Newsletter of the Utah Crossroads Chapter
Oregon-California Trails Association

Spring/Summer 1996 - Vol. 7, No. 2 & 3
(Part B)
[ Editions ] [ Home ]

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

When Did the Graves Family Join the Donner Party?

Kristin Johnson

"With our three wagons we went on to Fort Bridger; here we heard of the Donner Party some three or four days ahead of us..."

Links to other Utah Crossroads pages:

Kristin Johnson's Donner Party Page

In August 1846, after setting out on Hastings Cutoff, the Donner Party was joined by the family of Franklin Ward Graves. Dale L. Morgan proposed the generally accepted date for this event in West from Fort Bridger. According to the Miller-Reed diary, the Donner Party began the arduous task of crossing the Wasatch Mountains on August 10; J. Quinn Thornton reported that the Graveses joined the Donner Party on the sixth day of roadbuilding.(1) Taking these sources and other factors into consideration, Morgan arrived at the date of August 16.

Morgan acknowledges a contradictory statement in the 1877 memoir of William C. Graves, who reported that his family arrived just as James F. Reed came back from consulting Lansford W. Hastings about the route; according to the Miller-Reed diary, Reed returned on August 10. Morgan dismisses Graves, however: "there are so many inaccuracies in the Graves narrative that it is entitled to no credence on this score."(2) Morgan is quite right that Graves' memoir contains many errors, but on this particular point it is consistent with other sources and is also corroborated by accounts given by two of Graves' sisters.

The three wagons of the Graves family had been among the forty or so in the Smith Company, the hindmost party of the emigration of 1846. This group crossed the Missouri at St. Joseph about May 25,(3) and by June 18 had camped about thirty miles past the crossing of the South Fork of the Platte. There several emigrants had to hunt missing livestock, driven off by the Pawnees; one of the searchers, Edward Trimble, was killed by the Indians.(4) The Graveses reached Fort Laramie on July 3 and stayed to celebrate the Glorious Fourth, moving on the next day.(5)

According to William C. Graves,

From here on to Fort Bridger we did not pay much attention to company; my father's three wagons, Mr. Daniel's one and Mr. McCracken's one left the rest and pushed to the South Pass; there we left them, for they talked of going to Oregon and we were bound for California. With our three wagons we went on to Fort Bridger; here we heard of the Donner Party some three or four days ahead of us... [After Hastings showed Reed] the way through then he went on and overtook his party, and Reed returned to his. Just then we overtook and joined the Donner Party.(6)

Graves' statement makes perfectly good sense. The Donner Party arrived at Fort Laramie on June 27, a week ahead of the Smith Company, and by the Fourth of July were at Beaver Creek.(7) The Donners did not travel on July 5 or July 12, and arrived at Fort Bridger on July 27. They stayed there for four days, leaving on July 31. Thus the Donner Party spent six days without moving between July 4 and July 31, giving the Graveses ample time to shorten the one-week gap between the two parties. If we accept Graves' statement that the Donner Party had left Bridger three or four days before his family arrived, then the Graveses must have reached the fort on August 3 or 4. Yet if we accept August 16 as the day the Graveses caught up, it would mean that the Donner Party had gained a week's travel. True, the Graveses might have dawdled on the way, but losing a whole week seems farfetched. There is no indication that they had any particular difficulty from South Pass until they joined the Donners.

In 1856 Eliza W. Farnham published a lengthy account of the Donner Party in her California, In-doors and Out. Farnham is chary of revealing her sources, but one of them, "Miss G.," can only be Mary Ann Graves. Farnham also has the Graves family spending Independence Day at Fort Laramie. The following remarks buttress W. C. Graves' statement:

[The Graves family] reached Fort Bridger in the latter part of August [July], and there heard much commendation bestowed upon the new route, via Salt Lake, by which Mr. Hastings had preceded them a few weeks... A small company had proceeded, on the new route, from the fort, a few days before them, whom they overtook, and joined on the sixth day... At the time when they joined the advance company, it was lying still, awaiting the return of a small party that had been sent out to improve the road, and, if possible, overtake Hastings, who was supposed to be but a few days before them.(8)

Many years later, about 1900, Lovina Graves Cyrus gave an account of the Donner Party to a granddaughter, Edna Maybelle Sherwood, who reported:

... Grandma's people came on toward California and overtook the Donner party about four days travel with heavy wagons from Fort Bridger. The captain of the Donner party was then seeking the new road or shortcut to California, when they overtook heavy wagons from his company.(9)

There are problems with these statements, but all report that the Donner Party was less than a week ahead of the Graveses and that Reed (whom Sherwood mistakenly called the captain) was away when the Graveses arrived.

We have postulated that Graves family arrived at Fort Bridger August 3 or 4; Farnham has them catching up on the sixth day out from Fort Bridger. Taken together, these two figures would indicate that the Graveses joined the Donner Party on August 9 or 10. The latter, of course, agrees with William C. Graves' statement that his family's arrival coincided with Reed's return on August 10.

Sherwood's figure of "about four days travel" added to August 3 or 4 would make the date August 7 or 8. These dates also agree with the Miller-Reed diary, which reports for both those days that the emigrants were "still in camp" waiting for Reed to come back.(10)

At this point, it looks as though William C. Graves was right after all. There is, however, one further problem. In 1871 James F. Reed recollected

The afternoon of the second day [after his return], we left the creek, turning to the right in a cañon, leading to a divide. Here Mr. Graves and family overtook us. This evening the first accident that had occurred was caused by the upsetting of one of my wagons.(11)

The "second day" after Reed returned would have been August 12, according to the Miller-Reed diary, but no accident is recorded that day. Reed did record a broken axletree on August 18, but not that the wagon was upset.

In any event, there are three statements by members of the Graves family that when their wagons joined the Donner Party, the larger company was encamped waiting for Reed's return. While it is difficult to explain the statements by Thornton and Reed, but it is equally difficult to explain why, if the Graveses were only a week behind the Donner Party on July 4, they should fall even further behind and not catch up until August 16, especially since the Donner Party had spent so many days in camp.

So whom do we believe? Dale Morgan's opinion is formidable indeed, but he appears to have been unaware of the accounts by Farnham and Sherwood. Presented with their evidence, he might well have changed his mind.

1. J. Quinn Thornton, Oregon and California in 1848. In "Unfortunate Emigrants": Narratives of the Donner Party (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1996), 27.

2. J. Roderic Korns and Dale L. Morgan, eds. West from Fort Bridger: The Pioneering of the Immigrant Trails across Utah, 1846-1850. Rev. and updated by Will Bagley and Hal Schindler. (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1994), 216n16.

