Heritage Gateways

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Pioneer 1847 Companies

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1847: Saturday, May 1 - And finally, the first buffalo were sighted

Location: Elm Creek, Nebraska - Location: 40:43:10N 99:22:18W Elevation: 2262 feet

Date: May 1, 1847

At last, buffalo are sighted!

Most of the Mormon pioneers had only heard about the large, shaggy animals. Few had ever seen them.

The camp broke early, without breakfast, because of the need to get the cattle to better grazing. Soon after starting, the company saw three buffalo on a bluff about six miles away. Mounted hunters hurriedly rode toward them.

As they rode, the men sighted a herd of more than 70 about eight miles distant. Before the hunters could get close enough to shoot, the herd began to run and was soon beyond view.

Disappointed, the pioneers continued the journey and about noon saw an even larger herd near the bluffs. Eleven hunters were chosen to attack.

"This being the first day buffalo have been seen on our journey, and the first ever seen by any except five or six of the brethren, it excited considerable interest and pleasure," William Clayton said.

The teams and wagons moved slowly and stopped frequently to watch the buffalo and the hunters.

The horsemen split into three groups. As they neared the herd, a barking dog nearly sent the buffalo stampeding away. The dog had chased an antelope right into the herd, but as the dog came close to the buffalo he apparently became frightened "at their savage appearance" and quickly retreated.

At this moment the hunters spurred their horses into a gallop and the buffalo began to run. The beasts were "very fast despite their size," Wilford Woodruff said. But a horse could gain on them.

Back at the wagon train there was some anxiety, "having read and heard so much about the mad ferocity of buffalo when hotly pursued and knowing that all the hunters were inexperienced," Clayton said.

Porter Rockwell soon was in the midst of the herd and was "enveloped in a cloud of dust." The buffalo began to scatter in all directions and the hunters opened fire.

The men quickly learned it took more than a single bullet to kill the huge beasts. They rode among the stampeding buffalo, firing pistols at close range.

One cow was wounded and separated from the rest. Heber C. Kimball, who had jumped aboard a horse and rode off to join the hunt, came close and finally knocked the animal down with a shot.

But the noise of the gun being fired right over the head of his horse sent the stallion plunging away m panic and nearly tumbled Kimball out of the saddle. He had dropped the reins to shoot and had trouble getting hold of them again.

"The other hunters saw his situation and trembled for his safety, but could render him no assistance," Clayton said. Kimball, being a good horseman, eventually was able to recover the reins and halt his animal.

Woodruff, who had spurred his horse to get ahead of the fleeing buffalo, finally was able to turn in front of them. This was a mistake.

"They all pitched at me and gave chase," he said. "I had to be quick to get out of the way."

He managed to kill one buffalo and tried to catch some others, "but my horse had run nearly 10 miles and we gave up the pursuit."

The shooting and chasing over the prairie lasted three hours and covered many miles before the hunters began to trickle back to camp. The final tally showed they had killed a bull, three cows and six calves -- "far exceeding our expectations and best hopes," Clayton said.

"The brethren's faces beamed with joy to see the meat come into camp. Some of them expressed astonishment at the size and ferocious appearance of the buff ale," he said.

Fresh merit was welcome and the pioneers were anxious to taste buffalo flesh for the first time. The animals were cut into quarters and a piece given to each company of 10.

"The meat is very sweet and tender as veal," Clayton said. Lorenzo Young said everybody in camp had a "rich repast." Others described it as a "feast."

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.