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William Clayton Journals

May 1, 1847

Location: Grand Island (Sturh Museum), Nebraska - Location: 40:55:30N 98:20:30W Elevation: 1864 feet

Summary: Buffalo hunt. Suspense and excitement. Praire dogs.

Journal entry: SATURDAY:

Brother Kimball rode ahead again on horse back and suffered some from cold. The morning very cold indeed. Inasmuch as there is little grass for the cattle, the camp started out at 5:40 and traveled till a quarter after eight, six miles before breakfast.

Soon after we started this morning three buffalo were seen grazing on the bluff about six miles distance. I could see them very plain with my glass. 0. P. Rockwell, Thomas Brown and Luke Johnson started on horseback to try to kill some.

Soon after they went, another herd of buffalo were seen to the northwest at the foot of the bluffs about eight miles off. I counted with my glass, 72, and Orson Pratt counted 74. Three of the brethren went on their horses after the latter herd. I watched the movement with the glass and saw that sometime before the brethren got to them, the buffalo fled and were soon after out of sight.

We stopped for breakfast close to Grand Island and at 10:15 proceeded again. After traveling four miles we arrived at a small lake on our right at twelve o'clock which evidently connects with the river in high water.

A little previous to this time the hunters returned and reported that Luke Johnson shot at one and dropped him on his knees, but he got up again and ran after the herd. They did not get any, but saw more farther west and went to give chase to the latter herd. When they got near them, they turned down under the bluffs and joined the herd chased by the last hunting party. Luke lost his cap and could not find it again.

Brother Higbee said he could have shot one, but Woolsey told him to hold on and pick out a good one. They being pretty near, selected a cow and designed both to shoot at her, but while they were making their plans the herd started and they missed their chance.

About the time the hunters returned, another still larger herd was discovered still farther west, also at the foot of the bluffs. The President stopped near the above mentioned lake and selected eleven men to go and give chase to the last seen herd and he gave them their instructions. Although they were at least eight miles from us, I distinctly counted 101 with my glass and amongst them many calves.

This being the first day buffalo has been seen on our journey and in fact the first ever seen by any except - about five or six of the brethren, it excited considerable interest and pleasure in the breasts of the brethren, and as may be guessed, the teams moved slowly and frequently stopped to watch their movement.

When the hunters were within a mile, or two from the herd, two of the dogs gave chase to an antelope, which made directly towards the buffalo. One of the dogs chased it till it went into the midst of the herd and when the buffalo saw the dog, they commenced to canter into a closer huddle. The dog, however, evidently frightened with their savage appearance, stopped and retraced his steps. About this time Elder Kimball seemed to get inspired with the idea of chasing the buffalo and he immediately called for Egan's fifteen shooter and started with it on full gallop.

After the dog returned the buffalo did not move much from the place and the hunters moved gently along till they got pretty near them, at which time Heber joined, just as the herd discovered them and commenced galloping off. The brethren's feelings who were left with the wagons were now strung up to the highest pitch, a feeling of exciting interest appeared to prevail throughout the camp, they having heard and read so much of the mad ferocity of the buffalo when hotly pursued, and knowing that all the hunters were inexperienced in regard to hunting the wild buffalo.

While they felt for the safety of the hunters, they still desired to see as much of the chase as the distance would allow, and were wishful that the chase might b succesful as a number have no meat and a piece of fresh meat would taste good to all men and save our bread stuff, and the desire to taste the much famed buffalo meat created a longing desire to see some of the herd fall.

Soon as the herd commenced galloping off, the hunters followed in pursuit at full gallop and soon closed in with them. At this time I got my glass and rested it on Brother Aaron Farr's shoulder, determined to see as much of the chase as possible. I soon discovered 0. P. Rockwell ride into the midst of the herd which then appeared to number over 200, others having come in sight when the herd commenced to run. Porter was soon enveloped in the cloud of dust caused by the heavy tramp of the buffalo on the dry sandy ground, but in a very short time the herd began to separate and scatter in every direction, a small party coming down the bluff again and some running west under the bluffs, others going over.

The hunters closed in on the first party and commenced their fire, especially at one cow which they finally succeeded in separating from all the rest, and determined to keep to her until they killed her, except Porter, who as soon as he had wounded her, left her with the hunters and pursued some of the rest. The cow was now in close quarters and after she had been shot through two or three times, Elder Kimball rode close to her with his fifteen shooter and fired over his horse's head, she dropped helpless and was soon dispatched.

At the report of the gun which was very heavy loaded, Elder Kimball's horse sprang and flew down the bluff like lightning and he having let go the lines to shoot, her sudden motion overbalanced him and his situation was precarious to the extreme. The other hunters saw his situation and trembled for his safety but could render him no assistance. However, being a good horseman, he maintained his position in the saddle and soon succeeded in gaining the lines and by a vigorous effort succeeded after some time in reining in his horse and returned to the rest unharmed and without accident.

All this movement passed about as quick as thought, and as soon as they saw the cow dead and all right they again followed in pursuit of the remaining buffalo. About this time three of the herd separated from the rest and came in a direction towards the camp on a gallop. President Young seeing this, ordered a halt, and the wagons to get close together lest the buffalo should, in their fury and excitement, venture to go between the wagons and do much mischief, However, they were discovered by some of the hunters nearer the camp and some foot men who gave chase to them changed their course when within about a mile from the camp.

At this time I had a very good view of their shape, color and appearance when running which I shall endeavor to describe hereafter.

