "Our buffalo robes and the grass of the valley were white with frost. Ice of the thickness of window-glass, congealed in our buckets." Even so, "we experience no inconvenience from it, and the morning air is delightfully pleasant and invigorating."
J. Quinn Thornton (1848) "remained in camp for the purpose of recruiting our cattle, previous to our entering upon a forty-mile, dry drive, known as 'Greenwood's cut-off', which commences at this place, and terminates (at) Green River."
In her diary Sarah Pratt (1852) recorded in her diary an "account of deaths at the ford, said to be 40 drowned dead bodies below the ford. . .[Upper Platte]
"Four or five miles brought us to the big hill or mountain, where we let our cattle rest a short time". Mrs. Cornelia A. Sharp's (1852) party then "ascended the hill, which was very steep till we got to the top. We then descended to bottom of Bear river."
Greenwood's (Sublette's) Cut-off was described by J. Quinn Thornton (1848) as "very high, and the clouds of dust and sand seemed at times to threaten us with destruction. The country was in most places so destitute of all vegetation, that it is doubtful whether even a cricket could live in such a desert. . .The only agreeable feature of the scenery was the Wind River Mountains, the lofty snowy peaks of which looked pure and beautiful, but cold, as they glistened in the rays of the sun."
John T. Kerns (1852) passed by Soda Springs, "the greatest natural curiosity I ever saw. . . . We tasted the water, which is of the same as soda water after it has ceased boiling."
This day Mrs. Velina A. Williams (1853) "gathered snow from a snow bank a short distance from and road and a few yards from the bank, saw strawberries in bloom. Tonight Samuel brought a bunch of flowers and a string of ripe strawberries in one hand and snowball in the other, gathered from opposite sides of the stream near our camp, it is as cold as November tonight."
Mrs. Amelia Stewart Knight's (1853) young son came around the front wheel of the wagon just as the vehicle began to move. He fell under the wagon, but "Somehow. . .kept from under the wheels, and escaped with only a good, or I should say, a bad scare."
Although it was the Sabbath, Martha Missouri Moore's (1860) train moved early. They "Passed Independence rock at 10 A.M. . . .I think this rock much prettier than Chimney Rock & one thing certain it is going to stand as long as time lasts."
". . .entering Camas Pararie, a large and fertile valley rich in bunch grass," Harriet A. Loughary (1864) was suspicious of the Indians she saw herding "Large droves of Indian ponies. . .grazing in this valley. . ." "We have found," she observed "that all the harmless Indians so far are the dead ones. The wolves on the neighboring hills make the night hideous with their howls, but like the Indians are peaceable because they have to be."
"I came near upsetting an Indian last night who sought to steal while I was on guard", John T. Kerns (1852) wrote in his diary. Kerns saw the Indian by moonlight, then "as he came around near where I was laying behind one of the oxen, I leveled my gun to shoot him, but the tumbler of the lock being out of order, it went when I let go of the hammer, so I missed him, but I had the pleasure of hearing him set his feet down pretty fast for a half mile. Passed the junction of the California and Oregon roads this morning."
Laying by for the day, Richard May (1848) had "an opportunity of seeing up and down the river (Green) and to the buttes on either side which (is) quite a short view. The buttes on the river are very high. . .The bottoms are low with lakes and some incrustations of salt." He also described the characteristics of Green River: "The water. . .is good and clear; the current quick at the rate of 6 miles per hour. On some islands in the river there is a beautiful grove of cottonwoods. . .Nature certainly has made a wonderful display of the mountain making principal, differing very much from the timbered mountains on the head of the Ohio. There timer and woodlands cap the heights while in the Rocky Mountains scarcely a tree of any height is to be found. . . .Green River is about 120 yds wide and runs to the left, winding its way to the Gulf of California."
Mrs. Cornelia A. Sharp (1852): "This day we . . .passed the celebrated Soda springs, which are, indeed, great natural curiosities."
Henry Allyn (1853) "Killed a rattlesnake, which is the first snake of any kind we have seen on the waters of Columbia."
Camping "near the Red Buttes", Mrs. Elizabeth Dixon Smith (1847) was less than impressed, noting "It is nothing more that a red side hill."
"Before we left our camp this morning," wrote John S. Zeiber (1851), "the Mormon, or Salt Lake mail, came into camp. They had a number of pack-mules and traveled rapidly. Their captain told me he had only 3 days left to reach Salt Lake and he expected to make the distance. . . We made our noon halt within 2 1/2 miles of the South Pass. . ."
