Mormon Trail AssociationMormon Trail AssociationCrossing the Wasatch Mountains




The pioneer trail across the Wasatch Range was one of the most difficult wagon roads to build west of the Missouri River. it inadvertently took the lives of half its builders in 1846 and ultimately contributed to the saving of the lives of hundreds of Mormon pioneers in 1847.

A man by the name of Lansford W. Hastings had written a book titled "The Emigrants Guide to Oregon and California." He was interested in promoting emigration to California for personal gain. James Clyman heading east from California in June of 1846 with Hastings, James M. Hudspeth and others, had heard of John C. Fremont's 1845 excursion from the Great Salt Lake to the Humboldt River. Hastings insisted on traversing Fremont's Trail in reverse to the south end of Great Salt Lake. They crossed the Wasatch Mountains to Echo Canyon and then on to Fort Bridger.

East of Fort Bridger Hastings recruited emigrants to take his newly traversed "Short Cut" and promised to guide them to California. These emigrants consisted of the Bryant Russell pack party, Harlan Young, Hoppe or Lienhard and the Donner-Reed wagon trains. All decided to follow Hastings across his "cutoff" to the California Road on the Humboldt.

Hastings guided the vanguard Harlan-Young wagon train west from Fort Bridger to Echo Canyon. The stage was set in July 1846 when Hastings left the wagon train before it reached the site of present day Henefer, Utah. He went back on the trail to help guide other emigrants who were following.

James M. Hudspeth, who was guiding the Bryant-Russell pack party, explored the Weber Canyon past Devil's Slide and during the absence of Hastings met the Harlan Young wagon train just north of present day Henefer and encouraged them to push their way down the Weber River to the valley of the Great Salt Lake.

This was not Hasting's intent. His intent was to build a shorter road west of the present day Henefer site to East Canyon and over Big Mountain to Little Mountain and then down Emigration Canyon to the valley. If he had been present to direct the building of this road through East Canyon, it then would have been in place for the Donner Party to follow to the valley. They would not have lost 18 days [waiting for Hastings and in building this road] nor half their lives in the Sierras.

We do not know if Hastings concluded that the rugged Weber River Canyon was too rough for the Donner party or that he still wanted a shorter road cut up over the mountains. In any event, he left a note for the Donner Party at the Weber River crossing just south of present day Henefer telling them to send for him and he would show them the way across the Mountains. Remember: Hastings had made this same crossing earlier in June of that same year and was therefore familiar with the route.

Heinrich Lienhard wrote in his journal on August 3rd 1846:

"...He [speaking of Hastings] was of the opinion that we, like all the companies who had gone in advance of us, were taking the wrong road. He had advised the first companies that on arriving at the Weber River they should turn to the left which would bring them by a shorter route to the Salt Lake; this advice they had not followed, but trusting to their luck had taken the road down the river."

The next year the advanced party of the Mormon Pioneers were proceeding in all haste to the Salt Lake Valley. They were hoping to have enough time to plant crops to harvest in the fall to give them sufficient food to survive the coming winter. Being better organized with more men and having the Donner road laid out before them, the pioneers reached the valley in 4 days with enough time to break ground, plant and harvest their crops.

This then became the main wagon road from Fort Bridger to Salt Lake City. In 1850 a less successful toll road was built in Parleys Canyon called The Golden Pass Road which lasted only one year. The Emigration Canyon road remained the preferred route into the valley for the Mormon Pioneers and emigrants going to California until the Railroad came down Weber Canyon in 1869.


Quotations throughout this paper were excerpted from the following sources:

J.Roderic Korns and Dale Morgan's, eds. Revised and updated by Will Bagley and Harold Schindler. West From Fort Bridger: The Pioneering of the Immigrant Trails Across Utah, 1846-1850, Utah State University Press, 1994. These quotes are from the diaries or journals of James Clyman, Edwin Bryant, Heinrich Lienhard, James Reed and J. Quinn Thornton who interviewed the survivors of the Donner party at San Francisco in the fall of 1847.

John Wood. "The Journal of John Wood" as kept by him while travelling from Cincinnati to the Gold Diggings in California in spring and summer of 1850, Nevins & Meyers, Columbus, Ohio, 1871.

George Shepard. "O Wickedness, Where Is Thy Boundary?" The 1850 California Gold Rush Diary of George Shepard. Introduced by Merrill J. Mattes as printed in the Quarterly Overland Journal of the Oregon-California Trails Association in 1992.

Mormon pioneer's quotes come from the Utah Crossroads trail guide "The Mormon Trail: Fort Bridger to Salt Lake Valley," prepared by Dr. LaMar Berrett, October, 1993.

THE TRAIL - Dixie Creek To Mormon Flat

The following quotation is from the journal of James Clyman while he was traveling east, June 3, 1846:

"N. E. up the Brook [Parleys Canyon] into a high ruged mountain [Big Mountain] not verry rocky but awfull brushy with some dificulty we reached the summit and commenced our dissent which was not so steep nor Quite so brushy the Brush on this ridge consists of aspen, oak cherry and white Firr the later of which is Quite like trees this ridge or mountain devides the waters of Eutaw from those [of] Weebers rivers and desended the South branch of Weebers river untill it entered a rough Looking Kenyon when we bore away to the East up a small Brook [Dixie Creek] and encamped at the head springs makeing to day about 18 miles on the top of the mountain we passed several snow drifts that had not yet thawed and the whole range to the S. W. and N. is more or less covered in snow and many peaks heavily clothed and the air cold and disagreeable some few light Showers of rain fell during the day and one shower of snow fell in the afternoon service berry in bloom as Likewis choke cherries no game seen through this region and it is difficult to determin what the few natives that inhabit this region subsist on 23 miles"

The party rode perhaps 2 miles up Parleys Canyon, the route of I-80, to where the canyon forked at the present Mountain Dell Reservoir. Following up the north fork, Mountain Dell Canyon, they ascended it 5 miles and then turned abruptly to their right to climb 2 miles up to the Big Mountain summit. The Little Dell Dam now floods part of this trail, but the Pioneer Memorial Highway approximates this second stage of the day's journey by switchbacks along the canyon sides that lift the graded highway by easy stages to the summit.

