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Buffalo by Thousands Mesmerize Pioneers of the Camp of Israel

 

The Salt Lake Tribune

http://www.sltrib.com

Harold Schindler, Mormon Trail Series

Published: 05/06/1997 Category: Nation-World Page: A2

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 6, 1847

A light shower of rain through the night has quelled the prairie fires, except for one or two places, and once more made it perfectly safe for traveling. The Camp of Israel moved on two miles without feeding the teams because the grass had been burned off, but stopped on unburned prairie about 6:45 a.m.

Amasa Lyman made note that the buffalo calf brought alive into the wagon circle yesterday by Porter Rockwell was found dead this morning. "It was kicked either by a horse or mule and killed during the night," Lyman said. Herds of buffalo speckle the plains on both sides of the Platte River and there are antelope in great abundance, some of which run into camp.

At quarter to nine the company again rolls out with Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball riding ahead to scout the trail. A drove of thirteen elk crossed the river just above the wagon train, the first the pioneers had seen. Another large drove is seen on the company's right flank. Two antelope ran past the camp and Jackson Redden shot and killed one. "The command has at length come ordering us to cease slaying animals until we need them for meat," mused Norton Jacob. "I am pleased."

Stopped for noon to allow the teams to graze. Buffalo herds have eaten the grass to such a degree that the Mormon cattle and horses have a time finding enough to feed on. There is a stir in camp when it is discovered the pioneers' cattle and horses are mingling with buffalo herds. Young and others on horseback ride out to separate them, but have great difficulty doing so and the company is delayed.

Young has lost his personal spyglass valued at $40 during the chase and he is seething. A part of the horse riders' assignment today was to drive buffalo out of the trail in front of the pioneer caravan. In the early afternoon the riders came loping back; they were to retrace the back trail and look for Young's telescope.

By now, some horses and cattle were giving out for lack of feed. The company moved on until 6:30 p.m. and camped near some islands in the river. It was a time for the men to express their wonder at the number of buffalo around them. "There are thousands," Wilford Woodruff wrote in his journal.

But William Clayton thought there were more. "We have not been out of sight of the buffalo herds today, and from where we are camped I am satisfied we can see more than 5,000 with the glass. The prairie is black with them--on this and the other side of the river. Some think we have passed 50,000 and some even 100,000. It is truly a sight wonderful to behold."

Orson Pratt's comment was a bit terser. "We have seen 10,000 buffalo today...Antelope meat is excellent." And from Norton Jacob's journal, "A buffalo calf followed one of our horsemen into camp. The boys let it suckle a cow and left it. Afterwards one of the riders returned to look for Brigham Young's spyglass and saw a large white wolf carrying off the remnant of the calf."

Distance traveled today: 15 miles.