Elder Kimball arrived in time to aid in the chase of these three which lasted some time. The hunters made choice of a large and very furious bull, and worked with him some time, shooting him through several times but all this did not seem to impede his progress. 0. P. Rockwell said he had heard it said that a buffalo could not be hurt with a ball shot at his head. Having a fair chance with this one, he determined to satisfy himself, and [previous to his being wounded] gaining a little in advance came right in front within about a rod of him and discharged his rifle pistol which struck the center of his head, but with no other effect than to make it smoke a little, some dust fly and the raving animal shake savagely.

The brethren, John S. Higbee and John Pack, soon after succeeded in dropping him and laid him dead at their feet, John Pack being the one that dropped him. During all this, other scenes were passing of equal interest. One of the calves was discovered within a few rods of the wagons, a shot fired at it and it was soon caught by the dogs, killed and put into a feed box.

Porter chased another calf to within a mile of the camp previous to his chasing the bull. Some of the footmen surrounded and dispatched it, and soon after brought and put it in one of the wagons.

Other brethren were still away at the bluffs, but we had no certainty of their success until Elder Kimball, John Pack, and several others came up to the camp after dispatching the bull and reported two other cows killed and three calves. This was a little before 5:00 p.m.

When it was ascertained for a certainty that one was killed, the revenue cutter was unloaded and sent to fetch it to camp. It was reported that two other cows and three calves were killed. When Elder Kimball and others came up to the camp, President Young requested some of the brethren to unload their wagons and go and fetch the others reorted to be killed, while the wagons would strike towards the river and camp for the night.

The chase lasted from soon after 1:00 until 4:00 p.m.

Soon four wagons were unloaded, the brethren having their loads on the ground in care of a guard, and were ready to start out. Having a great desire to see a buffalo in his natural state, my feet being very sore, and the distance to the bluffs being over three miles, I got into Brother Aaron Farr's wagon, he being one who unloaded to fetch in the meat, and we started for the one shot down by Elder Kimball, he and 0. P. Rockwell following on horseback.

On our route, we met Luke Johnson and two other hunters returning. Luke had a calf tied on his horse, himself on foot. When we arrived at the cow, we found that three of the brethren had come on foot and had already got the hide off, except the head. She was soon cut in two, put in the wagon with the rest of the meat, hide and head, and we started for the next cow which was about three quarters of a mile distant.

This cow would probably weigh on foot, about 700 pounds. She was not very fat, but the meat looked nice and clean. When we arrived at the next cow, we found several of the brethren at work with her, they had got her hide off and soon had her in the wagon. We then proceeded to camp and got in soon after sundown.

The meat was unloaded in the semi - circle opposite the President's wagon and placed on the hide which was spread on the ground for the purpose of keeping it clean. The brethren's faces beamed with joy to see the meat begin to come into camp, and with some astonishment to view the size and ferocious appearance of the head, which still had the hide on. Soon after the other wagons came in and each deposited its load in the same place.

Joseph Mathews came in about the same time and reported that he had killed another calf after chasing it three miles, making the total number killed in the first day's buffalo hunt by the Camp of the Latter - day Saints, already reported as follows: one bull, three cows and six calves, a circumstance far exceeding our expectations and best hopes, and all without the slightest accident or loss to man or property, except Luke Johnson's cap and a ramrod to a rifle.

There is, however, one shade of suspense caused by the intelligence that Joseph Hancock has not retrned to camp. He started out on foot when the three buffalo were first discovered this morning and has not been seen or heard of for sometime. Considerable fear is entertained for his safety from the fact that he is lame, and it is evident, or at least considered so, that there are Indians near because a large smoke as of prairie burning has been seen all the afternoon within some six or eight miles to the west and must have been set on fire by somebody and the probability is, it is Indians, although none has been seen for several days.

The meat was cut up ito quarters and distributed one quarter to each company of ten, leaving some to be distributed in the morning, and in a short time every fire was loaded with it, and the camp had a good feast on the fruits of today's labors.

Soon after the hunters started out at noon we came to a long range of dog towns and saw many of the little prairie dogs playing around their holes. The extent of this dog town is yet unknown, for we have traveled over, and paralled with it about five miles this afternoon, and they seem to extend still farther west. In some places the town is nearly two miles broad, in others not so much, and must contain thousands of the little dogs.

I could not get near enough to see their form distinctly, for they are so quick into their holes when anything approaches, you can only have a partial view of them. They appear to be about as long as a common grey squirrel but more chunky, a larger body and chubbed head. The tail is short, more resembling that of a dog, their color light brown. Their bark resembles the chirp of an English throstle, and something like the chirp of a squirrel. They appear to live on grass as it is all eaten off close to the ground throughout the extent of their dog town, and the ground looks naked and barren as a desert.

Several of the brethren shot at the dogs but failed in killing any. We had a north wind this afternoon and cold weather, our course being nearly west over a level prairie, not far distant from the island. Since noon we traveled about eight miles, and the encampment was formed at half past six o'clock near a small lake about a mile above the head of Grand Island. The grass is not so good here as it has been back, and but a poor chance for the cattle, etc., to fill themselves.

The appearance of the wild buffalo at a distance is somewhat singular. The color of the back and about half way down the sides is a light brown, the rest is a very dark brown. The shoulder appears slightly rounding and humped.

When running, the large shaggy head hangs low down, about half way in height between the ground and the top of the shoulder. They canter like any ox or cow, but appear far more cumbersome and heavy, especially about the fore parts, which look larger than they really are on account of the long, thick matty hair. They run tolerably fast, but a good horse will easily gain on them. They will run a long time without diminishing their speed. Their meat is very sweet and tender as veal.

Source: William Clayton's Journal

Published by the Clayton Family Association, and edited by Lawrence Clayton. To the best of our research, this contents of this book are no longer under copyright.