- Historic Sites
“here Is My Home At Last!”
When Brigham Young’s party abandoned Illinois to seek a final refuge for the Latter-day Saints, none knew where they would come to rest. But as they entered Salt Lake Valley, they were sure that the long quest was over
February 1963 | Volume 14, Issue 2
For all its promise, however, the brethren found the last day of May none the easier. Wagon wheels sank almost to their hubs in sand. Horses and mules strained against the hames. Men bruised their shoulders against the ungiving spokes. Nine miles before nooning—seven and a half more before sunset—and then there was Brother Brigham barking them into a circle beside the straggling cottonwoods and willows of Rawhide Creek.
The morning horn of June 1 wakened Brigham Young to his forty-sixth birthday. Though his body had thickened and the lines of his face had deepened in the years since Joseph Smith’s death, he did not yet resemble in appearance the image which in his later years all of America came to know. He moved with authority, and his duties had kept him so much in the saddle through storm and sunshine that none of his companions on the long anil wearisome journey resented his leadership.
In the early afternoon came a shout from the lead wagons—“Laramie!” Repeated again and again down the long line, the cry brought a quicker rhythm and the happiness of achievement. By six o’clock the train had covered twelve miles and, rounding a wooded point, trotted into night camp along the River Platte, here more than a hundred yards wide. On the low bottoms, ash and cottonwood trees lined the water. On the high bluffs beyond, twisted cedars reached into the sky.
“The scene is romantic,” wrote Lorenzo Young, sitting in his tent beside the pair of sleeping small boys in his charge. Nearly all of the Mormon travelers who Ue]Jt journals noted that in the center of the camp, tied between two of the highest limbs of a towering ash, hung the tiny dead body of an Indian baby, wrapped snugly in animal skins. The bark of the tree had been peeled off to prevent wild animals from climbing up to eat the high-buried child. Truly they were in the land of the Lamanites with their strange uii-Christian and decadent customs.
On the next day Erastus Snow wrote into his journal: “Today a coal pit is on fire within our circle, and three portable blacksmith shops are in operation; smiths are shoeing horses, repairing wagons, etc.”
About ten in the morning Brother Brigham led a delegation across the river to visit Fort Laramie. There they found a small, gay settlement mostly of French husbands and Indian wives, all under the paternal direction of the agent of the American Fur Company, Mr. Bordeaux. He received them in an upstairs room which Appleton Harmon (who now had begun to look upon himself as the inventor of the roadometer as well as its maker) described as “much like a bar room of an eastern hotel … ornamented with several drawings, Portraits, etc., a long desk, a settee and some chairs.” There was much bargaining at the company store, where the French, knowing well that their customers could buy nowhere else in the area, profited well. Superintendent Bordeaux liked the solemn Mormons, who, after the dressing-down given them by their leader in the previous week, were well-behaved and co-operative, not at all like the wild lot he governed or the roistering wayfarers who had passed the fort in previous months.
Bordeaux told them their passage on the north side of the Platte would be blocked by the Black Hills, which slanted steeply down to the water, and urged them to cross the river at once to take the Oregon Trail. The Mormons accepted his advice and for fifteen dollars rented his flatboat to ferry their wagons over the stream.
The crossing began the next morning but was interrupted by a thunderstorm accompanied by hail. Since Bordeaux had told them there had been no rain in the area for two years before their arrival, the travelers regarded this as a further evidence of God’s favor. All wagons had crossed before the next noon, and at once the expedition set out on the Oregon Trail, which was to lead them up the Sweetwater River and across the Great Divide.
Before he left, Brother Clayton, true inventor of the roadometer, consulted the records he had taken with its aid and proudly set up a guideboard on the north side of the Platte; “543¼ miles from Winter Quarters,” it read, “227½ miles from the junction of the Platte” (north and south branches), “142½ miles from Ash Hollow, 70¼ miles from Chimney Rock, 50½ miles from Scott’s Bluffs.”
The rainy spell continued as the wagon train in the next few days rolled through a narrow ravine, strained up a steep slope, and came out on a rolling prairie gay In the June colors of red, blue, and yellow Artemisia (sagebrush of the aster family and known throughout the West by many names—absinthe, wormwood, wild sage, greasewood, mugwort, Southernwood). An eagle sailed above the caravan as a light shower from the west caught a moment of sun to set up answering colors in the sky—twin rainbows arching below snow-covered Laramie Peak.
On the rain-washed Sunday morning that followed, the bugle called the brethren to assemble at nine o’clock. While thunder rolled along the horizon, they raised their voices in the hymn, “With All the Power of Heart and Tongue.” Loudly they proclaimed, “Angels shall hear the notes I’ll raise” and “To God I cried when troubles rose, He heard me and subdued my foes.” Wilford Woodruff’s journal reads, “The spirit of the Lord was with us.”