| Hastings Cutoff | Great Salt Lake Desert | The First Explorers | The Hastings Trail in 1846 | 1847 | 1848 | 1849 | 1850 |




We begin our emigrant journeys aross the west desert with quotes from EDWIN BRYANT of the Bryant Russell Party and one of the first parties to be enticed by Hastings to take his route. The journal begins at the future sight of Salt Lake City on July 31, 1846. Their party came down Weber Canyon and then south where U.S. 89 meets the Hill Field Road and along the toe of the Wasatch Mountains to the future site of Salt lake City- probably at City Creek:

"Morning clear, with a delightful temperature, and a light breeze blowing from the west. . . . Decending from the upland slope on which we encamped yesterday, [City Creek] we crossed a marsh about two miles in width, covered with grass so dense and matted that our animals could scarcely make their way through it. . . . We reached the Utah Outlet after travelling four miles, and forded it without difficulty. The channel is about twenty yards in breadth, and the water in the deepest places about three feet. The bed of the channel is composed of compact bluish clay. The plain or valley, from the western bank of the "Outlet" to the base of the range of hills to the west [Oquirrh Mountains], is level and smooth, and in places white with a saline deposite or efflorescence. There is but little vegetation upon it, and this is chiefly the wild sage, indicative of aridity, and poverty of soil. From this plain we struck the shore of another bay of the Salt Lake, bordered by a range of mountains running parallel with it. The shore, next to the white crust of salt, is covered with a debris precipitated from the rocky summits of the mountains."

"Our route for several hours described nearly a semicircle, when there was a break in the range of mountains, and we entered upon another plain [Tooele Valley]. About three o'clock, P.M., we passed several remarkable rocks rising in tower-like shapes from the plain, to the height of sixty or eighty feet [Adobe Rock]. Beyond these we crossed two small streams bitter with saline and alkaline impregnation [Mill Streams]. The plain presents a sterile appearance, but little vegetation appearing upon it, and that stunted and withered. At seven o'clock, P.M., we reached a spring branch descending from a mountain ravine, and fringed with small willows, the water of which is comparatively fresh and cool [Willow creek-Grantsville]. Here we encamped after a march without halting, of twelve hours. There is a variety of vegetation along the stream-grass, weeds, some few flowers, briers, and rose-bushes."

JAMES MATHERS, with the first wagons, relates his experiences through the Salt Lake Valley after traveling south along the mountains and on the west side of Kays creek from the mouth of Weber Canyon:

[August] "7th Traveled South crossing two or three brooks and the outlet of Yuta Lake [Jordan River probably at the North Temple crossing] and passing over a dry plain, and then [?] a salt marsh encamped by a mountain & had brackish water [Garfield] 23."

"8th Passed round the point of the mountain on the shore of the lake and steering west over the plain encamped abot 9 P.M. on the western side of the same Distance 20 m. [To Twenty Wells] We experienced great incon- venience in the former part of the day for the want of fresh water 20 ??? There are a great many beautiful Springs but the water is, in many of them, strongly impregnated with salt. After leaving the mountain we found two very large spring coming out in a deep ravine [Mill Springs] but a few feet apart one was salt & the other fresh and very good but has a little alkaline taste."

They remained at Twenty Wells for one day before proceeding on."

HEINRICH LIENHARD'S company had camped on the Jordan River about 5 miles north of North Temple after also coming out of Weber Canyon and on the next day he writes:

"On August 8 we left the Wasatch Mountains to our left or to our rear and set out in a southwesterly direction toward another reddish brown mountain [the Oquirrh Mountains], which in the exceedingly bright and clear morning air appeared to be hardly 6 miles away, though before this day was over we could testify that it was fully twice that distance. Ten miles on across a plain brought us to a swampy section, where bulrushes and a little rank marsh grass grew, through which the road yet took us. The water was salty and unpalatable, so that the stock refused it. Two miles farther on, we arrived at the foot of the mountain, where a large, crystalline spring, somewhat warm and a little brackish, welled out of the ground. We halted here a short time, so that our stock might gain a little rest. Where the spring broke out of the ground, it formed a beautiful basin, in which, not even taking off our clothes, several of us bathed. In the vicinity of this spring stood an immense, isolated, rounded rock under which was a cave [Dead Mans Cave], and those going into it found a human skeleton. During the forenoon's travel we had again caught up with the advance division of our company [Jeffersons group], and the reunited train continued their journey together. We passed along the occasionally marshy shore at the south end of the Salt Lake and camped finally at a large spring at the foot of the mountains [Lake Point], the water of which was slightly brackish. An expanse of swampy meadowland here separated us from the lake. We must have made about 6 miles this afternoon."

"On August 9 we continued our journey westward, to round the south end of the lake. Ripstein, an American named Bunzel, and I walked some distance ahead of our wagons and came to a place where the road passed close to the lake. The morning was so delightfully warm and the quick clear water, without any animal life, so inviting that we soon resolved to take a salt water bath. The beach glistened with the whitish-gray sand which covered it, and on the shore we could see the still-fresh tracks of a bear, notwithstanding which we soon had undressed and were going down into the salty water. We had, however, to go out not less than a half mile before the water reached our hips. Even here it was still so transparent that we could see the bottom as if there were no water whatever above it, yet so heavy that we could hardly tread upon the bottom with our feet; it was here no trick at all to stand even on tiptoe. I confidently believe that one who understood only a little of swimming could swim the entire length of the 70-mile-long lake without the slightest danger of drowning. I was a poor swimmer, Ripstein none at all, and he could lay himself on his back, so that fully half of his body emerged above the clear salt brine. Had I not known that in ordinary water I sank lightly beneath the surface, I would have supposed that I had become an absolutely first- rate swimmer, for I could assume every conceivable position, without the least danger. I could in a sitting position swim on my side, swim on my back, and I believe one could make a competent somersault without special effort, for by giving only a slight push with the foot against the bottom, one could leap high up. Since my hair was thick, hanging down to my shoulders, when I lay on my back, I had to hold high a great part of my body before my head came under water. For learning to swim, no water in the whole world is so well adapted as the Salt Lake; here, at the mouth of an in-flowing fresh water stream where one could choose gradually lighter water, one could safely learn how to be a perfect swimmer. I swam nearly the whole distance back, yes, one could easily swim in water which was hardly more than 11/2 feet deep. Only a single feature had the swimming in this lake that was not conducive to pleasure; this consisted in the fact that when one got a little water in one's eye, it occasioned a severe burning pain; and after we reached the shore and dressed ourselves without first washing in salted water, being desirous of hastening on, we soon experienced an almost unbearable smarting or itching over the whole body where the salt water had filled up all the crevices of the skin with an all-enveloping deposit of salt."

"Nearly the whole day the road led past the foot of the mountains close to the shore of the lake in a westerly direction; thereby we passed other large springs of water, of which most, however, were salty. At one of these springs, which was a little fresher, and where also we found grass for our cattle, we made our camp; the lake lay back from the road, separated from it by an expanse of marshland."

HEINRICH LIENHARD describes his journey to Twenty Wells [WFB]:

[August 10th 1846] "We had reached a broad valley or cove, where there were many deep but happily salt-free springs; we found, as well, much good grass, and a grove of trees was not lacking. Three [?] other companies were here in camp beside us, and since it was known that we would soon have hard work for our cattle, it was necessary to allow a thorough rest, that the cattle might be in very good condition. Hastings had ridden back to a company remaining behind, in case it should be necessary to point out the way; a few wanted to wait for his return before again taking up their journey. The rather high mountains surrounding the broad cove were but sparsely wooded; only a little brook [North Willow Creek] rising from several small springs carried some water toward the valley, which after reaching the valley soon exhausted itself in the sandy, even pebbly soil a half mile above our location, afterwards reappearing as deep springs here where the companies had been encamped."

"On August 11 we remained in camp resting. Two of the companies which had been encamped near us left this place to pursue their onward journey; in one of the other companies which was still encamped nearby, a man died who had been ill only a short time."

