Newsletter of the Utah Crossroads Chapter
Oregon-California Trails Association

Spring/Summer 1996 - Vol. 7, No. 2 & 3
(Part A)
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Table of Contents
Part A
On the Hastings Cutoff with Utah Crossroads
Lyndia Carter
OCTA at Elko: Cal-Nev Hosts Convention
Kristin Johnson
The Editor's Corner
Kristin Johnson
OCTA on the Internet
Rust Marks Along the Trail
George Ivory
Trail Dust
Al Mulder
150 Years Ago
More on the Hastings Road Around Timpie Point
Rush Spedden & Roy Tea
Utah Centennial Series: Tours for Teachers
Nancy Andersen
Eleanor Graves McDonnell
Kristin Johnson
Eleanor Graves McDonnell Letter, 1850
Introduction by Kristin Johnson
Part B
When Did the Graves Family Join the Donner Party?
Kristin Johnson
A Survivor of the Downer Horror of 1846-7
Luke Halloran
Kristin Johnson
Looking for Luke in All the Wrong Places
Kristin Johnson
An Overland Emigrant of 1846: Antonio B. Rabbeson's Account
Introduction by Kristin Johnson
Keseberg and the Buffalo Robe
Kristin Johnson
From "The Graves Tragedy"
Spencer Ellsworth
Charles Kelly and the Salt Desert Trail
Lyndia Carter


[ Table of Contents ] Crossroads, Spring/Summer 1996 - Vol. 7, No. 2 & 3

On the Hastings Cutoff with Utah Crossroads

Lyndia Carter

"...across the Great Salt Lake Desert trailing the ghosts..."

It was in the glorious month of May that Roy Tea found some followers and set out across the Great Salt Lake Desert trailing the ghosts of Lansford W. Hastings, Edwin Bryant, Heinrich Lienhard, the Harlans, Youngs, Donners, Reeds, and even "Lucinda." Utah Crossroads participants met at the Donner-Reed Museum in Grantsville, early in the morning of May 4, 1996, to spend two days exploring the Hastings Cutoff across the Great Salt Lake Desert. After breakfast and a tour of the museum, which contains many emigrant artifacts found on the desert, we loaded into our four-wheel drive vehicles and followed Roy, our field trip chairman, into the wilderness.

Roy had prepared an excellent guidebook, loaded with maps and journal excerpts, which was a wonderful asset as we traveled. He also kept us informed and entertained with interesting tidbits from history. It was fascinating to walk part of the Hastings trail as we traveled toward Timpie Spring not far from the cement plant west of Grantsville. A side trip up the hill to overlook Timpie Point and see the trail below from an eagle’s eye view gave a good perspective to where the trail was leading and to look back on where we had been. Next the caravan visited Big Spring on the west side of Timpie Point.

We traveled on west from Big Springs through thorny brush; we could often see traces of the trail beside the dirt road we were using. Lone Rock was a significant landmark that we passed on our way down the old Lincoln Highway, which paralleled the trail. In some places the trail was clearly visible, creating an aura of the past. Back on the paved road, we passed Burnt Spring, now dry, but also significant for early explorers. Near Horseshoe Springs we turned off the road to see where the trail used by some of the gold rush 49ers separated from the Hastings trail. The gold seekers went over to Delle Springs for good water and a nice camping spot, while the Hastings route continued straight down.

Our next stops were at "Bat Point," famous in Roy’s his-tory, and Bee-Lee-Loop Valley, (would you believe Roy named that too!—ask him about it sometime). We took a look at the trail off Silver Island. We went around the point and then followed the Silver Island road, which may be right toward Hope Wells in Skull Valley. Later we stopped to see where the two trails merged again. Maxine Radmall’s sharp and well-trained eyes spotted Indian petroglyphs located where we were viewing the junction of the two roads.

At Hope Wells the emigrants found the last good water before the desert. Where they loaded up on grass and water, we loaded up on the history of the Hawaiians who had colonized the area for the Mormon church, calling their settlement Iosepa. The cemetery is about all that remains of the once-thriving community in the desert wasteland, so different from their island home.

The drive across Skull Valley was bumpy, to say the least. It must have been a difficult stretch for the animals pulling the wagons, but nothing compared to what they would have to face. The road across Skull Valley is not clearly visible, but every once in a while we could catch a glimpse of it.

We nooned at Redlum Spring on the east side of the Cedar Mountains. The water from the spring is brackish, but the area in the verdure of spring was beautiful, probably much more so for us than it was for the emigrants who were crossing in the summer and fall when the landscape would have been much drier. The jaunt over the Cedar Mountains was a bit bone-shaking even in our modern vehicles. At the summit, we were able to explore a bit and get a feel for the country. Some of us walked a little way down Hastings Pass on the west side. We continued by vehicle down the pass and came out on the desert plain, again being able to see and walk part of the trail as it emerged from the pass.

There is no gravel or dirt road across the plain to the Grayback Hill, but Roy kept pointing out the wagon route as we used the available roads. Luckily, there had been rains several days before and there was not much dust as we made our way to the base of Grayback. Many of us scrambled, or something like that, up the side of Grayback, which was much steeper than it looked from below. Once on top we could see for miles in both directions. Trail markers helped us locate the wagon route on top and down the west side and out into the Salt Desert. It was fun to explore around at the top, but then it was time to rejoin the others at the bottom and head for dinner and showers in Wendover. By the way we sped out of there, you would have thought that mom had called us to dinner.

Sunday morning we met at the dike road to go out to Floating Island to see the tracks across the salt flats. We all decided to take a side trip and see an ancient Indian cave that Roy had found while working for the state roads. The cave, which has been "dug" by archaeologists, was interesting to explore and we had a chance to enjoy the morning air. Then on we traveled to the tip of Floating Island to where the trail came across the salt flats. The glare of the salty whiteness and its seeming endlessness gave us a tiny feeling of what the emigrants experienced, but we had plenty of drinks and refreshments and so had none of their fear or worries or hardships. Utah Crossroads has marked the trail across part of the salt flats at this point and Roy pointed out the route to us.

The trail through this area was not on the salt flats but was on good old terra firma, undoubtedly a relief after the soft salt mud. The wagons had to fight their way around hummocks and through greasewood, but the road was pretty good in most places for us modern travelers.

Some of us were dropped off to walk through Donner-Reed Pass on Silver Island, while the rest had to drive around on the road. It was a pleasant walk, looking for wild flowers, rust marks, and other such diversions. We ate lunch on the west side of the pass before continuing. Roy announced that we were going before some of us had finished our nooning. Throwing coolers and half-finished lunches into the backs of vehicles, we loaded into the wagons and headed down the road to take the long way around to Pilot Peak. There is no road directly across the eight or so miles of salt flats that still separated us from the water at the base of Pilot Peak. Following Roy "Ab Jenkins" Tea on that road was no easy matter, I’ll tell you! Fortunately, we did all manage. We arrived at Pilot Peak much faster than I would have thought possible.

Donner Spring was beautiful. Vern Gorzitze and Jerry Dunton had been out prior to the trip and had it all spruced up just for us. The beauty and peace there is almost overwhelming, just as the joy of finding water must have been overwhelmingly joyful to the emigrants. Crossroads members can feel pride in their preservation project to protect Donner Spring. (Thanks, Vern, Al, and the rest of you workers!)

The trip was now officially ended, but a few diehards still took a side-trip over Bidwell Pass on the way home. It was a weekend to savor for a long time. While visiting the past, we made memories for tomorrow.


