Heritage Gateways

Official Sesquicentennial K-12 Education Project
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Pioneer 1847 Companies

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1847: Friday, May 7 - Brigham grouchy over spyglass loss

Date: May 7, 1847

Ever since losing his $40 spyglass the previous day while riding after cows, Brigham Young had been in a grouchy mood. His anger over the loss of the expensive device cast a pall over the camp and caused the pioneers to tread softly.

When a search failed to turn up the glass, Brigham returned to camp and took out his displeasure on Erastus Snow for not attending to the cows.

It was Snow's turn to watch the cattle and Brigham blamed him for letting them stray close to the buffalo herd, thus forcing a frantic chase in which the spyglass was lost. Snow was unhappy at the chastisement and had words with the leader.

Rather than continue the march this day with Brigham's disgruntled disposition, a party of men felt it would be worthwhile to go back where the spyglass was lost and make one more search of the prairie.

Late in the day the persistence of the searchers was rewarded when they found the missing glass. When Brigham's prize was returned, he immediately felt much better and a lighter mood prevailed in the whole camp.

It was a wonder that the glass survived intact because buffalo still surrounded the pioneer wagon train as it marched westward. The cattle continued to suffer from lack of feed because the buffalo had eaten nearly everything in sight.

In order to spare the teams, Brigham ordered that only one man should ride the cannon--a popular conveyance--instead of the half dozen who usually had been carried along.

The president said he had provided most of the horses so far to pull the cannon, but they were about worn out and were needed to haul his own wagon. He asked that other members of the company volunteer some of their animals for cannon duty.

As the wagon train rolled along, it was surrounded at a distance by more than 2,000 buffalo. A few of them began racing around the wagons "running exactly as if they were racing for sweepstakes of considerable value," Thomas Bullock reported. When the pioneers stopped to watch, the buffalo quit playing and ran away.

The pioneers had been told to cease shooting buffalo because the company had plenty of meat. But the animals fell victims to wolves in other ways. Calves would get crushed in a stampede. Some animals became mired in mud along river banks where the soil was churned up by the endless numbers. Others simply were weakened by hunger. Many wolves prowled around the herd and immediately attacked any buffalo in serious trouble.

Because of the weakened condition of the teams, the pioneers halted for the day at 3 p.m. They had covered only six or so miles. In addition to stopping early, the company also had started late, it being almost noon before they got under way.

Part of the delay in starting was due to needed repairs on a wagon axle. Another reason was that many pioneers wanted to give their weary teams more time to graze. The emergency grain supplies for the cattles were just about depleted. The prairie would have to provide.

The Mormon campsite was on the bank of the Platte River near several small islands which offered some grass for the hungry animals.

After camp was made and everyone had a few hours rest, Brigham took five men and rode upriver a short distance to look at the country which lay ahead and to see if good grass was available somewhere.

At 6:30 p.m. he called out the company for some military drill and exercise in tactics. The arms and ammunition were inspected and found to be in good condition. There were probably several reasons for the drill. First, there was time for it; second, Brigham liked to be ready for emergencies, and third, he hated to see men sitting around idle.

During the day's brief march, the pioneers passed the future site of Gothenburg, Neb., which started as a trading post in 1854 and later became a Pony Express and stage station.

Near the station was a ranch house where riders used to gather when off duty. Mark Twain stopped there on his trip across the plains and described it in his book, "Roughing It."

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.