3. "Emigrants." The Gazette (St. Joseph, MO), May 22, 1846. In Dale L. Morgan, ed. Overland in 1846 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993), 548; 747n45.

4. "From Oregon. California Emigrant." Weekly Reveille (St. Louis, MO), July 20, 1846. In Overland in 1846, 591.

5. William C. Graves. "Crossing the Plains in '46." Russian River Flag (Healdsburg, CA). April 26, 1877. In "Unfortunate Emigrants," 215.

6. Ibid.

7. Hiram O. Miller, Miller-Reed diary, entries for July 3 and 4, 1846. In Overland in 1846, 259.

8. Eliza W. Farnham, "Narrative of the Emigration of the Donner Party to California, in 1846." In "Unfortunate Emigrants," 141-42.

9. Edna Maybelle Sherwood, "Tragic Story of the Donner Party." In "Unfortunate Emigrants," 291.

10. James F. Reed, "The Journal of James Frazier Reed." In West from Fort Bridger, 212-213.

11. James F. Reed, "The Snow-Bound, Starved Emigrants of 1846." In "Unfortunate Emigrants," 187.


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

A Survivor of the Downer Horror of 1846-7

"W. C. Graves is ... emphatically a pioneer."

Links to other Utah Crossroads pages:

Kristin Johnson's Donner Party Page

W.C. Graves, a resident of Pine Flat, called in to chat with the Flag folks the other day, and from him we incidentally gleaned the following general circumstances of the terrible ordeal through which the Downer party passed in the Winter of 1846-7, and of which he was an eye-witness and participant. Though the details have often been given this synopsis will not be without interest: The Graves family consisted of the father and mother, two [three] sons and six daughters. They left Illinois for California in a "train" consisting of ten or twelve families. George Downer was elected Captain and the train bore his name. Leaving Illinois in April they traveled till the next Fall, arriving at Donner Lake, in the Sierra Nevada in November, where they were stopped by a terrific snow storm At Johnson's ranch, on Bear river, 150 miles distant, was the nearest habitation. For four months they remained here snowed in b[e]fore relief came or any communication whatever was had with the outer world. Having exhausted their provision on the road, as soon as they found all progress barred they slaughtered their draft cattle and for want of salt, froze the meat and corded it up under shelter. This provision kept all of the company alive but four till relief came. But food being so scarce and of but one kind fearful suffering ensued toward the last, three men and one child dying of starvation, their systems refusing the meat. A party of fifteen started for relief, seven of whom died on the way either from cold or starvation, after the most horrible sufferings, among them Graves, the father. The remainder reached Johnson's and in due time retur[n]ing to the camp, started out again with an addition to their number, among which were H[W]. C. Graves and two sisters; three of their party perished before reaching the ranch. With the third party that set out were Mrs. Graves, the other son and two daughters. Three of this party also died before reaching Johnson's, including Mrs. Graves. Between the first and second reliefs three died in camp; between the second and third reliefs two died in camp; two of the Graves children, a son and a daughter, died the next Summer from the effects of the privations and exposures of the previous Winter--making twenty-four lives lost by this awful calamity. W. C. Graves was 18 years old at the time and retains a vivid impression of all the details, but as they have been frequently published we have given only the outlines. Two of the daughters now reside in this vicinity--Mrs. Wm. McDonald, Knight's Valley, and Mrs. Cyrus, Calistoga. W. C. Graves is now a prospector and has mining interests at Pine Flat--he is emphatically a pioneer.

--Russian River Flag (Healdsburg, California), December 30, 1875.


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

Luke Halloran

Kristin Johnson

"in the evening a Gentleman by the name of Luke Halloran, died of Consumption having been brough[t] from Bridgers Fort by George Donner a distance of 151 miles we made him a Coffin and Burried him at the up[p]er wells at the forks of the road in a beautiful place."

In July 1846 Luke Halloran attached himself to the Donner Party, traveled with the company for some weeks, and succumbed to consumption in the Tooele Valley. Because so little is known about him, he is a mysterious figure; there is something romantic in the story of a young stranger dying far from home and laid to rest in a lonely grave, and irony in the fact that his quest for health led him to such a death. Many writers have been moved to pity, describing Halloran as a "waif," with all its connotations of youth and homelessness.(1) In addition, his death has been seen as an omen of what would later come to pass, presaging the company's tribulations along the Humboldt and the horrific events in the Sierra Nevada.

This is, to a large extent, sheer fantasy: we are free to read into Halloran's death any meaning we choose, and since we have so little hard information, we are equally free to indulge our romantic imaginations. One wonders what Halloran himself would have thought of all this. After all, this "waif" was reportedly possessed of $1,500 when he died, and while there are plenty of reasons to see him as pathetic, the fact that he got as far as he did suggests a certain amount of determination--he could as easily be portrayed as one whose will was stronger than his failing body as a forlorn, pitiful waif.

Halloran first appears in Donner Party sources on August 25, 1846, when James F. Reed noted in his diary

in the evening a Gentleman by the name of Luke Halloran, died of Consumption having been brough[t] from Bridgers Fort by George Donner a distance of 151 miles we made him a Coffin and Burried him at the up[p]er wells at the forks of the road in a beautiful place.

The following day's entry reads in part:

this day Buried Mr Luke Halloran hauling him in his coffin this distan[ce] 2 which we only mad[e] and Buried heem as above Stated at the forks of the [road] One Turning directly South to Camp the other West or onward.(2)

The next references to Halloran occur in J. Quinn Thornton's Oregon and California in 1848 (1849):

on the evening of September 3 [August 24], the emigrants encamped on the southeast side of the Great Salt Lake. On the morning of the next day they resumed their journey... About 4 o'clock, p.m., Mr. Hallerin, from St. Joseph, died of consumption, in Mr. George Donner's wagon. About 8 o'clock, this wagon (which had stopped) came up, with the dead body of their fellow-traveler. He died in the exercise of a humble trust and confidence in the ability and willingness of the blessed Redeemer to save his soul. The melancholy event filled all hearts with sadness, and with feelings of solemnity, they committed his body to its silent and lonely grave in the wilderness. Nor did they seek to disguise the tears that silently coursed down many a care-worn face, as they took their last adieu of the lost fellow-traveler. The day of the 5th [26th] was spent, with the exception of a change of camp, in committing the body of their friend to the dust. They buried him at the side of an emigrant [John Hargrave] who had died in the advance company. The deceased gave his property, some $1500, to Mr. George Donner.(3)

Although he takes the opportunity to interject some pious sentiment, Thornton does provides some additional information: he tells us that Halloran was from St. Joseph, that he was buried next to another emigrant, and that he left a large sum of money to George Donner.