[ Table of Contents ] Crossroads, Spring/Summer 1996 - Vol. 7, No. 2 & 3

OCTA at Elko: Cal-Nev Hosts Convention

Kristin Johnson

OCTA’s California-Nevada Chapter treated an estimated 600 OCTA members to a great convention in Elko, Nevada in August.

Events got off to a rousing start with preconvention activities on August 12 and 13, including tours of Hastings Cutoff in the Ruby Valley and other field trips. The tours were well organized and conducted; instead of a single large caravan, there were many small groups of about six vehicles each, which arrangement was not only efficient but allowed participants a chance to get to know the others in their group. The tour leaders were well informed and very well prepared; the large number of vehicles involved could have created a logistical nightmare, but there were remarkably few problems. Highlights of the tours included Mound Springs, which really are as bouncy as the pioneers reported, the beautiful Ruby Valley, and the breathtaking view of the canyon of the South Fork of the Humboldt, which reminded several of us of Utah’s Dead Horse Point.

The convention proper started Wednesday, August 14, with the opening ceremonies and general membership meeting, followed by papers and other presentations, which continued the next day. There were a number of excellent speakers, among them Fred Gowans, Don Buck, Chuck Dodd, and Will Bagley, who addressed different aspects of emigration through the Great Basin in general and along the Humboldt River in particular.

The convention consisted of more than just talks, however. There were a variety of events on the program, including Joyce Badgley Hunsaker’s performance as "Fanny: A Woman on the Trail"; "Hitching the Teams," a demonstration of the various ways that draught animals were yoked, harnessed, and packed by overland emigrants; workshops on the Internet, mapping, and appropriately, convention planning; and get-acquainted socials. On Thursday afternoon approximately 25 Utah Crossroaders convened for a chapter meeting conducted by George Ivory.

Friday and Saturday activities included bus tours to Record Bluff, the Ruby Valley, and Gravelly Ford, and a trail hike, with the Awards Banquet Friday evening and a Basque barbecue Saturday. The culmination of the convention was the dedication of the new marker designating the junction of Hastings Cutoff with the California Trail. The marker consists of three well designed and informative interpretive panels set on a slope overlooking the valley where the trails join and sheltered by a sturdy kiosk. Performing at the ceremony were Alfrieda Jake of the Shoshoni nation and our favorite bagpiper, Martha Lienhard Vincent, whose ancestors may well have met 150 years previously.

Our friends and neighbors in the California-Nevada Chapter did a great job hosting the convention. The catering, programs, and entertainment were first rate. Having gone through the same process two years ago, Utah Crossroaders can appreciate the planning and preparation that went into creating this successful convention.


[ Table of Contents ] Crossroads, Spring/Summer 1996 - Vol. 7, No. 2 & 3

The Editor's Corner

Kristin Johnson

I don't know about you all, but I've been busy. On top of work and an inordinate number of research and writing projects, I've been coping with the stress of publication.

In a fit of weakness which he will doubtless regret, John Alley at USU Press agreed to publish "Unfortunate Emigrants": Narratives of the Donner Party, an anthology of previously published but not always readily available documents which I've edited and annotated. (My only defense is that it seemed like a good idea at the time.) Anyway, the book became available in both hardback and paper the first of August, and has been selling quite nicely, thank you, with the help of unsolicited (and much appreciated) plugs from of such good folks as Will Bagley, George Ivory, and Jay Aldous. My slogan has become, "Remember, you don't have to buy just one!"

In addition, August saw not only the OCTA convention in Elko but a number of other goings-on in Truckee, California and Reno, Nevada, to commemorate the Donner sesquicentennial, including talks, interviews, signings, and so on.

The upshot of all this brou-ha-ha is that your editor got behind with Crossroads. Gratefully seizing a brilliant suggestion of Al Mulder's, I opted to combine the Spring and Summer issues into one. There's a lot of material and I can only hope it was worth waiting for.

Unfortunately, associate editor Bob Hoshide has had to relinquish his position due to massive demands on his time. This issue was cobbled together using primitive wordprocessing software--WordPerfect--and my equally primitive desktop publishing skills; I'm sure you'll notice the difference.I blame my predecessor for having such a high standard to keep up.

During my Donner Party research I have been privileged to meet many descendants of the Graves family of the Donner Party living in my native stomping ground, Sonoma County, California. "My Graveses," as I've come to call them, have been extremely kind in sharing family lore and photos. In another departure from tradition, I'd like to dedicate this issue to them and especially to Karl Kortum, who passed away on September 12. Karl, a great-grandson of Sarah Graves Fosdick, was the founder and Director Emeritus of San Francisco's Maritime Museum, a notable personality, and a dedicated Graves family historian. The numerous tellings of the Donner story have centered on the Reeds and Donners--naturally so, since they were the most prominent members and left the most documentary evidence--and as a result the Graveses have been neglected. In an attempt to balance the situation, this issue of Crossroads presents some little known information about the family.

Naturally, thanks are due our usual contributors: columnists George Ivory and Al Mulder, reporters Lyndia Carter and Nancy Andersen, and proofreaders Will Bagley and Laura Mulder. Happy reading!

Kristin Johnson


[ Table of Contents ] Crossroads, Spring/Summer 1996 - Vol. 7, No. 2 & 3

OCTA on the Internet

"The OCTA homepage opens with a graphic of South Pass..."

The OCTA Homepage:

In March, just after we put the previous issue of Crossroads to bed, Lesley Wischmann announced that the Board had authorized the creation of an OCTA website on the Internet. For those unfamiliar with the concept, a website or homepage is somewhat like a book's table of contents. It consists of a screen or screens text describing a subject, with significant words highlighted. Clicking the mouse on a highlighted phrase takes one to another page discussing that subject; the second page can take one to further pages, and so on.

The OCTA homepage opens with a graphic of South Pass and gives the organization's address and phone number, followed by several paragraphs of text. Highlighted words and phrases about which more information is available include: preservation activities, educational activities, Overland Journal, News from the Plains, the bookstore, the Overland Trails Mailing List, COED, regional chapters, membership, and much more. It provides a way for readers to respond with comments and suggestions, too. In addition, the OCTA page is also linked to other trail-related sites, such as the Santa Fe Trail page.

The OCTA homepage is a truly exciting development. It's fun to use and extemely informative, not only about the organization but about the overland experience in general. Even though some of the secondary pages haven't been completed as of this writing, it's an impressive piece of work. Lesley Wischmann and Bob Wier are to be heartily congratulated for their work in creating this fascinating resource.

Mormon Trail Mailing List
"MORMONTR offers individuals an opportunity to discuss Mormon Trail tourism development, sesquicentennial celebrations, special events, organizational activities, history, and related genealogy. If you would like to join this list, please send a short paragraph of introduction to the list-owner, Brian J. Hill ( He will add you to the list and forward your introduction to other members."

Interactive Santa Fe Trail page


[ Table of Contents ] Crossroads, Spring/Summer 1996 - Vol. 7, No. 2 & 3

Rust Marks Along the Trail

George Ivory

"...(Iowa) farm land was available for as little as $1.25 per acre."

"What (prompted) ... George Donner to advertise his farm for sale, and later to place an advertisement to encourage 'eight young men, of good character, who can drive an ox team' to 'leave this vicinity about the first of April'?"

