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Some Travelers Risked Salt-Desert Crossing Despite Dire Warnings

Hal Schindler
Published: 01/07/1996 Category: Utah Page: K11

After the Donner party disaster of 1846, few wagons trains took the more direct route south of the Great Salt Lake and across the salt desert.

John B. McGee wrote an acquaintance in Great Salt Lake City from Pilot Creek in western Utah on July 29, 1850:”I am across the great desert after a hard drive; this desert is over eighty miles without any doubt. Should any emigrants call on you for information you can say to them with confidence, that they cannot get through with their animals without at least two gallons of water to each animal and one gallon for each person.

“There was a great deal of suffering among those that came over at the same time that I did, but no lives were lost; no doubt a great many would not have got through had it not been for the active part of those that got across early and hauled water back for those behind.”

Even with this kind of warning regarding the treacherous nature of a salt-desert crossing, California immigrants were so set on reaching the “land of opportunity” as quickly as they could, they frequently jeopardized their safety, and those who traveled with them, by risking a salt-desert crossing without proper precautions.

It’s true that while few actually died on the salt, their health and well-being were severely abused by the experience.

However, by 1852, the so-called Hastings Cutoff was no longer in use and was conscientiously avoided by wagon companies who found the northern route on the California road that branched from the Oregon trail at Goose Creek west of Fort Hall (Pocatello) more hospitable.

Still, the Fort Hall road, though farther, was so well-worn that teams could reach the Humboldt River weeks ahead of horse or mule trains on the lower trail.