Heritage Gateways

Official Sesquicentennial K-12 Education Project
sponsored by the Utah State Board of Education, the BYU-Public School Partnership and the Utah Education Network

Pioneer 1847 Companies

Previous | Next

The Pioneer Trek of 1847 - Part IV, Fort Bridger to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake

The pioneers tarried at this rather shabby fort just long enough to do some trading and repair their wagons, especially the running gear and wheels. At 8:00 A.M. on Friday, July 9th, the pioneers quit the Oregon Trail, which there turned north, and began the last leg of their journey. The Mormons followed Hastings Cutoff, a barely visible track through the Rockies made by the Reed-Donner party of 1846, many of whom later perished in the Sierra Nevada snows. Even with the trailblazing done by the Reed-Donner group, it took the pioneers sixteen days and ten camps to traverse the 116 miles between Fort Bridger and the Salt Lake Valley.

Their second day out of Fort Bridger, the pioneers met a third mountain man, Miles Goodyear, who owned a trading post at the mouth of the Weber River, near what is now Ogden, Utah, about 38 miles north of where Young was to locate that summer. They also passed a pure-water spring, a sulfur spring, and an oil spring. Then they entered the beginning of a 90-mile-long natural highway, a chain of defiles, which meandered through the forbidding Wasatch Range of the Rockies into the valley, as if an ancient Titan had dragged a stick through the area. The first part of the final stretch came to be called Echo Canyon.

By noon on July 12th, they had made midday camp along Coyote Creek, about 1 mile east of a prominent and strange formation of conglomerate rocks called the Needles, or Pudding Rocks (see Historic Site 60), and about 1 _ miles east of what is now the Wyoming-Utah border. Here Young was suddenly stricken with tick fever. He remained ill for nearly two weeks, during which time Kimball took over the direction of the camp. In the hope that Young would be well enough to travel the next day, Kimball and a few others remained at the Coyote Creek camp and sent Orson Pratt and the main company on. On July 13th, it was obvious that Young was worse, not better, so Kimball rode 63/4 miles ahead to the main camp near the well-known rendezvous site called Cache Cave and suggested that Pratt drive on to "hunt out and improve a road."

For the rest of the journey, the pioneers split into three groups--Pratt's vanguard, the main portion following, and a rear guard, which stayed with Young and Kimball. Pratt's company sighted the Valley on July 19th and scouted it on the 21st. On the 22nd at about 5:30 P.M., the main company arrived in the valley via what came to be called Emigration Canyon. Early the next morning the group moved about 2 miles northwest and made camp on the south fork of what became known as City Creek. There they dammed up the water and began plowing, planting potatoes, and irrigating.

Meanwhile, back on Coyote Creek, Kimball and a few others went to the top of the Needles and offered up prayers for the sick, and on July 15th, Young was well enough to travel in Wilford Woodruff's carriage. Shortly thereafter they crossed the Hogsback at the summit of Main Canyon (west of present Henefer) and caught the traveler's traditional first view of the continent's backbone, the Wasatch Range of the Rocky Mountain cordillera--disheartening assurance that the worst of the mountain passes still lay ahead. On the morning of July 23rd, the Young-Kimball detachment left Mormon Flat on East Canyon Creek and began the final section of the trail--up Little Emigration Canyon to Big Mountain Pass.

As the pioneers crossed the 7,400 foot-high Big Mountain pass, they entered their new homeland, the Great Basin--a vast and forbidding area of over 200,000 square miles lying generally between the crests of the Sierra Nevada and the Wasatch Mountains, including parts of Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, and Idaho, and inhabited by various tribes of Great Basin Indians. (It is a natural basin. What streams and rivers there are, such as the Humboldt, Jordan, Provo, and Weber, have no access to the sea. They flow into the Great Salt Lake, into sinks, or disappear by evaporation and percolation. The area is spotted with unattractive places now named Salt Marsh Lake, Little Salt Lake, Fossil Lake, and the Humboldt Sink.)

