“here Is My Home At Last!”

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In that last week of June, cold winds from the ice-white slopes of the Rocky Mountains froze milk and water in their pails. Little Isaac Decker and Zobriski Young snowballed each other, their missiles gathered from the ten-foot drifts along the way. Dandelions, strawberries, and wild onions bloomed in the sharp, dry air of the Sweetwater Valley. On luxuriant grass Wilford Woodruff saw carnelian stones “from the size of a goose egg to a pound”—more in one hour than he had ever seen “in the rude state or polished and set in breastpins.” Red willows stood deep in snow that fringed the river. And on Sunday, June 27, all the Mormons remembered that this day was the fourth anniversary of the murder of the founder of their faith, Joseph Smith, and of his brother, Hyrum. Fittingly on this morning, the expedition crossed the Great Divide through the South Pass, and all knew that another of the mystic leader’s prophecies, that the true Zion would be settled in the Rockies, would soon be fulfilled.

As June gentled into July the weather was warmer, and the brethren were visited on the trail by strangers who spoke the dialect of the mountain men and raised it to an intensity that held them spellbound. Brother Brigham and the members of the Twelve felt the historic importance of these meetings with interpreters of the land they were about to enter, and so in turn did the mountain men.

One of these was old Moses Harris, trader and trapper in the Rocky Mountains for a quarter of a century. “He spoke unfavorable of the Salt Lake country for a settlement,” wrote Wilford Woodruff, and William Clayton was depressed by his saying there was “little chance to hope for even a moderate good country anywhere in those regions.” The whole countryside was sandy, barren, and treeless, the old man said. The Salt Lake Valley was a wasteland of the wild sage.

Heavy of heart, the Mormon Pioneers pushed on until Brother Brigham at their head heard the jingle of spurs, the hoofbeats of approaching horses. Suddenly out of a hollow appeared three eastbound riders. The leader was forty-two-year-old Jim Bridger, most famous of all mountain men, and he had hardly dismounted before he began to talk, asking that he might be heard not only by their official leader but by his principal advisers. By the Little Sandy, where they nooned, he told all these about their promised land.

Beside the swift Green River, he said, the mountains stand so close that horsemen cannot pass. On the far side lie level plains that end in hard black rock. It shines in the sun, and its edges are so sharp they will cut a horse’s feet to pieces. From Bridger’s Fort, his home, to Great Salt Lake is about a hundred miles. Along the trail stand sugar trees and cottonwoods. The outlet of Utah Lake runs into Salt Lake. It runs muddy and it runs low but its banks are red and white with clover. There is timber all around the Utah Lake and plenty of blue grass. Great Salt Lake is so big it takes a man in a canoe three months to go all the way round.

Jim Bridger went on to speak of mines of gold, of copper and of lead. He knew of lodes of silver and of iron, of sulphur and saltpeter. He said at the end of Great Salt Lake a bubbling spring spurted hot and cold fresh water, hot and cold salt water, and at the same time manufactured scads of verdigris which the Indians used for green paint with which to daub their bodies. And, speaking of Indians, they raised in this area as good corn, wheat, and pumpkins as were ever raised in old Kentucky. Wild flax grew in all the valleys. So did grapes and cherries, berries and persimmons. Bridger described mountains with snow melting on their peaks and streams striping all the slopes, and, on the level, frequent saleratus deserts and lakes surrounded by white salt flats. Nevertheless, said Jim Bridger simply and with a bit of pathos, “This country is my paradise and if this people settles in it I want to settle with them.” But when some of the brethren said they would plant corn there, and potatoes, and wheat, Jim laughed and said the winter cold would freeze all such plants.

“I’ll give you a thousand dollars for the first bushel of corn you grow in the Great Salt Basin,” he said, and Brother Brigham said quietly, “Wait and we will show you.” Obviously, he had made his decision as to the journey’s end.

That night while Bridger was dining with President Young in private, Wilford Woodruff set down in his daily journal his estimate of the famous mountain man and his report: “We found him to have been a great traveler and possessed a great knowledge … if what he told us was true.”

As he wrote, a plague was attacking the camp. “Mountain fever,” characterized by headaches, high temperatures, and resultant delirium, had disabled several of the Pioneers, and in the following weeks it affected many of the men and Clarissa Decker Young (wife of Lorenzo), one of the three women, as well. Fortunately its victims recovered in a few days, but they remained weak and listless for varying lengths of time. Some of the brothers attributed the disease to “mineral saleratus” picked up on the shores of small lakes they passed.