During the hectic summer of 1849, men were so anxious to reach the diggings in the shortest possible time that they chanced any and every reported cutoff which might be supposed to shorten the distance. Great Salt Lake City, although only two years old, was a rapidly growing community and the only settlement on the trail where supplies might be obtained. A new route which became known as the Salt Lake Cutoff, had been found north of Great Salt Lake, avoiding the great desert, and most gold-seekers who reached the Mormon city took that route. That part of the Hastings Cutoff between Fort Bridger and Salt Lake Valley which the Donner party had worked out had already been renamed "the Mormon Trail," and most Forty-Niners, if they heard of it at all, considered the Hastings' route to begin at Great Salt Lake City.
Previous to 1849, no detailed guidebooks for overland immigrants had been published, each wagon train or party of travelers depending upon the services of a guide who knew the country. After publication of Fremont's report in 1845, it had been carried by some travelers, but its information was of a general nature only. Bryant's book, published in 1848, had a rather wide distribution and was carried by some immigrants, since it furnished detailed information on parts of the California Trail and the Hastings Cutoff.7 Jefferson, in 1846, made the first accurate map of this route, but did not publish it until 1849, when the gold rush created a demand. His map was accurate and useful, but was apparently printed in a small edition, for only three copies have survived.8 Several guidebooks were published in 1849 for [p.10] the benefit of gold-seekers, but only one, by E. S. Seymour, mentioned the Hastings Cutoff. Seymour's sketchy description of the route, which he had not seen, was taken from Bryant's book, and listed the distance between water over the salt flats as 75 miles, an error which did not make the crossing any more endurable.
Jefferson's map was published in New York City early enough to be available to the "Colony Guards," Capt. McNulty, and J. G. Bruff, as is evident from their use of the name "Desert of Utariah," Jefferson's own invention, and since the map showed no alternate route through Utah, travel on the cutoff in 1849 may have been influenced by possession of this guide. No others were available. However, the number of travelers was not large and no journal recounting their experiences has appeared.
In 1849 a Cherokee wagon train decided to take the Hastings cutoff to the California gold fields, the following is excerpted from the excellent book CHEROKEE TRAIL DIARIES, Volume I-1849 A New Route to the California Gold Fields, by Patricia K. A. Fletcher, Dr. Jack Earl Fletcher & Lee Whiteley. The book gives details of the Evans/Cherokee wagon train which traveled the Hastings Cutoff in 1849.
The following if from that book, Cherokee Trail Diaries:
Background: By the time the original Evans/Cherokee party, which left the Grand Saline on April 21, 1849, reached Great Salt Lake, the Company was divided into three identifiable groups. Two groups of Cherokee and whites--the packers, and the breakaway company of twelve wagons--[which] took the Hensley Cutoff. . . . The third group was the larger Evans/ Cherokee wagon company, which traveled the Hastings Cutoff over the Great Salt Desert.
Dick Owens had traveled across the Salt Desert with John C. Fremont in 1845 over what became known as the 1846 Hastings Cutoff. The adversities of that trip on the Salt Desert traverse probably encouraged Owens to lead his pack mule train over the Hensley route, around the north end of the Great Salt Lake.
The third party of the 1849 Evans/Cherokee Company, the main wagon group, could have numbered as many as thirty-five wagons. Still captained by Lewis Evans, they arrived at Salt Lake August 15, and departed August 17, proceeding straight west on the Hastings Cutoff across the Great Salt Desert. During the two days in Salt Lake, Captain Evans spent considerable time obtaining information on the routes from Salt Lake to the goldfields of California. The route north of the Great Salt Lake, later called the Hensley Cutoff, though only a year old, was the main one. Why it was not taken is unknown. The lateness of the season, and the resulting lack of grass for the oxen, may have been a major factor. The information that no previous company had taken the Hastings that season meant there would be grass available.
No doubt the Evans/Cherokee wagon company had a copy of the T.H. Jefferson map and used it.
Crawford, diarist for the main Evans/Cherokee wagon company, recorded the company's stay in Salt Lake and what, for him, must have been a reluctant departure west, away from the bounty of the valley, and the hospitality he had enjoyed there. Crawford:
"Th[ursday] 16 [August] we lay by to day and recruited our oxen and traded Some with the Mormons." [at Salt Lake City, on the west bank of the Jordan River or "Eutaw Outlet" Salt Lake Co., Utah]
In 1902 James Pierce (Pearce), a member of the main Evans/Cherokee wagon company (and nephew of John Rankin Pyeatt), was living in Park City, Utah. Pierce wrote:
"Our party left the rendezvous at Ross's salt works in the Cherokee nation [in] April, 1849... We started west from Salt Lake the latter part of August, 1849, I with an outfit of thirty-five men, twenty-one of our original party, ten of the Pomeroy and Preble outfit and four packers, under the command of John R. Pyatt. . . .Our train consisted of fourteen wagons drawn by horses, mules and oxen, and well loaded with supplies and all kind of tools for placer mining."
