Heritage Gateways

Official Sesquicentennial K-12 Education Project
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Pioneer 1847 Companies

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1847: Sunday, April 11 - By Late Afternoon, 72 Wagons had Ferried "The Horn"

Date: April 11, 1847

Darkness had halted the rafting of wagons across the Elkhorn River the night before, but the task resumed shortly after dawn on this Sunday.

The work continued most of the day as more companies of Mormon pioneers reached the river. The wagons were pulled across on a raft made of "dry cottonwood logs."

Willard Richards, who was with the last group to reach the river, reportedly had some bad luck. The lead mare for his wagon was "either strayed or stolen by Indians" the previous night.

By late afternoon a total of 72 wagons had been ferried to the west bank of the Elkhorn, or "the Horn" as the pioneers called it.

After collecting their cattle, the pioneers moved parallel to the river for about two miles to a place where a grove of trees provided shade, shelter and wood for fires.

The day had been a warm one, thanks to a "smart breeze from the south," according to Thomas Bullock, who was serving as record keeper for the party. The warm weather would help the prairie grass to grow, noted Norton Jacob, who turned out the horses to graze near camp.

Jacob, 42, one of the captains for the journey, was like many of the pioneers who sacrificed much for their religious beliefs.

He left a pregnant wife and six small children in Winter Quarters. One of those children was fated to die on the plains the next year while he was taking his family to their new home in the Salt Lake Valley.

Before leaving Nauvoo in 1846, Jacob worked full time making wagons for the trek westward. He was a skilled carpenter and cabinet maker. For his year's work he was paid with one of the wagons he had constructed.

When he finally settled in the Valley with his family, Jacob devoted 10 years to working on the construction of the Salt Lake Temple.

Brigham Young called a meeting of the pioneers after they were settled under the trees near the Elkhorn River. He explained that he and seven other apostles in the company would return to Winter Quarters the next day to meet with apostles coming back from missions in England.

He asked the company if they wanted to stay at the present campsite until he and the others returned or if they would rather push on another 14 miles to the Platte River, designated earlier as a staging point and jumping off place. "The feeling was to go ahead," Bullock wrote.

Heber C. Kimball then spoke to the assembled pioneers and reminded them that despite the hard work they had done in getting the wagons across the Elkhorn, it was still the Sabbath.

He said he hoped the men would not go hunting or fishing, but if they did, they would not prosper because "this was a day set apart for the service of the Lord and not for trivial amusement." The pioneers usually would remain camped each Sunday on their trek across the plains.

The rest of the day was spent in private activities. Some of the men wrote letters to their families because mail would be carried by the apostles as they returned to Winter Quarters the next day.

Wilford Woodruff said the Plane River could be seen from the pioneer campsite. The river would be their constant companion for the next 600 miles, always at their left hands as they kept to the north bank. That route had been used by others in earlier years, but never on such a large scale as the Mormons. For that reason it became known as the Mormon trail.

Both sides of the Plane River were considered part of the famed Oregon trail. It eventually would be used by thousands of emigrants and gold seekers, but most followed the south side of the river after coming up from the usual jumping off place at Independence, MO.

The Mormons, with their bitter experiences of persecution and mob violence, preferred to keep the river between themselves and any other travelers going west. And there were many others on the Oregon Trail.

Source: 111 Days to Zion © Copyright 1997 Big Moon Traders and Hal Knight. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. This includes educational uses.