To Meadow Creek. 27th September.
We rose with the dawn, the cats, and the hens, sleep being impossible after the first blush of light, and I proceeded to inspect the settlement. It is built upon the crest of an earth-wave rising from grassy hollows; the haystacks told of stock, and the bunchgrass on the borders of the ravines and nullahs rendered the place particularly fit for pasturage. The land is too cold for cereals: in its bleak bottoms frost reigns throughout the year; and there is little bench-ground. The settlement consisted of half a dozen huts, which swarmed, however, with women and children. Mr. Kennedy introduced us to a Scotch widow of mature years, who gave us any amount of butter and buttermilk in exchange for a little tea. She was but a lukewarm Mormon, declaring polygamy to be an abomination, complaining that she had been inveigled to a mean place, and that the poor in Mormondom were exceedingly poor. Yet the canny body was stout and fresh, her house was clean and neat, and she washed her children and her potatoes.
We had wandered twenty-five miles out of the right road, and were still distant fifteen to sixteen from the first mail station. For the use of the floor, flies, and permission to boil water, we paid our taciturn Mormon $2, and at noon, a little before the bursting of the dusty storm-gusts, which reproduced the horrors of Sindh, we found ourselves once more in the saddle and the ambulance. We passed by a cattle track on rolling ground dotted with sage and greasewood, which sheltered hosts of jackass-rabbits, and the sego with its beautiful lily-like flowers. After crossing sundry nullahs and pitch-holes with deep and rugged sides, we made the mail station at the west end of Rush Valley, which is about twenty miles distant from Camp Floyd. The little green bottom, with its rush-bordered sinking spring, is called by Captain Simpson “Meadow Creek.” We passed a pleasant day in revolver practice with Al. Huntington, the renowned brother of Lot, who had lately bolted to South California, in attempts at rabbit-shooting — the beasts became very wild in the evening and in dining on an antelope which a youth had ridden down and pistoled. With the assistance of the station-master, Mr. Faust, à civil and communicative man, who added a knowledge of books and drugs to the local history, I compiled an account of the several lines of communication between Great Salt Lake City and California.
Three main roads connect the land of the Saints with the El Dorado of the West--the northern, the central, and the southern.
The northern road rounds the upper end of the Great Salt Lake, and falls into the valleys of the Humboldt and Carson Rivers. It was explored in 1845 by Colonel Frémont, who, when passing over the seventy waterless miles of the western, a continuation of the eastern desert, lost ten mules and several horses. The "first overland trip” was followed in 1846 by a party of emigrants under a Mr. Hastings, who gave his name to the "cut-off” which has materially shortened the distance. The road has been carefully described in Kelly's California, in Horn's “Overland Guide," and by M. Remy. İt is still, despite its length, preferred by travelers, on account of the abundance of grass and water: moreover, there are now but two short stretches of desert.
The southern road, viâ Fillmore and San Bernardino, to San Pedro, where the traveler can embark for San Francisco, is long and tedious; water is found at thirty-mile distances; there are three deserts; and bunch and other grasses are not plentiful. It has one great merit, namely, that of being rarely snowed up, except between the Rio Virgen and Great Salt Lake City: the best traveling is in Spring, when the melting snows from the eastern hills fill the rivulets. This route has been traveled over by Messrs. Chandless and Remy, who have well described it in their picturesque pages. I add a few notes, collected from men who have ridden over the ground for several years, concerning the stations: the information, however, it will be observed, is merely hearsay.
The central route is called Egan's by the Mormons, Simpson's by the Gentiles. Mr. or Major Howard Egan is a Saint and well known guide, an indefatigable mountaineer, who for some time drove stock to California in the employ of Messrs. Livingston, and who afterward became mail-agent under Messrs. Chorpenning and Russell. On one occasion he made the distance in twelve days, and he claims to have explored the present post-office route between 1850 and the winter of 1857-1858. Captain J. H. Simpson, of the federal army, whose itinerary is given in Appendix I., followed between May and June, 1859. He traveled along Egan's path, with a few unimportant deviations, for 300 miles, and left it ten miles west of Ruby Valley, trending southward to the suite of the Carson River. On his return he pursued a more southerly line, and fell into Egan's route about thirty miles west of Camp Floyd. The employés of the route prefer Egan's line, declaring that on Simpson's there is little grass, that the springs are mere fiumaras of melted snow, and that the wells are waterless. Bad, however, is the best, as the following pages will, I think, prove.