In 1856 Eliza W. Farnham also described Halloran's death:

There had been no death in the party until they reached Salt Lake Valley. They had a consumptive invalid, who had been steadily declining through all their rough experience, and one afternoon, the wagon in which he was carried was observed to fall behind the others. Inquiry was made. He was not much worse, it was said, but after the party had encamped at evening the wagon came up bringing his corpse. He had neither wife, nor child, nor near friend. He had set out an invalid in search of health, and happily had expired before the terrible days came that were now drawing fast on. Next morning a rude coffin was constructed of boards taken from one of the wagons, and the body committed to the earth according to the rites and ceremonies of that mysterious, and world-wide brotherhood to which he belonged.(4)

Romantic elements have begun to creep in: Farnham implies the irony of Halloran's death while seeking health and refers to his "happy" death before the "terrible days" set in. Hers is the earliest source referring to Halloran's Masonic funeral.

James Reed referred to Halloran's death in his 1871 memoir. West of Black Rock, he says, the Donner Party

lost a few days on the score of humanity. One of our company, a Mr. Halloron being in a dying condition from consumption. We could not make regular drives owing to his situation. He was under the care of Mr. Geo. Donner, and made himself known to me as a Master Mason. In a few days he died.(5)

Reed confirms that Halloran had been a Mason, but does not mention the funeral service.

Drawing on published sources and the statements of survivors, C. F. McGlashan described Halloran's death:

Near the southern shore of great Salt Lake the Donner Party encamped on the third or fourth of September, 1846... While encamped here, the party buried the second victim claimed by death. This time it was a poor consumptive named Luke Halloran. Without friend or kinsman, Halloran had joined the train, and was traveling to California in hopes that a change of climate might effect a cure. Alas! for the poor Irishman, when the leaves began to fall from the trees his spirit winged its flight to the better land. He died in the wagon of Captain George Donner, his head resting in Mrs. Tamsen Donner's lap. It was at sundown. The wagons had just halted for the night. The train had driven up slowly, out of respect to the dying emigrant. Looking up into Mrs. Donner's face he said: "I die happy." Almost while speaking, he died. In return for the many kindnesses he had received during the journey, he left Mr. Donner such property as he possessed, including about fifteen hundred dollars in coin. Hon. Jas. F. Breen, of South San Juan, writes: "Halloran's body was buried in a bed of almost pure salt, beside the grave of one who had perished in the preceding train. It was said at the time that bodies thus deposited would not decompose, on account of the preservative properties of the salt. Soon after his burial, his trunk was opened, and Masonic papers and regalia bore witness to the fact that Mr. Halloran was a member of the Masonic Order. James F. Reed, Milton Elliott, and perhaps one o two others in the train, also belonged to the mystic tie."(6)

The story has gained more romantic details: Halloran dying with his head on Tamsen Donner's lap; his last words; the trunk opened after his death, with its surprising contents.

The latest and fullest, though not necessarily most accurate, description of the Halloran episode did not appear until 1911, when Eliza Donner Houghton published The Expedition of the Donner Party and Its Tragic Fate. Houghton had been only three years old in 1846; her account is drawn chiefly from previously published sources, eked out by her older sisters' recollections. The Donner Party proper formed at the Little Sandy, she tells us, and

[w]hile we were preparing to break camp, the last named [Halloran] had begged my father for a place in our wagon. He was a stranger to our family, afflicted with consumption, too ill to make the journey on horseback, and the family with whom he had travelled thus far could no longer accommodate him. His forlorn condition appealed to my parents and they granted his request.(7)

After reaching the Salt Lake Valley, however,

The tedious delays and high altitude wrought distressing changes in Mr. Halloran's condition, and my father and mother watched over him with increasing solicitude. But despite my mother's unwearying ministrations, death came on the fourth of September.

Suitable timber for a coffin could not be obtained, so his body was wrapped in sheets and carefully enclosed in a buffalo robe, then reverently laid to rest in a grave on the shore of Great Salt Lake, near that of a stranger who had been buried by the Hastings party a few weeks earlier.

Mr. Halloran had appreciated the tender care bestowed on him by my parents, and had told members of our company that in the event of his death on the way, his trunk and its contents should belong to Captain Donner. When the trunk was opened, it was found to contain clothing, keepsakes, a Masonic emblem, and fifteen hundred dollars in coin.(8)

How accurate is this statement? The reference to using a buffalo robe instead of a coffin is undoubtedly an error, for James Reed's contemporary diary mentions the coffin and Farnham explains where the boards for it came from. The burial on the shore of the lake is evidently from McGlashan. Houghton says that Halloran joined the Donner Party at the Little Sandy, and this makes sense, because that was where the emigrant companies split up. Reed's contemporary report that George Donner conveyed Halloran from Fort Bridger need not be taken to mean that Donner did not carry Halloran up to Fort Bridger as well; then again, it is possible that Houghton or her informants were mistaken and that Halloran joined the company at Bridger, as did Baptiste and the McCutchen family. Houghton says nothing about the Masonic funeral, but mentions the trunk and its contents.

A little more about the mysterious Mr. Halloran can be discovered outside the literature of the Donner Party. Despite the interest and good will of the various branches consulted, Masonic sources have proven disappointing so far. Sources from Buchanan County, Missouri, where St. Joseph is located, have yielded a variety of data.

The most helpful source has been the back pages of The Gazette, a St. Joseph weekly, which contains a series of advertisements attesting Halloran's presence in the town. The earliest appeared on November 21, 1845, touting an ague remedy "For Sale at the New brick Store of Luke Halleran." On February 5, 1846, there appeared a message from a number of merchants who deplored the practice of doing business on the Sabbath and pledged not to participate in the practice themselves; among the names appended to the notice were John Corby and L. Halloran.

C. F. Emery, a "house and sign painter, paper hanger, gilder and glazier," ran a notice advertising his business, located "one door west of L. Halloran's store, on the corner of Main and Jule streets." The ad first appeared on February 20, 1846, and ran for many months.

On April 24, however, Halloran's health was deteriorating and he advertised his store for sale. He was apparently unsuccessful, for on May 8 he notified the townspeople that John Corby would be handling his affairs (see accompanying article). The same issue of The Gazette contained an article about the hordes emigrants descending upon the town, ending "A large number of our citizens are about leaving for their rendezvous across the river, on their way to Oregon. We are about parting from many old friends--may peace and prosperity go with them."(9) It is tempting to speculate that Luke Halloran was among the citizens referred to. Whatever the case, he left St. Joseph and in July joined the Donner Party somewhere in present-day Wyoming.