Edwin Bryant wrote on July 24, 1846 when traveling from the present site of Henefer to East Canyon:

"From the valley we ascended gradually five or six miles to the summit of a ridge in a southwest course, we struck another branch of Weber's river, flowing in a northwest course [East Canyon Creek]. Following the stream about a mile, much to our disappointment we found another impassable canyon... This canyon resembles a gate, about six or eight feet in width, the arch and superstructure of which have fallen in immense masses, rendering a passage by the channel of the stream impossible... Looking up the side of the mountain on our right, we saw a small Indian trail winding under and over the projecting and impending cliffs ... We commenced the ascent, mules and men following each other along the narrow and dangerous path in single file. After much labor we reached the summit of the ascent ... We reached the junction of this stream with Weber river between four and five o'clock, and encamped for the day."

James F. Reed in 1846 after leaving Dixie Creek wrote

"Wed, 12 left Camp late and encampe on Bosman Creek [East Canyon Creek] on New rout made 2 [the numeral 3 over written with 2]"

Reed's estimates of distances this day, and for the whole route across the mountains, in fact, are astonishingly low; generally speaking, they should be doubled to conform to the facts of the terrain; compare the Fort Douglas quadrangle. The journal gives us to understand that on the second day's journey, August 12, the company reached "Bosman [East Canyon] Creek" in 2 miles' travel. East Canyon Creek, which until the Mormon entrance into Utah was called by the trappers "Bossman's" or "Bauchmin's" Fork. Stansbury concluded that by this they had intended "Beauchemin's Fork," and so rendered the name on his map. Beauchemin probably was the name of a trapper.

Again let us take up the Mormon journals to see what this involved. We resume with Orson Pratt's diary entry of July 16, 1847, at the head of Main Canyon [SR 65, SW of Henefer]:

"... crossing the ridge, [we] began to descend another ravine [Dixie Hollow]. Travelled down about 21/2 miles, which took about 4 hour's labour, and encamped for the night... After we had encamped Mr. [Elijah] Newman and myself walked down the ravine to examine the road. We found that Mr. Reid's company last season had spent several hour's labour in spading, &c., but finding it almost impracticable for wagons, they had turned up a ravine, at the mouth of which we had encamped, and taken a little more circuitous route over the hills."

"July 17th ... Early this morning I started out alone, and on foot, to examine the country back, to see if there was not a more practicable route for the companies in the rear than the one we had come. I was soon satisfied that we had taken the best and only practicable route ... I returned to camp and counselled the company not to go any farther until they had spent several hour's labour on the road over which we passed yesterday afternoon; and all who were able to work laboured about two-thirds of the day upon the same..."

Even more helpful is William Clayton's description of this section of the trail, from the Hogsback down into East Canyon:

"...arrived [July 19] on the summit of the dividing ridge and put a guide board up, '80 miles to Fort Bridger' ... The descent is not very steep but exceedingly dangerous to wagons being mostly on the side hill over large cobble stones, causing the wagons to slide very badly... At two o'clock, we halted beside a small creek [Dixie Creek] to water teams... at 3:35 we started forward, the road turning suddenly to the right for about three-quarters of a mile and then a southwest course again. Here we ascend a very long steep hill for nearly a mile, then descend by a very crooked road. I think a better road might be made here and this high hill avoided and save a mile's travel. After traveling a little over three miles, we crossed a creek [East Canyon Creek] about a rod wide and eighteen inches deep, pretty steep going down but good going out."

To interpret: Reed had found it impossible to take the Donner wagons down Dixie Hollow southwest to the floor of East Canyon without an inordinate amount of work cutting out brush, hence had pulled up a ravine to the northwest and detoured the bottoms, coming down into East Canyon about a half mile below the mouth of Dixie Hollow. It was many years before a road was cut all the way through Dixie Hollow, and the pioneer wagon road of 1846-47 is still clearly distinguishable on the Fort Douglas quadrangle. The Donners, and the Mormons after them, reached the floor of East Canyon about half a mile above what Erastus Snow calls its "tremendous impassable Canyon."

The Mormon description of the route is borne out by Thornton in accurate detail, but an ambiguity in his language, or more properly a misunderstanding on his part at the time he interviewed the Donner survivors in San Francisco, has led to the supposition that three rather than two days were required to reach East Canyon. He writes:

"On the second day after resuming their journey [August 12] they came to a grove of willows and quaking asp, through which their way led. Here they were compelled to open a road, which occupied one day [i.e., most of that day, August 12]. They again continued their journey, and passing over some very difficult bluffs, entered a hollow [East Canyon] leading into the Utah River valley..."

Reed again:

"Thur 13 Mad[e] a New Road by Cutting Willow Trees & [encamped?] on Basman Creek 2 [again the numeral 3 is overwritten with 2]"

That Reed, for both this and the previous day, estimated the distance traveled at 3 miles and then scaled down the figure to 2 makes it seem likely that he neglected his journal and brought it up to date by writing the entries for a number of days at one time. For August 13-14 Reed shows only 3 miles total travel up East Canyon, but the Mormon journals conclusively establish that the whole distance was 8 miles (which determines also that Little Emigration rather than Little Dutch Canyon was the lateral ravine up which the road went to the Big Mountain summit).

Orson Pratt wrote on July 17, after reaching East Canyon:

"We followed the dimly traced wagon tracks up this stream for 8 miles, crossing the same 13 times. The bottoms of this creek are thickly covered with willows, from 5 to 15 rods wide, making an immense labour in cutting a road through for the emigrants last season. We still found the road almost impassable, and requiring much labour."

