Roadometer measures daily travel

Sunday, May 9, 1847:

The pioneers broke camp at 8 a.m. As a general rule, they would not travel on the Sabbath, but because so much of the prairie was burned and the animals needed to feed, they were forced to move on.They traveled over a sandy ridge for about four miles, then descended to the river bottoms where there was some dry grass. They spent the rest of the Sabbath at this new camp. Some men bathed in the river and others did some washing. Still others took their horses to an island and cut down cottonwood trees for the animals. They were careful to leave plenty for the use of oncoming Latter-day Saint immigrants.

William Clayton prepared another board upon which he wrote: "From Winter Quarters, 300 miles, May 9, 1847. Pioneer Camp, all well.

"Distance, according to the reckoning of W[.] Clayton."

Back at Winter Quarters Elders Parley P. Pratt and John Taylor, the two presiding apostles at the Missouri River, offered Sabbath day counsel that the Saints fence in their collective properties in order to save their cattle and crops from intruding Indians.

Monday, May 10:

The morning was cold in the pioneer camp. Before the men broke camp, the Twelve deposited a letter in a carefully secured board fastened on a tall pole for the next company of Saints who would follow on the same trail. It contained information about the pioneer journey to that point.

President Brigham Young instructed Orson Pratt to give attention to William Clayton's idea to build a machine that could be attached to a wagon wheel to log the miles of the journey. After due consideration, Elder Pratt proposed a double endless screw machine that he called a "roadometer." Elder Pratt designed the device, and Appleton Harmon, a skilled carpenter and mechanic, was put to work making the instrument.

Tuesday, May 11:

Orson Pratt and a few men traveled ahead of the main pioneer company to scout out the country and allow Elder Pratt additional time to take scientific measurements. The main camp stayed as much on the prairie as possible and traveled only 81/2 miles for the day, passing the confluence where the North and South Platte rivers meet to form the Platte (near present-day North Platte, Neb.). From this point on, they would follow the course of the North Platte. The country looked beautiful; the soil was rich, but timber was scarce. Only a few buffaloes were seen during the day, but there were signs of thousands having wintered in the vicinity.

Wednesday, May 12:

William Clayton noted in his journal about new machinery called a "roadometer."

"Brother Appleton Harmon has completed the machinery on the wagon so far that I shall only have to count the number of miles instead of the revolution of the wagon wheel."

Although odometers of various designs were in common use at the time the pioneer instrument was made, this was the first of its kind used in transcontinental travel.

The day's journey was about 12 miles, most of it along the north side of the North Platte River which the company reached in mid-morning. In the evening, Wilford Woodruff scouted out the bluffs north of the camp and found the remains of an abandoned Sioux village. Elder Woodruff estimated just a few days before there had been 400 lodges and as many as one thousand Indians.

Thursday, May 13:

A knifing cold wind from the east had prevailed throughout the night.

The brethren learned that when crossing streams flowing into the North Platte it paid to keep the wagons constantly in motion; otherwise the wheels tended to sink into quicksand. The pioneer company made nearly 11 miles this day and camped 25 miles above the junction of the North and South Platte Rivers, 361 miles from Winter Quarters.

Wilford Woodruff also watched with wonder at the North Platte River. It was generally a mile wide, but very shallow. When a south wind blew, the water was pushed to the north shore. When the wind shifted and blew from the north, the water would leave the north shore until a person could walk across two-thirds of the river on bare ground.

Friday, May 14:

The morning was cold and cloudy. The men saw streaks of lightning in the west and heard distant thunder. At 8 a.m. a hard rain began and delayed their departure until 11 a.m. This day's journey required that the company take a circuitous route around the high bluffs of the sand hills. The company journeyed somewhat slowly, constantly waiting for word from scouts ahead as to the best road.

At 4:30 p.m. the company stopped because they found good feed.

During the day the hunters killed two buffaloes, three antelope, and one badger. During the evening, music emanated from the camp in the form of jigs from the fiddle and singing.

Saturday, May 15:

The morning was again cloudy and cold. The pioneers considered the weather to be more like January than May. Rain fell most of the morning. Crossing the large bluff was most difficult, and the pioneers were met with biting wind and pelting rain. The descent was angled at the same pitch as most house rooftops. The teams and animals went down almost with a jump. After this impediment, the traveling went much better, even though the road was soft and wet. The distance for the day was about seven miles. The feed appeared better by this camping ground than for several days previously. The brethren chose to dig wells for water rather than procure water from the river a half mile away. For fuel they used scattered pieces of flood wood and buffalo chips, the latter being the most plentiful.

Sources: An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton, 313-15; also William Clayton, William Clayton's Journal, pp. 152-53; Comprehensive History of the Church 3:175-77; Ensign to the Nations, 113-15; Norman E. Wright, "I Have a Question," Ensign 11 (August 1981): 30-31; Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 554; "The Pioneers of 1847," Historical Record 9 (January 1890): 21-23, 33-35; Life Writings of Mary Haskin Parker Richards, 123-24; Pioneering the West, 1846 to 1878, 35-39; Wilford Woodruff's Journals 3:172-77.

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