The story of the Donner Party's dreadful fate first appeared in The Gazette on July 30, 1847, with the publication of a letter by Peter Quivvey.(10) A list of the casualties appeared on August 20, but Halloran's name did not appear; after all, he had not been among those trapped in the Sierra Nevada. Nevertheless, on November 8, 1847, Halloran's agent John Corby deposed

some six months since Luke Halloran died somewhere near Fort Bridger in the Nebraska Territory... That said Halloran to the best of your affiant's knowledge and belief died leaving no heirs in this country, but said heirs live in Ireland in the United Kingdom of Great Britain, but your affiant has no knowledge of the names of any but Martin Hallorens, who lives in Monivea[,] Co. Galway, Ireland.(11)

This poses an intriguing question: how did Corby learn that Halloran was dead? Since it did not appear in the published accounts, news of his demise must have been conveyed privately. But by whom? An obvious candidate is James F. Reed, who appears to have taken Freemasonry seriously and might well have done one last service for a brother Mason; but we will likely never know the truth.

In any case, on November 12, 1847, the clerk of the Buchanan County Court issued letters authorizing Corby to administer the estate of Luke Halloran, deceased.(12) Corby had Halloran's property inventoried and appraised. Valued at $1,046.54, the estate included in the total were the merchandise from his store,(13) several unpaid accounts, cash, a gold watch, and six town lots.(14) The stock from the store was sold on January 22, 1848. When all the accounts had been settled and vouchers paid, Halloran's estate amounted to $99.23.(15)

One of Corby's tasks was to locate Halloran's heirs. He must have written to Ireland, for on September 30, 1848, Martin Halloran, Luke's father, appeared before the consistorial court of the Diocese of Tuam and granted power of attorney to the Reverend Thomas Scanlan of St. Joseph, Missouri, to act on his behalf in settling Luke's estate.(16) This document was duly notarized and sent to St. Joseph, where it was recorded on November 22, 1848. One of the items deducted from Luke's estate had been a voucher for $100 paid to his father, and presumably the remaining $99.23 was also sent to Martin Halloran.

But what was Luke doing before November 1845, when his advertisement first appeared in the pages of the St. Joseph Gazette?

We are in the dark as far as his early history is concerned. Although later Donner Party sources refer to him as a young man and estimate his age at 25, this is by no means certain. We know that his father's name was Martin, and that in 1848 Martin Halloran was living at Abbert in Galway, which county was probably but not necessarily Luke's birthplace. Neither do we know when Luke emigrated, apparently alone, to the United States, or when he became a Mason.

There is one hint of what he was doing shortly before he arrived in St. Joseph. In 1946 a descendant of the Reed family donated a number of items to Sutter's Fort Museum, among them the Miller-Reed diary. In a pocket in the back of the diary were notes by such members of the Donner Party, as James Reed, Milt Elliott, Charles Stanton, William Foster, John Trudeau, and the Donner brothers. One, a note by George Donner dated November 28, 1846, authorized Milt Elliott to purchase supplies on his behalf. On the back of this note was a document entitled "Statement of Breen & Halloran," dated June 25, 1845.(17) From the look of it, Breen and Halloran were business partners figuring out how much of the company each owned. But who were Breen and Halloran? There were individuals of both names in the Donner Party.

On the face of it, the reference to "Stock of Merch." sounds much more like shopkeeper Luke Halloran than farmer Patrick Breen. It is also difficult to see how one of Patrick Breen's papers could have wound up in the possession of first George Donner and later James Reed. On the other hand, we know how one of Halloran's documents could have come into George Donner's possession: Luke willed his belongings to his benefactor. How the paper came to be among Reed's can also be explained.

In November 1846 Reed's teamster Milt Elliott visited the Donners' camp at Alder Creek, no doubt to inform them an attempt to cross the summit was in the offing. George and Jacob Donner both wrote notes authorizing Elliott to buy supplies for them; perhaps in searching for a piece of paper to write on, Donner looked among Halloran's things, found the statement, and used the blank back of it. Elliott died, but the Reed family salvaged it along with the other authorizations that Elliott had collected and the Miller-Reed diary.

A brief notice announcing the dissolution of the partnership of Breen & Halloran appeared in the St. Louis Missouri Republican on July 30 and 31, 1845 (see accompanying article). While the identification of this firm with the "Statement of Breen & Halloran" found in the Reed papers cannot be proven conclusively, it seems more than likely; after all, there can hardly have been many firms of that name in the United States in 1845. If this assumption is correct, it rules out Patrick Breen of the Donner Party as a partner in the firm, since the "Breen" partner was named George; a George Breen is listed in the 1847 St. Louis directory as a partner in the firm of Bailey & Breen, merchants. A search of the Missouri Republican revealed no advertisements for the firm of Breen & Halloran, but the business might have been based in another town.

That Breen and Halloran were preparing to terminate their business association explains why they drew up the statement, whose date, June 25, 1845, ties in with the formal dissolution of the business on July 1. Some months later Luke opened his store in St. Joseph.

The trail backwards stops here, in 1845, at least temporarily. One informant living in Oregon reports his family's tradition that Luke Halloran was a great uncle two or three times removed, but efforts to document the relationship have so far proven unsuccessful. This and other avenues of research remain to be fully explored, however, and perhaps someday we will gain a clearer view of the "waif of the western trail." Until then an aura of mystery will linger around the figure of Luke Halloran.

1. W. H. Hutchinson was so taken with the story that he wrote two pieces about Halloran, "Forgotten Hitchhiker," in Westways 43:8:Pt.1 (August 1951), 14-15; and "Waif of the Western Trail." in The Westerners New York Posse Brand Book. 8:4 (1961), 79-80.

2. J. Roderick Korns and Dale L. Morgan, eds. West from Fort Bridger (Logan, UT: Utah State Univesity Press, 1994): 221.

3. J. Quinn Thornton, "Oregon and California in 1848." In "Unfortunate Emigrants": Narratives of the Donner Party (Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1996): 29-30.

4. Eliza W. Farnham, "Narrative of the Emigration of the Donner party to California, in 1846." In "Unfortunate Emigrants": Narratives of the Donner Party, 143-144. This is the earliest reference to Halloran's Masonic funeral.

5. James F. Reed, The Snow-Bound, Starved Emigrants of 1846." In "Unfortunate Emigrants," 188.

6. C. F. McGlashan. History of the Donner Party: A Tragedy of the Sierra. With foreword, notes, and a bibliography by George H. Hinkle and Bliss McGlashan Hinkle. (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1947), 34-35.

7. Eliza P. Donner Houghton, The Expedition of the Donner Party and Its Tragic Fate. (Chicago: McClurg, 1911), 33.

8. Ibid., 35-36.

9. "The Emigrants." The Gazette (St. Joseph, MO), May 8, 1847. In Dale L. Morgan, ed., Overland in 1847 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993), 713-14.

