Heritage Gateways

Official Sesquicentennial K-12 Education Project
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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 much."

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 from here.

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 animal.

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 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.