One of the most dangerous and frustrating features of the wagon train experience was the constant necessity of crossing rivers, streams and creeks, observed Ross Marshall, president of the Oregon-California Trails Association, in a 1991 article in the Overland Journal.

"Even if wagons were properly loaded, fording rivers was at best a risky endeavor. Wheels dropped into holes, causing wagons to overturn. Quicksand bogged wagons down, making it very difficult to pull out and perhaps causing a capsize," he wrote.Some crossings were of no particular significance. Most of the time crossing was done simply by the teams and wagons being driven into the stream, and if the wagons had sufficient clearance, they crossed to the other side without harm.

But "fording the generally narrow, and sometimes deep rivers . . . required ingenuity to get the wagon down the bank, into the water and up the bank on the other side."

The pioneers would use picks and shovels to cut down stream banks to get their wagons down the incline and into the water. Other times men would gently ease a wagon down the steep slope by tying a long rope to the axle of the wagons.

The pioneers, like other travelers on the trail, learned to angle their wagons as they crossed rivers to prevent the current from hitting the wagon broadside and possibly capsizing it.

When sufficient timber was available, the pioneers also crossed rivers by building ferryboats. One of the most notable crossings was near Casper, Wyo., where the pioneers crossed the North Platte River for the last time and would soon pick up the Sweetwater River.

Fording the North Platte proved to be a more daunting task than the pioneers in 1847 had imagined. The brethren first unloaded all the wagons and began shipping across the river on their leather-skinned boat known as the "revenue cutter."

They proceeded to float two wagons across the river while lashed together with ropes and poles. But when the wagons struck sand on the other side, the strong current rolled them over.

On the next attempt, four wagons were lashed together, but this system did not work well. After several other attempts, it was decided to float one wagon at a time on a makeshift raft. This proved safe, but excruciatingly slow.

To expedite the process of ferrying across the river, a decision was made to build two first-rate ferries that would be more stable than the raft. By evening the two crafts, which were nearly 25 feet long, were ready to be assembled.

"This is the 6th day since our arrival to this place which is the longest hinderance I ever saw at a ferry or crossing a river," wrote Wilford Woodruff, June 17, 1847, concerning the crossing of the North Platte River.

After the Mormon pioneers ferried their own company across, two Missouri companies arrived at the crossing and negotiated to be ferried for $1.50 per load. A number of the brethren worked through the night ferrying the Missouri companies across the North Platte. Camp clerks kept records of provisions received and estimated the value at $400, enough to feed the pioneer camp for about 23 days.