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: Thursday, May 6 - A timely light shower dampened prairie fires

Date: May 6, 1847

Prairie fires, which had threatened the Mormon pioneers for a number of days, finally were extinguished by the weather.

"During the night the Lord sent a light shower which put the fire out, except in one or two places," William Clayton reported in his journal.

The company was awakened at 5 a.m. with the usual problem of finding early-morning grazing for the cattle before doing anything else. Brigham Young gave orders to leave the island camp ground to get the animals to a place where they could have adequate feed.

A buffalo calf the hunters had brought into camp the day before was found dead, still tied to a stake in the center of the wagon circle.

Despite a desire to get started early, some of the men delayed to give their cattle some of the carefully-hoarded corn feed. Others took time to milk cows. These chores cost an hour. but once the wagons were moving, the pioneers reported the ground was hard and good for traveling.

Grass was hard to find. Where it had escaped the fire, it was eaten down to the soil by the huge herds of buffalo now surrounding the company. Horsemen had to drive them out of the wagon train path.

A young buffalo calf followed one of the hunters into camp, but Brigham ordered it placed out in the open in view of its mother because the calf was only a few days old.

But as the buffalo cow approached, two men walked nearby and the frightened animal ran away, leaving the calf alone on the prairie. Wolves soon attacked the small animal and killed it.

While stopped at noon, the pioneers discovered that some of their cows had wandered near the buffalo herd. If they once got mixed with the buffalo, that would be the last the camp would see of them because they would run with the herd.

Brigham, Heber C. Kimball and Thomas Woolsey gave frantic chase on horseback and barely turned the cows back before they were into the herd. In the excitement, Brigham lost his spyglass. Although the men hunted around the prairie for a long time, they couldn't find it.

The wagon train traveled slowly and some of the horses and oxen gave out because of the lack of feed. Wilford Woodruff said buffalo had eaten the grass to such a degree "that our cattle and horses get very little."

Green grass was available on the other side of the Platte River, but the Mormons persisted in keeping to the north bank where they would avoid other travelers. Bitter memories of persecution made them suspicious of strangers.

The company camped for the evening near some islands in the Platte. Brigham announced that no more game should be killed until further notice because "we have got as much meat in camp as can be taken care of."

This order pleased Norton Jacob who had grumbled in his journal earlier about the needless shooting of buffalo by those overcome with the zeal of hunting.

Wagon trains of emigrants going west for the gold rush often shot buffalo for sport. An eyewitness in those later years said the meat was left to rot while the Indians starved. He called it a "flagrant injustice." Clayton said the pioneers hadn't been out of sight of buffalo all day and the largest herds still were ahead. "The prairie looks black with them," he wrote. Some said the company passed 50,000 buffalo during the day. Others thought it was more like 100,000.

This disparity in estimates also extended to the number of miles traveled each day. "Some think we have traveled 18, some 20, and some even 25 miles today," Clayton said, but put his own guess at a conservative 15. As it turned out, he was the most accurate. The scribe was pondering possible ways to keep a precise record of the miles traveled.

The Mormon campsite this night was near the place where the town of Cozad would one day be founded. Sioux Indians would attack a wagon train here in 1867, killing several men and taking a number prisoner.

A historical marker on the edge of town notes that the community lies on the 100th meridian, often termed the "line of aridity." West of this line the yearly rainfall usually is insufficient to support non-irrigated agriculture.

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.