Heritage Gateways

Official Sesquicentennial K-12 Education Project
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Pioneer 1847 Companies

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1847: Wednesday, April 7 - One by One, Four Small Groups of Wagons Headed for the Prairie.

Location: Winter Quarters - 1014 miles left, Nebraska - Location: 41:21:41N 95:56:45W Currently the site of Florence, Nebraska, Winter Quarters was settled in September, 1846 as a temporary resting place for the pioneers. It is located just west of the Missouri river in Nebraska.

Date: April 7, 1847

One by one, four small groups of Mormon pioneer wagons pulled away from Winter Quarters toward the prairie land.

First to leave this day was a small band headed by Wilford Woodruff, 40, an apostle destined one day to become the fourth president of the church. It was said of him he was the most energetic man in the entire pioneer company.

The eight wagons in his command departed before noon, but camped for the night after covering only seven miles across the prairie.

Shortly afterwards, a company led by Orson Pratt, 36, another apostle, also moved away from Winter Quarters. Pratt was the scientist among the Mormons, a self-taught man who became an expert in higher mathematics.

On the heels of this group came another party with Brigham Young. The three companies, totaling about 25 wagons, met at the same campsite that night and shared a meal in weather described as "cold and windy."

Brigham's brother, Lorenzo, (whose wife had already altered the makeup of the advance pioneer party by insisting on going along) had another idea which drew an objection from Brigham.

Lorenzo had a fine milk cow he wanted to include on the trip. Brigham said such an animal would hinder their progress, but Lorenzo said if she slowed them by one hour, he would abandon her on the prairie. The cow made the entire trip and provided milk and butter along the way.

In the late afternoon of April 7, a fourth group, including the wagons of Willard Richards, 43, to be a counselor in the First Presidency within a year, and Thomas Bullock, 31, a former clerk to Joseph Smith, also left Winter Quarters.

This last party didn't get far before dark and camped uncomfortably on the open prairie without wood or water and exposed to the chilling wind.

As the pioneers left Winter Quarters, many of them did so with extreme sadness because they were leaving behind families who were almost destitute and, in some cases, very sick.

Sylvester Henry Earl, 31, was perhaps typical of many when he wrote: "It is hard to leave my family here, sick and among the howling wolves and roaming savages ... but the servants of the Lord say go." His wife and three daughters survived until he was able to return to Winter Quarters that fall. But the youngest girl died after his return and before the family could be moved across the plains.

Andrew Purley Shumway was only 14, but was allowed to accompany his father, Charles Shumway, on the journey. His mother was one of those who had died in Winter Quarters. Two sisters were left behind in the care of others, but one of the girls was dying. The Shumways, father and son, were both sick when they left, but recovered their health on the trail.

Those chosen for the advance party were picked for their abilities and skills. They weren't just going for themselves, but to pave the way for all the others who would follow in the coming months and years.

Among the first party were Indian experts, road and bridge builders, farmers, hunters, teamsters, blacksmiths, horsemen, scouts, masons and stonecutters, carpenters, stockmen and barrel makers. Like many men of their day, they were usually adept in a variety of skills.

For those left behind at Winter Quarters, Council Bluffs and other camps, preparations continued for their own move west. In June another group, called the Big Company, divided into nine parties totaling 1,489 persons, would depart Winter Quarters under the general command of John Taylor, 38, another apostle destined to become church president after the death of Brigham Young.

Winter Quarters was quickly emptied of residents after the summer of 1848. Those who had not gone west moved back across the Missouri River to Council Bluffs. By 1853 all that remained of Winter Quarters was a cemetery.

In 1856 other settlers moved to the area and named it Florence, hoping to build a great commercial center. But it eventually succumbed to the growth of nearby Omaha and became a suburb of that city.

Memories of the Mormon pioneers are still to be found in Florence. There is a Mormon Bridge Road and the steel spans of the Mormon Pioneer Memorial Bridge. There is a Mormon Street, a Young Street and the pioneer cemetery with the graves of 600. Impressive historical markers are found at the cemetery and in a little park on 30th Street.

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.