Harold Schindler, Mormon Trail Series
Editor's Note: To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Mormon Trail, The Salt Lake Tribune is offering this day-by-day account of the Mormon pioneers' original trek from Winter Quarters, Nebraska, to the Great Salt Lake Valley. Tribune history writer , using diaries, letters, journals and reminiscences that have come to light this century, has fleshed out the following narrative.
May 5, 1847
The success of the hunters in bagging buffalo and antelope for the pioneer company had become something of a curse as much as a blessing, it seemed. Wilford Woodruff noted that the change from salted packed meat to fresh meat has affected a number of camp members. "I am quite sick with diarrhea," he confided to his journal. Two small herds of buffalo were seen near the camp, but the orders of the day were not to kill anything that cannot be carried to camp. The wagons are to continue on the trail and not to be pressed into service otherwise.
Everyone was on the alert for Indians, although it was generally conceded that William Empey's alarm two days ago of a large Indian war party was a false alarm, that it was a drove of antelope mistaken in the distance for Indians. "Such a mistake is not infrequent on western prairies," said Orson Pratt. "We have not yet seen any fresh signs of Indians or their horses," he added. However, it was believed that the chiefs dissatisfied with presents given them by the Mormons at the Pawnee Village on April 21 were burning the grass ahead of the Camp of Israel along this north bank and making travel aggravating.
About 1:00 p.m., some hunters came in bringing with them a live buffalo calf about six or eight weeks old. John Brown, Return Jackson Redden, John Higbee and Luke Johnson each killed a calf. Joseph Mathews killed a cow and Heber C. Kimball, Higbee and O. P. Rockwell chased a calf until a camp dog seized it. Rockwell left his horse and roped the young animal without shooting it. He brought it back to camp with the intention of raising it.
The Revenue Cutter (leather boat) was unloaded and sent after the cow and calf carcasses that the hunters could not carry with them, the game being about three miles distant. Meanwhile the company continued westward for another half-hour and discovered the prairie ablaze.
Brigham Young and Kimball, believing it was unsafe to risk the wagons near the fire, ordered the camp to retreat a half-mile to an island where water was available for the teams and was safe from the flames. The prairie was burned bare and black ashes flew thick, making the pioneers look more like Indians than whites, according to William Clayton. There was some feed on the island and the cattle easily forded the stream into it.
The buffalo calf was tied within the wagon circle. When the camp dogs got too close, it attacked the largest and the dogs ran from it, Clayton said. The calf will drink water from a pail, and some men made sport out of trying to make the small buffalo suckle a milch cow. Instead the calf would vigorously try to bunt the men and dogs; some got some hard raps, Woodruff remarked. Norton Jacob thought the business with the buffalo calf was all "foolishness."
Distance traveled today: 12 miles.