Iowa—once the freehold of the tawny savage—is now a civilized and settled State. Where once the wolf went bounding, now waves the yellow corn; and where the owlet hooted to the solitude, the cabin-smoke is floating on the air. Wherever the highway winds, the ever-recurring marks of cheerful industry—of progress—of prosperity—greet the traveller’s eye, till one is disposed to rank this State as contemporary with many of her elder sisters. The immigrant is no longer called on to endure the vicissitudes, the hardships, and the dangers of a frontier life. At every step he meets civilization—in many places, finds improvements in the art of farming, such as he dreamed not of in his Eastern home. Yet, be it not supposed that Iowa is full. Far from it; still within her vast domain lie millions of untilled acres—unentered—untouched—unreclaimed from primeval wildness. They await the immigrant— they call to him and bid him come. The fertility of the soil in Iowa is unsurpassed—not merely in our Union—but throughout the world. The black loam that overlies her prairies, and which varies in depth from eighteen to forty-eight inches, forms an inexhaustible storehouse of fecundity and agricultural wealth. Such are the inducements Iowa holds out to the farmer.

This paragraph is taken from the introduction of an interesting book I recently found, Iowa as it is in 1855; A Gazetteer for Citizens, and a Hand-book for Immigrants, by N. Howe Parker, published in Chicago. The book consists of 264 pages of glowing praise for the then-young state of Iowa and encouragement for emigrants to settle where farm land was available for as little as $1.25 per acre. With such "untouched" land available it makes me wonder why anyone would want to face the arduous trek up the Platte River Valley, across mountains and deserts, with sickness, hostile Indians, and possible death in the offing. Why not take the money you might spend for your outfit, buy some virgin farm land in Iowa, and settle down?

What was it that would prompt a man like George Donner to advertise his farm for sale, and later to place an advertisement to encourage "eight young men, of good character, who can drive an ox team" to "leave this vicinity about the first of April"? Was it part of an American dream to occupy the West, a utopian land of opportunity? Or did Americans go west because they truly believed it was the manifest destiny of the United States to stretch from Atlantic to Pacific? Before the discovery of gold in California, the definite political agenda of many leaders pushed for the extension of the United States into the West, despite the threat of war with Great Britain and the actual war with Mexico. By the time most of these issues were settled, the emigration into Oregon, California, and the Great Basin was increasing each year and then —Gold—Gold! You can just pick it up in the stream bed! Go west, young man, and find your fortune.

There were a variety of reasons to make that great leap across half a continent. Rich farm land; easy fortunes in the gold fields; an isolated valley by a salty sea where people could practice a different kind of religion; a sense of obligation to overspread the continent, subdue the wilderness, and make it blossom.

There were, of course, already people living in these areas of new settlement. They had names like Cheyenne, Ute, Shoshoni, Pawnee, Arapaho, Paiute, Nez Perce. Although they had warred among themselves for generations, they proved no equal against the onslaught of white migration. The westward movement gradually drove the native peoples from most of their land and destroyed their subsistence base, causing them to depend on their conquerors for their very existence. This is today a very sensitive subject, but could it really have been much different if the West was to be settled and developed as it has been?

But getting back to my original question, why did they do it? Why not, as in the case of George Donner and family, just stay where you are, or with Brigham Young and the Mormons, create a permanent settlement in the largely unsettled area of western Iowa? Many of course, did stay where they were and some of Brigham Young’s followers stayed in Iowa, even after a rather pointed call to come on west in the early 1850s. However, the ones we like to study, research, write and read about are the ones who bought or built a wagon, acquired some unruly steers that some farmer called oxen, loaded the wagon with everything from flour, salt pork, sugar loaf, saleratus, and beans to a Hawken rifle and a plow, and set out early in the month of May for a great dream in the West. And they certainly were not just hale and hearty 20-year-old young men, no, they were all kinds—young children, aged grandparents, women (some of whom gave birth along the way), saints and sinner, able frontiersmen and novices from the slums of Europe. We honor and revere them for what they were and what they accomplished. This year and next we have very special reasons to commemorate them, the 150th anniversaries of the opening of a wagon road through the Wasatch Mountains in 1846 and the arrival of the Mormon pioneers of 1847.

We are fortunate to have as members and friends in Utah Crossroads many noted researchers, historians, and writers from whom we receive a constant flow of new and interesting information. I want to express my thanks to all Utah Crossroads members for your friendship and willingness to share and help make this such a great and satisfying western history organization.

—George Ivory

Mormon Trail Activity Book

The new OCTA educational activity book, Finding the Right Place: The Story of the Mormon Trail, has been well received in high places. Utah Governor Mike Leavitt wrote Chapter President George Ivory, "The book is extremely well written and illustrated. I am impressed with the information the book contains and I’m sure the children will gain much from this publication." Kudos to the author, OCTA Education Chair Bill Hill, and to Utah Crossroads Education Chair Nancy Andersen, George Ivory, and the many others who helped with the project. The book is available at the Utah Historical Society bookstore.


[ Table of Contents ] Crossroads, Spring/Summer 1996 - Vol. 7, No. 2 & 3

Trail Dust

Al Mulder

It’s been a long time between issues of Crossroads and a lot of activity of catch up on—a great OCTA convention, a Pony Express conference, a marker dedication, a new kiosk, and interpretive panels on the Mormon pioneer trail, and a few trail outings in Tooele and Summit counties. It was good to meet and greet so many OCTA friends at the Elko convention. Those Nevada cowboys and cowgirls know how to put on a fun convention! Visiting places on the Humboldt Highroad like Gravelly Ford, the Barrick Goldstrike Mine, and the impressive kiosk at the junction of Hastings Cutoff and the California Trail were great events that made the convention a memorable one. I especially enjoyed watching the team hitching and horse packing demonstration— brought back fond memories of ranch rides and pack trips in the Uintas. I sent Greg Franzwa a few pictures of the kiosk dedication and he sent me an album of his Dixieland jazz group, the "Tiger Rag Forever Jazz Band." Is there anything "The Old Man" can’t do? He’s not only an author, publisher, and historian, but he plays a mean trumpet, arranges music, and plays several other instruments. Whew!

Pony Express
The Utah Division of the National Pony Express Association (NPEA) recently hosted the Board of Directors conference in Tooele. The local division received accolades for its work on the "heroic" sized statue of a Pony Express rider and station keeper. The sculpture by Avard Fairbanks will be placed at This is the Place State Park. Thanks to the special efforts of Utah Crossroads members Pat Hearty and Fred Abernethy, Utah Division President, the statue will be placed at the site next year during the Mormon Trail sesquicentennial. If you would like to make a contribution to this outstanding historic project, contact Fred, Pat, or me (we’re in the Utah Crossroads chapter roster).

Mormon Pioneer Trail
A recent historic trail marking project which received recognition by news TV and the press is the tri-panel kiosk and five interpretive panel markers placed on the Mormon Pioneer Trail on State Highway 65 by the Utah Division of Parks & Recreation. Trails Coordinator John Knudson managed the project and has spent the past three years getting the funds and coordinating the project with historians, researchers, contractors, and the Long Distance Trails Office of the National Park Service. George, Jay Haymond, and I spent a pleasant day with John, director Courtland Nelson, Kay Threlkeld, and others as we toured the Pioneer Memorial Backway from the Echo Canyon visitor center to This is the Place State Park. Take advantage of good fall weather and see these beautiful panel displays. John, Kay, and the others involved have done an excellent job.

Grantsville Historic Marker
The Grantsville historic marker was completed in time for dedication on August 11. There were 125 people at the dedication. Thanks to everyone who participated in the project for their support and hard work. Incidentally, the city of Grantsville has given us permission to re-bury the remains of Luke Halloran and John Hargrave in the city cemetery in the event an archaeological investigation should locate their graves. It’s not too late to support this and other marking projects. Chapter Treasurer Gar Elison will be happy to accept donations. Checks should be made out to "Utah Crossroads," and please note what the donation is for on the check.

