Newsletter of the Utah Crossroads Chapter
Oregon-California Trails Association

Spring/Summer 1996 - Vol. 7, No. 2 & 3
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Table of Contents
N.B. This edition is nearly complete as of 9/13/97 but will be finished as soon as possible.
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
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
Keseberg and the Buffalo Robe
Kristin Johnson
From "The Graves Tragedy"
Spencer Ellsworth


[ 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
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:

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

"...(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
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

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

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.'"

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

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..."

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."

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

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

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."

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)

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