22 Adventures of the Major family Crossing the Plains

                                                          William Warner Major


Jill C. Major, Author

In their own words



 The journal entries and histories from people who traveled in the 1848 Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball Companies offer a more complete picture of the Major family trek to the Great Salt Lake. Hosea Stout commanded the guard. Thomas Bullock wrote the official history of the company, but made several side comments about W. W. Major that were deleted from official record. Bullock was obviously annoyed with Major on a few occasions. Rachel Emma Woolley was 11 when she started out with Brigham Young's Company. Her mother was pregnant and ill and had to ride in a "light spring wagon" which was fixed so she could lay down when needed.1 Louisa Barnes Pratt traveled with her daughters, since her husband Addison Pratt was still serving a mission in Tahiti. Joseph F. Smith, the son of Hyrum and Mary Fielding Smith, was nine years old. Because his father was killed at Carthage, he helped his widowed mother across the plains. Mary and Joseph F. Smith were part of the 1848 Heber C. Kimball Company.

 Camped at the Elk Horn River, Nebraska: 293 miles from Nauvoo

 Thomas Bullock: Sunday, June 4. The wolves kicked up a regular rumpus during the night: as quick as they commenced howling the dogs barked, the cattle lowed, and men shouted to call their loose cattle together. The morning was beautiful, although cold and chilly. Many of the sisters washed during the day...A meeting was held close to President Brigham Young's corral. President Brigham Young, Erastus Snow, Reynolds Cahoon, Wm W. Major, Isaac Morley, Andrew Cahoon, Allen Taylor and others spoke their feelings.

The engraving shows a wagon crossing at Elk Horn River. Taken from Route from Liverpool To Great Salt Lake Valley / illustrated with steel engravings and wood cuts from sketches made by

Frederick Piercy

Leaving the Elk Horn River, Nebraska: 293 miles from Nauvoo

Hannah Blakelee Finch Merriam Morely

(Wife of Isaac Morely): June 5th, 1848 7 oclock took our departure from the Horn, quite cold uncomfortable riding about 9 oclock a sister [Lucy] Groves fell from her wagon. Singing & prayers at Bro. Majors wagon in the evening.2

Rachel Woolley

: (undated) The wagons were divided into sections. President Young headed one section. That was a dreary part of the journey. For miles and miles, one could see nothing but the unbroken plains. Not a tree or a shrub in sight, nothing but the white dusty road as far as the eye could see. At night when the camp was reached, myself and companions would always make a rush for the river to bathe. It was great enjoyment after the warm, dusty day.

While traveling, there was always someone sent ahead on horseback to search out the best place for a camp; then when it was reached, the wagons at the head of each line would stop, and the next one would drive just as close as possible to it, then the next, and so on until they were all in each row formed into a semicircle, with an opening at the beginning and end. These gates or opening were left so the animals could be driven out and in.

Louisa Pratt

: (undated) The President counselled us to rest from travelling on the Sabbath day. He said, 'Write it in your day book when you travel on Sunday, then notice your success through the week and you will find more time lost through accidents than you had gained by travelling on the day appointed for rest.' Sometimes the whole camp of six hundred wagons would be within visiting distance, then indeed it was like a city of tents and wagons. The cheerful campfires blazing at night, far away from the civilized world, reminded us that our trust must be in the Lord.

Thomas Bullock

: Monday, June 12 In the night the camp was sadly annoyed by W.W. Major’s dog, and A. Niebaur’s dog, barking and howling for more than 2 hours.

Thomas Bullock

: {June]Monday 19 Turned out cattle at 3 a.m. fine morning[.] strong dew—in about ½ an hour my spotted ox & my Bald ox were picked up, straggling—by bro Thomas, & brought to Wagons by him—so much for boys herding[William Warner] Major [Sr.] instead of going himself sending his boy,[William Warner Major, Jr] & Neibaur sending his least boy. I had to lay aside my writing in order to herd two oxen—Grass very wet with heavy dew. I got wet feet.

 Platte River, Nebraska: 305 miles from Nauvoo


015 Crossing the Platte River

Crossing the Platte River

Hosea Stout:

Thursday, June 22. Drizzling day. Went on about 18 miles and corralled on the high dry prairie some three miles from the River. Had to use the Bois de vache or Buffalo chips for fuel which were damp which made rather an unfavorable impression on our women relative to being entirely confined to them before we get to our journey's end.