"On the 12th of August also we remained at the same place, having to wash and mend our shoes and clothing. Mr. Hastings had returned; he was of the opinion that we should give our cattle more opportunity to recruit. The man who died yesterday in the company encamped nearby was buried today, whereupon they likewise left us to continue on their journey."

"Again on the 13th we remained at the same camping place. Our stock, which at the time of our arrival had been badly worn down, had begun to recover their strength very satisfactorily; today it appeared as though they would commence a dance among themselves; they made all sorts of antic leaps, more in keeping with the demeanor of young goats than of old and large oxen. For our part, we had nothing against their being so light-hearted; on the contrary, we rejoiced in their revelry. The weather the last few days had been not unpleasant, although the sky was often cloudy."


JAMES FRAZIER REED with the last wagon party of 1846 [Donner /Reed], wrote in his diary on August 23, about camping on the east bank of the Jordan River at 27th south after coming out of Emigration Canyon and then crossing the river the next day:

"Son 23 left Camp late this day on acct. of having to find a good road or pass through the Swamps of the utah outlet finally Succeeded in and encampd on the East Bank of Utah outlett making 5"

"Mo 24 left our Camp and Crossed the plain to a spring at a point of the Lake mountain and 1 1/2 miles from the road traveled by the people who passed the Cannon 12 ??? [In margin: Brackish water] [In margin still later: it took 18 days to gett 30 miles]"

JAMES FRAZIER REED'S narrative of 1871 describS the crossing of Tooele Valley in 1846 [WFB]:

"Tues 25 left Camp early this morning intending if possible to make the Lower Wells being fair water 20 which we made [Two words written in margin] fair water and in the evening a Gentleman by the name of Luke Halloran, died of Consumption having been brough[t] from Bridgers Fort by George Donner a distance 151 miles we made him a Coffin and Burried him at the up[p]er wells at the forks of the road in a beautiful place."

"Wed 26 left Camp late and proceed to the upper wells One of them delightful water being entirely fresh the rest in No. about 10 all Brackish this day Buried Mr Luke Halloran hauling him in his Coffin this distan[ce] 2 which we only mad[e] and Buried heem as above Stated at the forks of the [road] One Turning directly South to Camp the other West or onward."



EDWIN BRYANT wrote of their short cut over the Stansbury Mountains to Skull Valley and Colonel Russell forgetting his 9 shot rifle [WFB]:

"August 1.-Morning clear, with a delightfully soft breeze from the south. I purchased, this morning, of one of the Utahs, a dressed grisly bear-skin, for which I gave him twenty charges of powder and twenty bullets. Several other small trades were made with them by our party. Having determined to cross a range of mountains, instead of following to avoid it, the shore of another cove or bay of the Salt Lake,-by doing which we should lose in distance twenty-five or thirty miles,-we laid our course nearly west, towards the lowest gap we could discover in the range [North Willow Canyon]." ???

"After we had proceeded two or three miles up the sloping plain, towards the base of the mountains, Colonel Russell recollected that he had left his rifle at the camp-a "nine-shooter." Accompanied by Miller, he returned back to recover it. "After we had proceeded two or three miles up the sloping plain, towards the base of the mountains, Colonel Russell recollected that he had left his rifle at the camp-a "nine-shooter." Accompanied by Miller, he returned back to recover it. I was very well satisfied that the Indians would have discovered it, and considering it a valuable prize, would not wait for the return of the loser. According to their code of morals, it is not dishonest to take what is left in camp, and they never fail to do it. I halted for an hour, and long after our party had disappeared in a gorge of the mountains, for the return of Colonel Russell and Miller. I could see, from my elevated position, the dust raised by the horses of the retreating Indians on the plain, at a distance of six or eight miles from the camp. Becoming impatient, I commenced a countermarch, and while moving on, I saw, at a distance of a mile and a half, a solitary horseman, urging his animal with great speed towards me. There being but one instead of two, I felt considerable anxiety, not knowing but some disaster might have occurred. I moved faster towards the horseman, and at the distance of a quarter of a mile, discovered that it was Colonel Russell. Riding towards him, I inquired what had become of Miller? He did not know. He had lost him in hunting through the willows and ravines. My anxiety was much increased at this report, and I started to return to the camp, when Miller, proceeding at a slow gait, appeared on one of the distant elevations. The result of the search for the "nine-shooting" rifle was fruitless. The Indians had carried it away with them. The only consolation I could offer to Colonel Russell for his loss was, that a more useless burden was never carried on the shoulders of man or mule. It was a weight upon the beast, and an incumbrance to the rider, and of no practical utility on this journey. This consolation, however, was not very soothing."

"(I will state here, that this rifle was recovered by Mr. Hudspeth, brought into California, and returned to Colonel Russell. The Indian who took it from our camp, after he had returned to the village of his tribe, was much elated by his prize. But in discharging it, the ball, instead of making its passage through the barrel, took another direction, and wounded him in the leg. An instrument so mysterious and eccentric it was considered dangerous to retain, and the chief ordered its restoration to the emigrant parties following us. It was recognized by Mr. Hudspeth, and returned to its owner, as above stated.)"

"Following the trail of our party, we entered the narrow mountain gorge, or valley, where I saw them disappear. Proceeding up this valley, we passed several temporary wigwams, erected by the Indians along the side of the small stream which flows through it from the summit of the mountain. These wigwams were all deserted; but fires were burning in front of them, dogs were barking, and willow-baskets, some of which contained serviceberries, were standing about. A few poplar and pine trees, service-bushes, willows, and a variety of small shrubbery, with an occasional sunflower, ornament this narrow and romantic gorge. As we ascended, the sides of the mountain presented ledges of variegated marble, and a debris of the same was strewn in our path. We overtook our party when they were about halfway up the steep ascent to the crest of the range. Mules and men were strung out a mile, toiling and climbing up the almost insurmountable acclivity."

"The inhabitants of the wigwams, who had fled and concealed themselves until we had passed, now commenced whooping far below us, and we could see several of them following our trail. After much difficulty in urging our animals forward, and great fatigue to ourselves and them, we reached the summit of the ridge. Here we halted to take breath. Several of the Indians, whose whoops we had heard, came up to us. They were naked, and the most emaciated and wretched human objects I had ever seen. We shook hands, however, and greeted them kindly. The descent on the western side of the mountain, although steep, is not difficult, there being but few obstructions. Four miles from the summit brought us to a gentle slope, and to a faint stream which flows from the hills and sinks in the sands just below [Kanaka Creek].???? Here we encamped for the day. Near us, on the slope, there is a grove of small cedars, the deep verdure of which is some relief to the brown and dead aspect of vegetable nature surrounding us. Distance 15 miles."

HEINRICH LIENHARD continues his travels west [WFB]:

"On the 14th of August we at last went on again. At no other place, with the exception of the Platte, where we had to remain a few days for the purpose of obtaining buffalo meat, had we remained so long; we stayed here this length of time chiefly because our enfeebled cattle must soon undergo a long journey without grass and water, and their strength had to be renewed. Our road led along the base of the mountains in a northerly direction a distance of ten or 12 miles, then we bent again to the left around the point of the mountain, thus leaving the Salt Lake to our right and gradually receding from it. Along the way we came to more springs, passing them by because for the most part the water was quite salty."

"Late in the afternoon, in another cove of these mountains, we came finally to another spring, the water of which, though some what salty, we could drink, and which provided also sufficient grass for our cattle. John Barber brought us a scorpion about 2 l/2/' inches long, without, however, knowing that he had such a thing. The insect was dead; had it been alive, he would probably soon enough have learned his mistake. John had supposed it to be a new species of crayfish, for he had taken it out of a spring. I told him, however, that had it been a live scorpion he would very soon have let it go. Thus the catching of new crayfish appeared henceforth to have been spoiled for him."

"Early on the 15th of August we arrived at the last fresh water springs, of which there were several, and fortunately we found also a great abundance of grass. Here again we overtook the last immigrant company in advance of us, including the Harlans and Weimer, with whom we had begun the journey from Indian Creek."

