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: Friday, April 30 - Travel was easy this day, but weather caused suffering

Date: April 30, 1847

Travel was easy for the teams this day because of the level prairie, but the people in the Mormon pioneer company suffered considerably from the weather.

As they marched along, the pioneers noted that the ground was sprinkled with many patches of buffalo grass, "which is very short, thick and curly like the hair on a buffalo hide," William Clayton observed.

The wagons passed the remains of an Indian campground, apparently a large hunting party after buffalo. The number of Indians must have been huge because the campsite co Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball and Amasa Lyman rode ahead as scouts. The company tried to follow an old Indian trail, but it was so overgrown with weeds and so faint that it was "scarcely discernible," Clayton said.

One of the uncomfortable things about the journey, on this and many other days, was the dust raised by the wagon wheels. It covered everything and often made breathing difficult. The rearmost pioneers had the worst of it and could barely see at times.

A cold wind came up in the afternoon and the temperature dropped so low that "every man wants his overcoat on and a buffalo robe over it," Clayton wrote.

The camp that night was a good mile from the river and "destitute of wood and water," Norton Jacob said. Soft, moist bottom land kept the pioneers from settling any closer to the Platte River.

It took more than an hour to assemble the wagons in an "imperfect circle," Clayton said. The job took so long because the men tried to form the encampment in such a way as to have all the wagon mouths facing away from the cold wind blowing out of the north.

Only a few people had a little wood in their wagons. Most were faced with the prospect of a cold supper "and some perhaps nothing to eat because they have no bread," Clayton said.

But about 8 p.m. the lack of fuel was solved when the pioneers found a good substitute for wood in the dried buffalo dung "which lies on the ground here in great plenty." The only problem was that it tended to bum too fast.

Heber C. Kimball invented a new type of campfire. He dug a hole about eight inches deep and a foot wide. This was filled with buffalo chips. Other holes were dug at both ends of this fire pit and connected to it by small tunnels.

When the chips were set ablaze and covered with metal to create a resting place for pots and pans, the side holes allowed the fire to breathe and bum steadily. "Much cooking was done with very little fuel," Clayton said.

Luke Johnson used a buffalo skull for a chimney on his fire, creating some amusement in camp at the sight of smoke puffing out of the horns.

Because camp was so far from the river, a well was dug and "good water obtained" at a depth of about four feet, Clayton noted.

Hans C. Hansen played his violin after dinner and some of the men danced, not so much for the pleasure, but mostly as a means of getting warm in the frigid weather. Others engaged in friendly wrestling matches for the same reason.

Clayton said he went to bed early in an effort to get warm, "but having only one quilt for a covering, I suffered much from the cold."

Among those standing guard this cold night was a man with the unusual name of Datus Ensign, 21, a mechanic and carpenter. He came to Nauvoo as a teenager when his parents were converted by Mormon missionaries. His father died in Winter Quarters and Ensign himself joined the church only a few months before the exodus west. He helped settle Ogden where he died at the early age of 40.

Not far from the pioneer campsite this night was the place where the Mormon trail and the Oregon trail, coming up from Independence, Mo., on the south, both converged on the Platte River -- the Mormon trail north of the Platte and the Oregon trail opposite on the south bank.

A modern-day look at the area shows mostly flat farmland with a few scattered homes, barns and silos and an occasional service station. Interstate 80 follows the same route as the Mormon corridor, staying with it for many miles.

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.