First encounter with buffaloes

Sunday, April 25, 1847:

The pioneers arose early and tended to their cattle, but otherwise they observed this Sabbath as a day of rest from their difficult labors of the past week. They were now safely four miles distant from the treacherous Loup Fork, north of the Platte. The order of the camp was that there should be no fishing, hunting, or unnecessary labor of any kind that day. Instead, the men were urged to read the scriptures and meditate.At 5 p.m. the brethren were called together to worship. A male choir sang a song composed by William W. Phelps called "Adam-ondi-Ahman." Elder George A. Smith related the Prophet Joseph Smith's instructions not to kill any animals, birds, or anything created by God merely for the sake of destroying it. Just at that moment a large wolf came out of the woods and walked leisurely near the wagons. This became a test of the doctrine. The brethren continued the meeting. President Brigham Young instructed the men that it was folly to conform to gentile customs when they were on a holy expedition.

After dark, the Twelve and other camp leaders met to organize a company of game hunters to provide food. Eight men were selected to hunt on horseback and another 11 on foot. Game seemed to be plentiful. But the apostles emphasized that only enough buffaloes should be killed as to provide for the camp.

Monday, April 26:

Before the break of day, pioneer company guards spotted and heard some activity in the grass. They first thought that wolves had come close to camp, but when they snapped their guns, two Indians raised up and ran away. When two guards fired, four more Indians arose and fled. They had evidently come to steal horses.

The bugle was immediately sounded and all the brethren seized their arms fearing an attack. The men remained on guard until sunrise under their respective commanders of tens.

At 8 a.m., the pioneers finally resumed their journey from the south side of the Loup Fork. They were several miles north of the Platte and thus had to blaze an entirely new trail over bunches of prairie grass. They only made 15 miles.

At dusk another alarm was sounded. Some Indians had crawled up to the encampment and stolen two horses belonging to Willard Richards and Jesse C. Little. Twenty men, including Brigham Young, tried to overtake the Indians, but to no avail. This incident proved the necessity of taking better care of the animals.

Tuesday, April 27:

The weather was unseasonably windy and warm (86 degrees). Many ox teams gave out in the afternoon and had to feed before proceeding.

Four men, including Porter Rockwell, went off in search of the stolen horses, but they ran right into a band of 15 well-armed Indians who were intent on taking even more from these men. The Indians fled toward the timber below, where it was surmised their companions lay in ambush. The four pioneers decided to get back to camp. About the time they arrived back with the main company, a rifle went off by accident in John Brown's wagon. The ball broke the foreleg of a fine mare belonging to Stephen Markham's team. Thus, four of the best horses were lost by the pioneers in four days.

Wednesday, April 28:

Following two days of overland travel, the pioneers rejoined the Platte River at a point where the north and south branches had created the Grand Island. This island was three to four miles wide and nearly 50 miles long. During the afternoon they rode on a dusty path, and a strong wind blew heavy amounts of dust into all the wagons. But in the evening the pioneers were pleased to be at the point where Wood River empties into the north channel of the Platte, where there was cool, clear drinking water. They treated themselves to antelope killed by the team of hunters. Their camp was near the present-day city of Grand Island, Neb., 186 miles from Winter Quarters.

Thursday, April 29:

The men arose early and immediately hitched their wagons and traveled three miles to where there was an abundance of rushes, in order to find better feed for their animals. After stopping for an hour, they resumed their journey, but were plagued with parching winds across arid plains. The clouds of dust were suffocating to man and beast.

Friday, April 30:

A cold, howling wind from the north plagued the pioneers all day. Its gusts created considerable dust and made everybody uncomfortable.

The brethren had a difficult time finding a road or an Indian trail on which to travel. They traveled southwest 17 miles. In forming the evening encampment they placed their wagons in an imperfect circle with the wagon mouths turned in to avoid the wind.

Very little fuel was available, and not everybody was able to eat a warm meal. Some of the company found a good substitute for wood in the dried buffalo chips that lay plentifully on the ground. To avoid shivering, the men donned their buffalo robes, and many danced to the fiddle.

Saturday, May 1:

The camp arose early to a cold and windy morning and resumed its journey by 5:30 a.m, then traveled six miles before breakfast. Soon after starting, three buffaloes were seen grazing on the bluffs.

They were several miles away but could be plainly seen with a spy-glass. This excited the entire camp because these were the first buffaloes they had seen on their journey. Immediately Porter Rockwell, Thomas Brown, and Luke S. Johnson took off full tilt on their horses for the hunt. Soon, a herd of about 200 were spotted and more hunters were dispatched. Throughout the morning and the afternoon the men in the wagons watched the hunt proceed with great interest. Wilford Woodruff, one of the participants wrote: "A part of the chase was through one of the largest prairie dog towns nearly ever seen. It was nearly ten miles long & 2 [miles] wide & full of burrows . . . & [a] great danger of a horse step[p]ing into them & falling. There was no accident . . . to any one which was truly a blessing. . . . This was the first buffalo hunt I ever took part in or saw." By dusk, three bulls, three cows, and six buffalo calves were brought in. The animals were then dressed, and the meat equally distributed. The men thoroughly enjoyed the "May Day Hunt" and the tasty meal that evening.

Sources: An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton, 305-10; Ensign to the Nations, 108-11; Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 552-53; Andrew Jenson, "The Pioneers of 1847," Historical Record 9 (January 1890): 15-17; Life Writings of Mary Haskin Parker Richards, 120; Pioneering the West, 1846 to 1878, 29-32; Wilford Woodruff's Journals 3:159-65.

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