In September I met two couples from East Sussex, England, at the Donner-Reed Museum in Grantsville, Richard and Ffion Wilkes and Dennis and Jennifer Miles. They were following the Donner-Reed Trail in a rented car. They stopped in at OCTA headquarters in Independence and heard about the Grantsville museum and marker. They showed a keen interest in Western history and trails. We had an enjoyable visit. I gave them some Hastings Cutoff maps, suggested reading list (they had purchased Kristin’s new book in Independence), and a chapter brochure. I hope we hear from them.

Fun Things
A lot of fun things happened in June—the Pony Express Re-ride, the Lincoln Highway Association Conference in Reno, and the Utah Westerners field trip to Southern Utah and the "Arizona Strip."

Eleven more Carsonite posts were placed on the Hastings Cutoff trail and a few posts have been placed on the Mormon Pioneer Trail in Echo Canyon. More trail markers will be placed on the Mormon Trail this fall and next spring. The new logo decals for the three National Historic Trails in Utah have been ordered from the Long Distance Trails Office. We hope to have them on for the Mormon pioneer sesquicentennial next year.

A new trail history book, The Mormon Trail, Yesterday and Today, by William E. Hill, is now available. Bill did an excellent job (great photos, past and present). Chapter president George Ivory had a big hand in getting the book written and published.

While marking Hastings Cutoff east of Grayback Ridge, Roy and I took another look at the route Edwin Bryant and William Russell may have taken but we couldn’t find "a narrow gap, the walls of which are perpendicular," as he describes in his journal. I’ll keep looking. Meanwhile, Pat Hearty and I plan to follow the Bryant-Russell trail through North Willow Canyon on horseback. Should be an interesting ride and give us a real sense of history.

Well, fellow emigrants, it’s time to saddle up and get the wagons moving. See you at the next camp!

—Al Mulder

Portrait of a Carsonite Post

Utah Crossroads’ trail marking efforts have attained some incidental publicity in a new book by David Lavender. Snowbound: The Tragic Story of the Donner Party is intended for younger readers and contains many excellent illustrations. A photograph of the Stansbury Mountains taken from Hastings Pass looking east includes a white Carsonite post with the OCTA wagon logo and the words "Hastings Cutoff" clearly visible. (For more about Snowbound, see Lyndia Carter’s review in the July issue of News from the Plains.


[ Table of Contents ] Crossroads, Spring/Summer 1996 - Vol. 7, No. 2 & 3

150 Years Ago



Several families will leave Sangamon County, this spring, for Oregon and California. Among them are some of our best citizens. A disposition to emigrate to the shores of the Pacific, will enable persons who wish to purchase well improved farms, to invest their money here to great advantage. The farm offered by Mr. David Newsome, can be had at a great bargain.

—Sangamo Journal (Springfield, Ill.), March 26, 1846.

The last advices from Brigham Young’s Company of Mormons, left them encamped on the Chariton river. It is said they will wait there to be joined by another company from Nauvoo.

Sangamo Journal (Springfield, Ill.), March 26, 1846.


The company which left here last week, for California, embraced 15 men, 8 [5?] women, and 16 children. They had nine waggons. They were in good spirits, and we trust, will safely reach their anticipated home.

A company have left Putnam county, consisting of 16 males and 7 females, for Oregon. John Robinson, one of the first settlers of Madison County, was one of their number.

A Chicago paper states that some forty persons will leave Rockford this spring for the same destination.

—Sangamo Journal (Springfield, Ill.), April 23, 1846.


We are favored with the following extract of a letter, says the Union of the 16th, received at Washington, from ‘Jalapa,’ March 27, 1846—

"Letters from Mazatlan of the 4th inst. State that Captain Freemont, with his corps of observation, arrived at Suter’s settlement on the Sacramento, early in January; he is said to have discovered a good waggon road to Oregon, which is much shorter than any heretofore traveled. — He had gone to Monterey, in Upper California, leaving his corps on the Sacramento."

Sangamo Journal (Springfield, Ill.), April 30, 1846.


This is the "title and address," which has been adopted by the company of Mormons now on their way Westward.

A mail carrier arrived here on Monday last from the Camp, and reported the pioneer party, or bend of the Column, as having crossed the tributaries of the Chariton river, over 150 miles distant. By this time they are probably on the banks of the Missouri.

Thus far, everything has gone favorably with the exception of the breaking down of a few overladen wagons. The party is in good health and spirits — no dissensions exist; and the

Grand Caravan moves slowly and steadily and peacefully. Their progress has been materially retarded by the want of fodder for their live stock; — the grass not having fairly started, reduced them to the necessity of laboring for the farmers on the route to supply the deficiency.

They travel in detached companies, from five to ten miles apart and in point of order, resemble a military expedition.

We visited the Camp before it broke up on the opposite side of the River, and, with other strangers, were highly interested in the romantic and exciting display of border enterprise.

It bore the appearance of a moveable town, the wagons and tents being arranged on either side of large streams, and public spaces left for the cattle as we see in some of our River cities. Tattersals never turned out a lot of such broken down nags as are to be found attached to this expedition.

If they ever reach California, their dependence must be partly upon slow traveling and partly upon miracle — but chiefly upon the latter. — (Hancock Eagle.)

—Illinois Gazette, May 9, 1846.


We learn that there is a military expedition in contemplation for California. We should now run no risk of losing that valuable territory.—By the new route discovered by Capt. Fremont, it can be reached in sixty or seventy days. The co-operation of our navy in the Pacific with a force of a thousand men from this side of the mountains, together with the Americans now in California, would make all sure. We have heard General Hardin, of this State, spoken of to command the expedition,—a cool, deliberate, energetic officer—true as steel. Who’ll go?

Sangamo Journal (Springfield, Ill.), May 28, 1846.

We have heard from the California emigrants as late as the [1]9th of May. They were progressing slowly, at the rate of about 15 miles a day, and had reached a point four miles west of Kanzas River. They were visited daily by Indians— nothing had been stolen, and the Indians were not regarded with the slightest apprehension. "The party, without a single exception, ladies and gentlemen, continued to enjoy most robust health—which is evinced by appetites that would do justice to the subjects of a menagerie. If we come across buffaloes [says a letter] the poor slaughtered animals will have just cause to regret our invasion of their far distant pasture grounds." But one accident had taken place—the birth of a pair of twins.

Sangamo Journal (Springfield, Ill.), June 4, 1846.


Extracts from a letter from Captain Fremont, U. S. Army, dated

Bay of St. Francisco

Yerba Buena, U California, Jan. 24, 1836 [sic]

Now, as rapidly as possible, I will tell you where I have been, and where I am going. I crossed the Rocky Mountains on the main Arkansas, passing out at its very head-waters; explored the southern shore of the great Salt Lake, and visited one of its islands. You know that on every recent map, manuscript or printed, the whole of the great basin is represented as a sandy plain, barren, without water, and without grass.