Sunday, June 25. Moved to the main Platte today 6 miles which is about 244 miles from Winter Quarters. Here we overtook the advance companies. We encamped away from the river and had to dig about two and half feet for water. There was a meeting today...

Louisa Pratt

: (undated) The Platte River country was beautiful. The women, in small companies, were often seen walking on its banks by moonlight, or bathing in its waters. Our hearts, at the same time, glowed with wonder and admiration at the beauty and sublimity of the scenery, alone in a great wilderness far from the haunts of civilization, with none but an occasional red man wandering along in search of game.

 Louisa Pratt

: (undated) When we came to the buffalo country, we were full of wonder and admiration. Nothing could be more exciting than to see them in large herds, marching as orderly as a company of soldiers; nothing seemed to daunt them. If they were headed towards our traveling companies, we would make a wide passage for them to cross our path. They would march along so majestically, with their great bushy heads, turning neither to the right nor left, not seeming to notice us at all, while we would stare at them with breathless anxiety. The men would not fire upon them when they were near us, but follow them to their haunts, capture one, kill it, and haul it to camp. The meat would keep sweet without salt till perfectly dried.



Thomas Bullock

: Sunday, July 2. The cattle were unloosed at 3:30 a.m. The morning was pleasant, but the day turned out very hot. This was washing day in camp and the brethren were drying buffalo meat, fixing wagon tires, etc. A meeting of the saints were called between President Young and Heber C. Kimball's camp at 3:30 p.m. The speakers were William W. Phelps, Isaac Morley, Reynolds Cahoon, Wm W. Major, Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball.

July 3, ...when I was in the creek with my Wagon, had a very narrow escape of breaking the wagon tongue thro W.W. Major not clearing the track after he got thro!

Thomas Bullock

: Saturday [July] 8 ...on going to the Lone Tree found that some mean, sacrilegious fellow had cut down the Body of the Indian Child, cutting the ropes into fragments—scattering the robes & Skins & stealing the trinkets that were attached to it— bro. Major & Tom Johnson gathered the pieces, & again fastened it in the Tree...

Thomas Bullock

: Tuesday, July 11. The cattle were unloosed at 3:30 a.m. A very dark morning. The camp started at 7:30 a.m. and traveled over a pretty good road. Wm. W. Major's horse got loose from the wagon and started off on full gallop, scaring the teams in five or six wagons, which broke away in a furious gallop; but we have occasion to praise the Lord that no lives were lost; nor was a single wagon upset, but a short time all was safely gathered into line again. On returning with the old horse, Major's dog started Goddard's team on a gallop for the second time. Directly afterwards Major's other wagon met with an accident, as the tongue bolt came out and the cattle were unloosed. Altogether this morning may be put down as the 'first day of the races' without any serious accident.

Chimney Rock, Nebraska: 718 miles from Nauvoo

 Chimney Rock

Approaching Chimney Rock along the North Platte River in

Nebraska by William Henry Jackson


Hosea Stout: Wednesday, July 12. "Moved on. Passed Cobble hill from the top of which Chimney Rock is to be seen to the West...Here was a large company of Sioux very friendly and altogether the best looking and neatest Indians I ever saw. Proud spirited and seemed to disdain to beg and the men would seldom condescend to trade in small articles like moccasins but would have their Squaws do it. Had a meeting to night and agreed to lay up to morrow.

Saturday, July 15. Moved on and stopped opposite to Chimney Rock. [This is now a national historical site near Bayard, Nebraska. It towers about 500 feet above the North Platte River.] Had to dig some 6 or 7 feet for water being about two miles from the river. We are now entirely out of the buffalo range.

Scott’s Bluff, Nebraska: 738 miles from Nauvoo


020 Scotts Bluff

Scotts Bluff National Monument, BYU, Harold B. Lee, Special Collections

Monday, July 17, 1848. All moved on. Heber's company crossed over the Platte this morning. We encamped nearly opposite to Scotts bluffs..." [This is now a national monument located in Western Nebraska about 20 miles from the Wyoming border.]

Thomas Bullock


Thursday, July 20. ...On arriving at the river and timber, we saw President Young who reported the arrival of Orrin P. Rockwell from the valley with the mail and good news. The President would go on a mile or two further to find feed for the cattle and a crossing place. We watered our teams, rested a short time and then renewed our journey for about four miles over very heavy sand; and when we arrived at the camping place selected, the feed was very poor. On our arrival Isaac Morley, William W. Major and Thomas Bullock went up to President Young's wagon...

