Roy Tea Title Image 2 & Titles.jpg (23537 bytes)


Brief Biography of Roy D. Tea

Roy is a native Utahn, raised in the Salt Lake Valley as the last child of a family of thirteen. His father was born one year after the Custer Massacre tying Roy to the past he so much loves. He enlisted in the Army after graduating from high school in 1946 and served one year in Japan. Upon returning home he attended Brigham Young University and received his B.S. degree in Geology.

Roy was employed by the Utah State Department of Transportation. During this time he obtained his Professional Engineer license. He worked on highway location and as a Materials Engineer for 35 years. During his engineering endeavor locating the route of Interstate-80 on the Bonneville Salt Flats in the early '60s he encountered the Hastings/Donner-Reed Trail and was hooked. He has spent his spare time for over thirty years locating, following and marking the trail especially the year preceding the flooding of portions of the trail from the Great Salt Lake high water pumping project.

He has been retired for several years and is a member of the Oregon-California Trails Association, Utah Crossroads Chapter and the Lincoln Highway Association. He and his wife Barbara reside in Cottonwood Heights, a community in the southeast Salt Lake Valley.




MAY 1996





Webmaster's Notes:

The Table of Contents in the frame at left provides a convenient way of accessing the topics on this home page. Clicking on a topic will bring it into position for reading in this frame.

Roy Tea has assembled an exhibition of 30 photographs including 28 of his own of the Hastings Trail between Grantsville and Donner Spring. They are an integral part of this presentation. They may be found, complete with descriptive captions and maps locating them, on our Gallery Page. A direct link to the exhibition is:

Gallery - Hastings Road - Roy Tea

Although the material presented here is greatly abbreviated in comparison to his full, printed field guide for this portion of the Hastings Cutoff, Roy would appreciate your comments on this page and the accompanying photographs. Your reactions and suggestions will be of interest in his further development of the page as well as future publications. Please e-mail your thoughts to:

Roy D. Tea.



Over 15,000 years ago a large, deep, fresh water lake called Lake Bonneville covered this area now known as the Great Salt Lake Desert. The lake at its highest level was over 1,000 feet deep. It was supplied with water from the ice age and had an outlet to the Snake River in the north which flows into the Columbia River then to the Pacific Ocean. Eventually Lake Bonneville water cut through the resisting rock at Red Rock Pass north of Preston, Idaho in an outpouring of water of catastrophic proportion. The lake lowered some 350 feet in about six months. Dryer years and retreating glaciers lowered the water below its natural outlet; evaporation then reduced the lake to what is now Great Salt Lake.


The first records of white men and explorers in this region were from John C. Frémont and his large pack party of October 1845 on an exploring expedition to California. Frémont asked a scouting party consisting of Kit Carson, Auguste Archambault, C. Maxwell and Lajeunesse to cross the desert to see if they could find water by the high prominent mountain peak that could be seen from the eastern edge of the desert. They were the first recorded white men to cross this area and they found a spring near the edge of the flats at the foot of the slope to this mountain. This friendly 10,700 foot mountain Frémont named Pilot Peak, a name it still bears today.

Later, in California, Fremont and his party's exploits were heard by such men as mountain man James Clyman, Lansford W. Hastings and others. Hastings had previously written a book called The Emigrants Guide to Oregon and California and was interested in promoting emigration to California for personal gain. The next spring (1846) James Clyman heading east with Hastings and James M. Hudspeth, followed Frémont's trail in reverse across the mud flats to Fort Bridger at the insistence of Hastings. East of Fort Bridger, Hastings recruited emigrants to take his newly traversed "Short Cut" and promised to guide them back to California.

The Bryant-Russell pack party, Harlan-Young, Hoppe or Lienhard and Donner-Reed wagon parties were contacted and decided to follow Hastings' "cutoff" across the Great Salt Lake Desert in the summer of 1846. Later, others seeking gold in California and a quick, shorter way traveled Hastings' Road which really was not shorter and was much more difficult because of the long hard dry drive without water and without feed for the animals. The cutoff was abandoned after 1850 because of the hardships suffered during the crossing by the 49ers. The safer Hensley-Salt Lake Cutoff established in 1848 to the City of Rocks on the California Trail was then used extensively until the railroad came in 1869.