Tell your father that with a volunteer party of fifteen men, I crossed it between the parallels of 38 and 49 [39]. Instead of a plain, I found it, throughout the whole extent, traversed by parallel ranges of lofty mountains, their summits white with snow, (October) while below, the valleys had none. Instead of a barren country, the mountains were covered with grasses of the best quality, wooded with several varieties of trees, and containing more deer and mountains sheep that we had seen in any previous part of our voyage. So utterly at variance with every description, from authentic sources, or from rumor or report, it is fair to consider this country as hitherto wholly unexplored, and never before visited by a white man. I met my party at the rendezvous, a lake southeast of the Pyramid Lake, and again separated, sending them along the eastern side of the great sierra, three or four hundred miles in a southerly direction, where they were to cross into the valley of the St. Joaquim, near its head.

The eleventh day after leaving them I reached Captains Sutter’s[,] crossing the sierra on the 4th of December, before the snow had fallen there. Now the sierra is absolutely impassable, and the place of our passage two years ago is luminous with masses of snow. By the route I have explored I can ride in thirty five days from the Fontaine qui quille [i.e., boullit?]* river to Captain Sutter’s, and for wagons the road is decidedly far better. I shall make a short journey up the eastern branch of the Sacramento, and go from the Tlamath lake into the Wahlahmath valley, through a pass alluded to in my report; in this way making the road into Oregon far shorter, and a good road in place of the present very bad one down the Columbia. When I shall have make this short exploration, I shall have explored from beginning to end this road to Oregon.

I have just returned, with my party of sixteen, from an exploring journey in the Sierra Nevada, from the neighborhood of Sutter’s to the heads of the Lake Fork. We got among heavy snows on the mountains summits, there more rugged that I had elsewhere met them: suffered again as in our first passage: got among the "horse thieves," (Indians who lay waste the California frontier,) fought several, and fought our way down into the plain again, and back to Sutter’s.

I am going now on business to see some gentlemen on the coast, and will then join my people, and complete my survey in this party of the world as rapidly as possible. The season is now just arriving when vegetation is coming out in all the beauty I have often described to you; and in that part of my labors I shall gratify all my hopes. I find the theory of our great basin fully confirmed in having for its southern boundary, ranges of lofty mountains. Sierra, too, is broader where this chain leaves it, than in any other part that I have seen. So soon as the proper season comes, and my animals are rested, we turn our faces homeward, and be sure that grass will not grow under our feet. All our people are well, and we have had no sickness of any kind among us: so that I hope to be able to bring back with me all that I carried out. Many months of hardships, close trials and anxieties, have tried me severely, and my head is turning grey before its time.


*Boiling Spring river, in English. This is the outside settlement on the Arkansas, about seventy miles above Bent’s Fort, where old retired hunters and traders, with Mexican and Indian wives, and their children, have collected into some villages, called by the Mexican name for civilized Indian villages, pueblos, where they raise grain and stock. National Intelligencer.

—Sangamo Journal (Springfield, Ill.), June 11, 1846.


Hancock Eagle, of Friday last, notices the arrival there of Mr. S. Chamberlain, who left the most distant camp of the Mormons at Council Bluffs on the 26th, and on his route passed the whole line of Mormon emigrants. He says that the advance company of the Mormons, with whom were the Twelve, had a train of one thousand wagons, and were en-camped on the east bank of the Missouri River, in the neighborhood of the Council Bluffs. They were employed in the construction of boats, for the purpose of crossing the river.

The second company had encamped temporarily at station No. 2, which has been christened Mount Pisgah. They mustered about three thousand strong, and were recruiting their cattle preparatory to a fresh start. A third company had halted for a similar purpose at Garden Grove, on the head waters of Grand river, where they have put in about 2000 acres of corn for the benefit of the people in general. Between Garden Grove and the Mississippi River, Mr. Chamberlain counted over one thousand wagons en route to join the main bodies in advance.

The whole number of teams attached to the Mormon expedition, is about three thousand seven hundred, and it is estimated that each team will average at least three persons, and perhaps four. The whole number of souls now on the road may be set down in round numbers at twelve thousand. From two to three thousand have disappeared from Nauvoo in various directions. Many have left for Council Bluffs by the way of the Mississippi and Missouri rivers—others have dispersed to parts unknown; and about eight hundred or less still remain in Illinois. This comprises the entire Mormon population that once flourished in Hancock. In their palmy days they probably numbered between fifteen and sixteen thousand souls, most of whom are now scattered upon the prairies, bound for the Pacific slope of the American continent.

Mr. Chamberlain reports that previously to his leaving, four United States military officers had arrived at the Mount Pisgah camp, for the purpose of enlisting five hundred Mormons for the Sante Fe campaign. They were referred to Head-quarters at Council Bluffs, for which place they immediately set out. It was supposed that the force would be enrolled without delay. If so, it will furnish Col. Kearney with a regiment of well disciplined soldiers who are already prepared to march.

Mr. Chamberlain represents the health of the traveling Mormons as good, considering the exposure to which they have been subjected. They are carrying on a small trade in provisions with the settlers in the country, with whom they mingle on friendly terms.

Sangamo Journal (Springfield, Ill.), July 23, 1846.

The Mormon volunteers who have gone with Gen. Kearney, besides their pay, are to retain their arms and equipments, when discharged in California.

Sangamo Journal (Springfield, Ill.) August 13, 1846.

The advance party of the emigrating Mormons have located on Grand Island in the Platte river, where they will raise a crop and most of them winter. In the spring they design to move on to the waters of the Laramie, on which another farm will be opened and a crop raised. Those at the Council Bluffs will move to the Island in the spring; and those east of them, on the head waters of the Chariton, will move to the Bluffs or some other point on the Missouri. At this rate, it will require a long time for all the Mormon Church to reach California.

Sangamo Journal (Springfield, Ill.) August 13, 1846.


Dr. Todd of this city, has politely furnished us with a letter from his son, William L. Todd, who went out with the emigration to California, in the spring of 1845, dated on the 17th of April, from which we make the following extracts.

He states that the company in which he belonged, reached Fort Hall, without interruption. At Fort Hall, and on the road there, Mr. Todd and others, heard so many reports of the superior advantages of California over Oregon, that some of his company, including himself, changed their destination to that country. Nor had he regretted this change, although he was not in love with California. He says, "We left Fort Hall on the 9th of August, in company with ten waggons, and on St. Mary’s river, we were joined by fifteen more. We went on smoothly until we reached the California mountains, which were about 300 miles from our destination, — There we met with ‘tribulation’ in the extreme. You can form no idea, nor can I give you any just description of the evils which beset us. From the time we left the lake on the north side of the mountains until we arrived at the Lake on the top, it was one continued jumping from one rocky cliff to another. We would have to roll over this big rock, then over that; then there was bridging a branch; then we had to lift our waggons by main force up to the top of a ledge of rocks, that it was impossible for us to reduce, bridge or roll our waggons over, and in several places, we had to run our waggons broadside off a ledge, take off our cattle, and throw our waggons round with handspikes, and heave them up to the top, where our cattle had been previously taken. Three days were passed in this vexatious way and at the end of that time, we found ourselves six miles from the lake on the north side of the mountain, and you never saw a set of fellows more happy than when we reached the summit.

"When night came, we were very glad to take a blanket or buffalo robe, and lay down on the ‘softest side of a rock,’ and were sorry to be disturbed from our sweet repose, when we were called in the morning to our labor. Here our flour gave out, and we could not get any for love or money. We had to live about ten days on poor beef until we met the ‘packers,’ who had gone on in advance to Capt. Sutter’s for provisions, where we got some flour for 20 cents per lb cash."

