Heritage Gateways

Official Sesquicentennial K-12 Education Project
sponsored by the Utah State Board of Education, the BYU-Public School Partnership and the Utah Education Network

Pioneer 1847 Companies

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1847: Wednesday, May 5 - Platte island provided safety from fires that devastated area

Location: Lexington, Nebraska - Location: 40:46:51N 99:44:28W Elevation: 2389 feet

Date: May 5, 1847

Some of the Mormon pioneers became sick, a condition they blamed on all that buffalo meat.

"The change from salted meat to fresh meat is affecting a number of the company," reported Wilford Woodruff, who was one of those stricken.

After breaking camp about 7:30 a.m., the wagon train made a detour to the north to avoid a bad slough. "The horses" feet cut through the sod and the ground under appears wet, although there has been no rain for some time," William Clayton wrote in his journal.

No Indians had been sighted since the alarm two days before and Woodruff surmised the "war party" of 400 Indians was a case of mistaken identity. "The man who saw them was frightened by a herd of antelope and supposed them to be Indians," he guessed. But the company had seen plenty of Indian signs, including freshly abandoned camps, in the past few days.

Buffalo were sighted again. However, Brigham Young directed the pioneers not to kill anything they couldn't bring into camp on a horse, which ruled out adult buff ale.

Hunters returned to the camp in the afternoon, bringing a live buffalo calf and the carcass of another calf they had killed. They said four additional calves had been shot. Other men were dispatched to bring in the meat.

The live calf had been chased after its mother was killed and a dog finally cornered it. The calf was tied in camp that night. Dogs and some of the men teased it and were butted for their efforts. The calf learned to drink from a bucket.

Prairie fires still stretched as far as the eye could see and the flames were getting close. Brigham ordered the wagons to retreat half a mile to an island in the Platte River where "we can be secure from the fire," Clayton said.

"The prairie is all burned bare and the black ashes fly bad, making the brethren look more like Indians than white folks." he noted.

The river was easily forded and the island refuge provided some grass for the animals. The horses and cattle were beginning to suffer from the lack of feed.

Where the pioneers passed in 1847 there now stands a multi-storied farm house, painted yellow with white trim and decorated with gables and bay windows -- a remarkable sight miles from any other building.

Modern-day scenery along the pioneer route is mostly empty corn fields and once in a while an advertising sign amid the stubble. The land appears flat to the horizon.

Not far from where the pioneers camped was the future sight of the town of Lexington, Neb., which got its start as a trading post named Plum Creek. It was an infamous rendezvous for gamblers, thieves and holdup men who preyed on passing miners and other travelers.

In 1867 a band of Cheyenne Indians wrecked a train near here, ransacked the freight cars and scalped the crew.

Another train carrying Mormon emigrants to a departure point for wagon travel, had an engineer at the helm who swore he would "drive the Mormons to hell." He opened the throttle and went tearing across the prairie.

But shortly after the wild ride began the baggage car caught fire. The engineer quickly stopped and backed up to the nearest watering station seven miles away. By the time the train arrived, the baggage car was in ruins.

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.