First Mileposts on the Emigrant Trail

“They arrived in time and were turned over to Parley’s brother, the Apostle Orson Pratt. Orson was the best educated of the Saints and one of the principal intelligences, a remarkable man who had been the faculty of the putative Nauvoo University as he was to be the faculty of the University of Deseret. He determined the latitude and longitude of the camp whenever observation was possible, and examined the terrain for all conceivable information. He soon found that his observations were more precise than those of Fremont, whose map they were using. Therefore, in collaboration with Willard Richards and William Clayton, two other trained minds, he proposed to make a new map. Eventually the data they assembled were digested by Clayton in The Latter-Day Saints Emigrant’s Guide. Published the next year, it was the most accurate study of the trail before Stansbury’s. Clayton, who had been detailed to compute distances, grew bored with counting the revolutions of a wagon wheel – 36o to the mile – and so Orson Pratt invented an odometer. Appleton , Harmon carved its gears from planking and thereafter the distances were exactly known. At intervals a kind of logbook of the pioneers, together with all relevant information and the counsel of the Twelve, was deposited in a slotted board and set up where the next company would see it. They dotted the route with such “prairie postoffices” and occasionally set up signboards giving the total distance from Winter Quarters and other landmarks. These were the first mileposts ever erected on the Oregon trail. The pioneers also sent back letters and counsel by everyone whom they met coming down the trail.”