Note: The eight miles traveled going up East Canyon Creek had been "improved" by the Donner Party the year before the Mormons came, but it was still the "worst on wagons we have had," said Amasa Lyman. Wiford Woodruff said it was "the worse 8 miles we have had on the journey." William Clayton said the trail was "exceedingly rough and crooked," and that it was "truly a wild looking place" and that "it is scarcely possible to travel without tearing wagon covers."

Thornton well describes the same portion of the road, saying that after the Donners reached East Canyon "they were under the necessity of cutting [their way through] eight miles of very thick timber and close-tangled underbrush,"a difficult labor which "occupied eight days." This last is an evident misunderstanding on Thornton's part; Reed's journal makes it clear that the eight days apply not to the passage up East Canyon but to the whole period from the time the wagons left the site of Henefer to the time they descended the western slope of Big Mountain to reach the "prairillon" [small prairie] of Mountain Dell.

George Shepard going to the Gold Fields in California via Salt Lake City and the Salt Lake Cutoff in 1850, wrote while crossing the Wasatch Mountains:

June 22nd [1850] "...went about a mile and turned up into a deep ravine in the mountains and followed up a small creek and in five or six miles came on to a high ridge and then went down a steep hill and in four miles make kenyon crick [East Canyon] one rod wide and about from 2 to 3 ft deep swift current very high banks to descend into and bad crossing but we had to do it a good many times ...went about four miles further and encampt good grass on the side of the mountains we have pretty cool weather here except in the middle of the day and then it is warm or hot the snow is melting on the tops of the mountains and that makes the cricks worse to cross some places is quite muddy"

John Wood another 49er on his way to California in 1850 via Salt Lake City and Hastings Cutoff, wrote:

July [1850]: '24th. --Today we had squally times, passing over some of the worst roads imaginable, some times passed over mountains covered with rocks, and at other times we wound our way through long groves of beautiful cottonwood trees interspersed with pine and cedar, and all day we traveled where the tall cedars grow And the bright waters flow Vegetation is springing forth here in abundance, and the soil appears more productive than further back, and mountains present a bold and sublime appearance."

Just south of Dutch Hollow where the present day paved road comes down from Big Mountain and meets the gravel road in East Canyon, is a cottonwood grove and Pony Express Station. A member of the James G. Willie Handcart Company, William Woodward, wrote on November 7, 1856 while traveling in the wagons of their rescuers:

"...crossed a steep hill and came into East Kanyon. Crossed East Canyon Creek several time and camped in Cottonwood Grove; good place to camp for wood."

A letter was written by someone in 1857 about the fortifications being built upon the top of the hill just west of the East Canyon gravel road and the cottonwood grove:

"In the afternoon we moved camp to the 8th crossing and proceeded to dig three deep ditches on the ridge and side of the canyon: under two of these the road runs near the foot of the hill."

"Continued work on the ditches also commenced a long stone battery on the point north calculated to rake the road around and down to the seventh crossing and also sent 25 men and had a large quantity of rock piled on the point above the Upper Cottonwood grove ready to roll down."


Thomas Bullock a member of the first Mormon pioneer company, wrote on July 20, 1847:

"...clearing the willows, repairing the road all the way--we could not find a room for the camp until we had travelled about 7 1/4 miles--here is a very large Spring of Cold Water but tolerable grass. This had been a crooked & rough day's journey & hard driving through stumps and stones... At this place Elder Pratt left a letter of directions--having explored the country ahead. I made copy of same for benefit of Pres Young, Amasa Lyman and Charles C. Rich & fixed it in the crotch of a stick." (This area today is known as Mormon Flat.)

It was from this campground that John Brown and Orson Pratt returned after riding their horses to the top of Big Mountain on July 19, 1847 [Orson Pratt journal]. Pratt's advance party is the first known group to use this campground.

It was from Large Springs Campground that Apostle Erastus Snow was sent by Apostles Willard Richards and George A. Smith to overtake Apostle Orson Pratt in order to accompany him into the Valley. Pratt and Snow were the first of the Original Pioneer Company to enter "The Valley." Many pioneer companies camped here.

Fort Wells, consisting of a fortification of batteries [stone walls, 1 to 2 feet high] and dams, was built here in 1857 on the ridge at the entrance to Little Emigration Canyon to help defend against Johnston's Army. These fortifications can still be seen today.

The Donner-Reed Company spent 4 nights here while they worked 3 days on the road over Big Mountain. James Reed wrote:

"Frid 14 Still on Basman Creek [East Canyon Creek] and proceeded up the Creek about one mile and Turned to the right hand up a narrow valley to Reeds Gap [Big Mountain] and encamped about one mile from the mouth making this day 2 [written in margin: ‘Spring of water']"

Reed would place the Donner camp about a mile above the mouth of Little Emigration Canyon. The Mormons next year chiefly remarked a spring 2 miles higher up. William Clayton writes on July 21, 1847:

"...the road turns to the right leaving the [East Canyon] creek and ascending the mountains gradually. Much time was necessarily spent cutting down stumps, heaving out rocks and leveling the road. It is an exceedingly rough place. There are several springs at the foot of the mountain and one a mile from the top which runs above the ground a little distance, then sinks under again. The last half mile of the ascent is very steep and the nearer the top the steeper it grows. There is considerable timber up this gap but mostly destroyed by fire."

In his Latter-Day Saints' Emigrants' Guide (St. Louis, 1848, page 19) Clayton notes, with respect to this section of the trail, "You will probably find water in several places, but it is uncertain where, as it runs but a little way in a place, and then sinks in the earth."

Reed continues:

"Sat. 15 in Camp all hands Cutting and op[e]ning a road through the Gap."