It was natural for sixteen-year-old Pierce to remember his uncle John Rankin Pyeatt as captain. Even though neither appointed nor elected, Pyeatt showed he had leadership and clout. When Pierce claimed that fourteen wagons were in the company, he was referring to the Pyeatt contingent.
The only documentation of company membership is names appearing in the Crawford diary, in the letters of Pyeatt and Crawford, and in the reminiscence of James Pierce in 1902. These men were all related. And while they certainly did not consult one another about their writings (their divergent points of view were already demonstrated) the writings alone give no reliable estimate of the total company as it existed west of Salt Lake city. The total number of wagons from the Company using the Hastings Cutoff is estimated to be thirty-five, until the Lewis Evans journal or other primary documents surface giving more information, .
Usually Crawford noted the daily mileage, but in the first day's move away from the settlement at Salt Lake, he did not. Made in the evening, the move was just far enough away to get the company to themselves. Crawford:
"Friday 17th [August] we struck camp this eavening and moved Some distance out to ward the South end of the Salt lake. "
[West Valley City, Salt Lake Co., Utah] Crawford's entry on August 17 confirms that this Evans/ Cherokee wagon company, whatever its size, was moving west on the Hastings Cutoff. This is perhaps the first diary which verifies that wagons were used on this route in 1849.
In the absence of primary material, researchers have maintained that no wagons had come this way since 1846--the year of the Donner/Reed tragedy. For instance, Dale Morgan wrote that Captain Stansbury, while under orders to survey the Salt Lake and crossing the Salt Desert at night on November 3, 1849, found remains of emigrant wagons and belongings, probably sad remains of the Donner party, for the forty-niners had not taken Hastings' Cutoff." Again, Morgan: "none are known to have crossed the Salt Desert [in 1849] except Stansbury's pack party."
The 1849 diarist's record over the next two days includes much more description and positive comment about the country. Crawford:
"Saturday 18.[August]...12 1/2 miles... we moved to day...round the South end of the lake, this is the most Beutiful Sheet of water that I ever saw in my life. its water is as Clear as the pure are, and as Salt as water can be made with salt Their is, in this lake 3 Islands [Antelope, Fremont, Carrington Islands] on which their is Some verry high mountains, on." [near Black Rock, Lake Point Junction, Tooele Co., Utah]
During the day the company traveled southwest, then west across the Tooele Valley. Crawford:
"Sunday 19 [August]. . . 21 miles we moved to day. . . and camped at good frish water, [Grantsville] which has not been the Case befor since we left Jordon [river]: Their being nothing but large Salt Springs on the road till this nights camp."
During the day's travel they indulged in an activity that delights residents Crawford:
"on this day several of us went in the Lake to bathe: This watter Can not be waded in whin it is up to the Armpit: in Spite of all your efforts you will rise, and you cannot Sink your self in it at all. You may float on your back and hold up, and wash your feet at the same time, on this Lake."
Crawford described another too-common trail incident:
"this evening a young man ( [left blank] and his partner both from Missouri) in drawing a Rifle from the waggon musel[muzzle] foremost, was Shot through the Arm; The Ball passing Through his arm and then betwixt the Thumb and finger, then through the Arm and into the breast of his companion. This evening we camped a verry good Spring."
Crawford never mentioned if the Missouri men lived or died, but this diary excerpt reveals that more than Arkansans and Cherokees took wagons over the Hastings in 1849--there were also Missourians.
The next day they went northwest. Crawford:
"Monday 20 [August]...19 miles We Struck Camp to day, and moved..Still South of the lake, Passing now and then large Salt Springs and but verry little fresh Water. Camp to night at Salt Spring." . . . Next day they moved south, away from the Salt Lake. Crawford:
"Tuesday 21 [August] We moved 9 miles to day. and passed Some verry large and pretty Salt Springs this day we left the Lake and have traviled nearly a South Course." [South in Skull Valley to Cedar Springs, SE of Horseshoe Springs,] [called Dell Springs today] . . .North-east of Hope-Wells, upon the mountain, about two miles from the road, is situated Cedar spring [Dell ]. It affords an abundant supply of delightful water, has cedar trees and some bunch grass near it."
