Pioneer 1847 Companies
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1847: Monday, May 10 - They left a letter for
those still to come
Location: Brady, Nebraska - Location:
41:01:20N 100:22:02W Population (1980): 377
Date: May 10, 1847
Sleeping on the wooden bed of a wagon was not exactly comfortable
and may have contributed to a nightmare experienced by William Clayton.
He dreamed that a herd of buffalo stampeded into the camp's cattle
and when he grabbed a boat and tried to row upriver for help, the
paddle turned out to be a feather.
Whenever the Mormon pioneers had an especially vivid dream, they
wrote an account in their journals.
Willard Richards had written a short history of the pioneer trek
to this point, along with the rules and regulations adopted for
the journey. A letter was drafted including this material and addressed
to Charles E. Rich. It was placed at the top of a tall pole planted
along the trail.
The letter was inserted into a crevice sawed into a board. The
crevice was then nailed shut with cleats. The board was attached
to a 15-foot pole sunk five feet into the ground. On the outside
of the board, written in red chalk, were the words: "Open this
and you will find a letter."
Before camp broke, Howard Egan built a fire and began baking bread.
While waiting, he tried to catch up on entries in his journal. He
explained he had "so little time, it accounts for my not writing
Egan borrowed Clayton's journal to copy some notes until his own
writing was caught up. The task of keeping a journal was widely
practiced among many emigrant groups, but it was a very trying job.
Many scribes often complained about the problems of keeping current.
Writing was impossible while on the move during the day and camps
were busy in the evening with cattle to tend, fires to build and
meals to cook. Often there were no desks or writing tables. Paper
and pens left something to be desired.
The pioneers began moving out shortly after 9 a.m. this day, covering
two miles and then fording a small stream which Heber C. Kimball
named Skunk Creek because a skunk had been killed earlier not far
About this time a strange horse was sighted on the prairie. John
Brown said two colts were lost last year when a company of Mormons
passed this way en route to Fort Pueblo (Colorado) and "This
is supposed to be the oldest of the two." Porter Rockwell and
Thomas Brown gave chase, but were not able to capture the now-wild
After traveling three hours the company found a place with some
year-old grass and stopped to let the cattle graze. Before moving
on, the pioneers set fire to the old grass so that new growth would
be available for the next group of Mormon emigrants. "It made
a great fire," the camp agreed.
Meanwhile, hunters brought in a buffalo they had killed. The meat
was described as good and "the fattest we have had." A
deer was shot later and provided venison for supper.
In the afternoon the wagons ran into wet and soft ground. The
teams began to give out because of the heavy pulling they were forced
to do. Brigham Young ordered an early halt and the company made
only 10 miles for the day.
Clayton, who had kept track of distance by counting the revolutions
of a wagon wheel, had been pressing for some mechanical form of
mileage counter and his persistence finally was rewarded.
Orson Pratt, the pioneer scientist who had been taking barometric
and temperature readings each day, was asked by Brigham to give
some attention to the mileage problem.
He suggested a device he called a "double screw" to
be mounted on a wagon wheel.
Each six turns of the wagon wheel would cause a screw to make
one revolution. The screw in turn moved a smaller wheel with 60
cogs. By the time this g0-tooth wheel made one complete turn, the
wagon had covered one mile.
The first set of cogs then turned a second screw which turned
another wheel with 30 cogs, each one representing one mile traveled.
These were numbered and could simply be inspected at the end of
a day for an accurate mileage reading instead of the tedious counting
of each wagon wheel revolution which Clayton had been doing.
Pratt said the double screw device would be "simple to build
and need not exceed three pounds."
- Source: 111
Days to Zion
- © Copyright 1997 Big Moon Traders and Hal Knight. All rights
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