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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Pioneer Company, 1847, Scientific Instuments and Observations

The 1847 pioneer trek from "civilization to sundown" took a few days to get properly under way, as did the trip in 1846, when the Camp of Israel left Nauvoo. Kimball moved three wagons out 4 miles on April 5th, but returned to Winter Quarters to meet with John Taylor who had just arrived from England with some specially ordered scientific instruments for Orson Pratt. The elite, fast-moving, well-equipped, exploring band of pioneers were not just taking themselves to the valley, they were charting a road that the Saints and others would use for more than twenty years. For this they needed sextants, a circle of reflection, artificial horizons, barometers, thermometers, and telescopes. The Mormons became a part of what is now known as the "Great Reconnaissance" of the Far West.

Orson Pratt, a Mormon with some astronomy and engineering skills, served informally as the pioneers" "scientific member." He had made a few sightings along the trail from Nauvoo, but they are of little value today. Beyond the Missouri his latitudinal determinations were made, according to his journal, alternately by "meridian observation of Sirius," by "altitude of the Pole Star," by "meridian observations of the sun," and by the "meridian altitude of the moon." With the aid of the new instruments just received from England, his latitudinal determinations were quite accurate.

Lacking a suitable chronometer, however, his few longitudinal sightings made by the "angular distance of the sun and moon taken by sextant and circle" cannot be trusted. Even Fremont, who often spent hours making multiple sightings of the occultations of the planets and stars by the moon and the Jupiterian satellites, had difficulty determining proper longitude. Along the Platte River a miscalculation of only one minute causes an error of 6,000 feet in latitude and 4,500 feet in longitude.


Scientific instruments taken with the "Pioneer Camp" in 1847 (most of which are on display):

  • 2 sextants
  • 2 artificial horizons
  • 2 barometers
  • 1 circle of reflection
  • 1 telescope, about 4 feet long with a tripod mount

Surveying equipment:

  • Jesse Fox's surveying level
  • Thomas Bullock's drafting instruments .
    (He drew the first platte of the city. Each 10- acre block is a square, 40 rods - or one furlong long - on each side. The streets are 8 rods, or 132 feet, wide. Each rod is 16 * feet in length.)
  • The original Base-Meridian marker located at Main and So. Temple Streets.
    (There are only 35 Base-Meridian points in U.S., west of Ohio River where our current "township" survey system began. The original colonies used a "Metes-and-bounds" survey. It was based on irregular terrain, not a north-south grid with regular rectangular sections of 640 acres. The Base-Meridian point in Salt Lake City is the only one in the Great Basin area. Alaska has 5. It was formalized by the U.S. Government in 1955 at the spot where Orson Pratt began laying out the city, Aug. 2, 1847.)

Wilford Woodruff's fly fishing outfit from England that he successfully used on the 1847 trek.

Source: Historic Resource Study - Mormon Pioneer National By Stanley B. Kimball, Ph.D., May 1991. (The study focuses on the history of the trail from its official beginning in Nauvoo, Illinois, to its terminus in Salt Lake City, Utah, during the period 1846-1869. During that time, thousands of Mormon emigrants used many trails and trail variants to reach Utah. This study emphasizes the "Pioneer Route" or "Brigham Young Route" of 1846-1847. The sections on Mormon beliefs and motivations for going west have been omitted. Interested persons can find ample sources for that information. The footnotes, bibliography, maps, pictures, pioneer companies by name and dates for the 22-year period, and historic sites - about 2/3 of the book - have also been left out for space considerations. Thanks to Dr. Kimball and the National Park Service for the availability of this information.)