“here Is My Home At Last!”


In the week that followed, the Mormons rolled out of the colored prairie into country so wild and grotesque that they were ama/ecl. Between Horse Shoe Creek and the stream called La Bonté they came upon earth so red that William Clayton wrote, “Jt affected my eyes much from its brightness.” Here the travelers saw a toad with a tail and with horns on its head, “ft did not jump like a toad but crawled like a mouse.” Big black crickets lay so thick on the red soil that it was almost impossible to keep from stepping on them.

Within two weeks after the brethren had left Fort Laramie they had covered 125 miles and reached a second crossing of the winding Platte. Here with Yankee common sense Brigham Young himself worked prodigiously at constructing two raft ferries, and he ordered eight men and a blacksmith left behind to float the many “gentile” trains behind them across the river at charges sufficient to make a “reasonable profit.”

On they went in a routine saved from monotony by the grotesquerie of a landscape growing ever more barren—a horn in the morning and a breakfast made over fires built of sagebrush and dried buffalo dung (“buffalo chips”); then a glimpse of members of the Twelve standing on a high place and sometimes clad in the robes of priesthood, their President kneeling in prayer and the others dropping to their knees beside him, their faces turned upward to the sky; the cries of the scouts and outriders leading off; the lonely carriage of Brother Brigham leading the train; the squeal of wagon wheels that grease from slain wolves failed to silence; the divisions falling into the procession in the order of accustomed place; the galloping of the teams, when the road was wide enough, to bring the wagons five abreast and lessen the danger of Indian attack.

On June 21 Wilford Woodruff wrote:

I arose early this morning and took breakfast and in company with Brother John we rode clear around Independence Rock. I should judge the distance to be about three-quarters of a mile. We examined the many names and lists of names of the trappers, traders, travellers 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 and were defaced. The greatest number were put on within a few years. Some of the names were quite plain after about 30 years. Nearly all the companies that pass by put some of their names on the rock.∗ With their usual acumen the Mormons soon stationed two of their members at the rock to chisel the initials of “gentile” travelers into its surface, and charge them for it. After going around and examining it we staked our horses and mounted the rock. I went forward and gained the highest point at the south end of the rock which contained the names. After examining it I then went to the north end which is the highest part of the rock. Here is an opening or cavern which could contain thirty or forty persons, and a rock stands on the highest peak of about three tons weight. We got upon this rock and offered up our prayers according to the order of the Priesthood; we prayed earnestly for the blessings of God to rest upon President Young, his brethren, the Twelve, and all of the Pioneer camp and the whole camp of Israel and house of Israel; our wives and children and relatives; that the Lord would hasten the time of fulfillment of his promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Lehi, Nephi, Alma and Moroni, and all the sayings of the Lord concerning the building up of Zion in die last days and avenging the blood of the Prophets and while offering up our prayers the spirit of the Lord descended upon us, and we truly felt to rejoice. … I was the first Latter Day Saint that ever went onto that rock or offered up prayers according to the Priesthood.

Five miles beyond Independence Rock the Mormons stopped again to see Devil’s Gate and hear the roar of the water dashing through perpendicular stone cliffs four hundred feet high. A mile beyond, they camped beside the wild current of the Sweetwater. The Pioneers could see then, almost obscured by the twilight mists, the distant, snowy peaks of the Wind River Mountains, and they knew that their long journey would soon be at an end. They had traveled, according to the guide-board they erected there, 175¼ miles from Fort Laramie.

June 24 began with exasperation for Brigham Young. His team ran away with a wagon but was caught (“by the bit”) at the very edge of the river. His best horse, the finest in the expedition, died when a herdsman named Holman nudged the animal forward with his rifle and the trigger caught in his clothing, causing the weapon to fire. Known as the leader’s “John” horse, it was the third killed during the trek and caused strong recommendations that the brothers no longer carry loaded guns “with caps upon their tubes.” As the day ended, Thomas Bullock wrote, “The Sweetwater Mountains are disappearing and the Rocky Mountains are coming into plainer view.” Devout Norton Jacobs bethought himself of the words of “Old Nephi” as reported in the Book of Mormon: “When upon the cross the Savior died for man’s sin and wickedness, darkness covered the earth. She trembled and her bosom heaved mightily. … here upborn from their lowermost foundations these mighty piles of granite … —despite the efforts of summer’s suns—have held aloft the ensign of peace.”