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


The following excerpt is from the Utah Historical Quarterly, vol. 20, pp. 4-11: MILES GOODYEAR, a trapper and trader who had a post and farm on the site of Ogden, Utah, took a pack train of dressed buckskins to California in 1846. Starting east from Sutter's Fort on June 2, 1847, with two Indian vaqueros to help manage his herd of California horses, he and his companions, John Craig, Truett and others as yet unidentified, decided to try the Hastings Cutoff, out of curiosity to see where the Donner party had met so much difficulty. They had been informed of the route by survivors of that expedition. Fortunately, a letter has just been discovered which describes this journey. While it is lacking a signature, internal evidence indicates it was written by John Craig, from Ray County, Missouri, who had gone to California with a party of eight in 1846. The writer says:

"On my return home I suplyed myself with seven mules with packs and all things nessey and in company with seven others we started for home On the 2th of June. On the fifth day we crosed the peak of the California mountains and had to travel about thirty five miles over snow varying from five to twenty foot deep and rode over numerous mountain streams on arches of Snow whilst we could hear the water roaring and dashing under our feet."

"My curiosity prompted me to return a Some what different road... So I returned by the way of the great Salt lake running South of it and not far from the Utaw lake."

"And with a few exceptions a more drery Sandy and barren country dose not (in my opinion) exist on gods footstool. Excepting the great African desert. The entire county having a streaking and volcanic aprearence and abonding with hot and even boiling Springs. And if the different parts of our continents is cursed in proportion to the Sins of the inhabitnts that formerly dwelt on them Then indeed must those ancient inhabitants have been awfully wicked for this is truly a land the Lord has cursed."

"On one occasion we traveled over a vast Sandy and Salt plane a distenc of at least Seventy five miles with out either grass or water and lost four head of horses that perished for want of water. We was 22 hours constantly traveling before we got to water And when we did come at a Spring the great Salt Lake lay off in full view having a number of high rocky barren Islands all through it."

But close arand the lake between the beach and high mountains that Serand it is considerable of rich land with abundanc of good spring water and ocasionaly Salt Springs But even here the county is nearly destitute of timber Onely here and thair a patch of willow and cotten wood on the Streams and a little ceeder and pine on the mountain arand. And the fourth and fifth of July I seen these mountains white in places with snow close arand the lake.

This letter, which is reproduced in part through the courtesy of Mr. M. S. MacCarthy, of Glendale, California, omits to mention the writer's companions, particularly the mountaineer Miles Goodyear, who was the real leader of this expedition; it also strangely fails to speak of the Donner wagons still standing on the desert and viewed by this party for the first time since their abandonment in 1846.

Continuing east with his horse herd to trade with immigrant trains, Goodyear met the Mormon advance on Bear River, July 10, 1847, reporting the desert route just traveled as unfit for wagons.


Capt. James Brown was asked to go to California to collect the pay due the Mormon Battlion's sick detachment and he returned to Salt Lake City over the Hastings Cutoff. Tullidge records that:

". . . agreeable with directions which they had received from a surviving member of the Hastings company of emigrants . . . they left the old Fort Hall route, and took what was called "Hastings cut-off." They had been informed that by taking this course they would reach Salt Lake with at least two hundred miles less travel. This course led them southward across what is known as the "Seventy-five-mile desert."

"By the time they reached the Humboldt their provisions had entirely given out, and their horses being considerably reduced in flesh they were unable to travel very fast, and the country had not proven as prolific in game as they had expected. They had yet to encounter their greatest foe. It was this desert of seventy-five miles in width. The weather was getting very cold, [p.6] and light snow storms had not been infrequent from the time they had left the Humboldt region. This had rendered the country in a condition greatly to impede travel. They had supplied themselves with nothing in which to carry any quantity of water to speak of, and when they came to the desert they simply had to stem the hideous foe by launching out into this stretch of alkali bed with a determination to go through."

