We all know what the “Days of ’47” celebration is all about. It’s fitting that every 24th of July we participate in parades, rodeos, fireworks, family barbeques and more, to celebrate the Mormon pioneers entering the Salt Lake Valley after their expulsion from Nauvoo, Illinois. LDS Primary children learn and sing songs of these early pioneers, but Craig Anderson, president of the Grantsville Twenty Wells Chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers, treated the members of the Tooele SUP and their partners to a spellbinding history of the summer before the “Days of ’47,” the summer of 1846.
This amazing history seems directed by God to prepare the trail and tough ending of the journey through the Wasatch Mountains to this barren valley that Brigham Young and others thought would be a place where the saints could be left alone to settle and colonize this Deseret (Utah) Territory and provide a place of freedom where they could worship God as they desired.
Brother Anderson first told us of the doings of a man named Langford Hastings who while exploring the southern route of the Oregon Trail, dropped into the Salt Lake Valley and pioneered the trail along the south end of the Great Salt Lake into a wonderful watering spot that later would be named Twenty Wells, and even later would be given the name Grantsville. After watering and resting his stock, he continued around Timpie Point and up Skull Valley until he found a spot where the ground was dry enough to cross the salt and alkali valley to today’s Cedar Mountains.
There are many historians of the period that called the place where he next found water and feed for his animals “Redlum Springs”. Others have different ideas where he stopped to rest in the Cedar Mountains, but everyone agrees that he next turned west and exited the mountains at a place that would become known as Hastings Cutoff or Hastings Point. He made this trip without wagons and spurred his livestock as hard as he dared to cross the 70 plus miles of salt flats until he reached the next water at Pilot Creek in the Pilot Mountains. From there the going got a little easier and soon enough he found himself across the Sierra Nevada’s and on into California.
He then authored a book called “Guide to Oregon and California,” through which he hoped to make some money from book sales and also become a guide for those who would follow his directions.
All of these preparations started in 1842, and names like Hudspeth, Climan, Freemont and others were all looking for the best way across the great western desert to the Republic of California for both the great farm land and the talk of gold. Many pioneer groups elected to take the better known cutoff at Fort Hall and approach California from the North, after leaving the Oregon Trail.
The first group to elect to take the southern route around the Great Salt Lake was the Bidwell and Bartelson wagon train. They finally made it to Pilot’s Peak for much needed water and grass. After resting long enough for their livestock to come back to life, they hustled it over the Sierra Nevadas. Following them were other groups of wagon trains. Harlan Young was the next group, followed by the Donner Reed wagon train with their gold and magnificent two-story palace wagon.
The Donner Reed story would probably have ended much differently if they had hurried and not taken so many long breaks. In addition the Donner Reed group decided to get through the Wasatch Mountains via Big Mountain and Emigration Canyon. At the bottom of Emigration Canyon they found that in order to get over the last obstacle to the Great Salt Lake Valley, they had to hitch as many as four extra team of mules and oxen to pull one wagon at a time up the steep incline and into the valley beyond. Not only this, but trees, shrubbery and boulders had to be cut and moved. All of this took considerable extra time to accomplish. The next summer when the Mormon pioneers chose this same route, most of the cutting and moving and pioneering the trail were already finished, and their entering the valley was much easier and less costly in livestock and time spent.
After the Donner Reed train took their rest at today’s “This is the Place” State Park, they limped across the valley and into Twenty Wells, where they again rested a couple of days too many before heading across to the Cedar Mountains and then into the Great Salt Lake Desert.
The rest of the history is very well known. What this writer didn’t know is that if they had hit the Sierra Nevadas a day and a half earlier, they would have missed the immense snow storm that they were forced to winter and starve through.
During this fateful summer of 1846, Hastings would ride back and forth between wagon trains to point out the best way west. Even without wagons, Hastings and the others helping him, pushed their horses and mules as fast as they could go for as long as they could in order to reach Pilot Peak and its beckoning grass and water.
Of some interest are the names Hargrave and Luke Hollaren. They were the first two white men buried in Tooele County.
It was altogether a fascinating evening with maps and books and, best of all, a very knowledgable historian to tell the tales. If this kind of pioneer history and other history hits a point of curiosity and wanting to know what these early and later pioneers went through so that we could live in the beautiful mountains and valleys that we do, come join us the first Thursday of each month at the LDS Chapel on 200 S. 200 West in Tooele. Dress is casual and free pot luck dinner starts at 6:30 p.m., followed by great presentations.
Darrell Smith is the publicity officer for the Tooele Chapter of the Sons of Utah Pioneers