Thursday, July 17, 2008 – Council Bluffs, Iowa

Another reason for spending some non-hiking days in the area is to conduct some research with local historians.

Today we’re joined by Peter Guilbert of California. He will be with us until Saturday afternoon. Peter is a descendant and reenactor out near the Coloma gold fields. Nice guy. More about him soon.

We borrowed Gail Holmes for three hours this morning. Gail is turning 85 next week and has spent over 30 years researching various aspects of early LDS history in the greater Omaha/Council Bluffs/Kanesville/Winter Quarters area. The man is a walking fountain of knowledge and it’s an honor to have him spend his time answering basic questions we could probably find on our own, but which he is capable of adding more depth, helping us make connections we couldn’t on our own. For example:

We motored up to the area of “Redemption Hill” also called Pratt-Taylor Hill. This is/was a flat topped hill west of Mosquito Creek where Brigham Young and the church leaders set up their camp in mid-June 1846. The area has changed much due to erosion and construction so it doesn’t look much like it did long ago.

As we’re talking about the area, I ask Gail if we can drive closer and he directs us to the home of a gentleman who’s lived there since 1934. We start discussing “how do we know” this is the right place. Gail casually mentions that a large flag pole was put up in front of Bro. Brigham’s tent so people could tell right off where to go if they needed to see him. That kind of excited me because in the Tom Perry collection at BYU is a sketch by Thomas Kane of “The Enlisting Camp of the Mormons – July 14, 1846.”

Kane’s pencil sketch seems to show a camp with a tall flagpole in front of some tents. So, I casually mention the sketch and Gail gets all excited because he’s NEVER seen this drawing. So, Gail gets an e-mail from me with the sketch as an attachment.

Then it’s both our turn to be astounded. The property owner casually mentions some “old bridge” pilings across Mosquito Creek that he and his siblings discovered when they were kids. Gail and I do a double take suspecting just which bridge this is. We pose a couple more questions to see if this might be the location of the bridge connecting Redemption Hill with the rest of the Grand Encampment. You see, the exact location of this bridge hasn’t been identified yet, so we’re pretty excited that we’ve finally got it pinned down to within a hundred yards or so. A little archeology work is in order at this farm.

We head over to the Iowa School for the Deaf where there’s a nice plaque commemorating the enlistment of the Battalion. Gail admits that the school grounds are the “convenient” place for the public to access the marker and isn’t necessarily the actual location of the enlistment. “In fact”, he says, “they were actually sworn into the Army down at Trader’s Point.”

So, Peter and I decide to start the “official” Trek route at the south bank of the Missouri River closest to the “soldier’s camp” just east of where Peter Sarpy’s trading post stood in 1846.

Finally on Thursday – we take a couple hours to head over to the Winter Quarters Temple. There are really nicely conceived and well executed stained glass pieces around the temple and it’s well worth your time to check them out if you’re at the building.
As we sat in the waiting room before our session, I noted a painting of Winter Quarters portraying the winter of 1847. There are visual representations of many historic sites and events. The warm yellow light depicted as shining out the window or door of nearly every sod dugout home or log cabin seems to pierce the gloom of winter and death prevalent in the painting. I’ve read many accounts of Winter Quarters, but “seeing” it through the artist’s eyes lent a new reality to the story.

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