Heritage Gateways

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Pioneer 1847 Companies

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1847: Sunday, May 2 - Missing "Nimrod" returned safely in morning

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

Date: May 2, 1847

Although still excited over the rich harvest of buffalo meat, the pioneers were deeply worried. One of their number had been missing all night.

Joseph Hancock, who left camp on foot to hunt buffalo during yesterday's chase, had failed to return.

"Considerable fear is entertained for his safety," William Clayton reported, because Hancock was lame and because a prairie fire eight miles away indicated the presence of Indians.

But about 6 a.m. Hancock came limping into camp carrying a piece of buffalo meat.

He said he had killed a buffalo back on the bluff s, but because he couldn't carry the heavy animal, he stayed on the prairie most of the night to guard the meat from prowling wolves.

He built a fire and sprinkled gunpowder around the buffalo carcass. Some wolves visited during the night, but were awed by the fire. Hancock shot one wolf and the rest fled. Finally, he set out for camp, but couldn't find it on the pitch black prairie, so laid down and slept.

At daybreak he made his way to camp. After telling his story, he returned to the scene of his kill with several riders. They found wolves already had gotten to the meat and eaten most of it, but some was saved.

While returning to camp, the horsemen sighted two antelope and shot both.

Hancock, 47, was such a good hunter that Joseph Smith once dubbed him,"Nimrod." Later in the trek he would once again spend all night guarding an animal he had killed while hunting away from camp.

He settled near Prove and later spent many years in California and at Council Bluff s, Iowa. He died at age 93 and was buried in the Payson cemetery. During much of the day the pioneers were busy in camp cooking buff ale meat or building racks to dry it in the sun, or salting it down to avoid spoilage Some men cut the buffalo hide into narrow strips and stretched them on stakes to dry. They used the resulting thongs to "make horse halters and lariats," Norton Jacob said.

Because forage for the animals was poor, Brigham Young and some others went ahead to scout out a new camp site. They returned in the afternoon and ordered the company to move farther along the river.

The wagons traveled a few miles and the pioneers set up camp on the banks of a long shallow lake which was connected to the Platte River. Because the campsite was pleasant and the cattle needed rest, Brigham said the company would remain camped for an additional day. Some of the wagons also required repairs and several animals needed to be shed.

While camped at the new location, the pioneers saw several buffalo come down to the river to drink. The animals were less than two miles away and some of the men wanted to ride after them. But Brigham replied, "No, it's best to let them go as it is Sunday." He said more hunting could be done the next day.

Around the campfire that night, a portion of hide from one of the buffalo heads was displayed. Porter Rockwell had heard that a bullet wouldn't hurt a buffalo if fired head on at the thick-skulled creature. During the hunt he had tried it. Sure enough, the bullet bounced off.

"I found the mark where Porter shot at his head," Clayton wrote. The bullet barely cut through the outer surface of the hide, which was "near an inch thick," he said.

When the pioneers retired that night, they posted a heavy guard around the camp. In the distance they had seen the glow of a large prairie fire and felt it was meant for them.

"The Indians set fire to the prairie grass in front of us and burned over a large area." Wilford Woodruff recorded. The troubles of the pioneers with this tactic were just beginning.

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.