Deep, crystal-clear waters with snow-capped views greeted emigrants as they arrived at the final crossing of the Sweetwater River near South Pass. At times, hundreds of travelers waited impatiently for makeshift ferries, hoping to outrun the cholera they feared was being carried toward them by parties farther back along the trail.
Oregon Trail emigrants along the Sweetwater River came to a place where steep hills forced them to cross the stream three times within two miles—a dangerous option at high water—while a detour through deep sand was safer but slower: just another day on a long journey with hard choices.
Their wagons lurching over sharp boulders up a steep grade, westbound emigrants found a particularly difficult stretch of trail about 40 miles east of South Pass. The late-starting Willie Company of Mormons pulling handcarts suffered terribly here in 1856. For many, the end of the journey was a grave.
Westbound wagon-train emigrants got their first glimpse of the Rocky Mountains when they first saw the blue cone of Laramie Peak, 85 miles away. Snowcapped in early summer, the mountain stayed in sight for a week or more, dominating many diarists’ accounts and foreshadowing drier, more difficult country ahead.