"On the top of the mountain we found a beautiful lake, but quite small, and a few miles farther we came to a fine prairie, about three miles long by three-fourths of a mile broad, full of springs of excellent water, and at the lower end a fine branch, which forms the head of Juba river, and the way we danced n’Juba’ [sic] there, was a caution to all future emigrants. The difficulty of getting down the mountain was not as great as in ascending it, though it was a work of labor, and looked at the first glance as impossible to be performed by horsemen, much more by teams and waggons.

"Solomon Sublette, of St. Louis, who passed us at the Lake on the north side of the mountain, told us afterwards that he had no idea we could get through with our waggons. In some places, we found it necessary to lock all four of the wheels coming down hill, and then our waggons came very near turning over hind part before, on to the cattle. At last, on the 20th of October, our hardships were ended by our arrival at Fort Suter, — where we concluded to spend the winter in the mountains, — that is, myself and waggon companions, five in number, and Mr. and Mrs. Roulette.

"We made our way to the place at which I am now writing. It is a beautiful valley, about ten miles long and two wide, situated between mountains, which are about 2,000 feet high, from the bed of Cache Creek, which runs through the valley. In the mountains, there are deer and bear in abundance, and about 15 miles from here there are plenty of elk. The valley is about 60 miles from the bay of San Francisco, about 40 from the Pacific ocean. Bodega is the nearest port.

"As yet I have seen but very little of the country, and must confess that in regard to the part I have seen I am not as much pleased as I expected that I should be. So far as I have seen the country generally is very mountainous, with here and there vallies suitable for cultivation. — Those few vallies are generally taken up by the Mexicans; and should there be some not taken up, it would be impossible for foreigners to get hold of them — the recent laws of Mexico for-bidding any officers of this government to grant land to foreigners. In fact, the laws are framed to prevent foreigners from coming to the country unless they have passports. I have never been asked for my passports, but if I had, should have been inclined to do, as Dr. Ball did on a similar requisition, shew my rifle.

"I expect in a few weeks to visit the southern portion of this country, perhaps as far down as the Lower Pueblo, 350 miles. I wish to visit San Louis, San Joseph, Monterey, Yerby Benna (St. Francisco,) and in the fall design to go up the coast on the north side of the bay as far as the mountains, for the purpose of examining that portion of California.

"I should be more pleased with this country if the seasons were more favorable. From the 1st of May to the 1st of October, it is one continued drouth; and from the 1st of October to the 1st of May, it rains, off and on, all the time. The only way by which crops can with tolerable certainty be secured, is by irrigation, or the overflow of the ground by some water course. There are many places where this can never be cultivated. The best locations are all taken up.

"If there are any persons in Sangamon who speak of crossing the rocky mountains to this country, tell them my advice is, to stay at home. There you are well off. You can enjoy all the comforts of life, — live under a good government, and have peace and plenty around you — a country whose soil is not surpassed by any in the world, having good seasons and yielding timely crops. Here every thing is on the other extreme — the government is tyrannical, the weather unseasonable, poor crops, and the necessaries of life not to be had except at the most extortioned prices, and frequently not then. In the winter season, it is impossible for a horse to go about — the soil being so loose that the first rains make a perfect mortar of it, and your horse frequently sinks down so much that you are compelled to jump off in the mud knee deep to help him out.

"I do not, however, believe there was ever a more beautiful climate than we have in this country. During the whole winter we have delightful weather, except when it rains. We do not need fire except for cooking, — nor have I seen during the whole winter ice thicker than a window glass, — although we are in sight of snow the whole year round. Most all day long, we could be seen in winter with our coats off walking in the neighborhood of our cabin — except when we were off hunting for a term of 4 or 6 days.

"The Mexicans talk every spring and fall here of driving the foreigners out of the country. — They must do it this year, or they never can do it. There will be a revolution before long, and probably this country will be re-annexed to the United States. If here, I will take a hand in it.

"William L. Todd"
—Sangamo Journal (Springfield, Ill.), August 13, 1846.

Editor’s note: On June 14, 1846, a small band of American settlers raised the Bear Flag in the plaza at Sonoma. The flag was designed by one of the participants—William L. Todd.


The letter of Mr. Wm. L. Todd, published in our last paper, presents California as a point for emigration, in a most unfavorable light. So far as Mr. T’s personal knowledge extended, he has no doubt given a true representation.—Mr. Skinner, another emigrant, who left Putnam county last spring a year, writes thus under date of "New Helvetia, Upper California, 6th April, 1846," — which, as far as it goes, confirms the statements of the letter before referred to.

"I have seen considerable of this country, and the coast part; it is a most delightful country, very productive, but a great scarcity of timber. In fact, there is but little or no timber in California, except in the mountains, where there is some excellent red wood and pine. Some of the red wood measures 22 1/2 feet in diameter, and three hundred feet high! — This country is without a government, and as it is impossible for me to live without being governed, I shall pick up my traps and go to Oregon. — California is a delightful country to live in, as regards climate, but I do not think the Sacramento will ever be much of a farming country, as all the land you plant needs watering to insure a crop."

Sangamo Journal (Springfield, Ill.), August 20, 1846.


Solomon Sublette, with a very small party, recently arrived at St. Louis from California. He left "Pueblo de los Angels," about the last of May,—driving 80 mules. He met a company of emigrants on the 8th July, 20 miles beyond Green River, numbering 18 waggons, who were progressing without difficulty. Col. Russell had given up his command on the Platte, beyond the reach of danger or trouble. It appears that nearly all his company, including Gov. Boggs, had changed their course for Oregon. Col. Russell, with 11 men, procured mules at Fort Laramie, and were proceeding for California. Mr. Sublet met other companies of emigrants. The Indians had attempted to rob him of his mules, but failed. Mr. Sublet was nearly out of provisions at Fort Laramie, and proceeded from thence to Bent’s Fort, where he arrived on the 17th August. With the exception of the sick, the troops had left for Santa Fe. He met the Mormons and some companies of Col. Price’s regiment on the way to Fort Leavenworth. Mr. Sublette says that the Governor of California seemed disposed to encourage American emigrants; but Gen. Castro was very hostile to them. He also states that the usual quantity of rain had fallen in California the past season—contradicting , in this respect, the reports of other travelers.

Sangamo Journal (Springfield, Ill.), September 17, 1846.


[ Table of Contents ] Crossroads, Spring/Summer 1996 - Vol. 7, No. 2 & 3

More on the Hastings Road around Timpie Point

Rush Spedden
Roy Tea

Editor's Note: Ordinarily Crossroads does not publish rebuttals, but when two respected members differ on a matter of trail location, it is difficult to deny them a forum. After some soulsearching, I have decided to publish Rush Spedden's comments and Roy Tea's response, but will decline further discussion, at least in the pages of Crossroads

--Kristin Johnson

N.B. The maps will be added here as soon as possible.

Rush Spedden

In the Fall 1995 issue of the Utah Crossroads Newsletter a segment of dirt road at the base of the Stansbury Range near Timpie was identified as a part of the Hastings Trail by Roy D. Tea. The trail segment from Grantsville to Timpie as depicted on his accompanying map is not a straight line as shown on the Preuss (1848) and Jefferson (1849) maps but instead, at the Dolomite lime plant, the trail is shown going almost due west for a full mile before it turns north hugging the foothills. This substantial detour from a nearly straight line between two landmarks raises an immediate question as to why pioneers with slow moving oxen teams would take such a longer route. The answer is to be found in the township survey map of 1907. They didn't take a longer route, because the subject road was not in existence before 1907.

A section of the Flux and the Timpie Quadrangle maps is shown in Figure 1 with the subject road marked A B C. This is an enlarged portion of the upper section of the map as reproduced in the referenced newsletter. Figure 2 is the corresponding section of the 1907 township survey map with the same points marked. There was no road at point B before 1907.