"On the next day, August 16, this company again started on. The first wagon was already in motion when from the hindmost wagon a bundle of clothes was thrown out, belonging to the well-known, fat, fair-haired Miss Lucinda. The owner of this bundle one would as little or even less want to keep in one's wagon as the bundle itself. The bundle had flown from one of Mr. Harlan's wagons, into which Miss Lucinda twice already had been admitted; they had again become disgusted, and had probably thrown out the bundle of clothing as the best means of getting rid of the ever eager-for- marriage Lucinda. Had we not long been well-acquainted with the character of this worthy individual, we would have regarded this action of the Harlans as exceedingly heartless; as it was, some of us now considered that although Mr. Hoppe had twice already put her out, she would never have left the settlement except that he took her along, and thus he was the one to take again into his wagon the bundle and the speciously tearful Lucinda. There was a good deal of talking back and forth, as everyone sought to impose the burden on someone else, until at last we came generally to the opinion that as we could not abandon this piece of human flesh in the wilderness, Mr. Hoppe's family must take her in again, which view Hoppe unwillingly accepted."

"We remained on the 16th of August here where the stock found the abundant fresh grass as good as the excellent water. We ourselves spent the time in preparing as well as possible for entering on the morrow upon a long stretch of from 70 to 90 miles without grass and water. With our pocket knives we cut as much grass as we could, binding it in bundles to carry with us. Every receptacle that would hold water was placed in readiness for our departure by being filled with this indispensable fluid, and we would have been happy had we possessed four times as much to take along."

JAMES F. REED continues with his diary [WFB]:

"Thur 27 left early this day and went west for half the day at the foot of the Lake [Stansbury] Mountains the latter l/2 the day our Course S. W. ??? to a No. of Brackish Wells making 16 miserable water"

"Frid 28 left Camp and glad to do, so, in hopes of finding fresh water on our way but without Success untill evening when it was time to Camp Came to a No of delightful fresh water wells this Camp is at the Most Suthern point of the Salt Lake 20 miles North west we Commence the long drive We are taking in water, Grass, and wood for the various requirements. 12"

The following quotes of J. QUINN THORNTON are from the footnotes in West From Fort Bridger [WFB]: At Iosepa, [Josepa ] Thornton says, the company "found a letter from Lansford W. Hastings, informing them that it would occupy two days and nights of hard driving to reach the next water and grass." Eliza P. Donner Houghton, who was only four years old at the time, but who perhaps draws upon the recollections of the older children, writes in The Expedition of the Donner Party and Its Tragic Fate (Chicago, 1911):

"Close by the largest well stood a rueful spectacle,-a bewildering guide board, flecked with bits of white paper, showing that the notice or message which had recently been pasted and tacked thereon had since been stripped off in irregular bits. In surprise and consternation, the emigrants gazed at its blank face, then toward the dreary waste beyond. Presently my mother [Tamsen Donner] knelt before it and began searching for fragments of paper, which she believed crows had wantonly pecked off and dropped to the ground." "Spurred by her zeal, others also were soon on their knees, scratching among the grasses and sifting the loose soil through their fingers."

"What they found, they brought to her and after the search ended she took the guide board, laid it across her lap, and thoughtfully began fitting the ragged edges of paper together and matching the scraps to marks on the board. The tedious process was watched with spellbound interest by the anxious group around her. The writing was that of Hastings, and her patchwork brought out the following words: "2 days-2 nights-hard driving-cross-desert-reach water."

JAMES F. REED continues his narrative [WFB]:

"Sat 29 in Camp wooding watering and laying in a Supply of grass for our oxen and horses, to pass the long drive which Commence about [ ] miles we have one encampment between but neither grass wood or water of sufficient quallety or quantity to be procured water [One word written in margin:] sulphur Brackish, grass short and no wood-"


In 1846 EDWIN BRYANT continuing his journey probably from one of the mountain springs like Dell Springs across Skull Valley [WFB]:

"August 2.-Morning clear, with a soft breeze from the south. Descending into the plain or valley [Skull Valley] before us, we took a northwest course across it, striking Capt. Fremont trail of last year after we had commenced the ascent of the slope on the western side. The breadth of this valley at this point from the base of one range of mountains to the other, is about twenty miles. Large portions of it are covered with a saline efflorescence of a snowy whiteness. The only vegetation is the wild sage; and this is parched and shrivelled by the extreme drought. Not a solitary flower or green plant has exhibited itself. In our march we crossed and passed several deep ravines and chasms [washes], plowed by the waters from the mountains during the melting of the snows, or hollowed out by the action of the winds. Not a living object, animal, reptile, or insect, has been seen during our day's march."

"We encamped at two o'clock, P.M. There are a few dwarf cedars in our vicinity, and scattered bunches of dead grass. In a ravine near us the sand is moist; and by making an excavation, we obtained a scant supply of water, impregnated with salt and sulphur [Redlum Spring]. A dense smoky vapor fills the valley and conceals the summits of the distant mountains. The sun shining through this, dispenses a lurid light, coloring the brown and barren desert with a more dismal and gloomy hue. As soon as our afternoon meal had been prepared and discussed, we commenced preparations for the march over the Salt Desert to-morrow, which employment occupied us until a late hour of the night. Distance 20 miles."

HEINRICH LIENHARD finally leaves Hope Wells and crosses Skull Valley to Redlum Spring [WFB]:

"The 17th of August dawned with our stock lying here and there in the grass, contentedly chewing their cuds. The carefree time now past, each of us was occupied loading into the wagons the prepared grass and the small, water-filled receptacles, and that with all possible care, so that under no circumstances should any be lost. The oxen we led once more to water, for now they could drink all they might desire, but this would not be the case hereafter. It was 9 o'clock by the time we set off. Before us lay a broad salt plain or valley [Skull Valley], where grew only a very little thorny, stunted vegetation; indeed, the ground was often a salt crust. Our direction was northwesterly, in a straight line to the mountain opposite [Cedar Mountains]. After a time the road began to ascend a hill, and about half-past 1 o'clock we reached a spring rather high on the mountainside. We halted here solely that our stock might drink; however, the water, although attractive to look at, was quite salty and the stock were not yet thirsty enough to drink it. Similarly, the small supply of coarse grass in no wise served, for they were not hungry enough to eat it."

JAMES REED tells about moving to Redlum Spring [WFB]:

"Son 30 made this day-12 to a Sulpher Spring [Redlum Spring] in the mountain which ought to be avoidid water not good for Cattle, emigrants Should keep on the edge of the lake and avoid the mountain entirely here Commenced the long drive through the Salt dessert."

Reed seems to be recommending that instead of watering at Redlum Spring and crossing the Cedar Mountains by Hastings Pass, immigrants should keep going west close to the shore of the lake from Timpie Point to Low Pass instead of going south to Hope Wells and avoid Redlum spring and crossing the Cedar Mountain where I-80 is today. Such a course would have added measurably to the length of the Dry drive, the immigrants much preferred the steep pull up over Hastings Pass.

A note in West From Fort Bridger says [WFB]:

"Redlum Spring produces little water late in the summer, and that may be the explanation of Bryant's remark about the scant supply. It is also to be remarked, however, on the basis of the experience of those who traveled the Hastings Cutoff in 1850, that water could be had in many places here by digging for it. This may explain some of the variant information about the character and location of the sulfur-tainted water to which, in reading through the journals of the overland immigrants, we have given the generic name of Redlum Spring."


EDWIN BRYANT continues over the Cedar Mountains through the canyon above Redlum Spring and on to the Grayback Hills [WFB]:

"August 3.-I rose from my bivouac this morning at half-past one o'clock. The moon appearing like a ball of fire, and shining with a dim and baleful light, seemed struggling downwards through the thick bank of smoky vapor that overhung and curtained the high ridge of mountains [Cedar Mountains] to the west of us. This ridge, stretching far to the north and the south as the eye can reach, forms the western wall (if I may so call it) of the desert valley we had crossed yesterday, and is composed of rugged barren peaks of dark basaltic rock, sometimes exhibiting misshapen outlines; at others, towering upwards, and displaying a variety of architectural forms, representing domes, spires, and turreted fortifications.