Friday, July 21....At dark a meeting was held in the corral; Father Morley gave some useful instructions, and was followed by Reynolds Cahoon and Wm. W. Major well pleased at hearing themselves talk as usual, but it’s a pity they don’t practice what they preach.

 Fort Laramie, Wyoming: 788 miles from Nauvoo


023 Fort Laramie

The engraving shows Fort Laramie, Wyoming. Taken from Route from Liverpool To Great Salt Lake Valley / illustrated with steel engravings and wood cuts from sketches made by Frederick Piercy


Hosea Stout: Saturday, July 22. Went on a few miles and baited our cattle and proceeded on over a hilly and barren, land crossing Laramie Fork a deep swift handsome stream, and in a short distance we came to old Fort Laramie which is now in ruins. The new Fort is two miles above on the Laramie Fork. [Fort Laramie is now a national historic site in southeastern Wyoming.]

Thomas Bullock


Wednesday, July 26. There was a shower in the forepart of the night and sharp frost toward morning, the backs of several oxen being white with frost. On gathering up the cattle Isaac Morley's oxen were all missing but one; three of Wm W. Major's oxen were also missing and also some belonging to Stephen H. Goddard, Charles Kennedy and others. After searching about an hour, it was thought best for part of the camp to move on to feed. At a quarter to seven about 14 wagons started; they passed several camps, went down by the river banks and crossed it three times. At the last crossing President Young's camp was just starting. George D. Grant rode ahead and pointed out a spot of grass for us to halt and feed at half past nine a.m. This spot proved to be the best for our small camp that we had seen during the last week. We found two of Morley's cattle, one of Major's and one of Yale's and sent them back to them. Some of those cattle had strayed nearly two miles away. About 11 a.m. Father Morley and the rest of the company arrived and turned out to feed. At 12:30 p.m. we again resumed our journey...6 p.m. My little Bill gave out, Father Morley’s two best Oxen gave out, Major’s very near it.

Sunday, August 6. brother Major’s child fell out of the Wagon – the fore wheel ran over its fore leg, but praise the Lord, its leg was not broken...So much for travelling on the Sabbath day, to which I am opposed. [This was probably Joseph Smith Major, since he was young and would have rode with his mother, however, it could have been William Warner Major, Jr., since he may have been driving the wagon.]

Wednesday, August 9. ...while out hunting my Ox saw a fine Buck, a Wolf & a Buffalo–Capn Goddard only of our entire Company staid for me–Isaac Morely, W. Major, Jacob Peart & the rest of them running away, to leave us to pursue our journey the best we could, single handed–

Sweetwater, Wyoming: 964 miles from Nauvoo

Thomas Bullock

: Thursday, August 10. A cold night and morning; the feed is pretty well eaten off by the cattle, in consequence of which our cattle scatter through the sage plains in search of food. The oxen being gathered up, we started about 8 o'clock a.m. Descended to the Willow springs, where we stopped a short time, to gather gooseberries. Wm W. Major and Thomas Bullock ascended to the top of "Prospect Hill" where Brother Major took a sketch of the country from where Pres. Young, Heber C. Kimball, Willard Richards and Thomas Bullock stood last spring. [Hosea Stout describes this hill has having 'a fine view of the Sweetwater Mountains.' It is located about 25 miles east of Independence Rock.] The camp then descended the hill towards Sweetwater...

Independence Rock, Wyoming: 965 miles from Nauvoo

Independence Rock

Independence Rock on the Mormon Trail, by William Henry Jackson

Hosea Stout: Friday, August 11. Lay up and explored Rock Independence from the summit of which we had a commanding view of a large scope of country and a beautiful view of the extensive saleratus [a sodium or potassium bicarbonate used as a leavening agent; baking soda] lakes like the new fallen snow...

Louisa Pratt


(undated) Independence Rock was another novelty. The size was immensely large and rather difficult of ascent. A thousand names were inscribed on the rock which proved we were not the first adventurers. Freemont had been there; also the pioneers to Salt Lake Valley. We left our names with the rest; as we descended, we saw in a crevice of the rock, water dripping down into a spring. With much exertion we crowded through a narrow passage, got to the spring, and drank our fill of the sweetest, coldest water I have ever tasted.