On this day, Henry Allyn (1853) came "to a creek called Salmon Falls Creek. . . Two Indians came to our camp just at night with a quantity of dressed antelope skins and moccasins and wanted to 'swap' for shirts, powder and lead. These we had not to spare and the skins, though very handsome, we had no use for in our present circumstances. We would have bought several pairs of mocassins but they would not take money. They did not know its use or value."
"This day" Joel Palmer (1845) "traveled about sixteen miles, crossed the creek several times, and encamped near Fort Bridger. This is a trading fort owned by Bridger and Bascus (Vasquez, Bridger's mountain man partner). It is built of poles and daubed with mud; it is a shabby concern." Palmer was, however, more impressed with the supply good available, noting that They have a good supply of robes, dressed deer, elk and antelope skins, coats, pants, moccasins, and other Indian fixens, which they trade low for flour, pork, powder, load, blankets, butcher-knives, spirits, hats, ready made clothes, coffee, sugar, &c."
While Mrs. Elizabeth Dixon Smith (1847) described Willow Springs as "a handsome, little place of grass and willows," she also sadly reported that "Many of our cattle are sick and dying."
Reverend John McAllister (1852) crossed Willow Creek, "a beautiful stream 16 feet wide, good clear water. An abundance of small willows, wide bottom on which is covered with small hills, grass fair."
"This beautiful Sabbath morning. . .We stopped at 8 o'clock to feed and get breakfast" reported Mrs. Cecelia Adams (1852). "Stopped for dinner opposite Independence Rock. It is a great curiosity, but we were all so tired that we could not go to the top of it. It is almost entirely covered with names of emigrants. Went on to the Devil's Gate and encamped. This is a great curiosity, but we have not time to visit it, and we regret it very much. Passed three graves."
Mrs. Cornelia A. Sharp (1852) "traveled some sixteen miles. The road for several miles run through a beautiful valley, and then over the dividing ridge between Bear and Snake rivers. We passed one of the most delightful springs I ever saw. Our camp was about a mile down the spring branch. Whortleberries all round our camp."
Elizabeth Dixon Smith (1847) "passed the noted saleratus bed" in the Sweetwater Valley and noted that "this saleratus is far from being equeal to artificial saleratus although looks as good. . .I knew a person to fetch some through and sell it to a merchant for 50 cents a pound not telling him what it was."
"Drove only about twelve miles, as in passing Fort Hall we delayed some time to see the place," wrote John T. Kerns (1852), "It is built of dobies (adobe) or unburnt brick and covers an area of 100 feet square with a piquet 20 feet high. We crossed the Portneuf river this evening, which was rather deep fording."
A tragedy, one of many reported by emigrants, was described by Mrs. Maria Belshaw (1853) on this day: "One company just burying a boy 2 years old. It was just and right in the sight of God to take the child. The tender mother grieved bitterly to think she must leave her child in the cold and silent grave on the plains."
Rachel Taylor (1853) reported "An other quarrel among our neighbors and one which will not be so easily settled. It seems that will sold his Uncle a yoke of cattle and now refuses to give them up. He used abusive language to his Uncle and aunt and finally went to Burts. We started on in the morning and left them and they did not over take us until after dark."
"Started for our Company at night, and reached them at Independence Rock on Sweetwater," wrote John Boardman (1843). He then climbed to the top of the rock, which he described as "long and oval, and appears as if cemented together with cast iron", and surveyed the surrounding countryside. "From this rock is one of the wildest views of nature. On one side is an extended plain with a small stream meandering through it; while in view, at 3 encampments, consisting of 120 wagons, with their 700 or 800 animals feeding, and in the distance the wild buffalo feeding at their leisure."
Virgil Pringle (1846): "Travel down Bear River, 10 miles and camp, grass good and willows plenty for fire."
Reverend John McAllister (1852) descending toward "Pacific Springs and swamp, the springs are on the opposite side of the swamp from the road, good cold water, considerable grass, but the most of it is inaccessible for stock on account of the swamp which is very miry, sage for fuel, this is the first water you see flowing into the pacific Ocean."
On this day, John T. Kerns (1852) "Heard the emigrants and Indians had a battle fifty miles ahead, in which 82 whites and 400 Indians were killed." [Reports of causalities such as this were about as frequent as they were inaccurate]
Mrs. Cornelia A. Sharp (1852) "passed Fort Hall in the evening. Our camp was about two miles west of that place."