Our encampment was on the slope of the mountain; and the valley lay spread out at our feet, illuminated sufficiently by the red glare of the moon, and the more pallid effulgence of the stars, to display imperfectly its broken and frightful barrenness, and its solemn desolation. No life, except in the little oasis occupied by our camp, and dampened by the sluggish spring, by excavating which with our hands we had obtained impure water sufficient to quench our own and our animals' thirst, existed as far as the eye could penetrate over mountain and plain. There was no voice of animal, no hum of insect, disturbing the tomb-like solemnity. All was silence and death. The atmosphere, chill and frosty, seemed to sympathize with this sepulchral stillness. No wailing or whispering sounds sighed through the chasms of the mountains, or over the gulfy and waterless ravines of the valley. No rustling zephyr swept over the scant dead grass, or disturbed the crumbling leaves of the gnarled and stunted cedars, which seemed to draw a precarious existence from the small patch of damp earth surrounding us. Like the other elements sustaining animal and vegetable life, the winds seemed stagnant and paralyzed by the universal dearth around. I contemplated this scene of dismal and oppressive solitude until the moon sunk behind the mountain, and object after object became shrouded in its shadow. "

"Rousing Mr. Jacob, who slept soundly, and after him the other members of our small party, (nine in number,) we commenced our preparations for the long and much-dreaded march over the great Salt Desert. Mr. Hudspeth, the gentleman who had kindly conducted us thus far from Fort Bridger as our pilot, was to leave us at this point, for the purpose of exploring a route for the emigrant wagons farther south. He was accompanied by three gentlemen, Messrs. Ferguson, Kirkwood, and Minter. Consequently, from this time forward we are without a guide, or any reliable index to our destination, except our course westward, until we strike Mary's river and the emigrant trail to California, which runs parallel with it, some two hundred miles distant. The march across the Salt Plain, without water or grass, was variously estimated by those with whom I conversed at Fort Bridger, at from sixty to eighty miles. Captain Walker, an old and experienced mountaineer, who had crossed it at this point as the guide of Captain Fremont and his party, estimated the distance at seventy-five miles, and we found the estimate to be nearly correct."

"We gathered the dead limbs of the cedars which had been cut down by Captain Fremont's party when encamped here last autumn, and ignited them, they gave us a good light during the preparation and discussion of our frugal breakfast, which consisted to-day of bread and coffee, bacon being interdicted in consequence of its incitement to thirst-a sensation which at this time we desired to avoid, as we felt uncertain how long it might be before we should be able to gratify the unpleasant cravings it produces."

"Each individual of the party busied himself around the blazing fires in making his various little but important arrangements, until the first gray of the dawn manifested itself above the vapory bank overhanging the eastern ridge of mountains, when the word to saddle up being given, the mules were brought to the campfires, and every arm and muscle of the party was actively employed in the business of saddling and packing "with care"-with unusual care, as a short detention during the day's march to readjust the packs might result in an encampment upon the desert for the coming night, and all its consequent dangers, the death or loss by straying in search of water and grass of our mules, (next to death to us,) not taking into the account our own suffering from thirst, which for the next eighteen or twenty hours we had made up our minds to endure with philosophical fortitude and resignation. A small powder-keg, holding about three or four pints of coffee, which had been emptied of its original contents for the purpose, and filled with that beverage made from the brackish spring near our camp, was the only vessel we possessed in which we could transport water, and its contents composed our entire liquid refreshment for the march. Instructions were given to Miller, who had charge of this important and precious burden, to husband it with miserly care, and to make an equitable division whenever it should be called into use."

"Everything being ready, Mr. Hudspeth, who accompanied us to the summit of the mountain, led the way. We passed upwards through the canada or mountain-gorge, at the mouth of which we had encamped, and by a comparatively easy and smooth ascent reached the summit of the mountain after travelling about six miles. Most of us were shivering with cold, until the sun shone broadly upon us after emerging, by a steep acclivity, from the gorge through which we had passed to the top of the ridge [summit of Cedar Mountains]. Here we should have had a view of the mountain [Pilot Peak] at the foot of which our day's journey was to terminate, but for the dense smoke which hung over and filled the plain, shutting from the vision all distant objects."

"Bidding farewell to Mr. Hudspeth and the gentleman with him, (Mr. Ferguson,) we commenced the descent of the mountain. We had scarcely parted from Mr. H. when, standing on one of the peaks, he stretched out his long arms, and with a voice and gesture as loud and impressive as he could make them, he called to us and exclaimed-"Now, boys, put spurs to your mules and ride like h !" The hint was timely given and well meant, but scarcely necessary, as we all had a pretty just appreciation of the trials and hardships before us.

"The descent from the mountain on the western side was more difficult than the ascent; but two or three miles, by a winding and precipitous path through some straggling, stunted, and tempest bowed cedars, brought us to the foot and into the valley, where, after some search, we found a blind trail which we supposed to be that of Captain Fremont, made last year. Our course for the day was nearly due west; and following this trail where it was visible, and did not deviate from our course, and putting our mules into a brisk gait, we crossed a valley some eight or ten miles in width sparsely covered with wild sage (artemisia) and grease-wood. These shrubs display themselves and maintain a dying existence, a brownish verdure, on the most and sterile plains and mountains of the desert, where no other vegetation shows itself."

HEINRICH LIENHARD tells about crossing Cedar Mountains and on to the Grayback hills [WFB]:

"According to report, the immigrants who had gone in advance of us had dug a well near the road on the west side of these hills, 15 or 20 miles from here. We decided among ourselves that four of us should go ahead until we came to the supposed well, and there await the arrival of our wagons. Big Bunzel, Zins, Thomen, and I were to search for the well, even though night should fall before we reached it. The wagons were to continue on the way as long as possible, but if they met with some especial difficulty, they should wait for the next day. After a rest of 1l/2 hours, we again set off on our journey, going ahead as above-mentioned, but without taking any firearms with us, each having only his walking stick. We traveled at first for several miles at the foot of a high range of hills [Cedar Mountains], proceeding along the lower slope in a northerly direction, and came finally to the place where the road climbed upward over very steep hills [Hastings Pass]. We were sure that our wagons would camp here tonight, for in order to surmount the acclivity the teams would have to be at least doubled, if not trebled."

"By the time we had attained this high summit and bent our steps toward the wide, desolate valley below, the great, dark-red disk of the sun already had reached the northwestern edge of a boundless flat plain lying before us, an oppressive solitude as silent as the grave. The soil was composed of sand and gravel, from which nothing but small, thorny shrubs, greasewood, perhaps 1l/2 feet high, eked out a miserable existence. Neither wolf nor antelope nor any other animal was to be seen or heard; however, lying scattered over the ground were the bones and gigantic horns of fallen mountain sheep and a few elk. The longer we continued on over the dusty, sandy road down toward the desolate plain, the darker it became. No sound was perceptible except our own muffled footfalls in the loose sand, which had been made unstable by the wagons and the hoofs of the livestock in advance of us. One behind the other, like so many recruits learning to march, we strode along without speaking. It was perhaps 10 o'clock when at last Bunzel suggested that we lie down by the side of the road, since under these conditions we could not expect to find the well. We scarcely replied to him but continued on as before. Bunzel was a big, strong man, but we all regarded him as lazy. He would not willingly stay behind by himself, so he followed along. After we had marched on perhaps another half hour, Bunzel broke the stillness of the night by saying that we must stop, for we had found no water and he was tired and sleepy, but we paid no more attention to him than before, so that at length he actually remained behind. The other three of us pursued our onward way until about midnight, when we too began to feel fatigued; to this time we had scarcely distinguished our sleepiness from the everlasting monotony of the darkness. We laid down on the gravel-strewn earth a few paces to the left of the road, but the night was quite chilly, and although previously we had run almost a sweat, we felt the cool night air not a little. Thomen had matches with him, and we attempted to gather a quantity of the half-dry bushes, greasewood, in the process injuring our hands to no small degree. We had no particular difficulty in kindling a fire, but it was of such a character that it soon went out, these plants not being woody enough to make a lasting fire. We dug holes in the sand and in these sought to shelter ourselves somewhat against the cold night air, in which, however, we scarcely succeeded. We made a fire again, and again laid down, until the gray light of day [August 18] appeared, when Bunzel once more caught up with us."