A number of interesting details as well as concepts may be gleaned by comparing these two maps. The very straight section of road from point A to point C on the 1985 map appears to be an improved and slightly straightened section of what is named "County Road to Grantsville" on the 1907 map since it is accurately on the same alignment. This has been identified as part of the Lincoln Highway. The almost parallel road to the east of the Lincoln Highway is a now abandoned segment of old US 40.

Just to the right of the road at Point A on the 1907 map is the so-named Timpy Spring. The left fork of the road extending southwesterly leads to Timpy Canyon. The Timpie Springs Waterfowl Management Area and Timpie (now Rowley) Junction derive their names from this and the canyon is now labeled as "Timpie" Canyon.

Several somewhat parallel road sections from point A to the northern extremity of the Stansbury Range are shown on the 1907 map. Which of these might have been the original route followed by Hastings is probably impossible to determine. Since the Hastings Road was used for many years all of these were possibly travelled by the pioneers and thus may be considered as Hastings Road alternates. I rate this section as OCTA Class 4 "Impacted Original Trail" on the basis that it was improved to become the Lincoln Highway.

Roy Tea

I would like to respond to Rush Spedden's comments on my article in the Fall 1995 issue of Crossroads. He says that I am incorrect in my assessment of the trail's location, citing a map that was drawn 61 years after the trail was abandoned. However, abandoned trails or roads were seldom ever mapped. The early surveyors established section and quarter corners; if they encountered a used road or trail along a section line, they noted it. After the completion of the survey they drew their maps and plotted the intersections, then drew line between the dots, leaving many inaccuracies inside the section lines.

The trail northwest of Grantsville up to the lime plant was identified from aerial photographs, then confirmed on the ground. I agree that from the lime plant to one half mile east of Timpie Point, it is harder to determine the exact trail. Three fellow Utah Crossroads members and I discussed this particular section. At first we believed the Lincoln Highway had been built on top of the trail, but then we noticed that a number of culverts had been built to drain water to the north side of the road. The area is obviously extremely wet. The Lincoln Highway was built on 1.2 miles of wet ground out of a total distance of 2.2 miles. The distance along the curved route is 2.5 miles--a mere 0.3 miles further than the straight route Mr. Spedden prefers.

He asks, "Why would pioneers with slow-moving oxen take a longer route?" The answer should be obvious: pulling a wagon over 1.2 miles of boggy ground would tax oxen far more than traveling over 1.5 miles of solid terrain. Does Mr. Spedden believe that slogging through a marsh is more efficent than walking on firm ground? Which does he prefer to walk on himself?

With regard to the 1848 Preuss map and the 1859 Jefferson map Mr. Spedden mentions, both ar drawn on such a large scale that the minor deviations under discussion would hardly be recognizable. Moreover, Jefferson's cartography routinely shows straight lines between points where we know the trail actually curved.

In conclusion, we could argue all day about the exact location of the trails and still not agree, but common sense and logic should prevail.


[ Table of Contents ] Crossroads, Spring/Summer 1996 - Vol. 7, No. 2 & 3

Utah Centennial Series: Tours for Teachers

Nancy Andersen

"Many who attended previous tours are already beating down the doors of the Deseret News registration office."

This year OCTA has expanded its sphere of influence by teaming up with the Deseret News to co-sponsor six 10-hour historical tours for teachers. The series was entitled "Utah Centennial Tours" to emphasize how Utah’s early history created the Utah we know and enjoy today. The genesis of this undertaking was the 1994 national OCTA convention here in Salt Lake City. The Utah Centennial Tours Series was designed to give teachers a better understanding of how Utah’s early history determined the Utah we presently know and enjoy. This knowledge can then be shared in individual classrooms by adapting it to fit curriculum and grade level. Teachers earned one credit hour and received handouts prepared by OCTA members, 120 newspapers for classroom use, and delicious food to enjoy on the trip.

The tours consisted of: Barrick Mercur Gold Mine (September); Hensley’s Salt Lake Cutoff (October); 1840s Alternate Trails and Historic Figures (April); Salt Lake Valley Historical Tour (May); Hastings Cutoff (June); and Historic Lehi (July).

Special thanks are due to the OCTA members who devoted countless hours in organizing and conducting the tours. Teachers will long remember Dave Bigler, Michael Landon, George Ivory, Art Wilder, Ron Andersen, Nancy Andersen, Roy Tea, Bob and Lyndia Carter, and Will Bagley, whose efforts and expertise were invaluable to the series’ success.

The response has been overwhelming, indicating a great need for and interest in these tours. In fact, teachers are begging for more. The number of buses for all field trips totaled 15, impacting nearly 700 teachers who attended one or more in the series. The Deseret Newspapers in Education Department Coordinator, Carolyn Dickson, believes that this has been the most significant educational opportunity they have ever offered teachers. It was made possible only by the willingness of OCTA members to volunteer their time and talents.

More tours are planned for the 1996-97 school year, and OCTA will provide several of them. This new series of five field trips, "The Sesquicentennial Series," commemorates the arrival of the Mormon pioneers in 1847. They are: Park City Mine Adventure (September); Alternate Pioneer Routes through the Wasatch Barrier (September); Salt Lake Valley Historical Tour (May); Primary Route through the Wasatch Barrier (June); and Historic Lehi (July).

In August the Deseret News sent out 20,000 brochures announcing the new series to teachers throughout the state. Many who attended previous tours are already beating down the doors of the Deseret News registration office. Space will be limited because last year’s experience proved a logistical nightmare. The teachers’ enthusiasm speaks volumes. We expect the Sesquicentennial Series to be another great opportunity for teachers to get in touch with the people and places they teach about in their classrooms.


[ Table of Contents ] Crossroads, Spring/Summer 1996 - Vol. 7, No. 2 & 3

Eleanor Graves McDonnell

Kristin Johnson

"Asked her how she came to California, said, 'Over the Mountains.' 'Had a hard time, then.'"

Links to other Utah Crossroads pages:

Kristin Johnson's Donner Party Page

Eleanor (Ellen) Graves was born July 28, 1832, in Marshall County, Illinois, the fourth surviving child of Franklin Ward and Elizabeth Cooper Graves. Little is known of her childhood before the spring of 1846, when twelve members of the Graves family along with a hired driver left for California. The Graveses traveled much of the way with the little known Smith Company but shortly after Eleanor's fourteenth birthday they caught up with the Donner Party.

The family started out with several saddle horses and the older girls frequently rode. One day in October an altercation broke out between the Graveses' teamster, John Snyder, and James Reed's driver, Milt Elliott. Reed intervened, the fight escalated, and Snyder staggered back with a mortal knife wound. Eleanor and her brother William, sitting on horseback thirty feet away, saw it all.

When the Graveses arrived at Donner Lake and realized that they would probably have to winter in the mountains, the men of the family built a cabin about half a mile from the eastern end of the lake. It was a double cabin, with the Graves family living in the western side and the Reeds in the eastern. On December 15, Eleanor's father, her older sisters Sarah and Mary, and Sarah's husband Jay Fosdick left with the Forlorn Hope snowshoers. The two men died en route; the women survived.

Eleanor's turn to escape did not arrive until over two months later, when she, William, and their sister Lovina left with the First Relief on February 22. Eleanor's mother and four younger siblings remained at the cabin until March 3, when they were taken out by the Second Relief; Mrs. Graves and one of her sons died at Starved Camp, but the remaining three children reached the California settlements.