Crawford took time during the hay cutting to comment on visitors ;
"Yesterday and to day We have been visited, by Several Indians of the Piute or Eutaw tribe, they are the most filthy Beaings that I ever Saw."
The Company made preparations to cross the Salt Desert. Crawford:
"Wedens 22nd [August] we lay by today to Cut grass to Hall for our oxen through a wilderness of about 80 miles"
In his "Accompaniment," [T. H.] Jefferson wrote:
"To accomplish the long drive grass & water must be carried from Hope Wells and the journey performed night and day making short & regular camps. Not more than five waggons shoold go in company and the cattle should be continually guarded."
"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... dont 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....Adhere to these rules and you will go through safe."
In 1846 Jefferson also had crossed in mid-August. The 1849 Evans Company appears to have gone nearly straight west from Cedar Springs, not south to Hope Wells first. [Roy Tea - impossible wet areas-must go to Hope Wells].
"We went out by the point of the mountain, through where Grantsville now is and on to Skull valley, which was the last place for water this side of the desert. At that point we filled our water barrels, one for each wagon, and started across the desert, which our odometer showed to be ninety miles in width, and which we were three days and two nights in crossing."
Crawford began to use the campsite and physical feature names
"Thursday 23 [August] 30 miles We Started to a west course a cross a valey or Salt Plain, and Crossed over Scorpion mt [Cedar Mountain-Hastings Pass] leaving the Dell Springs [present Redlum Springs, Jefferson's "Dell Spring"]...at the East Base of the [Cedar] mt on our left, this is a rugged Mountain 9 miles over [Hastings Pass] which we crossed about an hour after night and by Brake of day we halted at the foot of Rock ridge. . .making the distance of to days travil 30 miles."[Grayback Mountain,]
Pyeatt wrote of the six days' travel from Salt Lake and their entry into the desert:
"we left the Mormon town on the 17th day of August and got to the desert on the 23th 64 miles hear having cut grass in the time above mentioned and supplyede ourselves with watter we started through the desert 67 miles through the desert on the 23."
Pierce remembered that their water fell short:
"The second day out made it plain that our supply of water was entirely inadequate, but we struggled as best we could."
Crawford records the most disastrous event of their journey-another day and night crossing, the oxen giving out, and the abandonment of the wagons on the desert. Crawford:
"Friday 24 [August] 22 l/2 [miles] we Struck out to day through a miserable Desert Where in many places we could not see the least vestage of vegitation of any Kind for many miles round us, we continued our Journey through the day making in this day and night travil about 22 1/2 miles, Though we camped [east of Floating Island,] 2 hours before day about this time the wind rose and blew from the north which almost Chilled us through The letter part of this nights travil, a good many Cattle gave out and we had to leave our Waggons or double teems and go [o]ut to Water and grass, [Donner Spring area] which is 21 miles from This place, we took our teem and Went out to water leaving one ox which we got out the next day."
Pierces reminiscence of the desert crossing includes their emergency decisions and actions to save themselves and animals:
"so many of the stock perished that it was impossible to proceed further with the train. A consultation was held and it was decided to take the strongest of the animals with four of the lightest wagons and make a dash for the water known to be on the west of the desert. Each man was allowed to put on his blankets, one change of clothes and his gun, and in addition enough food was selected as the company thought to carry us through This unburdened we again started and within a few hours it became evident from the actions of the stock that we were approaching water, as they would sniff the air and hurry forward without urging, and about sundown of the third day we struck the longed-for springs."
Pyeatt wrote of their efforts--double-teaming with half of their wagons to reach water, then returning to recover the stock, [Pyeatt letter to wife Elizabeth children and friends from "California," November 11, 1849. ]
"and leaving his big wagon, with the others, to the desert: we ware ablige to double teams and go out with half of our wagons after gitting our teams to the gras and resting aday we again cut grass and took one wagon back to hall the grass and water this was the carnahan boys wagon we having made arangement with them to join with them and leave our big wagon in the deser this we don putting the load in thear wagon and came out in two days more."
The final tally of loss, in their little "connexion" group alone, is given in Crawford's diary. They recuperated for five days at Donner Spring.