"We had with us nothing either to eat or to drink, but the need to eat did not torment us especially. As the sun rose toward the zenith, however, its effects became ever more difficult to endure; there was then nothing which provided any shade at all, and if we threw ourselves on the ground, we felt the heat all the more, so that we longed for the return of the night."

"Some 2 miles ahead of us we could see a rocky hill [Grayback Mountain] which rose about 70 feet above the plain, and over which the road led. Thomen, Zins, and Bunzel decided to go on that much further and there await the arrival of our wagons, while I preferred to wait where I was, that I might the sooner obtain water when the wagons should come. Ever more insupportable grew my thirst and I scarcely turned my gaze from the place where I anticipated that the wagons must appear from the distant hill over which we had come last night. At length I saw a little dust arising, but it soon proved to be only a solitary horseman coming from that direction; on his reaching me, I found him to be a little old fellow from Baden, Muller, who was traveling with Hoppe. He had come ahead on horseback with two small kegs and was to go on till he should reach fresh water, when he was to fill them and turn back again, Muller informed me that the company had remained overnight at the foot of the steep hill and had gotten over it early this morning only with considerable difficulty. He thought they must soon be seen coming down out of the hills, and rightly; there where I had seen the first dust cloud arising, another now ascended on high, and like a snake the wagons wound down into the plain. To me they seemed long in coming; however come they did, and I had quenched my thirst by the time we reached the rocky hill before us. At this hill we made a mid-day halt and rested for an hour. We gave each head of stock about a gallon of water, together with a little of the grass we had brought with us, of which, indeed, they ate, but more gladly would they have had additional water. \It was probably fully 3 o'clock when we resumed our journey and proceeded down from the hill again into the plain, soon coming to a small Sahara desert. The wind blew strongly from the northeast and drove the whitish-yellow sand before it as our wagons wound their way among numerous sand hills from 10 to 12 feet high; the air was darkened so that we could scarcely perceive the sun; one might have supposed that already twilight had come, although it was yet too early; this flying sand perhaps most resembled a very heavy snowstorm. Fortunately, this Sahara was not so great in extent as that of Africa; it could not have been more than 4 or 5 miles wide here where we crossed it. When we had left it behind, the wind died away almost entirely."

JAMES REED tells about crossing the desert [WFB]: ????????

"Mon [August] 31 in dessert drive of sixty miles 60"

The following is an extract from James Frazier Reeds narrative of 1871, describing the crossing of the Salt Desert:

"We started to cross the desert traveling day and night only stopping to feed and water our teams as long as water and grass lasted. We must have made at least two-thirds of the way across when a great portion of the cattle showed signs of giving out. "

The formidable character of the Salt Desert is stressed on T.H. JEFFERSON'S map and insisted upon in his Accompaniment. In the latter he writes [WFB]:

"Long drive, Desert of Utariah.-Distance.-From Hope-Wells [Iosepa] to East side Scorpion Mt. [Cedar Mountains], 12 miles. Road good, a level plain. East to west side Scorpion Mt., 9 miles. Road, steep hills, some sideling, rather bad. West side Scorpion Mt., to Rock Ridge [Grayback Mountain] 14 miles. Road good, hard marly plain."

"Rock Ridge to east side Fire Mt. [Silver Island], 32 miles. Road a vast desert plain, good hard marl in places, deep sand ridges in places, latter part damp or wet marl incrusted with salt, into which the wheels cut and make hard pulling. From east to west side Fire Mt., 8 miles. Road hilly, deep dust, bunch grass in places, rather hard. From west side Fire Mt. to Bonark Wells [Donner Spring at Pilot Peak], 8 miles. Road a level plain of marl, damp, incrusted with fine table salt, rather hard pulling. Total distance 83 miles. Dell [Redlum] Spring affords a small supply of brackish water, cedar trees, and some bunch grass; a good well could be made here. This would reduce the drive to 70 miles." "Take in a supply of water and green grass at Hope-Wells. Three or four gallons of water per ox is enough. Water is more important than grass. Not more than five wagons should start upon the drive in company. Travel night and day; don't hurry the oxen; make a regular camp about every 20 miles. Remain at each camp two hours or more, and measure out the water to each ox in a basin. Unyoke at each camp and leave the cattle loose. Keep strict guard over them, and never for one moment allow them to leave your sight. Adhere to these rules and you will go through safe. Scorpion mountain affords cedar trees and some good bunch grass. "North-east of Hope-Wells, upon the mountain, about two miles from the road, is situated Cedar spring [Dell Spring]. It affords an abundant supply of delightful water, has cedar trees and some bunch grass near it; a horse trail leads to it from Hastings-Wells [Grantsville], over the mountain. If the Indians catch an unarmed man alone, they will rob him."


The BRYANT/RUSSELL pack party as they started to cross the playas or mud flats:What I Saw in California, p. 174, University of Nebraska Press.

"Beyond this we crossed what appeared to have been the beds of several small lakes separated from each other by small mound shaped elevations of a white, sandy, or ashy earth-[This is a perfect description of the dunes separating the Playas. Bryant talked about mountains in their front some 30 to 40 miles and some on the left] He said: "Those on our left were as white as the snow like face of the desert" [The mountains on the left he was referring to are the low hills south of the Knolls siding which are covered with blowing white gypsum sand. This sand is 92% gypsum not quite pure.] Bryant again: "About eleven o'clock we struck A great white plain uniformly level, and utterly destitute of vegetation or any sign that shrub or plant had ever existed above the snow-like surface" He said it was frightfully forbidding and unearhly, it gave them a shudder of apprehension-the mules even wanted to countermarch.

Bryant again: "For fifteen miles the surface of this plain is so compact, that the feet of our animals, as we hurried them along over it, left but little if any impression for the guidance of the future traveller." but he says: "As we proceeded the plain gradually became softer and our mules sometimes sunk to their knees in the stiff composition of salt, sand and clay." Then they decided to walk leading their mules."

Bryant wrote that clouds came over with a distant thunder:

"A furious wind rushing across the plain and filling the whole atmosphere around us with the fine particles of salt, and drifting it in heaps like the newly fallen snow. Our eyes became nearly blinded and our throats choked with the saline matter, and the very air we breathed tasted of salt." A perfect description of a Salt Desert storm. After the storm he talked about extraordinary mirages and then said: "Our course being west."

BRYANT continues: "About five o'clock, P.M. we reached and passed, leaving it to our left, a small butte rising solitary from the plains. Around this ground is uneven, and a few scattering shrubs, leafless and without verdure, raised themselves above the white sand and saline matter which seemed recently to have drifted so as nearly to conceal them." [He is describing Floating Island.] "Eight miles brought us to the northern end of a short range of mountains" [this is the Silver Island Mountains] "turning the point of which and bending our course to the left we gradually came upon higher ground, composed of compacted volcanic gravel." He was once again, as he describes it, "upon terra firma." Bryant describes how he had made a detour to the base of floating Island looking for a spring of water but none was found. When he reached the point and rounded it he was considerably in the rear. "passing down the range of mountains on my left some four or five miles, and then rising some rocky hills connecting this with a long and high range of mountains on my right." [This is Crater Island]. "When I had reached the most elevated point of this ridge [Donner/Reed Pass] the sun was setting, and I saw my fellow-travellers still far in advance of me, entering again upon a plain or valley of salt, some ten or twelve miles in breadth. On the opposite side of this valley rose abruptly and to a high elevation another mountain [Pilot Peak], at the foot of which we expected to find the spring of fresh water that was to quench our thirst, and revive and sustain the drooping energies of our fateful beasts."