"Son 16 Still Clearing and making Road in Reeds Gap [Big Mountain]."

Thornton, our most credible authority, says that it was on the sixth day of cutting out the road that the Graves family, with their three wagons, overtook the Donner party, the last addition to the company. On this theory , the Graveses overtook the others on this day, August 16, at their camp a mile up Little Emigration Canyon, and thus added three more hands to the last day's work on the road. W. C. Graves, writing in the Healdsburg, Calif., Russian River Flag, April 26, 1877, implies that the family overtook the Donners immediately after Reed's return over the mountains, but there are so many inaccuracies in the Graves narrative that it is entitled to no credence on this score.

Reed wrote:

"Mon 17 Still in Camp and all hands working on the road which we finished and returned to Campe"

"Tus 18 this Morning all started to Cross the Mountain [Big Mountain] which is a Natural easey pass with a little more work and encamped making this day-5..."

"On the ninth [eighth] day," as Thornton writes, "they left their encampment, and traveled into an opening which they supposed led out into the Utah River Valley." In other words, the wagons were taken up Little Emigration Canyon to "Reed's Gap," the pass over Big Mountain, down its western slope to Mountain Dell Canyon, and on down that canyon to the upper reaches of the valley today overspread in considerable measure by the waters of the recently constructed Little Mountain Dell Reservoir. The distance covered more nearly approximated 8 than the 5 miles estimated by Reed.

George Shepard again:

"[June] 23 came about 16 miles to day in about four miles we left kenyon creek after getting into the mud pretty deep got old Nig down had to unharness and the other company got their 4 horse team in and had to back out we now ascended a mountain four miles on a steady pull sometimes on the side hill some times in the crick and going 3 or 4 rods on nothing but stones before we got at the top of the mountain [Big Mountain] we came to some timber [?] Altitude of summit 7,245 went on down the longest and steepest and crookedest hill I ever see or thought of seeing any a team pass down came on a few miles further and encampt in a deep ravine we had quite a thunder shower before we stopt for the night which made it very slipory for the horses crossing the crick down steep banks which we had to do very often we had a view of part of the great valley to day from the top of the mountain and there we were on the snow banks"

John Wood again:

"[July] 25th.--The timber to-day is of some larger growth, being more pine and some few shrubby oaks. To-day our path led over some exceedingly high mountains; the road was desperate. Our cattle are wearing away very fast, on these mountains, but we have got the most of them along so far. We pitched our tents this evening near a great spring."

Continuing on with Reed's narrative:

Tus 18 "J F Reed Brok[e] an axletree"

Reed's narrative of 1871 would place this mishap back at the camp in Little Emigration Canyon. Thornton, on the other hand, says that it happened at the south shore of Great Salt Lake. He writes: "Here Mr. Reed broke an axletree and they had to go a distance of fifteen miles to obtain timber to repair it. By working all night, Mr. Eddy and Samuel Shoemaker completed the repair for Mr. Reed." The west slope of Big Mountain has such a breakneck character that it is wholly plausible to suppose the mishap happened as one of Reed's wagons was descending it, yet Thornton's detail of having to go 15 miles for timber is good supporting evidence for the story he tells.


Camp Grant or Mountain Dell is now covered by the Little Dell Reservoir and Dam. Many Mormons camped here. On November 8, 1856, the Willie Handcart Company, in rescue wagons, camped here. Part of the Martin Handcart Company, in Hodgett's rescue wagons, camped here on December 1, 1856. The United Stated Army camped here June 25, 1858.

The Donner-Reed Company camped here while they worked on the road in Emigration Canyon. From James Frazier Reed's journal, August 1846:

"Wed 19 this day we lay in Camp in a neat little valley fine water and good grass the hands ware this [day?] on the other on West Side of Small mountain, in a small Valley [Emigration Canyon] Clearing a road to the Vall[e]y of the Lake We have to Cross the outlett [Jordan River] of the Utah Lake on this Rout Nearr the Salt Lake"

Not the least interesting feature of this entry is that so early as 1846 Little Mountain was designated as the "small mountain." Reed's diary says nothing of an attempt to get down through Parleys Canyon, up which Hastings had traveled with Clyman on June 2-3, and again with Reed on August 9-10. Thornton indicates why. "Here," he writes, "Messrs. Stanton and Pike, who had been lost from the time Mr. Reed had gone forward with them to explore, were found by the party they had sent to hunt for them. These men reported the impracticability of passing down the valley in which they then were, and they advised their companions to pass over a low range of hills into a neighboring valley. This they did."

When Orson Pratt, accompanied by John Brown, reconnoitered the road for the Mormon Pioneers, on July 19, 1847, he described it from East Canyon in these terms:

"[we] ascertained that the road left [East] Kanyon Creek near the place where we stopped the day before, and run along in a ravine to the west [Little Emigration Canyon]. We ascended this ravine gradually for 4 miles, when we came to the dividing ridge [Big Mountain] ...the descent is very rapid at first. We travelled down several miles and found that the small stream we were descending [Mountain Dell Creek, called by the Mormons Browns Creek] passed through a very high mountain [the gorge of Parleys below the present Mountain Dell Reservoir], where we judged it impossible for wagons to pass; and after searching awhile, we found that the wagon trail ascended quite abruptly for about 1 1/2 miles, and passed over a mountain [Little Mountain], and down into another narrow valley [Emigration Canyon], and thus avoided the kanyon [Parleys Canyon].

Reed continues:

"Thus [Aug] 20 Still in Camp and hands Clearing road"

"Frid 21 this day we left camp and Crossed the Small mountain and encampd in the vally running into the Utah outlett making this day 4"

As they had done at the base of Big Mountain, the company remained in camp until the whole road had been made, then moved up over Little Mountain and down into Emigration Canyon. Thornton says that the Donners here "worked five days in cutting through the timber." In this he is mistaken, but William Clayton remarks, under date of July 22, 1847, "It is evident that the emigrants who passed this way last year must have spent a great deal of time cutting a road through the thickly set timber and heavy brush wood." Reed's estimate of the distance traveled this day is too low. The party probably camped about 4 1/2 miles down Emigration Canyon, just above Donner Hill [at mouth of canyon].

