Church News - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

Vanguard Company on Platte River

Published: Saturday, April 19, 1997

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Sunday, April 11, 1847:

The day was warm and pleasant, thus allowing the pioneers gathered at the Elkhorn to all raft their wagons across the river, which was 66 yards wide and 4 feet deep. By 3:40 in the afternoon all 69 pioneer wagons plus three wagons designed for returning had crossed the river. In an evening meeting, it was determined that the apostles in the camp and a few others would return to Winter Quarters the following day to meet with Elder John Taylor, and that the rest of the pioneer company would proceed down the Elkhorn River.At a Winter Quarters Sabbath meeting, Elder Parley P. Pratt addressed the Saints and reported on his recent mission to England, Scotland and Wales.

Monday, April 12:

The Twelve made a decision to return to Winter Quarters a second time in order to meet with Elder John Taylor. Upon their return a council meeting was held in the evening where Brigham Young called Thomas Bullock to go with them and keep the camp history.

The main contingent of pioneers continued on without the Twelve and traveled 14 miles from their Elkhorn encampment to a cottonwood grove on the Platte River.

Tuesday, April 13:

At the encampment on the Platte, the three blacksmiths of the company went to work shoeing the horses. The designated scouts of the pioneer company under the direction of Stephen Markham searched for the best roads to the West.

Back at Winter Quarters, the eight members of the Twelve prepared extra teams to take to the pioneer company while they anxiously awaited the arrival at the Camp of Israel of Elder John Taylor. His arrival at about sunset was hailed with great joy.

Wednesday, April 14:

This day witnessed the final departure from Winter Quarters of the last contingent of the famous first company of Utah pioneers. Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards and Ezra T. Benson spent the morning and early afternoon attending to last-minute details. They charged their fellow quorum members Parley P. Pratt and John Taylor with supervising the Saints who were preparing to go West in a few weeks.

Instructions were left to place Elder Orson Hyde in charge of the Saints at the Missouri upon his arrival from Britain. President Young decided to take well-known scribe William Clayton with the pioneer company and instructed him to be ready to leave immediately.

Brother Clayton willingly complied and noted in his journal: "At 11 o'clock Brigham and Dr.

WillardT Richards came.

President YoungT told me to rise up and start with the pioneers in half an hour's notice . . . and set my folks to work to get my clothes together and start with the pioneers. At 2 o'clock I left my family and started."

Thursday, April 15:

The Twelve, who had left Winter Quarters the previous day, were scattered in three different locations. Most of them arrived at the encampment on the Platte River, 47 miles from Winter Quarters by 3 p.m. At 7:40 p.m. President Young called all the pioneers together for a meeting. He instructed them to take care of their teams, to cease all lightmindedness, and to be prayerful and faithful. He promised them that if they obeyed counsel the Lord would bless them and they would pass through Indian country in safety.

Friday, April 16:

About 8 a.m. Brigham Young called all the men in the camp together. The men formed a circle around the President's wagon and counted off.

Captains of hundreds, fifties, and tens were all designated. Stephen Markham was appointed captain of the guard and was instructed to select 50 men who were to take their turns acting as sentries at night for the camp and the horse and cattle. By noon the camp was organized. The pioneers broke camp at 2 p.m. and started on their journey to the Rocky Mountains.

Saturday, April 17:

It froze during the night, leaving ice on the water in the morning.

Orders were given in the morning to travel in the groups of tens. They traveled eight miles on the north side of the Platte on a sandy plain surrounded on both sides by willows, high weeds, and dry grass. The camp halted at noon to prepare for the Sabbath.

At 5 p.m. the bugle was sounded and the pioneers gathered in their groups of tens around President Brigham Young. President Young gave instructions to all the men that "the wagons must keep together when travelling, and not separate as they have previously done, and every man to walk beside his own wagon, and not leave it only by permission."

Sunday, April 18:

The pioneer company observed this Sabbath as a day of rest according to President Brigham Young's directions. The men attended only to their cattle. A letter was also written to the high council at Winter Quarters.

In his journal, Wilford Woodruff gave the following description of the Platte River, describing its qualities and its dangers. "It is the most singular river I ever beheld," he wrote. "It is from a quarter to a mile wide & its shores & bed one universal body of quick sand. . . . Frequently nearly the whole bed of the river is cover

eTd with but a few inches of water & at other places it is deep and rapid. . . . While walking on the apparent hard beach or bed of the river a man or horse will suddenly sink into the quick sand & the more he struggles to get out the more he will sink & will soon perish if assistance is not near. Many horses & men have been lost in this way on the Platt[e]."

In the afternoon the apostles retired into the woods to counsel together. At 6:30 p.m. President Young and Elder Ezra T. Benson met in the grove with the captains of companies to review the order of the camp that had been agreed upon by the Twelve.

One of the 144 pioneers, Ellis Eames, decided to return to Winter Quarters because of ill health. Many of the pioneers took this occasion to write farewell letters to their families and send them back with Brother Eames.

