from Utah As It Is,
by S.A.Kenner, published in 1904
It would take a nimbler, more analytical and more graphic pen than the one with which these lines are traced to tell, so that the reader would feel and appreciate, just what was done and what manifested as an outflow of feeling when the jaded band “unhitched” and “turned out” for the last time, as far as their journeying was concerned. The approach of evening bearing with it no admonition of ceaseless vigil during the long hours of the night, and no need of careful and laborious arrangement of trappings, utensils and necessary things in readiness for hasty getting together and pulling out on the morrow, the discontinuance if not the demolition of the treadmill, so to speak, was surely the breaking of a direful strain, the beginning of a condition in which the strenuousness of a long period of onward plodding was overcome for the time being at least; and when night came, with its surcease of sounds except those most soothing to the senses—the rippling of the mountain stream and the cadence of the gentle breezes amid the vegetation on its banks—the “sleep that knits up the raveled sleeve of care” must have descended upon them as a benison. Such was the beginning of what we now behold on every hand as the triumph of mind over matter, of the subjugation of stubborn conditions, the establishment of the newer civilization of America.
The Mormons were by no means the first white people that had ever set foot in the valley of the Great Salt Lake, but they were the first settlers. The fact is, that the few others who had previously come here only waited about long enough to take a good look at the situation, to “size it up,” so to speak, and then “strike the trail” again. They didn’t want any of it, and of course didn’t believe that anybody else would have it.
Back amid the times when there were no white people on this soil except occasionally interlopers who, if they had any fixed and definite purpose in coming to America have failed to hand down information of what it was, we read of Coronado, Cardenas and much later, about the time of the promulgation of the Declaration of Independence, Bonneville, who penetrated the western wilds further than either of his predecessors. In fact, he was the only one up to that time who actually reached the territory settled upon some seventy years later by the Mormons, and he got no further north than the southern part of Utah Lake. A long interval followed, unmarked by the appearance of the venturesome white man, the spell being broken in 1824 by one whose name is synonymous with mountaineering, frontiering and venturesome exploration generally.
His name was James Bridger and he struck the Bear River country early in that year in company with a party of fur hunters. Soon after their advent he was made chairman of a committee of two to proceed down the river in a canoe and see what could be seen, whereby he made the discovery of the Great Salt Lake and thus got his moccasin prints upon the soil surrounding it ahead of any other man of his race so far as known. Civilization had no attractions for him and eventually he settled on the spot which still bears his name, in western Wyoming—Fort Bridger; and two or three desultory companies, of pilgrims bound for the eastern shores of the Pacific are recorded as having cut through a little ahead of the Mormons, but not much ahead, and as previously suggested, none camped longer than a night or so.
Bridger first crossed the plains when there were but few white men’s homes west of St. Louis and none at all west of the Missouri. He passed through all manner of trying adventures, and fought and drove off as many as 150 Indians at a time. The man was utterly fearless. When he first saw the Great Salt Lake all the maps of the country were a blank, being marked up as the “Great American Desert.” He rendered invaluable assistance to the surveyors for the route of the Union Pacific Railway, making many difficult places quite plain for them. He died July 17, 1881, at Westport, Missouri.
The next man after Bridger to penetrate the Wasatch range was “Jim” Baker, who came in 1834, and was John C. Fremont’s most trusted scout. He was a great bear hunter and the proud possessor of several squaw wives whom he kept at his ranch in Colorado. It is related of him that some twenty years or more after his first call he received $8000 for furs in Salt Lake City, and the next morning he hadn’t a cent to bless himself with, the festive gambler and dispenser of liquid lightning having done their work to a beautiful finish. Baker died about four years ago, deserving, as a frontiersman and adventurous pioneer, much more in the way of mention than he has received.Recommend0 recommendationsPublished in