Reed again:

"Sat 22 this day we passed through the mountains and encampd in the Utah [Salt Lake] Valley making this day 2"

Illustrating the extent to which the extraordinary had become the commonplace, Reed's diary entirely passes over the difficulties the Donner party had to contend with in emerging from Emigration Canyon out upon the table land overlooking Salt Lake Valley. At its mouth, Emigration Canyon in 1846 was much obstructed by an abutment from the south wall, which forced the creek through a narrow opening, thickly overgrown with willows. "The canyon being impracticable as a wagon way," Thornton writes, "they doubled teams and got their wagons to the top of the hill, from which there was a gradual descent into the valley."

More graphically, Virginia Reed Murphy relates in her "Across the Plains in the Donner Party," Century Magazine, July, 1891:

"we reached the end of the canyon where it looked as though our wagons would have to be abandoned. It seemed impossible for the oxen to pull them up the steep hill and the bluffs beyond, but we doubled teams and the work was, at last, accomplished, almost every yoke in the train being required to pull up each wagon."

More illuminating still are the Mormon journals in their simple description of the terrain. Orson Pratt discovered, on July 21, 1847, that:

"the wagons last season had passed over an exceedingly steep and dangerous hill. Mr. [Erastus] Snow and myself ascended this hill, from the top of which a broad open valley, about 20 miles wide and 30 long, lay stretched out before us...we could not refrain from a shout of joy which almost involuntarily escaped from our lips the moment this grand and lovely scenery was within our view."

Erastus Snow described the ground in similar terms, saying that he and Pratt made their way:

"down the Valley [Emigration Canyon] six or seven miles, and came to a small canyon just above where the creek opens into the Valley of the Utah outlet-To avoid this canyon the old Pack Trail crosses the creek and leads up an exceedingly steep hill onto a Butte that commands the vallies, and a view of the Salt Lake."

Here, for a few rods at the mouth of Emigration Canyon, in an effort to avoid this steep and dangerous grade up the south wall of the canyon, the Mormon Pioneers made their only independent contribution to the "Mormon Trail." The way of it is described by William Clayton on July 22, 1847:

"After traveling one and three-quarters miles [down Emigration Canyon], we found the road crossing the creek again to the south [misprinted "north" in the published journal] side and then ascending up a very steep, high hill. It is so very steep as to be almost impossible for heavy wagons to ascend and so narrow that the least accident might precipitate a wagon down a bank three or four hundred feet, in which case it would certainly be dashed to pieces. Colonel Markham and another man went over the hill and returned up the canyon to see if a road cannot be cut through and avoid this hill... Brother Markham says a good road can soon be made down the canyon by digging a little and cutting through the bushes some ten or fifteen rods. A number of men went to work immediately to make the road which will be much better than to attempt crossing the hill and will be sooner done... After spending about four hours' labor the brethren succeeded in cutting a pretty good road along the creek and the wagons proceeded on, taking near a southwest course."

Orson Pratt wrote on July 21, 1847:

"No frost this morning, but a heavy dew. We resumed our journey, travelled 2 1/2 miles, and ascended a mountain for 1 1/2 miles; descended upon the west side one mile; came upon a swift running creek, where we halted for noon: we called this Last Creek. Brother Erastus Snow (having over taken our camp from the other camp, which he said was but a few miles in the rear,) and myself proceeded in advance of the camp down Last Creek 4 1/2 miles, to where it passes through a kanyon and issues into the broad open valley below. To avoid the kanyon the wagons last season had passed over an exceedingly steep and dangerous hill. Mr. Snow and myself ascended this hill, from the top of which a broad open valley, abut 20 miles wide and 30 long, lay stretched out before us, at the north end of which the broad waters of the Great Salt Lake glistened in the sunbeams, containing high mountainous islands from 25 to 30 miles in extent. After issuing a shout of joy which almost involuntary escaped from our lips the moment this grand and lovely scenery was within our view.
"We immediately descended very gradually into the lower parts of the valley, and although we had but one horse between us, yet we transversed a circuit of about 12 miles before we left the valley to return to camp, which we found encamped 1 1/2 miles up the ravine from the valley, and 3 miles in advance of their noon halt. It was about 9 o'clock in the evening when we got to camp. The main body of pioneers who were in the rear were encamped only 1 1/2 miles up the creek from us, with the exception of some wagons containing some who were sick, who were still behind."

William Clayton wrote on July 22, 1847:

"There is but little timber in sight anywhere, and that is mostly on the banks of creeks and streams of water which is about the only objection which could be raised in my estimation to this being one of the most beautiful valleys and pleasant places for a home for the Saints which could be found... There is no prospect for building log houses without spending a vast amount of time and labor, but we can make Spanish brick and dry them in the sun... For my own part I am happily disappointed in the appearance of the valley of the Salt Lake, but if the land be as rich as it has the appearance of being, I have no fears but the Saints can live here and do well while we will do right. When I commune with my own heart and ask myself whether I would choose to dwell here in this wild looking country amongst the Saints surrounded by friends, though poor, enjoying the privileges and blessings of the everlasting priesthood, with God for our King and Father; or dwell amongst the gentile with all their wealth and good things of the earth to be eternally mobbed, harassed, hunted, our best men murdered and every good man's life continually in danger, the soft whisper echoes loud and reverberates back in tone of stern determination; give me the quiet wilderness and my family to associate with, surrounded by the Saints and adieu to the gentile world till God says return."