"Saturday 25 [August] We got our oxen and Waggons all out with the exception of one Waggon and four or five oxen, at this place we lay by 5 days and recruited our [Present Donner Spring area, 22 miles north of Wendover,]
In dry weather, the desert's salt crust might have supported the wagons. But after a rain, the crust was easily broken to reveal mire. . . . Pyeatt had previously mentioned in a letter from Salt Lake that it rained. He was pleased because the rain settled the clouds of dust on the California trail. The recent rain nearly spelled disaster for the company on the desert. The additional effort expended in the mud flats decimated their animals, both horses and oxen. Pyeatt considered the group's losses:
[we] got a part of our wagons through on the 25th leaving the rest of them in the desert 21 miles from water and grass, our teams giving out from the hard pulling in the mud we got all of our oxen out (but som of them has bin of very little us to us since thos [though] we have got them all but one to this place) [Consumnes River, California]....(thear ware many of the company that did not get thear oxen all out of the deser) (we had left evrything that we thot we could do with out after we got through the big desert and put oxen to the little wagon, the horses havi[n]g given out).
James Pierce, in his 1902 reminiscence, responded to a story in the Salt Lake Tribune that claimed forty-niners died in the crossing the desert in a newspaper article. Park City, May 9.---
"I noticed in the Tribune of April 30th an account of the finding of remains of a prospector on the desert west of Skull valley and near the abandoned emigrant wagons...But the press and public are both in error regarding the fate of the party who abandoned those wagons. As a matter of fact not a single person in the outfit failed to reach California. . .[after the Salt Desert was crossed] all the rest of our supplies, tools, camp equipage and ten wagons were left on the desert to be destroyed by the elements. . . .How do I know? Well, I was a member of the party and though only sixteen years old at the time, the hardships endured on that trip have fixed its occurrences so firmly in my mind that I can recall nearly every incident in that journey."
Pyeatt also wrote they left ''the rest of them [wagons] in the desert." He further indicated that one wagon, his "big one," was also left in the desert.
[Pyeatt noted several times during the trip unloading his big wagon and setting up shop to do blacksmith repairs: at Fort Mann, at Pueblo, at Green River, at Fort Bridger, and at Salt Lake City. Paragraph inserted to show what the Big Wagon was used for. Roy Tea]
Capt. Howard Stansbury returned from surveying around the Salt Lake three months later. In early November 1849, traveling east across this Salt Desert, he discovered: During the night...five wagons and one cart, which had stuck fast in the mud, and been necessarily left by their owners, who, from appearances, had abandoned every thing, fearful of perishing themselves in this inhospitable desert. Great quantities of excellent clothing, toolchests, trunks, scientific books, and, in fact, almost every thing. . . had been here left strewn over the plain. Many articles had not even been removed from the wagons. The carcasses of several oxen lying about.
Pierce recalled later asking about the Evans Company wagons:
"In 1866 I met Maj. Egan in Salt Lake who told me he had been out to our abandoned wagons, some of which he burned for the purpose of securing the iron, which was in the early days was [sic] very scarce in Salt Lake."
"Maj. [Howard ?]Egan stated to me that he had concluded from the number of wagons, and the skeletons of the animals lying about that the entire train had perished, and I presume that is how the report of our death was started, but it was a mistake."
Robert Hoshide [Utah Crossroads member] in a contemporary article presented some very interesting insights, new information and controversial findings about the wagons in the desert. The following is excerpted from his documented unpublished version of the article Newsletter Utah Crossroads Chapter, Oregon-California Trails Association vol 5 no 2 pp 5-9 (Spring 1994.):
"page 3: I shall review the when and where wagons were abandoned on the a Salt Desert through November 1849, when Howard Stansbury on his 1849 -1850 government expedition passed abandoned wagons during the night."
"Next, I shall survey the 1849 Salt Desert crossings and demonstrate how the Pearce account and other facts impact on previous conclusions based on the archaeological record [of 1986-1988]. I shall conclude by showing why many relics found at the Donner-Reed Excavation sites were not left by the Donner Party."
page 10: "There are no [former] records of wagons being left on the Salt Desert in 1847 or 1849."
page 14: "The physical evidence confirms that artifacts found by the Donner-Reed Excavation probably [came] from the Arkansas parties."
page 16: "Firearms--Pearce mentions leaving weapons in the desert, while no mention is made by the Donner Party. . . Wood--. . .Puzzling are wood fragments such as White Pine and Douglas Fir that did not come from Illinois or Arkansas, but probably from the Wasatch Mountains in Utah. A member of the Arkansas group traded for a wagon in Salt Lake City." [Pyeatt letter 16 August from Salt Lake: "Squire Marrs has bot a small wagon to day for $30."]
page 17: "Tracks and ruts"; continued on.
page 18: "Forty-niner J.R. Pyeatt is the only one who describes extreme difficulty going through the mud..."[Pyeatt also stated "we had a fine rain today" on August 16 in Salt Lake].
page 18: "Conclusion...Recent excavations in sites labeled '42To467 42To471' are probably from the Arkansas parties mentioned in this paper rather than Donner-Reed wagons which has been previously supposed. The archaeological assemblage found at the Donner-Reed."
page 19: "excavation sites fits much better with the Arkansas parties than with the Donner-Reed Party."