Back at Winter Quarters, Elder John Taylor spoke to the Saints and gave a history of his recent mission to Britain. He spoke about the recent mismanagement of funds for emigration, but also that future prospects for emigrants from Britain were now good.

Monday, April 19:

The morning was quite cold, but by afternoon the warm winds of spring had begun and balmy weather ensued. The pioneer company departed by 7:30 a.m. Orson Pratt, using the instruments brought to him by John Taylor, kept exact records as to latitude and longitude of the camp. William Clayton kept the distance traveled by measuring the circumference of his wagon wheel, then by tying red flannel on the spoke of his wagon wheel near the tire, by ceaselessly counting the revolutions of the wheel, and then finally by multiplying the revolutions of the wheel by the circumference. Brother Clayton believed there was an easier way of keeping track of the distance traveled and sought out the individual who he thought could help him with the problem. "I walked some this afternoon with Orson Pratt," Clayton wrote, "and suggested to him the idea of fixing a set of wooden cog wheels to the hub of a wagon wheel, in such order as to tell the exact number of miles we travel each day. He seemed to agree with me that it could be easily done at a trifling expense."

Tuesday, April 20:

A strong wind prevailed in the pioneer camp during the night and covered the wagons with sand and dust. On this day's journey the brethren passed by numerous islands in the Platte that were usually filled with cottonwoods. They also encountered hundreds of prairie dog hills from one to six feet in width and from three inches to a foot in height. These gopher hills made the traveling rough for the wagons.

For several days, William Clayton had experienced a toothache and felt like he must get the problem taken care of once and for all. The remedy was a tooth extraction, and he asked Luke S. Johnson to perform the surgery.

"He willingly agreed," Brother Clayton wrote, "and getting his instruments, I [sat] down in the chair, he lanced the gum, then took his nippers and jerked it out. The whole operation did not take more than one minute." Unfortunately, the operation was not a complete success. "He only got half the original tooth," Clayton continued, "the balance being left in the jaw. After this my head and face pained me much more than before. I [ate] but little [for] supper and lay down, but could not sleep for pain till near morning."

Wednesday, April 21:

The pioneers had their first serious encounter with Indians. At noon the company reached a large Pawnee village, and passed by approximately 100 lodges as peacefully as possible. The lodges were arranged systematically in several lines. About 75 Indians followed the pioneers to their mid-day camp ground where it became obvious that the Indians, including the chief of the Pawnee nation were desirous of gifts. The brethren collected a quantity of powder, lead, salt, flour, and a number of fish hooks and other trinkets and presented them to the chief. President Young then proposed to shake hands with the chief and part in friendship, but the chief refused. Through an interpreter he said that the presents were too few, that the "whites" were rich and had only given the Indians a little. He said that the pioneers would kill and drive away the buffaloes and insisted that the Mormons turn back and not proceed further.

Thursday, April 22:

It was a beautiful morning for the pioneer camp on the Loup Fork. The brethren determined to travel westerly along this major tributary of the Platte. It would be easier than trying to ford the river. At 5:30 p.m. the pioneers arrived at a Pawnee missionary station where Plum Creek flowed into Loup Fork. The missionary farm had been abandoned by Protestant missionaries just the previous fall. Left behind were a number of good log houses, fencing, many house and farming implements, and a quantity of hay and fodder. Before dark, Brigham Young called the camp together and said that the brethren might use the fodder and hay for their teams, but he forbade any man carrying anything else away from the missionary station.

Friday April 23:

This day proved to be one of the most difficult and exasperating of the entire pioneer journey to the West. It all had to do with fording the dangerous and treacherous Loup Fork. At 7:45 a.m. Brigham Young, Heber C. Kimball, Wilford Woodruff, and nine others left the camp on horseback to locate a suitable fording spot. While they were away, the other men engaged in repairing wagons and grading a hill down to Plum Creek so that the wagons could descend more effectively. At 1 p.m. all teams hitched up and went over four miles to an old Pawnee village that had been raided by the Sioux and then abandoned. But when the pioneers tried to ford Loup Fork, they found the whole river bed filled with quicksand. After some difficulties, the camp voted to build two light rafts and seek out another spot for fording the next day.

Saturday, April 24:

The camp awoke, enthusiastic to find a better place to ford the Loup Fork. Finally, at a spot near where the five wagons had crossed the day before, some light wagons with plenty of oxen pulling them successfully crossed the river. Soon a fairly stable road was created over the quicksand by creating "pressed sand." Thus, all the camp arranged to cross with their wagons at the same spot.

Sources: Comprehensive History of the Church 3:163-72; Ensign to the Nations, 100-08; Manuscript History of Brigham Young, 547-52; Personal Writings of Eliza Roxcy Snow, 165-66; Andrew Jenson, "The Pioneers of 1847;" Historical Record 9 (January 1890): 11-15; Howard Egan, Pioneering the West, 1846 to 1878, 21-29; George A. Smith Journal, George D. Smith, ed., An Intimate Chronicle: The Journals of William Clayton, 295-305; Wilford Woodruff's Journals 3:147-58.