Bryant noticed smoke in a canyon on Pilot Peak which he felt showed that Indians had noticed their coming. He overtook an old pack-mule with her pack hanging underneath her with their food supply. He took time to unpack and pack and then proceeded onward with the mules racing to the water that they now scented. Bryant came upon John C. Buchanan on his exhausted mule in the dark. He was thunderstrruck since he felt he was the last one. They had a good laugh and rode slowly together toward the spring.

Bryant continued: "We left to us, in our tired condition, the seemingly interminable plain of salt, and entered upon the sagey slope of the mountain about 10 o'clock. Hallooing as loudly as we could raise our voices, we obtained, by a response, the direction of our party who had preceded us, and after some difficulty in making our way through the sage, grass, and willows, (the last a certain indication of water in the desert,) we came to where they had discovered a faint stream of water, and made their camp. Men and mules on their first arrival, as we learned, had madly rushed into the stream and drank together of its muddy waters, -made muddy by their own disturbance of its shallow channel and sluggish current."

"Delay of gratification frequently gives a temporary relief to the cravings of hunger. The same remark is applicable to thirst. Some hours previously I had felt the pangs of thirst with an acuteness almost amounting to an agony. Now, when I had reached the spot where I could gratify my desires in this respect, they were greatly diminished. My first care was to unsaddle my mule and lead it to the stream, and my next to take a survey of the position of our encampment. I then procured a cup of muddy water, and drank it off with a good relish. The fires before noticed were still blazing brightly above us on the side of the mountain, but those who had lighted them, had given no other signal of their proximity. The moon shone brilliantly, and [Richard T.] Jacob, Buchanan, James] McClary, and myself, concluded we would trace the small stream of water until we could find the fountain spring. After considerable search among the reeds, willow, and luxuriant grass, we discovered a spring. Buchanan was so eager to obtain a draught of cold, pure water, that in dipping his cup for this purpose, the yielding weeds under him gave way, and he sank into the basin, from which he was drawn out after a good "ducking," by one of those present. The next morning this basin was sounded to the depth of thirty-five feet, and no bottom found, We named this spring "Buchanan's well." We lighted no fires to-night, and prepared no evening meal. Worn down by the hard day's travel, after relieving our thirst we spread our blankets upon the ground, and laying our bodies upon them, slept soundly in the bright moonshine. Several of our party had been on the road upwards of seventeen hours, without water or refreshment of any kind, except a small draught of cold coffee from our powder-keg, made of the salt sulphur -water at our last encampment, and had travelled the distance of seventy five miles. The Salt Plain has never at this place, so far as I could understand, been crossed but twice previously by civilized men, and in these instances two days were occupied in performing the journey. Distance 75 miles."

They remained in camp and rested on August 4 and took care of their animals and then: "We cleared away with our hands and willow sticks the thickly matted grass and weeds around "Buchanan's well," making a handsome basin, some five or six feet in diameter. The water is very cold and pure, and tasted to us more delicious than any of the invented beverages of the epicure to him. While engaged in this work, Brown brought forward a remarlcable blade of grass which he had pulled up a short distance from us, to which he called my attention, and desired its measurement. It was measured, and found to be thirty-five feet in length. The diameter of the stalk was about half of an inch, and the distance between the joints about eighteen inches. It was heavily seeded at the top. With this prodigiously tall vegetable production, we endeavored to sound the depth of the spring, but after thrusting it down to its full length we could discover no bottom. "

The party was inactive the whole day except for Col. Russell an Miller who rode up to the mountain hunting and saw three Indian huts but the inhabitants-had fled. They hated inactivity and wanted to proceed:

"August 5 A most delightful, clear morning, with a light, soft breeze from the south fanning the parched and arid desert, playing over the waving grass, and sporting with the silvery leaves of the willows of the oasis."

"Our mules, notwithstanding the day's rest we had allowed them after the long and laborious ride over the Salt Plain, evinced much stiffness and exhaustion. We took a southwest course along the slope of the range of mountains under which we had encamped. This slope is covered with a debris of gravel and sharp fragments of dark volcanic rock, and is furrowed from the base of the mountain down to the verge of the plain with deep and almost impassable ravines. The hoary and utterly desolate plain of salt on our left expand in breath, and stretches, interminably to the eye, away to the southeast and the southwest. The brisk breeze having cleared the atmosphere of the smoke, our view is much more extensive than it was yesterday."

"After travelling about ten miles we struck a wagon-trail, which evidently had been made several years. From the indentations of the wheels, where the earth was soft, five or six wagons had passed here. The appearance of this trail in this desolate region was at first inexplicable; but I soon recollected that some five or six years ago an emigrating expedition to California was fitted out by Colonel Bartlettson, [Bartleson] Mr. J Chiles,[ Joseph Chiles] and others, of Missouri..."Bryant then goes on to say that they followed; "this old trail some two or three miles, we left it on the right." This is in the area that we now call Bidwell Pass.


HARLAN/YOUNG PARTY with HASTINGS as the guide. The source document comes from Charles Kelly's book, Salt Desert Trails, pp. 52-54. It is said that the party consist of about four companies with about ten families in each company and a total of eighty wagons.

The obituary of SAMUEL C. YOUNG describes the crossing of the Salt Desert:

''The sun rose in full splendor, reflecting his rays on this vast salt plain, as white as snow and as far as the eye could reach not a thing to be seen, not a spear of grass or drop of water, and the end could not be detected by the eye. The stock was showing great signs of fatigue; a little hay and some water revived them, and a cup of coffee and a cold snack had as good effect on the emigrants. It was a blessing that they were ignorant of what was before them. They were led to believe that they would reach water and grass by noon; full of hope they again started their jaded and trusty teams. They traveled until noon, the stock showing great distress; they stopped to feed them some grass and give them a little water, which comprised nearly all they had laid in."

"The emigrants by this time had become very much discouraged. The eye could not detect the end of the plain. But no time was to be lost, so they started again, in the midst of the glare of the sun at noon-day, upon this still, vast, white salt plain. Every mile traveled that eventful evening [afternoon] produced its effect; oxen gave out and lay down, some to rise no more; others from extreme thirst, became crazy and nothing could be done with them, and finally they would become exhausted and drop down dead. From the middle of the evening one disaster after another happened nearly every step of the way, Wagons were abandoned; such of the oxen as could travel were taken out and driven along; others would give up and lie down, even after the yoke was taken off, and neither persuasion nor the whip could make them budge. These misfortunes continued and increased during that evening, until it seemed as if all were lost."

"But night came at last--that at least shut off the reflection of the sun. In the midst of all but despair they stopped to give the last pound of grass to the surviving stock, and a few favorites got a little water, and such as had wagons left, went to them and got out and ate and divided with others their frugal meal. At last they started on their long night tramp. Hoping to get to water and grass before morning. On they traveled, every mile so full of disaster that the recital would fill pages; but they struggled on through that long, dark and lonely night, still praying for water and grass; but the morning was again ushered in with the sun's reflection upon the white salt plains, with no signs of the end. The loss of stock through the night could now be realized. A halt was ordered, a little rest was taken, with a morsel to break the fast, and the order was given to make the last effort to get through. From this until noon more stock was lost than during the last twenty-four hours."

"At noon they reached water and grass in a most worn out and despondent condition. Some of the teams were left, some as far back as thirty miles. Water and grass were hauled back and some of the stock saved and some of the wagons brought in. Others were abandoned and it took many days to collect everything together and get ready to start again." Here was eighty-two miles of desert these emigrants had passed over, instead of forty. Volumes could be written on the sufferings of man and beast that occurred during this eighty-two mile march across the desolate wastes."


Another very brief account of crossing the salt desert is by JAMES MATHERS in 1846. See Overland in 1846 by Dale L. Morgan.