Sarah Davis'(1850) train stopped at Little Sandy to graze their cattle. While the men drove the cattle five miles to grass, another train camped about a mile away. A commotion from this camp was shortly heard for "they were whiping a man for whiping his wife he had whiped her every day since he joined the company and now they thought it was time for them to whip him"
Orange Gaylord (1853) was nearing Oregon as he "Drove to Grand Ronde and nooned on the little branch at the foot of the mountain. . .(then) Drove across the valley eight miles to the foot of the Blue Mountains and camped on a little spring branch."
"This is the last that we shall see of the Sweetwater", wrote Harriet Booth Griswold (1859), laying over to wash clothes. She also observed that "it is rightly named for it is a lovely stream. Found willows on its banks to day but our principal fuel has been the wild sage."
On this day Martha Missouri Moore (1860) "Passed an old blacksmith shop where we found a lot of newspapers, though dates in February and March they were eagerly gathered by the boys. Nooned on Strawberry creek, found grass & water plenty. Crossed Rock Creek at 4 and camped on Willow Creek at 5 P.M. Made 15 miles."
Approaching Fort Hall in 1845, Jesse Harritt reported entering "a river bottom; the most sublime place we have seen since we left the South Fork of the Platte river. . .reached Fort Hall, having come fourteen miles, when we encamped. This fine ford is situated on the bank of Snake River, a beautiful stream thirty yards wide. This beautiful valley is from fifty to one hundred miles wide."
Diary-keeping on the trail was far from being an easy task. In 1847, Elizabeth Dixon Smith lamented that "I could have written a great deal more if I had had the opportunity. Sometimes I would not get the chance to write for two or three days, and then would have to rise in the night when my babe and all hands were asleep, light a candle and write."
On this Sunday, Sally Hester (1849) "Passed Soda springs. Two miles further on are the Steamboat springs. They puff and blow and throw the water high in the air. The springs are in the midst of a grove of trees, a beautiful and romantic spot."
Travelling up the Platte on this day, Mary Ringo (1864) saw "the corpse of a man lying by the side of the road, scalped, had been buried on top of the ground and the wolves had scratched it up. I think we ought to have buried him."
Patty Sessions (1847) passed "the chimney rock" and noted "many places that looked like ancient buildings". Camping on the North Platte River, she also reported her party killed a rattle snake, but were able to "save the gall and greace".
Harriet Booth Griswold (1859) "found the summit of the South Pass of Rocky Mountains (and) Lunched by the Pacific Spring and Creek." She went on to note that her party has "to camp without grass or water for stock (and) shall probably start without breakfast in the morning."
Mary Ringo's (1864) husband, Martin, accidentally shot himself to death after standing guard through the night. He was "buried by the wayside", leaving Mrs. Ringo distraught. ". . .if I had no children," she wrote in her diary, "how gladly would I lay me down with my dead-but now Oh God I pray for strength to raise our precious children and oh-may no one ever suffer the anguish that is breaking my heart. . ." [Martin Ringo's son John, who apparently witnessed his father's death, became in adult life the self-identified gunfighter, Johnny Ringo.]
"We have arrived here safe with the loss of two yoke of my best oxen", wrote James Reed in a latter dated at "Fort Bridger, one hundred miles from Eutaw or Great Salt Lake, July 31, 1846". The animals had died as a result of drinking alkali water at "a little creek called Dry Sandy". "Jacob Donner also lost two yoke, and George Donner a yoke and a half, all supposed from the same cause." The Donner Party proposed to take the new "Hastings Cut-off" from Fort Bridger, and Reed reported that "Mr. Bridger, and other gentlemen here, who have trapped that country, say. . .That there is plenty of grass which we can cup and put into the waggons for our cattle while crossing it (a 40-mile stretch without water)".
"Camping at the "foot of the South Pass," Mrs. Elizabeth Dixon Smith (1847) "Here found some gooseberries, and they were as smooth as currants and tasted much like fox grapes." Noting that the party was still using sage brush for fuel, she commented "I do not know which is best, it or 'buffalo chips'. Just step out and pull a lot of sage out of your garden and build a fire in the wind and bake, boil and fry by it, and then you will guess how we have to do."
The day after camping on the Lewis River, Celinda Hines (1853) noted that "This is the first day since we came in sight of the Rocky Mountains that we have not seen snow and I think the first since we came in sight of Laramie Peak."
Copyright Robert Munkres 1981-2009 All Rights Reserved