10. Reprinted in Overland in 1847, 713-14.

11. John Corby, Deposition. November 8, 1847. Luke Halloran Probate Records, Buchanan County, Missouri, Administration A-203. Corby, a native of County Limerick, Ireland, came to St. Joseph in 1843. He was a prominent merchant who served as mayor in 1856. The Daily News History of Buchanan County and St. Joseph, Mo. (St. Joseph: St. Joseph Publishing Co., 1899), 400.

12. Buchanan County Probate Book A, 350 (Family History Library, Salt Lake City, microfilm number 988,972); John Corby, "Administration Notice." The Gazette (St. Joseph, MO), November 22, 1847.

13. This included a bewildering variety of items, some rather mysterious. What, for instance, were Norfolk latches? Luke had 5 dozen of them. And what kind of "cordial" did he carry? He also stocked more familiar things--many sets of knives and forks, snuffers, scissors, "chissels," awls, trowels, pincers, hats, caps, slates, padlocks, tea, ginger, mustard, wine, olive oil, hip boots, and indigo.

14. Luke had bought the lots from Joseph and Angelique Roubidoux for $100 each, but they were assessed at only $360 total. It is not clear when the transaction actually occurred, for Halloran had been dead for three months when the sale was recorded on December 23, 1846.

15. The probate records appear to be incomplete, for the town lots are not listed on the final statement.

16. Scanlan came to St. Joseph as a newly ordained priest in 1845 and organized the first Roman Catholic parish of the town; he lodged for a time with John Corby. Dorothy Brandt Marra, This Far by Faith: A Popular History of the Catholic People of West and Northwest Missouri. (Marceline, MO: Walsworth, 1992), 25.

17. This document is printed in Carroll D. Hall, ed., Donner Miscellany: 41 Diaries and Documents (San Francisco: Book Club of California, 1947), 28.


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

Looking for Luke in All the Wrong Places

Kristin Johnson

"Harold Schindler has located the Lakepoint site, a promising candidate for Luke Halloran's final resting place. "

While Luke Halloran and John Hargrave were the first emigrants known to have been buried in Utah soil, the exact location of their graves has been a matter of debate. Julia Altrocchi and Walter Stookey reported that the graves had been discovered during highway construction near the south shore of the Great Salt Lake, but this persistent rumor has not been verified. Working from documentary sources, historian Dale L. Morgan concluded in West from Fort Bridger that the site was in the Twenty Wells area (present-day Grantsville). However, Capt. Charles E. Davis believed he had found the gravesite on the opposite side of the Tooele Valley, near Lakepoint. After consulting Tooele Vally residents, Charles Kelly concluded that Davis was probably right. Using photographs of Davis' 1927 expedition, Utah Crossroads member Harold Schindler has located the Lakepoint site, a promising candidate for Luke Halloran's final resting place.


The co-partnership heretofore existing between the undersigned, under the firm Breen & Halloran, was dissolved on the first day of July, 1845, by mutual consent.
All persons indebted to the firm, will make payment to

--Missouri Republican (St. Louis, Missouri), July 30, 1845.

in the town of St. Joseph

THE subscriber being very much indisposed, and desirous of going this Spring to the Rocky Mountains, for the benefit of his health--wishes to sell out his entire Stock of Merchandise (in the new Brick Store of Wiley M. English.) It is an excellent business stand, and will, of course, be given up to him who purchases the goods on terms most REASONABLE. The Goods will be sold on the most accommodating terms, and tho' it being a small stock, yet it consists of most of articles usually kept in country stores. The subscriber has also received this Spring, several supplies of Spring and Staple Dry Goods and Groceries.
N. B. Any person wishing a bargain will please call soon.

--The Gazette (St. Joseph, Missouri), April 24, 1846.

NOTICE--During my absence, I have appointed Mr. John Corby my agent, to transact all my business--persons having any business with me, will please call on him.

--The Gazette (St. Joseph, Missouri), May 8, 1846.

ADMINISTRATION NOTICE--Notice is hereby given, that the undersigned has obtained from the Clerk of the Buchanan County Court, letters of administration, on the estate of Luke Halloran, deceased, bearing date November 12th, 1847. All persons indebted to said estate are requested to make immediate payment, and those having claims against said estate are required to exhibit them properly authenticated for seettlement to the administrator within one year from the date of said letters, or they may be precluded from having any benefit of said estate and if such claims are not exhibited within three years, they will be forever barred.

Nov. 19, 1847. Administrator.
--The Gazette (St. Joseph, Missouri), November 22, 1847


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

An Overland Emigrant of 1846: Antonio B. Rabbeson's Account

introduction by
Kristin Johnson

"I was very conscious to make a trip across the plains so that I could Kill buffalo, etc., deer etc., and have a good time"

In 1846 twenty-one-year old Antonio Rabbeson emigrated to Washington via the Oregon Trail and the Barlow Road. He settled on Puget Sound, where he spent the rest of his life. In addition to farming, his career also included service as a mail carrier, as sheriff of Thurston County, and in the Washington state legislature, as well as other activities. He died February 14, 1891, at the age of 66.

In 1878 Rabbeson dictated his memoir to one of Hubert Howe Bancroft’s scribes, A.B. — probably Amos Bowman. Like any 30-year-old recollection, his account contains several errors — he has Lilburn Boggs involved with Mormon troubles in Nauvoo, for instance — but the defects of his account are balanced by the details he relates about the memorable emigration of 1846.

Of particular interest are Rabbeson’s account of the pioneering of the Barlow Road, his remarks on "Boonhelm the Cannibal" (discussed in an accompanying article), and his statement that "Eddy was a remarkably fine energetic man, very popular in the company & very much respected." Perhaps Rabbeson actually intended James F. Reed, whose energy is mentioned elsewhere, but in either case, both these individuals have been so maligned of late that it is refreshing to read a favorable and independent description.

As far as can be determined Rabbeson’s memoir has never been published in its entirety, although Dale Morgan included a lengthy excerpt about J. Quinn Thornton in Overland in 1846. The following extract consists of the first 8½ pages of the account, describing Rabbeson’s journey from Missouri to Oregon. The manuscript, indexed as "Growth of Towns: Olympia, Tumwater, Portland and San Francisco" (MS P-B 17), is held by the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley, with whose permission it is published here.

—Kristin Johnson

Antonio B. Rabbison’s Account
Time & Place: Olympia, Wash. Ter.
Sunday, June 9th, 1878
Present: Rabbison & the Writer AB.

