16 Major helps

Joseph Fielding Smith 

                                                                                    William Warner Major


Jill C. Major, Author

Joseph Fielding Smith told a story that happened when he was nine years old in which William Warner Major played a minor roll. It took place at Winter Quarters, the fall of 1847. Young Joseph and his family were preparing to go to the Salt Lake Valley in the Spring of 1848:

Herds boy

One bright morning in company with my companions-namely, Alden Burdick, almost a young man grown and a very sober, steady boy; Thomas Burdick, about my own age, but a little older; and Isaac Blocksome, a little younger than myself, I started out with my cattle, comprising the cows, and young stock, and several yoke of oxen which were unemployed that day, to go to the herd grounds about one and a half or two miles from the town (Winter Quarters). We had two horses, both belonging to the Burdicks, and a young pet jack (ass) belonging to me. Alden proposed to take it afoot through the hazel and some small woods by a side road and gather some hazel nuts for the crowd while we took out the cattle, and we would meet at the spring on the herd ground.

Playing with friends

This arrangement just suited us, for we felt when Alden was away we were free from all restraint; his presence, he being the oldest, restrained us, for he was very sedate and operated as an extinguisher upon our exuberance of youthful feelings. I was riding Alden's bay mare, Thomas, his father's black pony, and Isaac, my jack. On the way we had some sport with "Ike" and the jack, which plagued "Ike" so badly that he left us with disgust, turning the jack loose with the bridle on. And he went home. When Thomas and I arrived at the spring we set down our dinner pails, mounted our horses, and amused ourselves by running short races and jumping the horses across ditches, Alden not having arrived as yet. While we were thus amusing ourselves, our cattle were feeding along down the little spring creek towards a rolling point about half a mile distant.


Joseph Fielding Smith and his mother, Mary Fielding Smith

Gospel  Art Collection, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


The leaders of the herd had stretched out about half-way to this point, when all of a sudden a gang of Indians, stripped to the breechclout, painted and daubed and on horseback, came charging at full speed from behind this point, towards us.

Thomas Burdick immediately started for home, crying "Indians!" "Indians!" Before he reached the top of the hill, however, for some cause he abandoned his pony, turning it loose with bridle and rope, or lariat, attached. My first impression, or impulse, was to save the cattle from being driven off, for in a most incredibly short time I thought of going to the valley; of our dependence upon our cattle, and the sorrow of being compelled to remain at Winter Quarters. I suited the action to the thought and at full speed dashed out to head the cattle and, if possible, turn them toward home. I reached the van of the herd just as the greater number of Indians did. Two Indians had passed me, in pursuit of Thomas. I wheeled my horse in almost one bound and shouted at the cattle which, mingled with the whoops of the Indians and the sudden rush of a dozen horses, frightened the cattle and started them on the keen run towards the head of the spring, in the direction of home. As I wheeled I saw the first Indian I met, whom I shall never forget. He was a tall, thin man, riding a light roan horse, very fleet; he had his hair daubed up with stiff white clay. He leaped from his horse and caught Thomas Burdick's, then he jumped on his horse again and started back in the direction he had come. While this was going on the whole gang surrounded me, trying to head me off, but they did not succeed until I reached the head of the spring, with the whole herd under full stampede ahead of me, taking the lower road to town, the road that Alden had taken in the morning. Here my horse was turned around at the head of the spring, and down the stream I went at full speed till I reached a point opposite the hill, where other Indians had concentrated and I was met at this point by this number of Indians who had crossed the stream to head me off. This turned my horse, and once more I got the lead in the direction of home. I could outrun them, but my horse was getting tired or out of wind and the Indians kept doubling on me, coming in ahead of me and checking my speed, till finally, reaching the head of the spring again, I met, or overtook, a platoon which kept their horses so close together and veering to right and left as I endeavored to dodge them, that I could not force my horse through. I was thus compelled to slacken speed and the Indians behind overtook me. One Indian rode upon the left side and one on the right side of me, and each took me by an arm and leg and lifted me from my horse; they then slackened their speed until my horse ran from under me, then they chucked me down with great violence to the ground.


Several horses from behind jumped over me, but did not hurt me. My horse was secured by the Indians, and without slacking speed they rode on in the direction from whence they had come. About this moment a number of men appeared on the hill with pitchforks in hand, whom Thomas had alarmed with the cry of "Indians!" These men were on their way to the hay field, and at this juncture, as the men appeared on the hill, an Indian who had been trying to catch the jack with corn, made a desperate lunge to catch the animal and was kicked over, spilling his corn, which in his great haste to get away before the men could catch him, he left on the ground. The jack cooly turned and ate the corn, to the amusement of the men on the hill as well as my own.

At this point I thought I better start after Thomas, and as I reached the top of the hill I saw him just going down into the town. The Indians having departed, the men returned with the pitchforks to their wagons and I continued on to the town. When I arrived a large assembly was counseling in the bowery, Thomas having told them of our trouble. My folks were glad to see me, you may be sure. (Leon R. Hartshorn, comp., Classic Stories from the Lives of Our Prophets , p.169).

Pawnee Indian Villiam on South Side of Platte River near Fremont Nebraska 1856, (George Simon, Council Bluffs Library).

At this point, in another rendition of this story, Joseph Fielding Smith, included these details:

William Warner Major

Then William W. Majors, took another company with Tommy and myself as guides and we went back over the trail. When we got where the dinner pails were left they were gone. They thought struck me, "Well, the Indians have come back and they have got our dinner." They frequently use to do that...The cattle had disappeared, everything was gone. We spent the whole day traipsing through the country looking for lost cattle and for Indians, whom we did not want to see...Finally Brother Majors gave up the pursuit and they held a council of war and concluded that we would return home and leave the fate of the cattle with the Indians. So we started for home.

Sorrow and prayer

I went home reluctantly. I brooded over the thought, "How will we ever get to the Valley next spring...the cattle gone and everything taken, nothing to go with; what will we do?" And I thought what would my poor mother say; how would she feel; how would the rest of the children feel when they learned that I had permitted in some way, all that we had in the world to depend upon, to be stolen by a band of savages. I was wrought up. We got pretty near home and I broke down; I did not see how I could face the music. It was bitter to me, so I sat down and let the company go on. I cried and I prayed and I hoped and the feelings were wrought up in my heart to a wonderful degree, and I said, "How can we get to the Valley?"

 Answers to prayers

After exhausting myt ears, I go up and went on. When I reached the brow of the hill and looked down upon the corral, to my joy and satisfaction, there was every hoof of our cattle in the corral. The Indians had not got them. Alden had come up just as we had got through the fracas with the Indians. He discovered that something was wrong, the horses were gone! We were gone, the dinner bucket stood there by the Spring. What shall he do? So he was alarmed too. He began to be frightened, so he gathered up the cattle and drove them back down the draw to the town and put them in the corral, and we missed them, and hence our anxiety during the day ("The Utah Genealogical and historical Magazine" 1, January 1910).