 Thomas Bullock:

Monday, August 21. Sharp frost during the night and ice as thick as a half dollar formed in the water buckets. Our camp started about 9 a.m. and we soon crossed the Sweet Water to the north side and traveled over a sage plain all day, some parts of the road being uneven, gravelly and stony. On the banks of the Sweet Water there is grass nearly all the way. We crossed two soft miry places and a small creek which was also very miry and found a man and woman by the name of Tuttle who had left Dr. Parker's wagon on the banks of the river. Our camp halted and took them in. I was busily engaged drying buffalo meat, etc. I also went with Wm.W. Major to take a sketch of a canyon west of our camp. The evening was cold.

South Pass, Wyoming: 1065 miles from Nauvoo

South Pass

South Pass, Wyoming, by William Henry Jackson

Mountain Fever. Loading and distributing teams had now commenced.

The Presidency of the First Division or of Brigham's Company to wit Isaac Morley, R. Cahoon & W.W.

Thomas Bullock: Wednesday, August 23. This was a cold chilly morning. Lorenzo Snow's camp started off, followed by our camp. We passed Aspen Grove Creek and had a good road to the Sweet Water, where we watered our teams; then ascended a very steep hill which we passed over and descended to the Willow Creek where we halted for an hour to rest our teams, but had much difficulty in gathering them again on account of the almost impassable beds of willows. On clearing out of this place and ascending the hill we had a fine view of Upper California, [Upper California was "a large ill-defined and loosely governed Mexican providence of which the later state of Utah was a part..." (Church History in the Fullness of Times, 305.)] Old Mexico, New Mexico, Indian country, Missouri territory and Oregon, which Wm W. Major had made a drawing of. We then continued our route toward the two bold bluffs in Old and New Mexico and on nearing the South Pass [Elevation 7550 ft located on the southwest corner of Wyoming] we turned off to the left and descended to the Sweet Water where we camped in a thick bed of willows, turning our cattle down stream. This was a pleasant day...

Louisa Pratt

: (Undated) On the Sweetwater we camped for two weeks or more to recruit our teams, but it proved fatal to many, there being alkali in pools about on the range. The cattle drank it and several of them died. My daughters wore out their shoes; I made them moccasins of buckskin. We had many rambles on the steep hills where we could overlook the surrounding country. The men talked of the great future when the 'Iron Horse' would be wending his way over the silent valleys and through the Rocky Mountains.

Hosea Stout


Friday, August 25. Heard from Kimball's company today. They were travelling very slowly, having to stop and send back for some wagons. He had lost many of his oxen. Our cattle also had died at the rate of ten in one day since we came to this place...

Tuesday, Aug 29. Cattle which had died became so offensive that they had to be buried today.

Joseph F. Smith

(undated) We moved on smoothly until we reached a point about midway between the Platte and Sweetwater Rivers. One of our best oxen lay down in the yoke as if poisoned, and all supposed he would die. Captain Lott now blustered about, as if the world was about at an end. ‘There,’ he said. ‘I told you you would have to be helped, and that you would be a burden on the company.’ But in this he was mistaken, for after praying for the ox and pouring oil upon him, he got up and we drove along, only detaining the company a very short time.

We had not gone far when another fell down like the first. But with the same treatment he got up as the other. I believe this was repeated the third time, to the astonishment of all who saw and the chagrin of Captain Lott.


Rachel Woolley

: We camped that night on the Sweetwater River. The companies ahead of us lost a great many animals at this place due to the minerals in the water. The stench was awful, and the wolves were as thick as sheep. It seemed as though they had gathered for miles around. There wasn't a wink of sleep that night for any of us. The wolves were so bold they would come right into camp, and some of them would put their feet on the wagon tongues and sniff in the end of the wagon. This was my birthday; I was twelve years old.

Hosea Stout


Thursday, Aug 31. President Young was taken sick today with something I suppose to be the Major were set to allotting to each who needed the teams which were to assist them.


Fort Bridger, Wyoming: 1183 Miles from Nauvoo

Fort Bridger

Fort Bridger, Wyoming by William Henry Jackson 


Hosea Stout: Tuesday, September 12. Arrived at Fort Bridger about noon. Brigham's Company was there. We traveled about 9 miles further and put up where we had plenty of good grass. Rained in the evening & night.

Louisa Pratt

: September 20, 1848.3 This morning arose with cheerful spirits, anticipating the arrival of our camp in the desired haven. We begin to think of green corn, cucumbers; how delicious they will be to the poor fasting pilgrims. We have ascended an eminence, where, with a spyglass we can see the great Salt Lake, in the valley of which the Saints are located. Our hearts leap for joy!

