The next-to-last day was supposed to be a tough one for the wagon train re-enacting the Mormon exodus to Utah. And the trail bosses found out in a hurry what problems the steep terrain would cause.
Minutes after breaking camp Monday, two wagons collided and a runaway mule-drawn wagon crashed on a hillside, 30 miles east of Salt Lake City.
“People were screaming,” eyewitness Tom Whitaker said in a telephone interview. “I mean, I thought someone was going to get killed. It was the worst thing I’ve seen with the wagons.”
Three passengers in the runaway wagon were treated at a hospital for minor injuries. Meanwhile, the caravan of 61 wagons, about 40 horseback riders, a dozen handcarts and 800 people continued to the final camp.
Today, their three-month, 1,050-mile journey ends in Salt Lake City when the wagon train arrives on the same day the first company of Mormon pioneers surveyed the empty Salt Lake Valley 150 years ago.
Two days later, on July 24, 1847, Mormon leader Brigham Young arrived and is said to have declared, “This is the place.”
Some 15,000 spectators are expected to greet the wagon train as it emerges from Emigration Canyon and heads to This is the Place State Park.
The wagon train, which started off in April at Omaha, Neb., has been the centerpiece of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ sesquicentennial celebration of the Mormon migration to the West.
“I’m not ready for it to end,” said Wendy Sorensen, who has been with the wagon train since Omaha. “I’m so sad I can hardly think. It’s because of the people. They’ve become part of our family, and I’ll probably never see them again.”
Monday’s 24-mile trip was expected to be the most difficult because of steep terrain through the Wasatch Mountains that rim the Salt Lake Valley.
Shortly after the wagon train pulled out of camp, a team of mules bolted down a steep hill. As the wagon barreled down the slope, driver Val Robbins of Burley, Idaho, was bounced out of his seat.
“I hit some rocks and had brakes set up as far they could go and it started to bounce … I was just watching as it went down the hill,” said Robbins, 59, who suffered a wrist injury.
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