On the Trail in June97906_000_010
Three main groups of Latter-day Saints and their leaders were on the trail in June 1847: Brigham Young and the advance, exploratory company, known as the pioneer camp; the second wagon train, or main company of some 1,500 pioneers leaving the Winter Quarters area; and the Mormon Battalion.
The Advance, Exploratory Company
Crossing the Platte River
Wide and unusually swift on 14 June, the Platte River was a challenge to cross. Elder Wilford Woodruff of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles wrote of the crossing: “At daylight, the first two tens [companies of ten] were called together to make arrangements for crossing. The proposal was made in the camp to lash four wagons together and float them, but the current was so strong [that] many did not like that mode. … We finally concluded to put our poles into a raft [and] carry our goods over in a boat and put our wagons onto a raft.
“We commenced at 5:00 A.M., and at 9:00 A.M., being four hours, we had landed eleven wagon loads of goods upon the north shore with the little leather boat, and during the day we got over all the wagons belonging to our tens, being eleven in all. And all of the rest [of the] encampment, being twelve tens, only got over the same number that we did. They floated their wagons by tying from two to four together. But they turned clear over each other, bottom side upwards, and back again. Broke the bows, covers, and boxes to pieces and lost ploughs, axes, and iron that [were] left in the boxes. Most of our company was in the water from morning to night, and all [were] very weary.” 1
Prayer atop Independence Rock
Elder Woodruff wrote on 21 June: “We rode clear around Independence Rock. I should judge the distance to be about 3/4 of a mile. We examined the many names and lists of names of the trappers, traders, travelers, and emigrants which are painted upon these rocks. Nearly all the names were put on with red, black, and yellow paint. Some had washed out. … Some of them were quite plain of about 30 years standing. …
“After going around and examining it, we staked our horses and mounted the rock. … While offering up our prayers, the Spirit of [the] Lord descended upon us and we truly felt to rejoice.” 2
The Second Wagon Train (Main Company)
The Second Company Erects a Pole at the Platte River
The Liberty Pole, erected in 1847 by the second company of Saints, stood at least until 1857. It marked a major campground on the Mormon Trail, Liberty Pole Camp, located one quarter of a mile from the Platte River and southwest of present-day Fremont, Nebraska.
Perrigrine Sessions wrote of setting up the Liberty Pole on 5 June 1847: “Traveled to the Elkhorn River. … Found it very high and about one hundred and twenty feet wide. Here I selected ten men. … Got some dry timber. Built a raft to cross our wagons [566 in all]. In two days, we were all safe across. … I then raised a Liberty Pole about seventy feet high with a white flag; here the people gathered and organized.” 3
Traveling with up to Five Wagons Abreast
“[22 June] At 8 o’clock A.M. the signal for starting was given by the ringing of the [Nauvoo] Temple bell. The order of traveling was as follows: The first fifty of the first hundred took the lead; the second fifty formed a second line to the right. Next to these two lines came Charles C. Rich’s guard company with the cannon, the skiff, and temple bell on the lead. Then the second hundred formed on the right like the first two fifties, making five lines abreast. After them, the third hundred formed in the rear of the first hundred, and the fourth hundred in the rear of the second hundred.” 4
The Mormon Battalion
Mormon Battalion Escort Unit Helps Bury Donner-Reed Victims
About a dozen Mormon Battalion soldiers served as an armed escort for General Stephen Kearny on his return trip to the States from Mexican War duty in California. Sergeant Daniel Tyler’s account follows:
“On the 21st, [the escort] traveled through snow from two to twelve feet deep and over rough mountains [the Sierra Nevada] before reaching the Truckee River. There a small lake was found … , now called Lake Tahoe. In the vicinity of this lake were several cabins built by … [the Donner-Reed party], which was snowed in the previous fall. Their numbers were estimated at about eighty  souls, who all perished except about thirty . The General ordered a halt and detailed five men to bury the dead that were lying upon the ground.” 5
Wilford Woodruff Diary, 14 June 1847, LDS Church Archives; spelling, capitalization, and punctuation have been corrected in the sources quoted in this article.
Wilford Woodruff Diary, 21 June 1847.
The Diaries of Perrigrine Sessions (1967), 50–51. An entry in Journal History, 18 June 1847, suggests the pole was 40 feet high.
Journal History of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 22 June 1847.
A Concise History of the Mormon Battalion in the Mexican War 1846–1847 (1881; reprint, 1964), 300–301.