Wilford Woodruff wrote in his journal on July 24, 1847:

"After traveling from our encampment six miles through the deep ravine valley, ending with the canyon, we came in full view of the valley of the Great Salt Lake or Great Basin--The Land or Promise, held in reserve by the hand of God as a resting place for the Saints."

The Mormon wagons, in short, kept down the gulch of Emigration to a point immediately above the present Hogle Zoo, then to avoid a marsh in the bottoms, pulled up on the bench land to the south, roughly paralleling the present Wasatch Boulevard but a few yards below it, to arrive at the bench at the intersection of Wasatch Boulevard and Michigan Avenue, the northeast extremity of the present Bonneville Golf Course. From this point they wound down the sloping plateau to camp on Parleys Creek, in the vicinity of present 5th East and 17th South streets. This, it should be noted, was also the route of Brigham Young two days later. The "This Is the Place Monument" north of the gulch of Emigration serves to commemorate imposingly the historic circumstance of the Mormon arrival in Salt Lake Valley, but is NOT to be taken as marking the site where Brigham Young got his first sweeping view of the future home of the Saints.

George Shepard continues on June 24th 1850:

"24th to day we came on about 8 miles and came out of the mountains on to the Great Valley of Salt Lake we turned short to the left about 2 miles and encampt about six miles from the city at the community house we had to do this to secure food for our horses we have had very bad travelling these two or three days back we had to atach a rope on the hinde end of the wagon take hold and ease the wagon down into the deep gullys where the creek run and had to atach a rope on the side of the wagon and go along side to keep it from capsizing when we were on the side of the hills which were steep and very sideling but we have got through with these kenyons as they call these bad places here and we are now in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake with the city of adobe houses before us in plain view with mountains all around us and snow on the east and west and south of us which they tell continues in sight the year round"

John Wood continues with his journal of July 26, 1850:

"26th.--This morning we started down what is called the Kanyon, and exceedingly deep and narrow ravine, through which flow a beautiful stream of water, cold as ice; this stream we crossed thirty times, in traveling eight miles, the length of the Kanyon; some of these crossings were very bad, the mud being very deep. this Kanyon leads down to the great Salt Lake valley, and along it grows some beautiful shrubbery, which served to animate us a little, when we were toiling through. The road through this Kanyon is certainly the worst on earth at least, I think that I have already passed over some awful bad roads, but this is so much worse that it baffles all description. But adieu to the Rocky Mountains, we have at last triumphed over the last obstacle which they presented..."

Reed wrote:

"Son 23 left Camp late this day on acct. of having to find a good road or pass through the Swamps of the utah outlet finally succeeded in and encamped on the East Bank of Utah outlett making 5"

Where in Salt Lake Valley the Donners encamped after getting clear of the mountains the previous afternoon it is hard to say, but perhaps on Parleys Creek in the vicinity of present 11th East and 21st South streets. Until recently it has been conjectured that the Mormons followed the Donner track all the way from the mouth of Emigration Canyon to the floor of Salt Lake Valley, but in the light of what we now know about the Donners, having crossed the Jordan some 4 miles south of the North Temple ford, it must be supposed that the trails parted on the bench land in the vicinity of present Downington Avenue and 15th East Street, the Donner road from this point swinging to the southwest, the Mormon road more to the west. Although some Mormon records speak of having made "an entire new route through the Kanyon," this must be understood as applying only to the road cut around "Donner Hill," in the mouth of Emigration Canyon.

To judge from Reed's entry for August 23, the wagons he was guiding had considerable difficulty in getting through the Mill Creek morass to their night encampment on the east bank of the Jordan, a little south of present 27th South Street.

The Donner Party continued westward across the Salt Lake Valley and joined the Hasting Trail coming south from the Weber River. They followed this trail to the Sierra Mountains in California where they were trapped by a early snow storm and thus established their place in history.

Thomas Bullock, clerk of the camp, July 22, 1847, wrote:

"Many rushes [marsh plants with cylindrical often hollow stems] by the sides of the creeks, Elder [Orson] Pratt came up to our Camp & consulted with W[illard]. Richards & G[eorge]. A. Smith, when it was decided that O. Pratt, G.A. Smith with several others should go ahead & look out a place to plant, while W. Richards was to take the lead of the Pioneers in preparing the way thro' the Kanyon. Gather up and start at 9. Soon passed the other camping ground [about where the Sante Fe restaurant is] [and] graded the hill [on] each side [of] the creek, when teams halted while extra hands go to repair the roads, then crossed over & entered the Kanyon [gorge, or mouth]; which required much hard work to make a road thro'. At this point the [Donner-Reed] Emigrant Company of last year got tired of cutting trees [and] turned to the left over a very steep hill which appears almost impossible. [We] succeeded in getting thro' the narrow spot of the Kanyon about 4 o'clock, when we turned round the hill to the right & came in full view of the Salt Lake in the distance, with its bold hills on its islands towering up in bold relief behind the Silvery Lake. A very extensive valley burst upon our view, dotted in 3 or 4 places with Timber. I should expect the valley to be about 30 miles long & 20 miles wide. I could not help shouting "hurra, hurra, hurra, there's my home at last"
"...the Sky is very clear, the air delightful & all together looks glorious; the only draw-back appearing to be the absence of timber, but there is an Ocean of Stone in the Mountains, to build Stone houses & Walls for fencing. If we can only find a bed of Coal we can do well & be hidden up in the mountains unto the Lord. As we progressed down the Valley, small clumps of dwarf Oak & Willows appear [and] the Wheat Grass grows 6 or 7 feet high. Many different kinds of grass appear, some being 10 or 12 feet high. After wading thro' thick grass for some distance, we found a place bare enough for a camping ground, the grass being only knee deep, but very thick; we camped on the banks of a beautiful little Stream [Parleys Creek, about 1650 South and 500 East]. Many mosquitoes about in the evening; a rattle snake killed near the Camp. A Scorpion [was] seen by young brother Crow [one of the Mississippi Saints].
"Many of the brethren met in the evening round the Camp fire to hear the report of O. Pratt, G. A. Smith & several others who had been out on an Exploring Expedition on horseback. They report having been about 20 miles north. About 4 miles north from this Camp ground are two beautiful streams of Water with Stony bottom [confluence of City Creek and Jordan River at North Temple Street?]. Beyond that is a Saline country & about 50 mineral springs. They have picked a place for a permanent Camp ground [northwest of City/County Building]."