Hosea Stout

: Thursday, September 21. ...After breakfast we went in search of our lost cattle which we found after a long hunt through high wet weeds & watery ground; meanwhile our other cattle had got a good feed of grass.

We then brought Brother Groves to the top of the mountain which is the highest one we had to ascend on this journey. Here we had a view of the south part of the Valley & like old Moses could 'View the landscape o'er' while many hills and bad roads yet intervened. Teams had been passing all the time we had been here.

 Rachel Woolley: (undated) I don't remember anything else of note until we drew near our journey's end. We came to what is called Big Mountain, in Utah, and it is rightly named. We had to double teams to get up, that is, take all the teams in camp and put them all on two or three wagons, take them up to the top, then go back for others. Then coming down, we had to put them on the back of the wagons to hold them back. Those that came when we did know something of the difficulties of traveling...

Arrival in the Salt Lake Valley

[The Pioneers traveled through Emigration canyon. Because there were over six hundred wagons coming into the valley, their arrival into the city was stretched out over several days. Brigham Young arrived on September 20, as did Louisa Barnes Pratt. Rachel Emma Woolley's family and Joseph F. Smith's family bumped their way into the growing city on September 22. Hosea Stout drove his teams in on September 23. The Major family would have reached Salt Lake sometime during these few days.]



Louisa Pratt: September 21. "Yesterday afternoon we drove our teams into the center of the town, camped on the green near the fort. Many old friends came out to greet us and gave us a hearty shake of the hands. They had preceded us to the promised land, and glad were we to see their faces once more.

John Pulsipher

was also in the same company as the Major family and gave his description: "We arrived in Salt Lake City on the 22 Sept...The city at this time consisted of 2 blocks 40 rods square & half block 40 by 20 rods, all joining. These blocks were inclosed by joining houses in the form of a fort. These forts were built by the People that came last year, while their numbers were small they built so they could defend themselves against Indians in case of need. Besides these forts there was a small saw mill & corn cracker for a grist mill & a small house by each mill, which was the amount of the building in this country at the time of our arrival.1

Rachel Woolley

: Friday, September 22. Uncle John had been here a year and was living in the Fort, as it was called. His wife had supper ready--corn, cucumbers, and other vegetables. I have no doubt but what we did justice to that supper, being the first in a house for five months.2 We went to Brother Ensign's, who kindly offered us the hospitality of their one room until we could do better. So we pitched our tent in his yard and settled down to rest after our long journey.

Hosea Stout


Saturday, September 23. Dark heavy clouds overhung the mountains and valley this morning. We started early and was overtaken by a hard rain and wind which extended over the valley. Our road was smartly descending all the way to the city. But we could not enjoy the view of the place because of the dark rain.

We passed through the forts & encamped on the west side where there were hundreds of wagons already encamped and after driving my cattle out to grass, took a reconnaissance of the place.

The rain had now ceased & I saw that the Mountain top were covered with fresh snow which fell while it rained here. All the houses built were in the Forts of which there were 3 adjoining each other and half mile long by 40 rods about. Here the entire people lived but a few scattered about.


Louisa Pratt

: (Undated) There was a large bowery built where public services were held three times on the Sabbath day. Again we heard the voices of the Presidency and the Twelve sounding in our ears, in a land we could call our own! I had heard that my sister and family were in a company crossing the plains. I felt that in the midst of trials, the Lord had remembered mercy.

The Major family associated with some of the greatest men and woman in Utah history. In the valley of the Great Salt lake, Thomas Bullock continued to be a clerk to Brigham Young and later served a mission to England in 1856. Hosea Stout served a mission to China in 1852. Back in the Utah territory, he attended law school and in his long career he was the district attorney, U.S. deputy marshal, and Speaker of the House of Representatives. Louisa Pratt met her husband, Addison Pratt in the Salt Lake Valley where a grand reunion took place after his five years absence from his family. The time was short-lived, however, as Addison was called in 1849 to travel back to the Pacific area. Louisa Pratt was the first woman Mormon missionary. She and her daughters were called to follow Addison to the Islands in 1850, where they labored until 1852. Rachel Woolley married Joseph Marcellus Simmons when she was fifteen years old. She bore ten children and was left a widow at age thirty-five. To support her family, she became a midwife. One baby she delivered was Spencer W. Kimball, who later became the twelfth President of the Church. Joseph F. Smith became a very young missionary at the age of fifteen. He served in the Hawaiian Islands. In 1901 he was sustained as the sixth President of the Church. The Major family settled down among friends and continued their work for the Church.