Church News

Meetings with mountain men, Brannan


Published: Saturday, June 28, 1997

Sunday, June 27, 1847:

Even though this was the Sabbath day, the pioneer company pressed forward under directions from Brigham Young. "The gentile companies being close in our rear and feed scarce," wrote William Clayton, "it was considered necessary to keep ahead of them for the benefit of our teams." The brethren had wanted to spend the day in fasting and prayer on the third anniversary of Joseph and Hyrum Smith being slain in Carthage, Ill. Brother Clayton noted in his journal: "Many minds have reverted back to the scenes

in IllinoisT and it is a gratification that we have so far prospered in our endeavors to get from under the grasp of our enemies."After 2 3/4 miles on the trail, the brethren arrived at the ridge of the Continental Divide, as calculated by Orson Pratt, although it was really not noticeable to the eye. Elder Pratt calculated the altitude to be 7,085 feet above sea level and 2781/2 miles from Fort Laramie. The pioneers reached Pacific Springs two miles farther on. This was the first evidence of a stream flowing to the west and was of great curiosity to the brethren.

Near Pacific Springs the pioneers encountered the famous mountain man and guide Moses "Black" Harris. He had been in the mountain and western country the past 25 years. He gave the pioneers a gift of six Oregon newspapers as well as a copy of the California Star published by Church member Samuel Brannan in Yerba Buena, Calif.

The leading brethren invited Harris to stay with them overnight and thus had a chance to converse freely with him for several hours. He talked at length about the country ahead, especially the Salt Lake Valley, but his reports were discouraging. He gave a much more favorable description of Cache Valley to the north as a more suitable place for prospective settlement.

Monday, June 28:

After approximately six miles, the road forked. The road that continued due west was the regular Oregon Trail. The other road veered to the southwest and was part of what came to be known as Hastings Cut-off. This road led to Fort Bridger, on to the Wasatch range, across Great Salt Lake and Nevada deserts, and then through the Sierras to Northern California. For over two decades it was the major route used by Mormons traveling to the Salt Lake Valley. This junction became known as "The Parting of the Ways."

The pioneers crossed the Little Sandy, then proceeded on a short distance when toward evening they met the most famous mountain man of them all, Jim Bridger, who was headed to Fort Laramie on business.

Brigham Young had intended to call upon the noted frontiersman upon their arrival at Fort Bridger. Bridger said that if they made camp right away, he would stay with them the night and answer their questions. Like Moses Harris, Bridger gave a pessimistic report about the Great Salt Lake Valley, but spoke more favorably of Utah Valley and other valleys to the south. He felt that they would have a very difficult time growing grain and thus could not sustain a large population. Brigham Young replied, "Wait a little and we will show you."

Tuesday, June 29:

The brethren traveled until after 9 p.m. They had gone 233/4 miles and had been on the road for 131/2 hours, both records since the company had left Winter Quarters.

As the pioneers made camp, they noted that many men had fallen victim to a mysterious fever that had started three days earlier. The symptoms were first headache and then violent fever followed by delirium. Some men blamed it on the alkali mix that they had put into their bread. The pioneers labeled the malady "mountain fever."

Wednesday, June 30:

Several more men were sick in the morning with mountain fever. They simply had to lie in the wagons as the company made its way forward. But the jolting ride was terribly uncomfortable and extended the time of their recovery.

The brethren rode on a dusty trail until 11:30 a.m. when they reached the banks of the large Green River. It was 180 yards wide, 12 to 15 feet deep, and was still swollen from winter runoff with a rapid current. The only way to cross would be by raft. Immediately, those men who were well went to work constructing two rafts.

In the early evening, Samuel Brannan, accompanied by two other men, arrived in the camp.

Brannan had traveled from California where he and his company of Saints from the ship Brooklyn had been living for nearly a year, waiting to learn where the main body of Saints would locate. Under his leadership, two Mormon settlements had been established in northern California, one in the Bay area, and another in the San Joaquin Valley.

Thursday, July 1:

Work on the two rafts was completed in the morning. But high winds drastically curtailed the ferrying and only 14 wagons were able to cross.

Samuel Brannan talked continually about the virtues of California. He clearly wanted to convince Brigham Young and the Twelve to take the Saints to California where he had already started settlements. He spoke of verdant valleys and an excellent climate. He said that Captain John Sutter, who had received a large land grant from the Mexican government, wished the Mormons to come and settle near him in an area that is now Sacramento, Calif.

Friday, July 2:

The day was much more pleasant although Wilford Woodruff noted that it was an extremely hot day and that both man and beast were much annoyed because of the mosquitoes.

Brigham Young conducted a council meeting in the afternoon on the other side of the river. He directed that a compilation of documents be made describing the trail and the distances traveled. A few men would be sent back to act as guides along the trail to those other Mormon companies that were expected to have left Winter Quarters under the direction of Parley P. Pratt and John Taylor.

Samuel Brannan was at the council meeting and once again pitched northern California as the proper settling site for the Saints. Brigham Young would have none of it, however. He didn't want a paradise that would attract others. The Latter-day Saints would prefer to be left alone to build their own kind of community without gentile interference.

Saturday, July 3:

By noon all the wagons, teams and supplies had been ferried across the Green River. Rain poured down that afternoon, and the thunder spooked the animals. There were also the ever-present mosquitoes. "These insects," William Clayton complained, "are more numerous here than I ever saw them anywhere, everything was covered with them, making the teams restive in the wagons."

The packets of papers for the companies of Saints who were to follow were completed and then sent back with five men who were selected to act as guides. Their leader was Phineas Young, brother to Brigham Young.

Sources: An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton, 346-52; William Clayton's Journal, 269-82; Comprehensive History of the Church 3:198-203; Ensign to the Nations, 134-37; Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 560-61; Orson Pratt, "Journal," Millennial Star 12 (15 May 1850): 146-47, (1 June 1850): 161; Pioneering the West, 1846 to 1878, 86-91; Wilford Woodruff's Journals 3:218-23.

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