Who’s That Pioneer?: Reconstructing a Life Using the Church History Library (Part 2 of 3)

by Jay G. Burrup, Church history specialist and archivist
6 October 2020

In the previous entry, Jay Burrup discovered the name of a pioneer, Franklin K. Shedd, and began reconstructing Shedd’s life using the Church History Library. Here Burrup discusses additional discoveries he made. Part two of a three-part series.

In my previous post, I mentioned how, en route to the Salt Lake Valley, Franklin K. Shedd wrote letters to his family in Massachusetts, where a handful of his letters were published in the local Bunker Hill Aurora newspaper. The paper’s editor prefaced the letters by stating that Franklin had left Charlestown in the spring of 1847 “and emigrated with the Mormons in their misguided wanderings to the Far West. As these letters contain much interesting information regarding the country through which he travelled, we submit them to our readers.”1 These transcribed letters have been added to the Church History Library’s Pioneer Database.

In a letter dated June 6, 1847, from Council Bluffs, Iowa, Franklin stated that he would accompany Jedediah M. Grant, “who is well provided with all the requisites for the journey, and will be as well fitted as any that goes out. I shall drive one of his teams, and live in the wagon, which is strong and water-proof. I shall carry all my things, and I will here say that I have had the good luck not to lose anything on my journey so far.”Within the Grant-Snow emigrating company, Willard Snow served as the captain of the 100 pioneers to which Franklin was assigned.

On July 25, near Fort Laramie, Franklin wrote,

“I have seen continually herds of buffalo, from 25,000 to 100,000 in each herd. Their meat is better than the Boston Market beef. . . .

“A hunting party of about five hundred Sioux Indians is encamped in sight of us to-day. They are the finest looking Indians I have seen, and have beautiful ponies. We smoked with them, and in the mean time, their daughters were riding their wild colts about at a great rate. . . .

“. . . There are [in this company] about six hundred wagons and three thousand individuals. . . .

“. . . We have in our company every thing good for a settlement,—the best of cattle and mules, two grist mills, two six-pound cannon, a boat, and a bell. The health of the camp is remarkable—no deaths, and but six cases of sickness.”3

In addition to driving one of Jedediah Grant’s teams across the plains, Franklin seems to have served occasionally as a secretary or scribe for Grant—a letter from Grant to Brigham Young appears to have been written by Franklin. The letter, sent from Kimball Springs on August 15, 1847, is included in Brigham Young’s office files at the Church History Library.

After arriving in Salt Lake Valley, Franklin wrote on October 14:

“My health is and has been as good as I could wish ever since I left home, and even remarkable while on the road from Council Bluffs to this place, considering the great change in my mode of living—such as being deprived of vegetables and fruits in their season, (with the exception of a few berries I gathered on the way) and sleeping exposed to the weather—sometimes in wagons, and at others in the open prairie or on the mountains. . . .

“Since my last I have gone through places and over such mountains as would make the heart of a Bostonian quake were he to come upon them unawares and unexperienced.”4

A few months later, in January 1848, Franklin wrote:

“Some of the Indians that live here are of the tribe called diggers, by Col. Fremont: the root they principally eat is the thistle, . . . which is in shape like a parsnip, and tastes like a turnip. They fare sumptuously on the entrails of the beeves which we kill. . . .

“. . . I own one good cow . . . and shall shortly have one more—or a yoke of oxen. Last week I went into the mountains and cut a set of house logs of fir balsam, they are straight as an arrow. I shall erect my house as soon as the spring work is over, and when I get my city lot and land laid off I shall build an “Adobie” on it; for they will be the best buildings in the country, except stone or marble.”5

In the upcoming part three of the series, see what our archivist discovered about Franklin K. Shedd and his (spoiler alert) untimely end.

Top Image: Salt Lake City in 1850, as drawn by Samuel Manning (image taken from Manning’s American Pictures Drawn with Pen and Pencil, 1876)