On Thursday, August 30, after four days spent at Donner Spring, Captain Evans and most of the 1849 company members resumed traveling. Crawford, Pyeatt, and Pierce stayed behind and laid by for an additional day recruiting the men and animals. Pyeatt:
"heaving rested agan [at Donner Spring area] in a few day we started to tak the next desert 25 or 26 miles though the company [Evans] leaving us [leaving Pyeatt's extended family] one day before withe [with] the Crawford boys and one other wagon Making in all 5 wagons. [Evans] was to wait for us at the nex water and grass."
Crawford never mentioned the temporary split but continued notations of the five wagons as they moved west from the Donner Spring area. The small company traveled into Nevada on the Hastings Cutoff.
"GEORGE W. BUFFINGTON described his experiences crossing the Salt Desert after his Cherokee Trail party had been decimated by cholera. John Lowery Brown, a Cherokee going to California in 1850, also mentions deaths from cholera. Mr. Hoshide states that it took two days and a night to cross the desert. Buffington expected a Dr. Thompson to die on the desert when [Hoshide, p. 6]:
"the train moved on leaving the Doctor to die in the middle of desert sand and waste. Four days later, after they had crossed the desert and were waiting in camp, they saw the Doctor's lone wagon in the distance. As it approached they surrounded it to hear from the occupants and account of the doctor's last hours and burial, but instead were transported with joy to see the Doctor himself much improved in health. They remained here in camp several days to enable the patient to regain some of his strength and prepare for continuing his journey."
ARCHIBALD D. PHILLIPS wrote from Calif. to a friend in New York [Hoshide, p. 6]:
"We crossed the Great Desert with no difficulty, performing it, 70 miles from water to water in 24 hours, without the loss on an animal, or even any suffering. The day was cold, or very different might have been the case; we commenced the dreaded march about 5 o'clock P.M., our pack mules bearing the usual load, the riding mule packed with grass and water-the men on foot."
JACOB GRUWELL remembered that the emigrants would lose even more time because of the great losses of livestock [Hoshide, p. 6]:
"Suffered much from water-crossing a desert of 90 miles, from Tuesday till Thursday, nothing to drink except from the blood of a cow that had been dead for some time Mr. Gruel lost his hearing & speech before they got through, Found no game of consequence till the Valley of the Sacramento."
The number of emigrants on the trail in 1849 was not large. The only information we have is contained in diaries of men who themselves remained on the regular California Trail but whose friends took the cutoff. The first such account is by J. Goldsborough Bruff who was on the Humboldt when, on September 17, 1849, he made this entry:
"While riding along this level bottom I had observed a pack company travelling down the opposite side of the stream, about 1/4 mile off, where the mountains were crowding them off, and soon saw the advance fording the stream. These . . . turned out to be my New York friends [Captain John] McNulty, Fowler, Glynn and comrades; the others, some 12 or 15, were strangers, but intelligent gentlemen from Milwaukee. McNulty informed me that he had gone to Salt Lake where the[y] left many of his old company, the "Colony Guards," sick; and had come from there by the central route, and experienced great sufferings on the long desert of "Utaria." He had heard of us in the morning and seing the blue wagons of my train, thought it was. We had a very cordial greeting. The remainder of the Colony Guards were to remain and take a southern route from Salt Lake into California, under the guidance of some Mormons."
Another version, from Bruff's original notebook, gives some additional details:
"My old friends, the "Colony Guards" of N. York, rode rapidly up, and greeted me. We had a very cordial meeting .... He [McNulty] had taken the central route from thence [Salt Lake City], through the great desert of Utaria-82 miles perfect arid waste. They suffered much-reduced to the necessity of drinking their mules' urine, &c. The remainder of the Guards, with a considerable number of other emigrants, under the guidance of some Mormons, would pursue a southern route from the lake into California, a route in my humble opinion, which will consign many emigrants and their animals to the wolves, and the rest to much suffering."
Although Captain McNulty and his friends apparently endured great suffering on the "desert of Utaria," they were more fortunate than their companions who remained in Great Salt Lake City and later attempted the tragic Death Valley route.
The following is a transcription of the letters and journals which Pardon Dexter Tiffany sent to his wife ... during his journey to California.