Mr. Rabbeson said: I am from New York City was born in 1824. Left for California and Oregon in 1846. Like a great many boys who have picked novels I have read of the life of mountaineers. I was very conscious to make a trip across the plains so that I could Kill buffalo, etc., deer etc., and have a good time. That was about all of my motive — a young fellows idea of adventure.

We started from Independence Missouri,. Left there on the 18th of May 1846. There were sixty wagons in the party I started with. Forty were for California and Twenty for Oregon. We were under the command of Governor Boggs. Ex-Governor of Missouri. We was getting away from the Mormons; the Mormons made it hot for him at that time. He was Governor at the time of the Mormon troubles of the troubles at Nauvoo. They had shot at him. The Mormons, at that time had sent on only a very small advance guard. He was making for California. Governor Curry of Oregon, afterwards Govenor [sic], was in the party and John Quin [Jessy Quinn] Thornton, and quite a number of men afterwards celebrated in the history of Oregon; Capt. Gillam, and there is another Gillam, a brother who was a preacher. The whole Boggs family were there, including the son-in-laws. The Donner Lake crowd were thin the same party. This was two years before the discovery of gold in California, and they knew nothing about it.

We seperated on the Platte. The Oregonians went on by themselves but on the same road. The reason why we divided was a difficulty. John Quin Thornton had fitted out a wagon with a man by the name of Good. Good had furnished the means and Thornton had the brains, and the means & brains together did not work very well. They cut the wagon in two and gave half to Good, and divided the team. Thornton went on with the Californians although he had started for Oregon. He had a wife and Good had none. The Californians were stronger than the Oregonian and the consequence was in a meeting to settle the difficulty, the decided that the wagon & team had to go with Thornton, because he was a man of family, and Good was a single man. That caused the trouble; and the consequence was a bigger force of men was with the Oregonians. The Californians were stronger than the Oregonians. The Oregonians by force took the wagon out of the train, and divided the team and wagon & gave each half. The whole party got mixed up int he dispute. The amount of it was that Good was to furnish the means and Thornton having nothing was to take a proportionate part of the labour on his shoulders. Instead of that he did nothing. He took advantage of his position and got Goods temper up. Both the Oregonian & Californian company so afterwards divided again. Part of the Californians, consisting of "Boggs," that part which we used to call the aristocracy of the crowd, they pushed on by what means I am not able to say; but I think probably with pack animals. They succeeded in getting through to California safely. The other company consisting of Donner, Eddy and that crowd were overtaken in the Sierra nevada by a snow-storm, their history has been published. Thornton again changed his mind and joined a part of the original crowd and took the Applegate road to Oregon what is called the Southern Route. They went through almost a much suffering as the Donner crowd did. They got lost and finally struck into Southern Oregon. They struck the Umpqua Valley and suffered terribly there. The remainder of the company that I was in came by the Barlow route into Northern Oregon across the Cascades. We were the first company that ever crossed the Cascades with wagons. We arrived at Fosters place the highest settlement there was on the Clackamas River on the 18th of September; just six months from the time we left Independence to the time of our arrival at the first house.

I heard them talk in camp about Boggs troubles. It was just after the death of Joe Smith. I heard Boggs and others speak about the Mormon difficulties. I was satisfied that from what I saw and heard that that was his object in leaving the country although of course he denied it. It was generally understood, and believed by everybody at the time that that was his object — that he was afraid of the Mormons. There was nothing in California to induce him to go there at that time. There were no settlements. It was before it was occupied by the United States. He simply wanted to get away from the Mormons & to take his family all out of danger. I guess there was nothing sent out there on behalf of the Americans at that time except a lookout — to look up a country where they could locate, & probably Boggs was like myself, he did not know much about that.

I knew Boonhelm the Cannibal among the Donner party. We had trouble with him before we parted on the Platte. He was a Dutchman. He in company with another Dutchman robbed an Indian grave, took a dead Indian down from the poles and took his buffalo robes. That was among the Sioux. The company compelled him to take them back and to wrap the body in the buffalo robes again & to put it up on the poles. We knew that that would have given trouble. It satisfied the Indians however when we made him do that. I have no doubt in my mind they would have killed him if they could have got the chance. He was a bad man. He has been here in Olympia. I saw him as late as 1858. I do not know whatever became of him. I have heard it reported that he was killed in the Upper Country East of here, but I do not know whether it was true or not. Heard him make a boast here in Wisebacks saloon that human liver was the best meat he ever ate. He was speaking in regard to the trouble they had in the Sierra Nevada. He was a brute any way to make the best of it and a desparate character. The Donners were nice people. Eddy was a remarkably fine energetic man, very popular in the company & very much respected.

They were so long in crossing that the teams got to be very weak. They were traveling very slowly. They got caught in the snow and then unfortunately they were in hopes that the snow should go off that they would proceed. Instead of killing their cattle and saving their meat they remained and were soon left without food. If they had had any body with them posted as to the country, or climate, or what they had to expect there, they would have killed their cattle at once. From what I heard Boonhelm say there fell six inches of snow the first night. They had no idea they were going to be housed up, the cattle were absolutely too poor at the time.


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

Keseberg and the Buffalo Robe

Kristin Johnson

"...was in the habit of beating [his wife] till she was black and blue. This aroused all the manhood in my father and he took Keseburg to task..."

Over the past sixty years George R. Stewart's Ordeal by Hunger has become the definitive history of the Donner Party. It is an eminently readable work, not only because of its author's superior writing skills, but also in part because it is unencumbered by footnotes. The absence of this apparatus, however, required Stewart to present inferences as facts, as a result of which the strict accuracy of some of his statements is questionable.

A case in point is the story of Louis Keseberg and the buffalo robe. Stewart tells us that Keseberg and another German

had robbed an Indian burial place, actually taking the buffalo robes from the body. At once scandalized, and terrified by the insult to the powerful Sioux, the emigrants had forced him to return the robes and leave the dead warrior again wrapped in dignified repose upon his scaffold. Moreover, largely through the urging of Reed, Keseberg had for a while been banished from the company with which he had then been traveling. Naturally he bore Reed no good will in return.(1)

Stewart relates this anecdote at the beginning of his book where he introduces the Donner Party's cast, setting the tone for his characterization of its most infamous member. But where did he find this particular anecdote? Only part of it is to be found in the primary sources of the Donner Party.

J. Quinn Thornton's Oregon and California in 1848 contains the earliest history of the Donner Party. Thornton reports that Louis Keseberg proposed to hang James F. Reed for killing John Snyder.