Thursday, Aug. 8.— Arrived at the edge of the desert, 95 miles from Salt Lake City, at 4 P. M. [Simpson's Springs] (Clemens)
To Tophet. 28th September.
On a cool and cloudy morning, which at 10 A.M. changed into a clear sunny day, we set out, after paying $3 for three feeds, to make the second station. Our road lay over the seven miles of plain that ended Rush Valley: we saw few rabbits, and the sole vegetation was stunted sage. Ensued a rough divide, stony and dusty, with cahues and pitch-holes: it is known by the name of General Johnston's Pass. The hills above it are gray and baldheaded, a few bristles of black cedar protruding from their breasts, and the land wears an uninhabitable look. After two miles of toil we halted near the ruins of an old station. On the right side of the road was a spring half way up the hill: three holes lay full of slightly alkaline water, and the surplus flowed off in a black bed of vegetable mud, which is often dry in spring and summer. At “Point Look-out,” near the counterslope of the divide, we left on the south Simpson's route, and learned by a signpost that the distance to Carson is 533 miles. The pass led to Skull Valley, of ominous sound. According to some, the name is derived from the remains of Indians which are found scattered about a fine spring in the southern parts. Others declare that the mortal remains of bison here lie like pavement-stones or cannon balls in the Crimean Valley of Death. Skull Valley stretches nearly southwest of the Great Salt Lake plain, with which it communicates, and its drainage, as in these parts generally, feeds the lake. Passing out of Skull Valley, we crossed the cahues and pitch-holes of a broad bench which rose above the edge of the desert, and after seventeen miles beyond the Pass reached the station which Mormons call Egan's Springs, anti-Mormons Simpson's Springs, and Gentiles Lost Springs.
Standing upon the edge of the bench, I could see the Tophet in prospect for us till Carson Valley: a road narrowing in perspective to a point spanned its grisly length, awfully long, and the next mail station had shrunk to a little black knob. All was desert: the bottom could no longer be called basin or valley: it was a thin fine silt, thirsty dust in the dry season, and putty-like mud in the spring and autumnal rains. The hair of this unlovely skin was sage and greasewood: it was warted with sand-heaps; in places mottled with bald and horrid patches of salt soil, while in others minute crystals of salt, glistening like diamond-dust in the sunlight, covered tracts of moist and oozy mud. Before us, but a little to the right or north, and nearly due west of Camp Floyd, rose Granite Mountain, a rough and jagged spine or hog's back, inhabited only by wolves and antelopes, hares and squirrels, grasshoppers, and occasionally an Indian family. Small sweet springs are found near its northern and southern points. The tradition of the country declares it to be rich in gold, which, however, no one dares to dig. Our road is about to round the southern extremity, wheeling successively S. and S.E., then W. and N.W., then S.W. and S.E., and S.W. and N.W.-in fact, round three quarters of the compass; and for three mortal days we shall sight its ugly frowning form. A direct passage leads between it and the corresponding point of the southern hill: we contemplate, through the gap, a blue ridge where lies Willow-Spring Station, the destination of our party after to-morrow; but the straight line which saves so much distance is closed by bogs for the greater part of the year, and the size of the wild sage would impede our wagon-wheels.
The great desert of Utah Territory extends in length about 300 miles along the western side of the Great Salt Lake. Its breadth varies: a little farther south it can not be crossed, the water, even where not poisonous, being insufficient. The formation is of bottoms like that described above, bench-lands, with the usual parallel and perfectly horizontal water-lines, leaving regular steps, as the sea settled down, by the gradual upheaval of the land. They mark its former elevation upon the sides of the many detached ridges trending mostly N. and S. Like the rim of the Basin, these hills are not a single continuous mountain range which might be flanked, but a series of disconnected protrusions above the general level of the land. A paying railway through this country is as likely as a profitable canal through the Isthmus of Suez: the obstacles must be struck at right angles, with such assistance as the rough kanyons and the ravines of various levels afford.
We are now in a country dangerous to stock. It is a kind of central point, where Pávant, Gosh Yuta (popularly called Gosh Ute), and Panak (Bannacks) meet. Watches, therefore, were told off for the night. Next morning, however, it was found that all had stood on guard with unloaded guns.