William Clayton’s “war of extermination” against predators

Prior to the arrival of Mormon Pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley in 1847, a few passing trappers and Native American people who had lived in the area for centuries, the Great Basin and Salt Lake Valley had remained untouched and wild for thousands of years. Those who had lived here prior to 1847 lived with nature and understood the delicate balance that each creature creates in the eco-system. They were one with Mother Earth.

In the summer of 1847 pioneer Saints began arriving in the Salt Lake Valley. They were faced with isolation, vermin, varmints and dangerous animals, dangerous to the pioneers themselves and to herds and farms. You can only imagine the horror they felt watching millions of Mormon Crickets devour their fields of grain. I have seen two outbreaks of Mormon Crickets and it is not a pretty sight.

The pioneers, many from Great Britain and Scandinavia were, I am sure, horrified by the dangers and disasters that existed around every corner and under every bush. They had grown up in cities and villages being taught the fairy tales of the four and twenty black birds that were baked in a pie, Little Miss Muffet sitting on her tuffet, along with Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. In the Great basin the four and twenty black birds you could scrounge up for dinner. If you went out and sat on your tuffet your surprise visitors, unless you looked under your tuffet before sitting, would most likely be a rattle snake. Let’s not forget Little Red Riding Hood. The big bad wolf in the Great Basin really was a big bad wolf. He would kill and eat your sheep, cattle, chickens and anything else that looked like a meal, including you.

William Clayton recorded the events of a bounty hunt that began on December 24, 1848. 180 men were chosen and divided into two groups led by and John D. Lee. William Clayton was assigned to John D. Lee’s team. The purpose of the hunt or contest was, as recorded by Clayton,

“To carry on a war of extermination against all ravens, hawks, owls, wolves, foxes, and other pests in the valley. The contest was to last until February 1, 1849 at which time the total number of kills would be tallied and the winners and their ladies would be treated to a dinner by the losers. The results of the contest are as follows”

John Pack’s team killed 2 wolverines, 247 wolves, 151 foxes, 10 mink, 5 eagles, 377 magpies and 558 ravens. John D. Lee’s team killed: 84 wolves, 65 foxes, 4 eagles, 130 magpies and 340 ravens.

As you think about the threats that were removed from the pioneers, this simple contest undoubtedly made the Salt Lake Valley safer for all residents, their livestock and farms. Think about it, in 39 days in an effort to preserve life in the valley these 180 men took the fight to the predators and killed a total of 2 wolverines, 331 wolves, 216 foxes, 10 mink, 9 eagles, 467 magpies and 898 ravens.

It has often been said that the mountain men came west and made the area safe enough for others to follow. The pioneers did the same. They came to a valley that no one wanted; a valley that Jim Bridger said could not grow corn. Through hard work, persistence and the guiding hand of the Lord, the pioneers not only survived but also flourished in the Salt Lake Valley and surrounding areas. There are a lot of little know or forgotten pioneer stories out there. Find them, verify them and share them with others. Be safe and pioneer on.

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