To this, however, he was probably prompted by a feeling of resentment, produced by Mr. Reed having been mainly instrumental in his expulsion from one of the companies, while on the South Platte, for grossly improper conduct.(2)

Thornton does not specify the nature of Keseberg's offense, but the German was widely remembered as a wife-beater. This may be the impropriety that Thornton intended, for in 1891 Virginia Reed Murphy recalled that Keseberg

was in the habit of beating [his wife] till she was black and blue. This aroused all the manhood in my father and he took Keseburg to task--telling him it must stop or measures would be taken to that effect. Keseburg did not dare to strike his wife again, but he hated my father and nursed his wrath until papa was so unfortunate as to have to take the life of a fellow-creature in self-defense.(3)

Virginia also attributes Keseberg's resentment of James Reed to the latter's interference, but does not mention banishment. The story of the buffalo robe theft is not from Donner sources, however, but from the memoir of Antonio B. Rabbeson, an overland emigrant of 1846 who dictated a memoir for H. H. Bancroft in 1878.(4)

Rabbeson tells of the buffalo robe theft as Stewart reports it, but refers to the miscreant as "Boonhelm the Cannibal" and says nothing about his expulsion from the wagon train. Stewart assumed that "Boonhelm" and Keseberg must have been the same person, but this identification is problematic. Perhaps "Boonhelm" was the other German involved, and Rabbeson merely mistook the name. However, Rabbeson also reports that "Boonhelm" visited Washington in 1858 and was rumored to have been killed in eastern Washington. Since Keseberg is not known to have left California and died in 1895 in Sacramento, this suggests the possibility that Rabbeson's "Boonhelm" might have been mistaken for or claimed to be the notorious maneater.

Stewart also assumed that the impropriety described by Thornton must have been the theft of the buffalo robe. However, in a another passage, Thornton states that Keseberg had been expelled "for a great impropriety, often repeated."(5) The phrasing is ambiguous. If Thornton means that Keseberg often repeated the impropriety, this cannot refer to the single instance of the theft of the buffalo robe. If Thornton means that others often repeated stories of Keseberg's impropriety, wife-beating seems more likely, as several Donner Party survivors report it. The buffalo robe story is less likely, since it has only been found once, and not in a Donner Party source.

In any event, Stewart combined Thornton's statement that Keseberg had been banished from the wagon train for an impropriety with Rabbeson's statement that "Boonhelm" had robbed a Sioux burial scaffold, creating a single anecdote which many writers have since repeated. Keseberg may indeed have stolen a buffalo robe, and may also have been expelled from the wagon train, but there is no good evidence to support Stewart's assumption that the two incidents were related.

In addition, Stewart's statement that Keseberg "was heard boasting publicly in a bar-room that human liver was the best meat he ever ate"(6) is obviously taken from Rabbeson: "Heard him make a boast here in Wisebacks saloon that human liver was the best meat he ever ate." Given the problems with Stewart's source, this particular accusation against Keseberg is also open to question.

1. George R. Stewart, Ordeal by Hunger. New York: Pocket Books, 1960, 16-17.

2. J. Quinn Thornton, Oregon and California in 1848. In "Unfortunate Emigrants": Narratives of the Donner Party. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1996, 37.

3. Virginia Reed Murphy, "Across the Plains in the Donner Party." In "Unfortunate Emigrants": Narratives of the Donner Party. Logan, UT: Utah State University Press, 1996, 277.

4. Antonio B. Rabbeson, "Growth of Towns," Bancroft MS PB-17. Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley.

5. Thornton, 81.

6. Stewart, 228-229.


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

From "The Graves Tragedy"

Spencer Ellsworth

"Mrs. Graves was tall and thin, her good natured sunburnt face wreathed in smiles. She wore a blue calico frock, an old sun-bonnet and a faded shawl, on dress occasions, and like her liege lord, went barefoot."

Links to other Utah Crossroads pages:

Kristin Johnson's Donner Party Page

Despite the attribution of the following passage to C. F. McGlashan, the information does not appear in McGlashan's book. Spencer Ellsworth must have collected it himself from the Graves family's former neighbors. It is taken from his history of Marshall County, Illinois, Records of the Olden Time; or, Fifty Years on the Prairie..., published in the Graveses' hometown, Lacon, Ill., in 1880.

Among the saddest episodes in the frontier history of the West is the narrative of the Reed and Donner party of ninety persons, which, in attempting to cross the Sierra Nevada Mountains late in the fall of 1846, were overwhelmed in one of the great storms peculiar to that section, and one half of them perished. With this party were a family of emigrants from Sparland, whose history we propose briefly to follow. From time to time vague and unreliable accounts have appeared, made up from rumors and "facts" supplied by the vivid imagination of enthusiastic writers, but until the past year no authentic history has ever been given. The experience was too dreadful, the recollection of their sufferings too horrible to be dwelt upon, and no persuasions could induce the survivors to recall their superhuman sufferings. So much had been and was being told that was false, and so little was really known upon the subject, that for the benefit of correct history the survivors were at last persuaded to unseal their lips, and give to the world their awful experience. To C. F. McGlashan, of Truckee, California, is due the credit of bringing this about, and to whom we are indebted for the particulars which follow:

Franklin Ward Graves was a Vermonter by birth, who came to Putnam County in 1831, where a couple of half brothers resided. He spent some time looking up a location, and finally purchased a claim of the Indians where Sparland stands, erected a cabin near the present residence of Dr. Tesmer, and moved into it probably in the fall of 1831. During the Black Hawk war he enlisted and served as Drum Major in Strawn's Regiment of Infantry, his famliy remaining most of the time in their cabin. Mr. Graves was a genuine backwoodsman and pioneer, who found his most congenial associations on the frontier. He despised the trammels of civilization, and loved the unshackled freedom of the red man. In summer he went shoeless, hatless and coatless, his long coarse hair his only protection. He was a man of large frame, good natured, hospitable and ever ready to do a kindness. Mrs. Graves was tall and thin, her good natured sunburnt face wreathed in smiles. She wore a blue calico frock, an old sun-bonnet and a faded shawl, on dress occasions, and like her liege lord, went barefoot. It was her custom to cross the river daily in fair weather, laden with honey, wild fruits or soft soap, and dispose of them to the settlers of Columbia (Lacon). There was not a woman in the place but knew her and loved to see her kind face make its appearance. She would cross the river in the coldest days and stormiest weather in her little canoe to convey some remedy to the sick or do a kindness. Mr. Graves was more hunter than farmer, but managed to secure a large tract of land and open up a considerable farm upon the bottoms. For some time before leaving he grew restless and longed to explore the then little known Pacific States, and sought a purchaser for his property, finding one in Geo. Sparr, to whom he sold 500 acres of land for $1500. This was in the spring of 1846, and immediate preparations were made for departure. His family consisted of himself and wife, and nine children as follows: Mary A., William C., Eleanor, Lovina, Nancy, Jonathan, Franklin Ward Jr., Elizabeth, and Sarah. The latter was engaged to Jay Fosdick, and did not design accompanying her parents, but when the time for departure drew nigh her heart failed, and she decided to go. Her lover chose to accompany his wife, and they were married a few days before leaving. Along with the went John Snyder, a tall, good looking young man afterward engaged to Mary.(1)

Mr. Graves had an extensive outfit, and was equipped in the best posible manner for the journey. He had three teams drawn by oxen, and took along with him several head of cattle and cows besides. The payment for his land was mostly in silver half dollars, and for their safe conveyance he put heavy cleats in the corners of his wagon box, bored holes from below with an auger sufficiently large for the purpose, and then deposited them.They journeyed leisurely to New Boston, where they crossed the Mississippi, traversed Iowa and reached Independence.