Diaries and Journals

The quotes in this paper come from published manuscripts, journals, diaries and historical books. Publications marked with the logo of the Oregon-California Trails Association are available from the OCTA Bookstore.

Quotes that come from Dale Morgan's Book "West From Fort Bridger" edited by J. Roderic Korns. Revised & updated by Will Bagley & Harold Schindler, Utah State University Press 1994, will be identified by (WFB). These quotes are from the diaries or journals of James Clyman, Edwin Bryant, Heinrich Lienhard and James Reed as well as J. Quinn Thornton who interviewed the survivors of the Donner party at San Francisco in the fall of 1847.
The quotes from Madison Berryman Moorman come from the book "The Journal of Madison Berryman Moorman" Overland Journey to Pacific 1850-1851 Printed by the California Historical Society San Francisco, California 1948 and are identified as (MBM).
The quotes from John Wood come from "The Journal of John Wood" as kept by him while travelling from Cincinnati to the Gold Diggings in California in the spring and summer of 1850. By John Wood, Nevins & Meyers, Columbus, Ohio 1871, and are identified by (JW).
The quotes from Sarah Davis come from her diary in the book "Covered Wagon Women" Diaries & Letters from the Western Trails 1840-1890 Volume II 1850 edited & compiled by Kenneth L. Holmes, The Arthur H. Clark Company, Glendale, California 1983. Will be identified by (CWW). This diary was brought to my attention by fellow chapter member Lyndia Carter and I wish to thank her for her thoughtfulness.
References to the Utah Historical Quarterly, published by the Utah State Historical Society will be identified by (UHQ)


As has been mentioned, the Frémont Party recorded the first crossing of the Great Salt Desert and established what we now call the Hastings Trail. There are extracts from the manuscript reminiscent journal of KERN of the FRÉMONT pack party telling of their travels from The Great Salt Lake to Donner Spring, in the fall of 1845 (WFB):


The second known party to cross this desert was James Clyman, Hastings, Hudspeth and others going eastward on May 27, & 28 1846. Clyman tells of their crossing of present Tooele Valley on June 1st (WFB).


The BRYANT-RUSSELL pack party was one of the first parties to be enticed by Hastings to take this route to California (WFB). Bryant's description of traveling through Tooele valley west to Donner Springs in 1846 is very descriptive and interesting.


The next group of emigrants and the first with wagons to cross this desert was the 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 stated that the party consisted of about four companies with about ten families in each company and a total of eighty wagons.

The following quotes of J. QUINN THORNTON are from the footnotes in West From Fort Bridger (WFB):

At Iosepa, 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 that had recently been posted 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 the 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.'"


The next group to cross the Salt Desert was the LIENHARD OR HOPPE party. They were still following the Harlan-Young party. His narrative is also very descriptive and interesting. This was one of the first parties to cross the Salt Lake Desert with their wagons without having to drive their oxen to water. From the LIENHARD JOURNAL using Charles Kelly's book, Salt Desert Trails, pp. 70-73 and p. 76.


Another very brief account of crossing the salt desert is by JAMES MATHERS in 1846 (Salt Desert Trails, Charles Kelly p.134, reproduced in Overland by Dale Morgan). "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.



JAMES REED, described in his narrative, his family's crossing of the Great Salt Lake Desert from Tooele Valley to Donner Spring in 1846 and the problems encountered while crossing the desert (WFB).


James Reed's daughter, VIRGINIA E. B. REED wrote a letter to Mary C. Keyes dated May 16th, 1847 concerning the desert crossing and after waiting for the return of the men with their oxen.

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 tells about Virginia's remembrances crossing the salt desert, loss of oxen and wagons.


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, and returned east in 1847 with a herd of California horses. One of his men (possibly John Craig) wrote a letter describing the trip and mentions seven others in the party.