Tuesday August 21. . . . We turned the spur of the mountain & travelled 24 miles to the S. W. through these plains. Our road was circuitous in order to pass several streams of water which flow between banks very narrow some 15 or 20 feet below the surface of the plain all of which arise from very large springs. All the streams ensuing from the same large spring. They appear like underground brooks. Had fine grass & water at our camp to night which is on a small brook some 2 miles beyond Hastings Wells.
Wednesday 22d. We have to day to pass around the Spur of the mountain & travel 29 miles to get 10 on our course. As we passed along the foot of the mountain we found many large deep springs of salt water into which you could look some 10 or 12 feet, the bottom appearing perfectly white and as salt as the lake into which they flow & as transparent as glass. At noon we saw at our camp several Digger Indians though they call themselves Shoshonees & they speak that language. All of these are the lowest order of human beings eating roots, bugs, crickets & all such like things without any arms of any kind and in most cases without arms or clothing excepting the women and the old men. But young men of 18 or 20 years I have seen without any clothing except perhaps a string [of twine] around their bellies. Saw a boy of 18 to day with nothing but an old hat on. Encamped to night at Hope wells.
Thursday 23d. We staid all day at Hope wells which are merely small but deep springs of excellent water & there is a plenty of grass here for our stock so rich & large that we mow it for our stock to carry across the desert tomorrow. The wells & grass are at the foot of a range of hills and before us on our journey is a barren alkali valley 13 miles wide. Remained in camp all day to rest & recruit the animals preparatory to the long drive & I consumed the forenoon in making a pair of leather mittens & the afternoon in mowing grass & sewing up my India rubber overpants to put water in for my stock & in getting ready.
Friday 24th. Arose long before day light & before sun rise. Started & went 13 miles to Spring Dell on the side of the mountain [Redlum Springs]. Here we find plenty of water for 100 head of stock & fine bunch grass on each side of the dell in great abundance. We remained until 5 o'clock in the afternoon when we started into the "Long drive."
Saturday 25th. Last evening at 5 o'clock we started from Spring dell & our route was nearly north along up the side of the mountain turning West up each practicable ravine the distance of some six or 7 miles to the top of the ridge, the last two miles of which was up some very steep hills. As we ascended the mountain we had a fine view of the valley we had left. 13 miles wide extending north & widening to the salt lake. North & South the eye could measure it & East & West it was bounded by mountains & the whole surface of these & the valley appeared of the same brown tinge which our field wear when the winter has given them their russet dress. All the hill grass & vegetation is of this colour. I saw nothing of the dreariness & felt none of the horror Mr. Bryant so incorrectly describes in his book. When we came down the mountain on the other side we entered one of these extensive alkali plains nearly covered with sage & greasewood but it was nearly dark for the dim light of the young moon very much limited our horison & obscured our vision. Our company of 15 & the Ithaca Co. of 15 started together, but I was far behind them all having taken great care to so secure my pack as not to be delayed in the route & as I passed them all in the descent of the mountain I rode the whole distance alone being the first to cross the desert since 1846. Our route was nearly West & as far as I could judge, it appeared to be a succession of plains separated by low ridges of 10 or 20 feet high. Some appeared to curve around so as to form the rim of an immense basin. These plains I suppose in the wet season each year are covered with water & the soil is of such a character that when the water dries away the surface is as even & smooth as if of loose sand. Some of them for 8 & 10 miles are entirely destitute of all vegetation as much so as your parlor carpet & Our boys getting ready to take water out to the sufferers; Heddington and Wright have got up a team with one hundred and twenty gallons of water,whle Ogle,Davis and S. Millikan have started back on foot,with water in sacks.Ogle has eight gallons on his back. There are some hard tales coming in, in regard to suffering. perfectly white. Some are about the colour of wet mortar & about the same consi(s)tency ON some the ground appears perfectly white though[h] as you ride along you can find here & there a single bush of sage or greasewood. Rock Ridge extends across your route, Scorpion mountain & one or two hills none of them high. Most of these plains are hard & afford fine roads although the ridges are mostly of sand as white as snow. About 2/3 of the distance across you come to a plain, the surface of which is not broken by any vegetation & as smooth as water about the colour & consistency of wet mortar into which the feet of our horses & mules sank in some few places just over the hoof but the soil does not close up on the foot Pyeathough some sticks to the side of the hoof which makes their feet heavy & wheels of the waggons will sink in some places some six or 8 inches though these places are not long though frequent. The soil is composed of sand salt & clay & of course the difficulty of crossing it depends on the amount of moisture. When I crossed the last ridge & entered this wet