(Journal Excerpts, April, 1857)
(This trek east occurred four months after the Martin Handcart Co. entered the valley.
Joel's writings are filled with verse. He wrote the LDS Hymn, "High on a Mountain Top.")

Having been counseled by President Brigham Young to go with my sister, Julia Babbitt (who was the widow of the late A. W. Babbitt [Territorial Secretary], who was murdered on the plains in the fall of 1856 by the Cheyenne Indians) to Council Bluffs City to transact some business appertaining to the estate and also to make what discoveries we could in reference to his death on the plains, I commenced on the first of April to make the necessary arrangements... The next morning we started [from Cedar City] for GSL City and arrived at Sister Babbitt's about ten o'clock in the evening, Tuesday [April] 14th. I stayed with Sister Babbitt a few days and assisted her to get ready. During my stay I blessed Sister Babbitt with her family and my brother-in-law, David Lebaron, with his family and many others. I also, on the 17th received a patriarchal blessing myself under the hands of Isaac Morley.

I started on Tuesday 21st for Council Bluffs City in company with Sister Babbitt and family and a young man by the name of Robert Reed who drove for her a team of four mules, while I drove a span of horses. We crossed the Little Mountain, and camped in the canyon about three or four miles from the foot of Big Mountain.

Wednesday 22nd. We started early in the morning and safely reached the top of the Big Mountain at 12 o'clock, and found the snow on the east side from ten to fifteen feet deep and very soft. Therefore, we concluded to wait until the next morning, hoping to find the snow frozen so that we could go down on the crust. Here we took our last view of the sweet valley of Ephraim until we should return. While reflecting on the subject, I went by myself and offered up my thanks in prayer to my father in heaven for the blessings I have received while living in those valleys, and also for his protecting hand to bring me safe back, when my mission is filled, to my family and mountain home. I then returned to my wagon and sat down and wrote the following lines:

Farewell to my sweet mountain home
With sorrow my feelings are touched
To leave thee with strangers to roam
And head thee so often reproached.

While here on the big mountain top
I take my last glimpse of the free
My feelings are buoyant with hope
That I'll soon return unto thee...

A large company of apostates passed down the mountain today, some capsized and some broke their wagon tongues, etc.

Thursday 23rd. We had our breakfast early and started down the mountain. The sun arose very hot and snow began to melt. Our company consisted of 5 men and 5 wagons, with families, who all told me that they intended to return again the next spring, but in reality were apostates. One of our company broke a wagon tongue a short distance down the mountain, but we went ahead without any accident. About two miles down [about half way down Little Emigration Canyon] we overtook the apostate's company in camp, we unharnessed our teams, and went back to help down the other wagon. We found in an apostate camp a little girl about 16 months old, smothered to death by having a pan of dough turned over her head while asleep, by the rock of wagons coming down the mountain. She was rolled up in a buffalo skin, and buried high upon the side of the mountain.

Rest little stranger, sweetly rest
Beneath the mountain snow
Where no intruder can molest
Or any earthly foe.

Sweet, lovely babe, thou here must lay
High on the mountain top
And sleep the lonely years away
Till Michael wakes thee up.

No mother's hand can strew thy grave
With flowers, or tears can shed,
Or cause the willows bough to wave
Above thy peaceful head.

In a few hours the other wagons were brought down to the place where we stopped. We then harnessed up our horses and pursued our journey down the mountain. The road was dreadful, for torrents of water from melting snow came rushing down through every gulch and washed away the dirt and gravel in the road and left nothing but high rocks against which the water dashed and threw foam several feet in the air. Down this current and over these rocks, we had to roll our wagons, expecting every moment to be smashed up, but through the blessing of heaven we arrived safe in the canyon below, about the afternoon and found a good road, although the stream was high. We crossed the stream thirteen times, with the water up to our wagon boxes, and we camped for the night here where it passes through the mountains into the Weber river. [East Canyon Reservoir Dam site]

Friday 24th. We started after breakfast, and found a good road to the Weber river [Henefer], where we crossed about 11 o'clock. The water was high and rapid but we crossed over without accident, and stopped two hours to let our teams feed after which we went on and at 5 o'clock we camped in Echo canyon [probably about where the rest stop is on I-80, just east of the town of Echo].

Though journeying long on rocks and stones
And walking in the snow
Has made so sore my flesh and bones
I scarce can sit or go,

Yet, God, my Father, hears my prayers
And makes His grace abound
To keep me safe from every snare
And heal my every wound.

For which I thank His holy name
With all my heart and soul
His love doth still my heart inflame
And all my life control.

Saturday 25th. My sister's son, Almon W. was sick all night with cholera morbus, but was better in the morning. We started after breakfast and traveled slow, and nooned towards the upper end of Echo Canyon and in the afternoon we passed over several snow banks and crossed Bear River about sundown and camped on the east side. We had a cold north wind through the afternoon and night. The water froze in the water bucket two inches.