In the summer of 1848 SAMUEL J. HENSLEY and his pack party of ten attempted to cross the Great Salt Lake Desert on the Hastings Cutoff but the "Miry" mud from heavy rains thwarted their attempt so his party retraced their route to Salt Lake City. Hensley then headed North and West and pioneered a new route to the California Trail at the City of Rocks near the Utah and Nevada border, in Idaho. He then proceeded on to the Humboldt River where on August 27,1848 he met the Thompson company, a wagon train of discharged Mormon Battalion members. Mr. Hensley gave the "Boys" a "way bill" and told them how to find his trail near the Twin Sisters at the City of the Rocks. Thus began the Hensley / Salt Lake Cutoff.


The next party was that of CAPT. JAMES BROWN who was returning from California with the pay due the Mormon Battalion Sick Detachment. ABNER BLACKBURN was a member of the party. (UHQ vol. 20, pp 7-8 ). He tells about pulling some abandoned wagons together and burning them to keep warm.


JAMES S. BROWN mentioned another party of horsemen who traveled the cutoff that year in October. They were a small group of Mormon Battalion soldiers returning from California. No details were given (UHQ vol.20, p 9).

OCTA member, Robert K. Hoshide's article, "Salt Desert Trails Revisited," in the Utah Crossroads Chapter Quarterly Newsletter Volume 5, Number 2, Spring 1994 OCTA, quotes from several people and their crossing of the Salt Desert in 1849. They are listed below; the reference is identified by (R.K.H).


JOHN RANKIN PYEAT was part of the Evans Company during the gold rush of 1849 and in a letter from California he wrote (R.K.H. Salt Desert Trails p 6) about leaving a wagon in the desert.


"GEORGE W. BUFFINGTON described his experiences crossing the Salt Desert after his Cherokee Trail party had been decimated by cholera." This quote by Mr. Hoshide is in conflict with the Utah Historical Quarterly which has John Lowery Brown, a Cherokee, going to California in 1850 where he also mentions deaths from cholera. Mr. Hoshide states that the desert took two days and a night to cross. Buffington expected a Dr. Thompson to die on the Desert . (R K.H. p 6) The train moved on. The Dr. improved and came to the spring.


ARCHIBALD D. PHILLIPS wrote from California to a friend in New York (R.K.H. 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."


The emigrants would lose even more time because of the great losses of livestock JACOB GRUWELL remembered (R.K.H. 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. We do have information of others who traveled the California Trail and whose friends took the cutoff. J. GOLDSBOROUGH BRUFF made an entry of his friends of September 17, 1849 (UHQ vol. 20, pp 10-11).


JAMES HUTCHINGS noted the misfortunes of a Salt Desert group of Dutchmen who drank oxen blood to quench their thirst (R.K.H. p 6).

O. J. HALL 1849

UHQ 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 which had taken the Salt Desert trail. On the Humboldt, September 23, 1849, he wrote about the trials of the desert crossing.


Howard Stansbury, Captain for the Corps of Topographical Engineers for 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 traveled 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.


Again we refer to the Utah Historical Quarterly (UHQ Vol.. 20), for the next 11 excerpts. The earliest dated reference to any crossing of the Salt Desert in 1850 is found in the journal of SILAS NEWCOMB whose friends decided to try the desert route. They were Vedder, Allyn, Marsh and three others. On August 3, Newcomb passed the junction of the Hastings Cutoff with the old trail along the Humboldt River, and the next day made an entry in his journal (UHQ vol. 20, p 14).


Another record of the same group was made by CARLISLE S. ABBOTT, who recorded a humorous incident. Abbott tells of two friends, Marsh and Allen [Allyn] with four others who took the desert route. When their teams gave out they started on foot for the springs, nearly dead from thirst (UHQ vol. 20, p 15):

Finally Allen and one of the other men dropped to the ground exhausted, when, to the amusement of the others, Allen began to pray.

"O Lord Almighty, send us just one drop of rain!" Immediately from a few fleecy clouds scattering rain drops began to fall, and as Allen and his companions had a rubber blanket, they quickly spread it out. But not a sufficient quantity of water fell to admit of its running together.