Until the Mormons arrived, this region had only been slightly explored and settled by Europeans. Imperial Spain, which had claimed it by right of discovery, had done little with it for centuries except try to find a trail between Santa Fe, New Mexico and Monterey, California. To this end, they sent out the eighteenth century expeditions of the Fathers Escalante and Dominguez and eventually the Old Spanish Trail was worked out.

England and France had never even fought for it. The Mexicans, who took it from Spain in 1821, generally considered it a worthless waste separating more desirable lands. Prior to the advent of the Mormons some Anglos had visited and explored the area. They included mountain men, California-bound emigrants, Captain John C. Fremont of the United States Topographical Corps, and Miles Goodyear, who in 1846, established a trading post on the Weber River near what is now Ogden, Utah.

For perhaps four billion years the Great Basin had bent all to its inexorable will--adjust or perish. In 1847 the Mormons, however, decided to make the Great Basin their home, and they did it on ancient principles worked out in Mesopotamia and among some Native Americans in South America and in the American southwest--centralized organization, division of labor, and a chain of command, all on an agricultural basis with controlled irrigation at its heart.

This author [Kimball} believes that Young made his famous statement "This is the place, drive on." on the Big Mountain summit rather than over the mountains near what is now Salt Lake City, where the "This is the Place" monument is located in Pioneer Trail State Park. This minority view is based on Young's pioneer journal of July 23, 1847, where it is recorded, "I ascended and crossed over the Big Mountain, when on its summit I directed Elder Woodruff, who had kindly tendered me the use of his carriage, to turn the same half way round so that I could have a view of a portion of Salt Lake Valley. The spirit of light rested upon me and hovered over the valley, and I felt that there the Saints would find protection and safety. Then the Young-Kimball party rough-locked their rear wheels with chains and attached drag shoes (wagon brakes were not then in general use), slid down Big Mountain, and a few hours later ascended Little Mountain. At 5:00 that afternoon, suffering much from heat and dust, they were in Emigration Canyon, at Last Camp.

The next day was July 24th--the day acclaimed as the official entrance of Young into the valley. July 24, 1847, is the traditional pivot in Mormon history--everything is related to and from this date. Brigham Young had finally accomplished what in January 1845, he had set out to do.

In 1880, during Mormondom's fifty-year jubilee, Woodruff enhanced the events of July 24, 1847, with the following afterthought, probably an embellishment of the passage quoted from Young's journal: "President Young was enwrapped in a vision for several minutes. He had seen the Valley before in vision, and upon this occasion he saw the future glory of Zion and of Israel, as they would be, planted in the valleys of these mountains. When the vision had passed, he said: "It is enough. This is the right place, drive on." Such was the origin of the most famous single statement in Mormon history.

The event is commemorated today by the large granite "This is the Place" monument at the mouth of Emigration Canyon that honors the pioneers and pre-Mormon explorers and trappers. Atop a huge shaft thrusting up from the center of the base, stand larger-than-life figures of Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, and Wilford Woodruff, serenely and eternally contemplating their work.

Source: Historic Resource Study - Mormon Pioneer National By Stanley B. Kimball, Ph.D., May 1991. (The study focuses on the history of the trail from its official beginning in Nauvoo, Illinois, to its terminus in Salt Lake City, Utah, during the period 1846-1869. During that time, thousands of Mormon emigrants used many trails and trail variants to reach Utah. This study emphasizes the "Pioneer Route" or "Brigham Young Route" of 1846-1847. The sections on Mormon beliefs and motivations for going west have been omitted. Interested persons can find ample sources for that information. The footnotes, bibliography, maps, pictures, pioneer companies by name and dates for the 22-year period, and historic sites - about 2/3 of the book - have also been left out for space considerations. Thanks to Dr. Kimball and the National Park Service for the availability of this information.)