or muddy tract as it is called though it is neither, 10 or 12 miles wide it seemed as if I was going into the water for down this valley swept a very strong current of air so cold that it immediately compelled me to button up my coat to my chin, tie 2 handkerchiefs around my throat then put on gloves & my blanket coat & still was very cold. It was before day light. Soon as day began to dawn I saw by the dusky light some six waggons, apparently abandoned though as I came up I found men in them, some of whom arose as I came up & after putting on all their overcoats they wrapped themselves in their blankets & waded through the wind across this bleak spot intending to send for the waggons. Their cattle they had loaned to the other [teams] their companions to help them out expecting the like favour after they should cross this long drive. It was the most dreary desolate discouraging sight I have seen on the way. After passing I found all the remainder of the way (some 20 miles) oxen which had given out. It is said this current of air always prevails of the same character on what authority I know not, but as soon as I was over this 12 miles the weather became warm & I was compelled to pull off my clothing again. I reach[e]d camp about 3 o'clock where were fine springs & fine grass. My horses in good condition, myself not very tired, having been out some 22 hours & having been about 18 in motion. For when I reached the wag[gon] I halted gave my grass to the horses & about 6 qts. of water I had brought in 2 canteens for myself then got into the waggon out of the wind whilst they eat the grass. I eat my breakfast of hard crackers & boiled ham, drank a cup of water, & fell asleep 6 lost more time than I intended to give my stock. My companions found much worse than I did, for they did not come in until after I had had a fine nap nearly sundown. One horse came in the same night & the other in the morning both he & his rider, laying out on the last plain in sight of our camp fire. I speak of only 15 men as companions of the 15 of the N[ew] York Co. came as I believe about the same time. All of this stock with the exception of one of mine had been driven from Missouri this year & was broken down & the same was the case with the ox teams I have spoken of. But with fresh animals or those in good condition I should have no hesitation in making the trip whether with waggons or packs. It has been represented as being much more difficult than it really is to cross this place for to a resolute man there are none. We saw no mirage for 50 miles of course it being night & saw none save on the last plain of 10 miles & here the effect was to give to objects the same appearance as a concave mirror will, lengthens them vertically. So a yoke of oxen directly before us appeared like the chimnies of a large steam boat & a man like a high pillar larger at the top than in the middle. I eat the same before & while on the desert (sandwiches & cold water) & was not thirsty at all and our stock did not suffer. What the effect of a heavy rain might be on the 12 miles mud I know not. I might be the sand would allow the rain to sink immediately or the clay keep it all on the surface or the salt to cause it to make the soil soft. The latter is the only apprehension.
Sunday 26. Laid by all day & in the afternoon had preaching from two men from this text "What think ye of Christ." The first speaker exhorted & the second was eloquent. During the day most of the tired oxen came in being sent for.
Monday 27. Laid by until 5 o'clock. I felt sick & weak & slept & dozed all day & thought I should have a return of the fever & could not go on but-I did. We went down the valley Southwest then cross(s)d a low mountain & another valley & entered the canon of the second range at one o'clock in the morning where we stopped to rest and feed the horses until dawn when we saddled up went West over the range & over a plain sloping west to relief springs 35 miles from Bonak Wells & encamped at 11 o'clock on Tuesd
U.H.Q.,vol. 20, p. 11 states that there was another 1849 reference in the manuscript journal of O. J. HALL in the California State Library about a section of his company that had taken the Salt Desert trail. On the Humboldt, September 23, 1849, he writes:
"We overtook some teams of our old company. They said the company that took Hastings' Cutoff, they went 60 miles without grass or water, many died-some that reached water were past speaking, with black tongue, blood ran from mouth. When they revived they carried water back to others. It must have been a horrible scene. Wagons lay in piles, and property, along the trail. Indians very thievish-11 head of cattle stolen in one place. Some lost their whole train by death or theft and have to take pack on back and seem like crazy men." This account was hearsay and somewhat exaggerated.
JAMES HUTCHINGS noted the misfortunes of a Salt Desert group [Hoshide, p. 6]:
"Sept. 25th. . .Today we were overtaken by some Dutchmen who had taken the Hastings Cut-off at the south end of the Salt Lake and had been there three days without water, surrounded by salt and alkali lakes. Their excessive thirst at first produced giddiness, then faintness succeeded by trembIing so they were obliged to lie down to prevent falling. This agony of thirst possessed them day and night. All of their oxen, twenty-five in number, had died or been killed, they using the blood to quench their thirst temporally. They had three horses (to eight men) and the horses were so worn as to be of little use, consequently the men were packing sixty to eighty pounds, and most of this was clothing."
