Heritage Gateways

Official Sesquicentennial K-12 Education Project
sponsored by the Utah State Board of Education, the BYU-Public School Partnership and the Utah Education Network

Pioneer 1847 Companies

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1847: Tuesday, April 20 - Chase for deer failed, but fishermen succeeded

Date: April 20, 1847

Some men in the Mormon pioneer company were up very early -- about 4.30 a.m. -- to take their cattle out to graze in the dew-soaked prairie grass, a two-hour chore.

Howard Egan said he prepared a "first-rate breakfast" from wild ducks bagged the day before. Despite the good food, William Clayton "ate but little" because his aching tooth was keeping him in misery.

The company began the day's march in two lines, about a quarter mile apart. A stiff early wind blew considerable sand but finally died down. The day turned out to be warm and dusty as the iron-rimmed wagon wheels cut into the prairie turf.

As the party moved along they could see large numbers of waterfowl near the Platte River. Some of the birds were geese, "but mostly sandhill cranes which fly in large flocks on every side of us," Wilford Woodruff said.

The wagons came to a large prairie dog village covering about six acres. The pioneers also saw many gopher holes, some with dirt heaped up two or three feet high and others "resembling a potato patch, which makes it rough waggoning over them," Woodroff wrote in his journal.

While stopped near some ponds of water about midday to let the animals feed, the company saw three deer and 0. Porter Rockwell and Thomas Brown went after them. "They had a fine chase of four or five miles, but did not get them," Norton Jacob reported.

Stephen Markham, John S. Higbee and Luke Johnson took the camp's leather boat and went ahead to some small lakes to try their hands at catching fish for dinner that evening.

Johnson, 39, was an early apostle and effective missionary, but was disfellowshipped from the church for a time. He returned and was rebaptised in 1846 and later became a bishop at a settlement in Nevada. He was in charge of the boat for the pioneers.

The rest of the pioneer company pushed on during the afternoon and camped near a grove of cottonwood trees on the banks of the river. Blacksmiths got out their forges and repaired some wagon wheels before darkness fell.

A number of men cut down cottonwood trees to feed the livestock, but took care to leave plenty for the many companies who would be following. The cattle gnawed off the bark "as readily as they would eat corn," Woodruff said.

The fishermen returned to camp that evening after a highly successful expedition. They had thrown nets into a lake and pulled in more than 200 fish, mostly carp. The fish were divided among the camp, one large fish to each person.

Clayton went down to the river and bathed his feet which were dusty and sore. "I also washed my socks as well as I could in cold water without soap."

After taking care of his weary feet, he decided to do something about his aching face. He approached Luke Johnson and asked if he would pull the offending tooth.

"He willingly agreed," Clayton said and got out his instruments. Johnson served as doctor for the group. He sat Clayton in a chair and bent to his work. He lanced the swollen gum and yanked the tooth out with a pair of nippers, the "the whole operation taking less than a minute."

Unfortunately, "he only got half the tooth, the balance being left in the jaw," Clayton said. "After this, my head and face pained me more than before. I ate but little supper and then lay down, but could not sleep for pain until near morning."

As they traveled that day, the pioneers veered slightly south of, but parallel to present-day Highway 30 and the Union Pacific railroad line.

They passed the place where Schuyler, Neb., would one day be built. The town was laid out 42 years after this first party of Mormon pioneers came through. It was named after Schuyler Colfax, vice president of the U.S. at the time (1869) and it became the first shipping point on the U.P. railroad for cattle driven north from Texas after the Civil War.

Source: 111 Days to Zion © Copyright 1997 Big Moon Traders and Hal Knight. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher. This includes educational uses.