Three days were consumed in accomplishing the journey across the desert. They found water the third day about 2 o'clock. Some of the animals had given out, and had been left on the desert. For three days these five men had subsisted on three very lean geese which Jesse had killed the day before the company arrived at the desert; and during that length of time they had no water. One or two members of the party gave out and were so weak that they had to be assisted on their horses by their emaciated comrades. They arrived in Salt Lake City about the 1st of December, 1847, in an excedingly broken up condition. This trip had reduced Captain Brown from 200 weight avoirdupois to 150, and the other members of the company were proportionately reduced.2

This party consisted of Capt. James Brown, his son Jesse, Samuel Lewis, Lysander Woodworth and Abner Blackburn. They left Sutter's Fort on September 5, 1847, and arrived in Great Salt Lake City November 16, notwithstanding the two different dates given by Tullidge. Fortunately we have a parallel account of their experiences by Abner Blackburn, an accurate observer, whose native humor, in spite of great adversities, is refreshing:

". . . we shot more rabbits and hares they went well with our boiled wheat. Their was an awful goneness in our stomachs all the time . . . . our boss [Capt. Brown] was a jolly old chap he would tell some outlandish story and put all in a good humor we next crost a salt plain [Tecoma Valley] the ground grass and the bushes weare stiff with salt. one could smell it in the air. we wear affraid to look behind for fear of being turned into a pillar of salt. Iik lots wife. i am sure we wear no better than she was. we expected to come to the ninty three mile desert any time next morning fill the canteens full [p.7] of watter cut some sage wood for the horses to eat . . . . struck out and about noon began to be thirsty and drank spareingly and com to a large spring of good water [base of Pilot Peak]. we weare not on it campt and prepared in earnest this time went on top of a high hill and could see far ahead on the dry bed of the old lake. the Salt Lake covered a vast extent on the southern side of the lake at one time in the past. this is called the great desert made preparation this time and no mistake killed two crains. layed in more wood cooked an extra lot of wheat campt. Brown said he would cook it himself so as to have one good mess on the desert. he commenced to dance around and sing a dilly"

"Pretty betty martin
tip toe fine
she could not get a man
to suit her mind
some weare to coarse
and some to fine
she could not get a man
to suit her kind"

"at the last word he kicked out his foot and spilt all in the fire and cooked another. in the morning the north wind was blowing cold started on the smooth bed of the ancient lake nothing but baked mud no shells or sign of marine life we supposed the watter had receded to the north their appeared a mirage away to the north but we could not tel whether it was watter or not the bed we wear traveling on appeared level and extended to the south as far as the eye could reach it appeared like a few inches rise in the lake would send the watter over hundreds of miles of the old lake bed not a bird bug hare or coyote to be seen on this wide desolate waist nothing but man and he was out of his latitude or his natural sence there was a mountain in the middle of this vast plain [Newfoundland Island] and appeared as though it hadbeen surrounded by the lake at some past time the wind blew cold and chilly as though it come off the watter to wards us . This lake was in my old geography marked Timpanogos and to the south to the Hela river was marked the unexplored regions the ground was a little soft and the horses faged out.

Stopt at some abandoned waggons3 we weare cold pulled the waggons to [p.8] geather set them an fire and had a good warm tied the horses threw them the wood to eat rolled up in our blankets and the first night on the desert was gone. the second day at noon left the bed of the lake and worried along until night whear their was som little grass and some snow in drifts the horses licked it up and so did we for the watter was out next day worried along and left one horse cross over a low mountain [Cedar Mountains] and struck watter [Redlum Spring]. and now for rest. we had some brandy along and blew it in which revived us exceedingly in the evening the horse we left behind come into camp he thought it was a hard place to die and changed his notion. we forgot all about the desert and had a good super of boiled hare crane and wheat in the morning went down into a wider plain [not Tooele Valley but Skull Valley] and by the looks of the oposite mountain thought it was the Salt Lake Valley. the canion and other points looked familiar to us and thought our journey ended our boss says toot your horn Gabriel we are most their. the weather thickened up and began to snow expected to come to the Jordan river every hour come to riseing ground then we new we wear mistaken in the country. followed the mountain north to the lake turned around the promitory on the beach of the lake [near Garfield] and camped under some shelving rocks whitch sheltered us from the storm. here we weir on the shore of the great Timpanogos Lake so named in the old geography. the sun rose clear next morning we could [see] in the distance about twenty miles. the smoke of the chimneys and all else looked right. one of the boys said he could hear the chickens crow. . . about three o'clock we were on jordans stormy banks and went up into the camp of the saints the New Jerusalem arived 16 November 1847."

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