August 16th: "Started on the long drive and after traveling until near the middle of the next day without resting but a little we were obliged to leave two waggons and go on with the third so as to get the cattle to water the sooner, the distance still being more than 20 m. I remained with the waggons on the salt plain until the evening of the 20th when Carolan came back with the oxen and the next day about 11 o'clock we reached the camp at the foot of the mountains, the whole distance without water about 6o m. On the 18th there was a violent wind and salt drifted over the plain like snow."

"Like a good many emigrants after him, including Reed, Mathers was so disorganized by the crossing of the Salt Desert to Pilot Peak that he preserved only a fragmentary record of the experience."-Dale Morgan.


The next group to cross the Salt Desert was the LIENHARD OR HOPPE party. They were still following the Harlan-Young party. In the LIENHARD JOURNAL using Charles Kelly's Salt Desert Trails, pp. 70-73 & p. 76, we read:

"On reaching this plain, we halted and again gave each head of cattle a little water and grass. Taking a little refreshment ourselves, we then recommenced our onward journey, hoping that by the next morning we would have arrived at the expectantly watched-for fresh-water springs and their attendant good grass."

"Zins and I remained with the wagon, while Ripstein, Diel, and Thomen went on ahead intending to go on until they should arrive at the freshwater springs. Step by step we continued over this gray waste in the increasing darkness of the night. Here and there the ground was a little soft, additional evidence that not long since water must have been standing here. We went on without ceasing until about 1 o'clock in the morning, when suddenly our three comrades spoke to us; a short distance from here they had come upon a man who had remained behind to take care of several wagons; from this man they had learned that the distance to the nearest freshwater springs and grass was at least 24 miles. We soon came up to the wagon in which this man was staying, and from him we learned that those ahead of us had left many wagons behind and driven the cattle ahead to the springs, there to recover strength, after which they would come back for the wagons. Up to this time our cattle appeared to be in passable condition; the night was cool, and the level plain excellent to travel on, with exception of a few somewhat wet places. In the far-off east it was gradually growing lighter; some distance to our right we could perceive in the dawning light a chain of very steep-sloped mountains [Newfoundland Mountains]; a little to our left, almost in front of us, we could make out a few other mountain-tops [Silver Island] which rose almost perpendicularly from the gray, dead plain, and there we hoped to find the longed-for water. When the sun came up, slowly rising like a great, round, red disk from the apparently limitless plain that stretched before us, we had come to within a few miles of this last high mountain. Up to this time we passed 24 wagons which had been left behind; now we made a halt. Our oxen all appeared to be suffering the whole of their bowels appeared to cry out, and incessant rumbling which broke out from all; they were hollow eyed, and it was most distressing to see the poor animals suffer thus."

"We could give them no more water, having only a little for ourselves, and the grass we gave them they would hardly touch. However, we could not remain here, we had to go on, and the poor catle had to drag the wagons along behind them. Presently we came upon abandoned cattle, a few already dead, while others yet moved their ears; they could be saved only by others coming back bringing water for them."

"The lofty, precipitous mountains [Silver Island] rising from the plain now loomed up on our left as we approached their northern end. On them, however, grew no vegetation; they appeared reddish-brown, as if burned; at the foot of these mountains it was perfectly dry, without a sign of moisture. In front of us, near these mountains, rose a pebbly knoll; surely we must now be near the water, so we hoped, but alas, when we reached the summit [Donner/Reed Pass] we saw, over a 10 mile-wide valley, through the bluish haze, another high mountain beyond [Pilot Peak] and we realized that we would have to reach this before we should have complete the crossing of the endless plain."

"The valley between us and the haze-shrouded mountains in the distance [Pilot Peak Mountains] looked like a wide, large lake, the apparent surface of which here and there mirrored a deceptive semblance of the mountains and hills; we knew, however, that this was only a mirage, having already experienced several illusions of the kind. Straight through the seeming expanse of water from the opposite shore, a black monster moved toward us like a frightful, giant snake, in a long, sinuous line. We all stared a long time at this puzzling apparition; it separated into detached parts, and we then supposed it must be a band of Indians. However, as we traveled slowly down the hill to meet them, we realized that what we saw was neither a monstrous snake nor friendly Indians, but a considerable number of men with oxen, a few mules, and horses, who were going back into the barren desert to recover their abandoned wagons."

"We had taken but one short rest since sunrise, at which time we drank the last of our warm water. Not only our cattle but all the members of the company were now suffering from thirst. We found the returning teamsters supplied with water, carried in small kegs on the backs of some of the oxen or mules. At our request they willing gave each of us a drink, but they could spare none for our cattle and we asked none for them. The sun shone burningly hot, as it did each day when not obscured by clouds, and we were seriously afraid that our cattle would not be able to get across this wide valley, for they appeared to be suffering terribly."

"Our wagon was the second in line, but our leading yoke of oxen every instant were in danger of breaking their horns off in the wheels of the wagons ahead of us, for they continually tried to pull up to it so that they might remain a while in its shade, in this way continually getting between the wheels. In an effort to avert this, Zins drove while I walked ahead of them; soon, however, I received quite a thrust from the horns, since each of the two foremost oxen sought to profit by my small shadow, and to push the other away. Eager as I was to alleviate as much as possible the sufferings of the poor devils, in this way they very soon cured me of my enthusiasm for going ahead of them."

"In this valley there was a great quantity of the finest salt, often in a 2 inch-thick crust. Here and there flowed, a few inches deep, crystal-clear water which, however, was as salty as salts itself, and the poor cattle, tormented by their dreadful thirst, tried constantly to drink of it, only to shudder in consequence. Slowly we were nearing the huge, common camping place where a small village of wagons stood. To this point not a single head of our cattle had given out, and we were coming over closer to the green grass when suddenly first one and then the other ox of our leading yoke fell, scarcely a quarter of mile from the grassy ground. Zins and I had considerable difficulty getting them to their feet again, but after this was accomplished, we went slowly on until we arrived at the grass covered ground, and scarcely had the oxen reached there than they began to run as rapidly as though they were not at all tired. On arriving at the lower end of this wagon-village we stopped and freed the poor animals from their yokes. Fortunately the spring [Donner Springs] was so hedged about by the wagons that the cattle could not gain free access to it, and it was therefore necessary for them to satisfy their thirst slowly from the water that flowed over the ground and gathered in their own footprints. A full two hours passed before they seemed to get quite enough, after which their first need appeared to be rest."

"The spring [Donner Spring] was fine one about 4 or 6 feet across, and from 4 to 5 feet deep, the water fresh and good, and entirely free from any saIine or mineral taint. The Kollog [Kellogg] brothers had a fine, large, black hound which they had brought aIong with them to this point, and which probably was extremely thirsty by the time it arrived here; it had jumped into the spring, immersing itself and drinking, but when it came out upon the grass again, it had suddenly fallen down, and shortly afterward it died."

"Although Mr. Hoppe was not always our captain, our party was known as Hoppe's Company. We were told that the companies which had gone in advance of us had been generally of the opinion that our party would suffer most in crossing this long desert, to the point, perhaps, of perishing altogether. Here we were, however, the only company which had had to leave behind neither a wagon nor an animal, at which they were not a little amazed."

"The journey from the last good water to this point had taken from 9 o'clock in the morning of the 17th to about 4 o'clock in the afternoon of the 19th of August, and during this time only on the first night had the cattle actually enjoyed rest, without, even then, being freed from their yokes. Otherwise, all the stops we made put together could hardly have amounted to more than 4 hours, and apart from this it was continuous driving until our arrival at these springs. During that time, all the water we could give to each head of cattle could scarcely have exceeded 1 1/2 gallons. To be sure, we had spared our cattle as much as we could under the circumstances, but we had reason to congratulate ourselves that we had made this crossing without suffering the slightest loss."

"In spite of Iong-sustained fatigue everyone was animated and happy the young girls gathered together and sang, while the young Americans danced to the squeaky sounds which a man named Roadies coaxed from his old fiddle, so that the dust eddied up in clouds; in short, one might have supposed the whole journey completed."

They stayed at the springs washing and mending and letting the cattle rest. Most of the wagons from the other party which had been left on the desert were brought in and everyone were in good spirits, singing and dancing. Lienhard tells about a girl named LucLnda "a healthy specimen of a two-legged animal" and the problems they had with her. She was apparently man crazy.