What exactly happened to the Graves orphans immediately after their arrival in California is unclear, but they appear to have lived in the vicinity of Sutter's Fort for several months. The two youngest children, Jonathan and Elizabeth, died there sometime in 1847. Mary married Edward Pyle on May 16, 1847 at Sutter's Fort; they moved to Santa Clara County the following year. William went back to Illinois in June, traveling with General Stephen Watts Kearny's party. By 1848 the widowed Sarah Graves Fosdick had moved to the Napa County area. Eleanor stayed with an American family at the Sonoma Presidio for a while, then moved to the Napa Valley to live with Sarah at the mill operated by Florentine Erwin Kellogg, also a Hastings Cutoff pioneer. Lovina stayed for a time with the Isaac Branham family in San Jose but in July 1848 joined her sisters in Napa County; perhaps Nancy, the youngest surviving child, did the same.

On September 6, 1849, Eleanor married twenty-four year old William McDonnell, who also traveled Hastings Cutoff in 1846 as a teamster for the Kellogg brothers. Accompanied by Lovina, Eleanor and William rode to Benecia where there was a Protestant minister to marry them. The wedding party crossed the bay and continued south, stopping to see the Branhams on their way to visit Mary. Lovina stayed on for a lengthy visit, but the newlyweds soon returned north and made their home in a little cabin near present-day Calistoga. The McDonnells were living there when their first child, Ann, was born October 30, 1850.

In December of that year McDonnell took up 160 acres in nearby Knight's Valley, in eastern Sonoma County. By 1889 his ranch had increased to 1,200 acres, and he had built a large house, "a wonderful old three story structure," which his descendants remembered with great affection. The family continued to grow. In all the McDonnells had ten children, of whom six lived to adulthood.

In addition to ranching, William McDonnell also acted as an unpaid guide to one of northern California's natural wonders, The Geysers, located about 10 miles north of his ranch over extremely rugged terrain. Several travelers left records of meeting the McDonnells, though they invariably render the name "MacDonald" or "McDonald." In 1854 one such pilgrim, John Russell Bartlett, wrote

We received a cordial welcome from Mr. MacDonald and his wife,--a young woman of twenty, who must have some courage to settle down in this lonely spot.

Ten years later, William H. Brewer also visited The Geysers, reporting

McDonald is a quiet, fine man, and what is rare in such regions, a pious man. He settled here twelve or fifteen years ago, then the remotest settler in this region between San Francisco and the settlements in Oregon. His wife, then but twenty years old, is still pretty, an intelligent and amiable woman. It must have required courage to settle here at that time, surrounded by Indians, so far away from civilization.

A more revealing account is by Richard Henry Dana, author of Two Years before the Mast, who traveled in northern California in 1859-60. He visited George Yount, who told him the story of the Donner Party, then traveled on to the McDonnells'. William was away, but Eleanor and one of the ranch hands, one Brady, was at home.

Mrs. McDonald is neat, pretty and obliging, about 30 years old. Asked her how she came to California, said, "Over the Mountains." "Had a hard time, then." She made no reply and did not wish to pursue the topic. Stanly and I both st[r]uck with it, and asked Brady about it. Brady told us she was of the Donner Party...

Eleanor's reticence to talk about her experiences with the Donner Party seems to have lasted most of her life. In 1850 she wrote a brief description of her life, at the end of which she begged to be excused from writing more. William C. Graves sometimes consulted his sister during his correspondence with C. F. McGlashan; she may have written the historian herself, for a partial letter from either Eleanor or Lovina survives. McGlashan burned much of his Donner Party correspondence shortly before he died, however, and any other letters from Eleanor must have been among those he destroyed.

Eleanor lived out the rest of her life on the ranch she and William had built. She suffered greatly from rheumatism in her later years and sometimes would be taken up to The Geysers on a stretcher, where the hot water relieved her pain. William McDonnell passed away on April 12, 1893, and on less than a year later Eleanor followed him, dying at the age of 61. She was laid to rest beside her husband in the Calistoga cemetery.


Bartlett, John Russell. Personal Narrative of Explorations and Incidents in Texas, New Mexico, California, Sonora, and Chihuahua... (New York: D. Appleton, 1854), 2:34-35.

Brewer, William H. Up and Down California in 1860-1864. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1949), 226-227.

C. F. McGlashan Letters and Papers, Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

Dana, Richard Henry Jr. Two Years Before the Mast: A Personal Narrative of Life at Sea. Edited from the original manuscript and from the First Edition, with Journals and Letters of 1834-1836 and 1859-1860, and notes by John Haskell Kemble... Los Angeles: Ward Ritchie Press, 1964. 445-448.

Kortum, Karl, comp. The McDonnell Ranch. (Unpublished oral history)

McDonnell, Eleanor Graves. Letter to sister-in-law, May 26, 1850. University of California Berkeley, MS 73/122 no. 23.

Wright, Elizabeth Cyrus. The Early Upper Napa Valley (Calistoga, CA: Sharpsteen Museum, 1991)


[ Table of Contents ] Crossroads, Spring/Summer 1996 - Vol. 7, No. 2 & 3

Eleanor Graves McDonnell Letter, 1850

introduction by Kristin Johnson

"... we started one year from which date I arrived in California."


Links to other Utah Crossroads pages:

Kristin Johnson's Donner Party Page

After his marriage William McDonnell wrote a letter to his sister Ann, announcing the news of his marriage to Eleanor Graves. On March 8, 1850, Ann responded that she was sorry to hear it, and asked a number of questions about the bride, including "Is she lively?" and "Is she proud?" McDonnell answered on May 26, saying that he had married "the best Gall in the univerce... now I think you will Say something encourageing when I tell you She is freting herself becaus She thinks you do not like my marrying her." Eleanor penned a note of her own at the bottom of her husband’s two-page letter, which contains several other items of interest. William describes his farm, answers Ann’s questions about his wife, mentions Frank E. Kellogg, with whom he had traveled overland, and describes the massacre of a group of Indians at Clear Lake in retaliation for their killing Andrew Kelsey and Charles Stone. The original letter, MS 73/122 no. 23, is held by the Bancroft Library, with whose permission Eleanor’s note is published here.

—Kristin Johnson.

Eleanor Graves McDonnell Letter

May 26, 1850

Dear sister you requested me to write to you[.] I fear however you will have to content yourself with a few lines as I have never tried to write to any person except my Grandmother and Sisters[.] William will answer all your questions and I will give you a short sketch of my relatives as far back as I can remember[.] my Father was one of the first settlers in Marshall County, Illinois where I was born[.] it was so very sickly my Father took a notion to immigrate to California[.] in compliance with this notion on the 5 of March 1846 we started one year from which date I arrived in California. when we started for California there was 12 in our Family Father Mother 5 sisters 3 brothers 1 Brotherinlaw and myself only 6 of whom are now alive[.] my Father and Mother youngest [brother] and Brotherinlaw died in the Mountains you no doubt heard of [the] sufferings of the Company that Starved in the California Mountains in 46[.] one Brother and a sister died of fatigue after we arrived at the first house[.] I was not reduced to the last extremity although I had to eat boiled ox hide near 3 weeks[.] haveing given you this short melancholy sketch of my life pleas pleas excuse my writing anymore at present[.] you may judge for yourself whether I am lively and proud[.] I am glad to own I am proud of my Husband pleas give my love to Father and Mother Brothers and Sister[.] pleas kiss my little nephew for me[.]

Yours affectionately Eleanor McDonnell

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