Date: April 12, 1847
At daybreak the men who had been standing guard roused the rest of the people in the Mormon pioneer company "and the bustle of camp life commenced."
After breakfast, Brigham Young and the other apostles with the pioneers, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards, Wilford Woodruff, Orson Pratt, George A. Smith, Amasa M. Lyman and Ezra T. Benson, went back over the Elkhorn River and headed for Winter Quarters.
With them went a number of other men, including Norton Jacob, who said he returned to "pick up my cow and rifle." But this trip was so brief that "I didn't get to see my family," he sadly noted.
Woodruff said the apostles found an Indian trail on the way back and it proved to be a shortcut, requiring only 20 miles of travel instead of the 35 they had covered in an indirect route to the Elkhorn River. The party reached home about 6 p.m., moving more rapidly because they were on horseback or in horse-drawn carriages instead of the slow ox-drawn wagons.
Meanwhile, the rest of the pioneer company packed up and moved 14 miles to the banks of the Platte River. They had decided to travel ahead without their leaders in order to cross a dozen miles of river bottom land "before the water should rise and the road get muddy," Howard Egan explained.
He said the width of the Platte "much surprised me." The river is more than a mile wide in places, but so shallow that it can't be navigated by even small boats. The water is studded by so many sandbars of varying size that the river seems to be divided into several parallel streams.
Early-day travelers didn't think too highly of the Platte, describing it on occasion as a mile wide and six inches deep, too thick to drink, too thin to plow, hard to cross because of quicksand, impossible to navigate, too yellow to wash in and too pale to paint with.
Springs floods frequently changed the course of the river in pioneer times and very little timber was to be found along its banks. One solitary giant cottonwood tree was a major landmark on the flat prairie until a storm blew it down in 1865. Many cottonwood trees line the river today, but they are mostly relatively recent.
After reaching the Platte, the pioneers set up camp to await the return of their leaders. That evening the company was called together by Stephen Markham, 47, who had been left in charge. He earlier had led a company of 200 in the flight from Nauvoo and across Iowa to the Missouri River.
Markham was still mending from an injury he suffered in Winter Quarters. While training some oxen to pull wagons for the trip west, he caught his hand in a chain and lost a finger.
Despite the injury, he was taken along for his skill as a road and bridge builder. He later would lead more pioneers across the plains and help settle Spanish Fork, serving as one of the first bishops in the Utah Territory.
At the meeting on the banks of the Platte, Markham said the apostles wanted men who knew something about the prairie to be sent ahead of the main party as scouts.
James Case, 53, one of the captains in the company, and Return Jackson Redden, 29, an adventuresome frontiersman, were chosen along with two others to move out the next day and see what lay ahead.
The campsite on the river was near the present-day town of Fremont, Neb., which was founded in 1856 and named after John C. Fremont, then a candidate for president. Legend has it that the town was established by some Republicans in answer to another community 25 miles away which Democratic settlers had named Buchanan.
The town of Fremont prospered because it was on the military road between Omaha and Fort Kearney. Merchants made a good living from people going west in the gold rush days. When the Union Pacific railroad was laid through in 1866, residents had high hopes Fremont would become a major industrial center. But those dreams never materialized. The town today is a pleasant agricultural center with a small college.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.