Lienhard relates that "On the afternoon of August 21, toward evening, we forsook this camping place, the grass having become scant, and went on 2 miles south, where water equally good, and grass undoubtedly better were to be found, although many others were there." This camping spot is the meadows by the old 1880 Munsee homestead which is exactly 2 miles south of Donner springs.

They stayed at this camp site on August 22nd and 23rd, and on the 24th they broke camp and traveled to what is now known as Silver Zone Pass where on the morning of the 25th they found a spring hole 12 feet deep and alleviated their thirst.



The following is from Reed's narrative of 1871 describing the crossing of the Salt Desert in 1846. It is from West from Fort Bridger, published as Utah Historical Quarterly [U.H.Q], volume 19, pp. 210-214:

"We started to cross the desert traveling day and night only stopping to feed and water our teams as long as water and grass lasted. We must have made at least two-thirds of the way across when a great portion of the cattle showed signs of giving out. Here the company requested me to ride on and find the water and report. Before leaving I requested my principal teamster [Milt Elliott], that when my cattle became so exhausted that they could not proceed further with the wagons, to turn them out and drive them on the road after me until they reached the water, but the teamster misunderstanding unyoked them when they first showed symptoms of giving out, starting on with them for the water."

"I found the water about twenty miles from where I left the company and started on my return. About eleven o'clock at night [September 2] I met my teamsters with all my cattle and horses. I cautioned them particularly to keep the cattle on the road, for that as soon as they would scent the water they would break for it." Apparently Reed met his drovers ten miles from the springs, which would place them just west of present Donner-Reed pass. "I proceeded on and reached my family and wagons. Some time after leaving the men one of the horses gave out and while they were striving to get it along, the cattle scented the water and started for it. And when they started with the horses, the cattle were out of sight, they could not find them or their trail, as they told me afterward. They supposing the cattle would find water, went on to camp. The next morning they could not be found, and they never were, the Indians getting them, except one ox and one cow. Losing nine yoke of cattle here was the first of my sad misfortunes. I stayed with my family and wagons the next day, expecting every hour the return of some of my young men with water, and the information of the arrival of the cattle at the water. Owing to the mistake of the teamsters in turning the cattle out so soon, the other wagons had drove miles past mine and dropped their wagons along the road, as their cattle gave out, and some few of them reaching water with their wagons. Receiving no information and the water being nearly exhausted, in the evening [September 3] I started on foot with my family to reach the water. In the course of the night the children became exhausted. I stopped, spread a blanket and laid them down covering them with shawls. In a short time a cold hurricane continued blowing; the children soon complained of the cold. Having four [five] dogs with us, I had them lie down with the children outside the covers. They were then kept warm. Mrs. Reed and myself sitting to the windward helped shelter them from the storm. Very soon one of the dogs jumped up and started out barking, the others following, making an attack on something approaching us. Very soon I got sight of an animal making directly for us; the dogs seizing it changed its course, and when passing I discovered it to be one of my young steers. Incautiously stating that it was mad, in a moment my wife and children started to their feet, scattering like quail, and it was some minutes before I could quiet camp; there was no more complaining of being tired or sleepy the balance of the night. We arrived about daylight [September 4] at the wagons of Jacob Donner, and the next in advance of me, whose cattle having given out, had been driven to water. Here I first learned of the loss of my cattle, it being the second day after they had started for the water. Leaving my family with Mrs. Donner, I reached the encampment. Many of the people were out hunting cattIe, some of them had got their teams together and were going back into the desert for their wagons. Among them Mr. Jacob Donner, who kindly brought my family along with his own to the encampment."

REED'S narrative of 1871 says further: "We remained here [at Pilot Peak] for days hunting cattle, some of the party finding all, others a portion, all having enough to haul their wagons except myself. On the next day, or day following, while I was out hunting my cattle, two Indians came to the camp, and by signs gave the company to understand that there were so many head of cattle out, corroborating the number still missing; many of the people became tender footed at the Indians coming into camp, thinking that they were spies. Wanted to get clear of them as soon as possible. My wife requested that the Indians should be detained until my return, but unfortunately before returning, they had left. The next morning, in company with young Mr. Graves-he kindly volunteering-I started in the direction the Indians had taken: after hunting this day and the following, remaining out during the night, we returned unsuccessful, not finding a trace of the cattle. I now gave up all hope of finding them and turned my attention to making arrangements for proceeding on my journey. In the desert were my eight [three] wagons; all the team remaining was an ox and a cow. There was no alternative but to leave everything but provisions, bedding and clothing.These were placed in the wagon that had been used for my family. made a cache of everything else. Members of the company kindly furnishing team to haul the wagon to camp. I divided my provisions with those who were nearly out, and indeed some of them were in need. I had now to make arrangement for sufficient team to haul that one wagon: one of the company kindly loaned me a yoke of cattle & with the ox and cow I had made two yoke. We remained at this camp from first to last, if my memory is right, seven days."


The following is taken from a letter by VIRGINIA E. B. REED to Mary C. Keyes dated May 16th, 1847 concerning the desert crossing and after the wait for the return of the men with their oxen:

"We wa[i]ted thare [deleted: "throug"] [thinking thay would] come we wa[i]ted till night and we thought we [would] start to walk to Mr doners [Donners] wagons that night [distant 10 miles] we took what little water we had and some bread and started pa [papa] caried Thomos and all the rest of us walk we got to Donner and thay were all a sleep so we laid down on the ground we spread one shawl down we laid down on it and spred another over us and then put the dogs on top [Tyler, Barney, Trailor Tracker & little Cash] it was the couldes night you [deleted: "most"] ever saw [for the season] the wind blew [very hard] and if it haden [not] bin for the dogs we would have Frosen as soon as it was day we went to miz [Mrs] Donners she said we could not walk to the Water and if we staid we could ride in thare wagons to the spring so pa [papa] went on to the water to see why thay did not bring the cattel when he got thare thare was but one ox and cow thare [deleted: &] none of the rest had got to water Mr Donner come out the night with his cattel and braught his wagons and all of us in we staid thare a week and Hunted for our cattel and could not find them."

The following narrative comes from Across the Plains in the Donner Party, a personal narrative of the overland trip to California 1846-47 by Virginia Reed Murphy, pp 23-25:

"We start Virginia's remembrances after the men failed to return with the oxen: "Can I ever forget that night in the desert, when we walked mile after mile in the darkness, every step seeming to be the very last we could take! Suddenly all fatigue was banished by fear; through the night came a swift rushing sound of one of the young steers crazed by thirst and apparently bent upon our destruction. My father, holding his youngest child in his arms and keeping us all close behind him, drew his pistol, but finally the maddened beast turned and dashed off into the darkness. Dragging ourselves along about ten miles, we reached the wagon of Jacob Donner."

VIRGINIA tells about the cold night and the crossing to the springs where they were told about the loss of 18 head of cattle and being 800 miles from California. They realized that their wagons must be abandoned. We continue her narrative:

"The company kindly let us have two yoke of oxen, so with our ox and cow yoked together we could bring one wagon, but alas not the one which seemed so much like a home to us, and in which grandma had died. Some of the company went back with papa and assisted him in caching everything that could not be packed in one wagon. A cache was made by digging a hole in the ground, in which a box or the bed of a wagon was placed. Articles to be buried were packed into this box, covered with boards, and the earth thrown in upon them, and thus they were hidden from sight. Our provisions were divided among the company."

Caching anything in the manner described by Virginia on the mud flats is improbable. By digging down just eight inches or one foot on the flats in the sticky, gumbo mud where the wagons were abandoned, one encounters salt water. To make matters worse, one can dig a hole in the morning and find the water lower than in the afternoon. The heating of the ground causes the ground water to rise. If indeed they did cache their belongings, they could have done so by carrying them to a higher, dryer area by Floating Island. RT.

The Donner party made the last reported crossing of the Salt Desert in 1846.

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