The rest of Ellsworth's story of the Graves family summarizes C. F. McGlashan's History of the Donner Party.

From Spencer Ellsworth, "The Graves Tragedy." In Records of Olden Times; or, Fifty Years on the Prairies. Lacon, Ill.: Home Journal Steam Printing Establishment, 1880. 588-590.

1. This story appeared in the first edition of McGlashan's history; Mary Graves vehemently denied it, and requested the historian to remove it. He did so in the second edition, and was called to task for it by Virginia Reed Murphy. Asked about the romance, William C. Graves wrote, "I suppose it is as true as the majority of them. But I don't altogether approve of it in that place Gossip always k[n]ows more about such things than the principles themselves." (Letter to C. F. McGlashan, March 30, 1879)


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

Charles Kelly and the Salt Desert Trail

Lyndia Carter

"Kelly’s curiosity led him to preserve the byways of Utah and lay the groundwork for trail work in Utah."

Charles Kelly, self-taught historian and explorer of the Hastings Cutoff and other trails across Utah’s Great Salt Lake Desert, was the subject of a lecture presented to Utah Crossroads Chapter by Peter DeLafosse. DeLafosse chronicled the fascinating career of this extraordinary man at the general membership meeting held on Thursday, April 18, 1996, in Salt Lake City. A large crowd was in attendance for this informative lecture. Many members have read and used Kelly’s book Salt Desert Trails for research purposes, but few have understood the character of the man who wrote it.

DeLafosse brings a scientific background and thoroughness to his research, as well as a love for historical fact. He has served as former publication chair for OCTA and is president of Utah Westerners. He was the editor of Trailing the Pioneers and co-authored with Roy Tea the Northeast Nevada Trail Guide and the Bartleson-Bidwell article in Overland Journal. Peter has done extensive research into the life of this much-overlooked western historian in preparing a revised edition of Salt Desert Trails and brought his knowledge to share with the audience.

One of Utah’s most important historians, Charles Kelly grew up in Michigan and Ohio. He was a religious iconoclast and sometimes misanthrope. DeLafosse told his audience that one of the reasons for such attitudes was his oppressive father, who was a preacher and religious hypocrite. Early in life Charles Kelly learned the printing trade and was able to escape from his father by taking a job as a printer. With little high school training, he entered Valparaiso University, but when his money ran out, so did his formal education. He traveled around, working at various jobs as a printer. He was also a talented musician and artist. After meeting Charles Russell he became inspired to paint.

In 1919 Kelly settled in Salt Lake City and became interested in the history of the area. While prowling through the desert searching for subjects to paint, he stumbled upon the Donner trail and became fascinated by the Hastings Cutoff. After extensive research and fieldwork, he compiled the story of the trails that traversed the Great Salt Lake Desert, and being a printer, published it himself. A brilliant, talented and creative man, he contributed much to the study of trail history, especially its detective aspects.

He began his Hastings Trail project in 1929, finding out everything he could about all those who crossed the desert. He followed the trail with his wife Harriette, his brother Dwight, and local residents who had grown up near the trail. His traveling companion and informant, Dan Orr of Tooele, frequently dug for the Donner treasure as they went. During his explorations Kelly found many artifacts along the trail, including five abandoned wagons. He traveled the trail over the Cedar Mountains, across the plain to Grayback Ridge, over the mud flats to Pilot Peak, and on to Silver Zone Pass and the Ruby Mountains. He searched the documents of Jed Smith, the Bidwell-Bartleson party, Lansford W. Hastings, government explorers Simpson and Beckwith, gold seekers, Bill Rishel (a bicyclist who crossed the Salt Desert in 1896), and others who had traveled across the salty waste. He wrote Salt Desert Trails in 1930, richly illustrated with his own photographs, an important collection of Hastings Cutoff sources and a major contribution to the literature of the emigration.

During the 1930s, Kelly wrote five books about Utah and western history, most of which he printed himself. Never one to avoid controversy, he tackled a variety of subjects. He wrote an important article for the Utah Historical Quarterly about the gold seekers who used the Hastings Cutoff. His books include Outlaw Trail, Old Greenwood, Miles Goodyear, and The Journals of John D. Lee, in addition to Salt Desert Trails.

In 1940 Kelly retired to Fruita, Utah, where he began a second career with the National Park Service at Capitol Reef as a ranger and later as superintendent. He retired from his park work in 1959 and returned to Salt Lake City. In 1969 he revised Salt Desert Trails. Utah Westerners honored him with the Award of Merit for his lifetime of historical work. He donated to the Utah Historical Society a collection of 2000 photographic prints and negatives. His work as a historical photographer is significant. DeLafosse also spoke of Kelly’s writing ability and read excerpts from Kelly’s magnificent prose depicting the canyon country of Utah that he loved so well.

Kelly’s curiosity led him to preserve the byways of Utah and lay the groundwork for trail work in Utah. He was truly a pioneer of the trails, working with greats such as Roderic Korns and Dale Morgan. His photographs, articles, and oral history interviews have added significantly to the study of Utah’s past. Though Kelly was anti-religion and would cringe at the thought, he may be Utah Crossroads’ "Patron Saint."

Peter’s presentation of this great man’s life was most informative and thoroughly interesting. Peter DeLafosse is to be congratulated for his fine research and his willingness to share his findings with Utah Crossroads.

New Edition of Salt Desert Trails

Hastings Cutoff fans, rejoice! Charles Kelly’s classic, ably edited by Peter DeLafosse, is now available in an updated and eye-pleasing paperback edition. It includes corrections and additions to the text, improved annotations and index, Kelly’s evocative photographs, and a new bibliography and biographical introduction. This year, the 150th anniversary of the opening of Hastings Cutoff, is the perfect time to bring Salt Desert Trails back on the market. Thanks and congratulations are due Peter and the publisher, Western Epics, for producing this fine work.

[ Table of Contents ]


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