HOWARD STANSBURY, Captain for the Corps of Topographical Engineers in the United States Army was sent to Utah on a scientific expedition to survey the Great Salt Lake and the surrounding area. During this survey in 1849 he travelled around the north end of the lake and west across the Newfoundland Island, past the northern tip of crater island, and on to some springs. Thence three miles south to Donner Springs where they then began their journey eastward along the Hastings cutoff to Salt Lake City. From Stansbury's An Expedition to the Valley of Great Salt Lake of Utah, pp. 112-114:
"Friday, November 2.-Ther. at sunrise, 19'. As we were aware that immediately before us lay another desert plain, without wood, water, or grass, for seventy miles, some little preparation was necessary before undertaking to cross it. This consisted simply in baking bread and cooking meat enough to last us through, and in packing upon our mules as much grass as they could carry, which we had cut, a handful at a time, with our hunting-knives. We had only vessels sufficient to carry twenty gallons of water-a small supply for so many men and animals. The mules, however, were now much recruited by their rest, and we started in good spirits. Following the western edge of the mud-plain at the foot of the range for three miles, we came to the southern point of the mountain, where there had been an encampment of emigrants, who had taken this route from salt Lake City in 1848. There were here several large springs of excellent water, and the encampment had apparently been quite a large one. The usual destruction of property had taken place. Clothes, books, cases of medicine, wagon wheels, tools, &c., lay strewn about, abandoned by their owners, who had laboriously brought them two thousand miles only to throw them away." Stansbury then mentions Fremont and Hastings and the Donner party.
STANSBURY Continuing: "Leaving the springs, we crossed, once more, through in an opposite direction, the same mud-plain over which we had been obliged to pass in order to reach the mountain [Pilot Peak]. It was twelve miles in width; and now, in consequence of the recent rains, was soft and slippery-all the salt having disappeared, except a few crystals left in some old wagon- tracks. The travelling was in consequence heavy and laborious. After, crossing, we passed, by a gentle ascent [present-day Donner-Reed Pass], over a neck of land which connected the high ridge on our left, at the north end of which we had bivouacked on the 29th [Crater Island], with another and broader one to the south, and which later turned off considerably to the south-west [Silver Island Mountains]. Here we halted for a short time, to give our mules their last chance to pick a little bunch grass which grew in thin scattered tufts on the mountain-side." He then mentions some geologic features of the Silver Island Mountains.
"After halting an hour, we pursued our journey along the eastern base of this isolated mountain or butte, where the dark limestone was again seen, with gypsum, conformable and at right angles with the strata. Some six miles farther on, we passed another isolated butte [Floating Island], upheaved through the level mud-plain, containing what appeared to be another crater, analogous to that seen on the northern end of the ridge, open to the eastward, with the strata dipping in every direction. The main butte appeared to be, at this end, about ten miles wide from east to west, and had manifestly been very much disturbed."
"From this point we travelled on until past midnight, over a level mud-plain, lighted by the rays of the moon, which struggled through a mass of dark and threatening clouds. The wind was fresh and cold, and mud soft and tenacious, making the travelling very slow and fatiguing. During the night, we passed five wagons and one cart, which had stuck fast in the mud, and been necessarily left by their owners, who, from appearances, had abandoned every thing, fearful of perishing themselves in this inhospitable desert. Great quantities of excellent clothing, tool chests, trunks, scientific books, and, in fact, almost every thing, both useless and necessary on a journey of this kind, had been here left strewn over the plain. Many articles had not even been removed from the wagons. The carcasses of several oxen lying about on the ground satisfactorily explained the whole matter. In attempting to cross the plain, the animals had died from exhaustion and want of water, and wagons and their contents had of course to be abandoned."
"About one o'clock in the morning, we halted in the midst of the plain, enticed by sight of a broken ox-yoke, the remains of a barrel, and part of an old wagon-bed, which served for fuel sufficient to boil a little coffee, of which all hands stood very much in need. The mud was ankle deep; and the only place upon which we could spread down a blanket to sleep was around some scattering bushes of artemisia, [ Salacornia or pickle weed] where the wind had collected a little sand, presenting a spot rather higher and not so wet as the mud-flat around. The whole scene was as barren, dreary, and desolate as could be well imagined. We gave the mules a portion of the grass that had been packed upon them in the morning, and two pint cups of water each-the only liquid they had tasted during the day. We then fastened them up as well as we could to the artemisia-bushes, and, wrapping ourselves in our blankets, lay down to wait for the morning. The night was windy and quite cold, and the poor mules kept up such a pitiful and mournful cry, that we were but little recruited by our night's rest."