The City of the Saints

(Sir Richard F. Burton)
(Account of his 1860's visit to Salt Lake City by stage coach)

The End-Hurrah! August 25th
To-day we are to pass over the Wasach, the last and highest chain of the mountain mass between Fort Bridger and the Great Salt Lake Valley,... Following Bauchmin's Creek, we completed the total number of fordings to thirteen in eight miles. The next two miles were along the bed of a water-course, a complete fiumara, through a bush full of tribulus, which accompanied us to the end of the journey. Presently the ground became rougher and steeper: we alighted, and set our beasts manfully against "Big Mountain," which lies about four miles from the station. The road bordered upon the wide arroyo, a tumbled bed of rock and boulder, with water in places oozing and trickling from the clay walls, from the sandy soil, and from beneath the heaps of rock -- living fountains these, most grateful to the parched traveler. The synclinal slopes of the chasm were grandly wooded with hemlocks, firs, balsam-pines, and other varieties of abies, some tapering up to the height of ninety feet, with an admirable regularity of form, color, and foliage.... The ascent became more and more rugged: this steep pitch, at the end of a thousand miles of hard work and semi-starvation, causes the death of many a wretched animal, and we remarked that the bodies are not inodorous among the mountains as on the prairies. In the most fatiguing part we saw a hand-cart halted, while the owners, a man, a woman, and a boy, took breath. We exchanged a few consolatory words with them and hurried on. The only animal seen on the line, except the grasshopper, whose creaking wings gave forth an ominous note, was the pretty little chirping squirrel. The trees, however, in places bore the marks of huge talons, which were easily distinguished as the sign of bears. The grizzly does not climb except when young: this was probably the common brown variety. At half way the gorge opened out, assuming more the appearance of a valley; and in places, for a few rods, were dwarf stretches of almost level ground. Toward the Pass-summit the rise is sharpest: here we again descended from the wagon, which the four mules had work enough to draw, and the total length of its eastern rise was five miles. Big Mountain lies eighteen miles from the city. The top is a narrow crest, suddenly forming an acute based upon an obtuse angle. From that eyrie, 8000 feet above sea level, the weary pilgrim first sights his shrine, the object of his long wanderings, hardships, and perils, the Happy Valley of the Great Salt Lake...

After a few minutes' delay to stand and gaze, we resumed the footpath way, while the mail-wagon [the coach he was riding in], with wheels rough-locked, descended what appeared to be an impracticable slope. The summit of the Pass was well-nigh cleared of timber; the woodman's song informed us that the evil work was still going on, and that we are nearly approaching a large settlement. Thus stripped of their protecting fringes, the mountains are exposed to the heat of summer, that sends forth countless swarms of devastating crickets, grasshoppers, and blue-worms; and to the wintry cold, that piles up, four to six feet high-the mountain-men speak of thirty and forty-the snows drifted by the unbroken force of the winds. The Pass from November to February can be traversed by nothing heavier than "sleighs," and during the snow-storms even these are stopped. Falling into the gorge of Big Kanyon Creek, after a total of twelve hard miles from Bauchmin's fort, we reached at 11:30 the station that bears the name of the water near where it is built {Ephraim Hanks']...

After two miles of comparatively level ground we came to the foot of "Little Mountain," and descended from the wagon to relieve the poor devils of mules [give the mules a break]. The near slope was much shorter, but also it was steeper far than "Big Mountain." The counterslope was easier, though by no means pleasant to contemplate with the chance of an accident to the brake, which in all inconvenient places would part with the protecting shoo-sole. Beyond the eastern foot, which was ten miles distant from our destination, we were miserably bumped and jolted over the broken ground at the head of Big Kanyon. Down this pass, whose name is a translation of the Yuta name Obitkokichi, a turbulent little mountain stream tumbles over its boulder-bed, girt with the usual sunflower, vines of wild hops, red and white willows, cotton-wood, quaking asp, and various bushes near its cool watery margin and upon the easier slopes of the ravine, with the shin or dwarf oak (Quercus nana), mountain mahogany, balsam, and other firs, pines, and cedars.

The road was a narrow shelf along the broader of the two spaces between the stream and the rock, and frequent fordings were rendered necessary by the capricious wanderings of the torrent. I could not but think how horrid must have been its appearance when the stout-hearted Mormon pioneers first ventured to thread the defile, breaking their way through the dense bush, creeping and clinging like flies to the sides of the hills. Even now accidents often occur; here, as in Echo Kanyon, we saw in more than one place unmistakable signs of upsets in the shape of broken spokes and yoke-bows.

...In due time, emerging from the gates, and portals, and deep serrations of the upper course, we descended into a lower level: here Big, now called Emigration Kanyon, gradually bulges out, and its steep slopes of grass and fern, shrubbery and stunted brush, fall imperceptibly into the plain. The valley, presently lay full before our sight. At this place the pilgrim emigrants, like the hajjis of Mecca and Jerusalem, give vent to the emotions long pent up within their bosoms by sobs and tears, laughter and congratulations, psalms and hysterics. It is indeed no wonder that the children dance, that strong men cheer and shout, and that nervous women, broken with fatigue and hope deferred, scream and faint; that the ignorant should fondly believe that the "Spirit of God pervades the very atmosphere," and that Zion on the tops of the mountains is nearer heaven than other parts of earth. In good sooth, though uninfluenced by religious fervor - beyond the natural satisfaction of seeing a bran-new Holy City [this was the third holy city he had visited and wrote about] -
even I could not, after nineteen days in mail-wagon, gaze upon the scene without emotion. The sublime and the beautiful were in present contrast. Switzerland and Italy lay side by side.

...After advancing about 1.5 mile over the bench ground, the city by slow degrees broke upon our sight. ...The site has been admirably chosen for drainage and irrigation. ... About two miles north, and overlooking the settlements from a height of 400 feet, a detached cone, called Ensign or Ensign Mount, rises at the end of a chain which, projected westward from the main range of the heights, overhangs and shelters the northeastern corner of the valley. Upon this "big toe of the Wasach range," as it is called by a local writer, the spirit of the martyred prophet, Mr. Joseph Smith, appeared to his successor, Mr. Brigham Young, and pointed out to him the position of the New Temple.

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