"The damnphool," said Marsh, "might just as well have prayed for a barrel of water as for a drop, for he got ten times as much as he asked for." After resting at the springs the men went back for their outfits, only to find that someone had stolen all their food. This is the only record of thievery on the Desert Route.


JOHN UDELL left the next earliest record of the 1850 crossing. His party of four men, crossed the Salt Desert on the 23rd of July being mounted on horses and unencumbered with wagons. He found that another party had preceded them, and the only name mentioned is that of Rev. Hill (UHQ vol. 20, p 15).


The next record we have is the journal of ROBERT CHALMERS who made the crossing on JULY 26-27. Chalmers refers to Auguste Archambault, a former guide for Fremont and at the time chief guide for Stansbury. He apparently took time off to guide about 300 gold-seekers across the Salt Desert for which he received $300. Part of the large group were packers but a majority had wagons and oxen (UHQ vol. 20, pp 48-49).


One member of Archambault's guided party was WILLIAM P. BENNETT. In his autobiography Bennett (UHQ vol. 20, p 16) tells about a French guide and a 300 man party.


Another who was probably a member of this group was JOHN B. MCGEE who wrote a letter from Pilot peak, dated July 29. Addressed to Capt. W. H. Hooper in Great Salt Lake City. The letter (UHQ vol. 20, pp 16-17) suggests the amount of water needed to cross the desert.


The Utah Historical Quarterly, volume # 20 pages 17-19 states: "During the last week of July and the first two weeks of August there was an almost continuous procession of packers and wagons on the Salt Desert, moving day and night." MADISON BERRYMAN MOORMAN gives a vivid a description of his difficulties (UHQ vol. 20, pp 17-19).


Following the Moorman party was HENRY S. BLOOM. In his diary he describes men suffering from lack of water (UHQ vol. 20, p 19).


JOHN WOOD'S diary, gives a very detailed account of his crossing of the Salt Desert with the gold seekers (UHQ vol. 20, pp 22-24).


JOSEPH CAIN wrote a letter to the Deseret News on October 2, 1850, in which he states (UHQ vol. 20, p 26): "We met a number of persons who had come "Hastings' Cutoff," who have all declared it is a much longer road, and a much more dangerous one, on account of the Desert of 91 miles, and also the Indians; many of the emigrants having to travel on foot, packing their provisions on their backs, the Indians having driven off all their animals."


Another who apparently used wagons this season was JOHN LOWERY BROWN a Cherokee who had reached Utah over the Cherokee Trail. Two other companies from the Indian Nation also took the cutoff in 1850, probably about the same time Brown crossed. Brown crossed from Aug 9th, to 11th, He stated (UHQ vol. 20, p. 25): "Twenty-five miles from the springs, we came to where some emigrants had wagons loaded with water which they had brought from the spring to sell to folks as they came up they sold it for one dollar per gallon."

He also said that four men died of the "diarear" [cholera] at Pilot Peak, two being buried in one grave. Note that all these deaths were caused by disease rather than by thirst or fatigue.


JOHN R. SHINN whose wagon train was ten days behind that of John Lowery Brown told about the time it took him to travel across the desert (UHQ vol. 20, p. 26).


SARAH DAVIS tells about her travels past the Great Salt Lake to Grantsville and on to Donner Spring. (CWW):

This was the last known crossing of the Salt Desert in 1850, and perhaps the last use of the Hastings Cutoff in its entirety between Salt Lake Valley and the Humboldt.

A tour guide of the Hastings Cutoff from Grantsville, Utah to Donner Springs, is available in 8 1/2" x 11" format and includes 9 pages of maps. In most cases, full quotes from the journals referenced above are reproduced in the guide. The guide is available from the Oregon-California Trails Association at the OCTA Bookstore, or directly from the Utah Crossroads chapter by sending a request and $5.00 plus $2.00 for postage & handling to:

Roy D. Tea
Utah Crossroads Chapter
Oregon-California Trails Association
2881 Pamela Dr.
Salt Lake City, Utah 84121-5227

Tel. (801) 943-5891


Hit Counter