Major Howard Egan Family Foundation

Sailor Rope Maker Captain in Nauvoo Legion Bodyguard to Joseph Smith Mormon Battalion Envoy Captain of the 9th 10 of the original 1847 Pioneer Vanguard Company Gold Rush Trading Post Owner Trail Blazer Cattle Drover Major in Utah War Pony Express Rider & Superintendent of Line from Salt Lake to California Stage Station Owner Friend & Missionary to Indians Salt Lake City Policeman Bodyguard to Brigham Young
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Mormon Trail Hike

Howard Egan’s 200th Jubilee Celebration
Mormon Trail Hike 
June 12, 2015

Mormon TrailFriday morning provided descendants with another Egan experience – a three hour hike on the Mormon Trail – the authentic Pioneer Trail that Howard Egan traveled at least seven times.

Mormon Trail Howard’s first crossing was with Brigham Young’s 1847 vanguard Company. This trek, from Iowa’s Winters Quarters to the Salt Lake Valley, is to Utah and the Latter-day Saints, what the Mayflower voyage is to New England and American history.

Mormon Trail

Brigham’s 1847 company did not blaze a new trail west. They were not “finding their way in the wilderness.” They followed rough trails that meandered along the north side of the Platte River. Each Captain of Ten took turns leading the train “so as to divide the chore of breaking the road.” Because Mormons were the most frequent users of this route, it became known as the “Mormon Trail.”

At Fort Bridger the pioneers turned from the Oregon Trail, to follow crude remnants of a trail blazed the year before by the Donner Party. It led them into the Great Salt Lake Valley.

Mormon Trail
The final thirty-five miles, down the eastern side of Big Mountain, over Little Mountain, and down Emigration Canyon, were by far the most difficult of the journey. The wagons descended 4,000 feet in two days, and many had to chain their wheels to slow their wagons.

Finally, on July 24, 1847, the first group of Mormons arrived at their new home in the Great Salt Lake Valley.

Mormon Trail

Not only did Howard help this venture succeed, but his diary is one of the best accounts anyone kept during this epic trek. Almost every published history of the 1847 Pioneers draws from Howard’s diary entries.

From 1846 to 1869, until the completion of the transcontinental railroad, nearly 70,000 Mormons would make their journey along this Mormon Trail.

viridian event center

Major Howard Egan’s 200th Birthday


Mormon Flats-Big Mountain Hike

June 12, 2015

By William G. Hartley


Mormon Trail

In 1847 Brigham Young’s Pioneer Company, including Howard Egan, following a route blazed first by the Donner Party a year before, traveled southward along Little Emigration Creek to Mormon Flats.  There they had to leave the creek and head west and north and up to cross one of their biggest challenges, Big Mountain. They moved up a canyon for nearly five miles, up and up, and reached a crest near the summit. From there they viewed part of the Great Salt Lake Valley far away and below them to the west. They then descended down Big Mountain to Little Mountain, went up and over it, and entered the Great Salt Lake Valley through Emigration Canyon.

The 4.5 mile segment between Big Mountain and Mormon
Flats is part of the original Mormon Trail, now designated
by Congress as the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail.

Mormon Trail Mormon TrailThat trail extends for 1,300 miles from Nauvoo, Illinois to downtown Salt Lake City. Some 60,000-plus Mormon emigrants used some or all of that trail to “gather to Zion” between 1846 and 1868. For years the main route in Great Salt Lake Valley was this one, but by the 1860s an alternate became popular that used Parley’s Canyon (the “golden pass” road). Almost all wagons were pulled by oxen.

Until 1861, this trail segment was also the route of California gold seekers, Overland Stage, Pony Express, original telegraph line, and other Mormon emigrant companies, after which Parley’s Canyon became widely used.

Mormon Trail

The 4.5 mile hike between the Big Mountain crest and Mormon Flats can be made from either end, going downhill or going uphill, as happened during the Pioneer era.

Mormon Trail

Howard Egan traveled in person on this stretch, seven times: (1) westbound with the1847 pioneers, (2) eastbound with the returning 1847 pioneers, (3) westbound in 1848 with Tamson and the boys, (4) eastbound in late 1848, (5) westbound in 1849 with wife Nancy and leading a freight wagon company, (6) eastbound in 1858 taking Thomas L. Kane to Pennsylvania, probably driving a carriage pulled by mules, and (7) westbound in 1848, returning home.

Mormon Trail Quotes

Teenage Margaret Olsen, 1862
Everybody Walked

“We prayed night and morning…were told to go to bed early…”
“Except for one elderly couple and a young woman with a health problem “the rest walked every step of the way.”

Hans Christensen, 1862
Trip a Pleasure
He said that for those who were young or in good health, “the trip was a pleasure and not a hardship.”

Eliza R. Snow, 1847
Dirty Faces
October 1, 1847, just before entering Great Salt Lake City: “Sister P.M and Edith walk[ed]–very, very dirty, Thro brush & timber–up the Mt. to Bellows peak where we met J. T. who ask’d me if I had lately seen my face, his own being behind a black mask”. . .

Peder Nielsen, 1861
Clean Up before Entering SLC
“We camped at noon 4 miles from Salt Lake, where we washed and fixed ourself, after which we continued our journey in good order and drove into Salt Lake City in the afternoon, where many friends and acquaintances met us and welcomes us.”

Big MountainAccounts After 1847

1848: Daniel Davis Diary, in Heber C. Kimball Company
“Thursd 21 When We gathered up our Cattle two oxen Was gone[.] Bro Heber found them & drove them in at ten oclock[.] then We started on & Went up East Kanyon [Canyon.] crosed the creek several times[.] Left the Kanyon [Canyon] & Went up the Mountain two Miles[.] Camp[.] this day Bro Forsgreen[,] Ralph[,] & Hanks came up With us from Bro Willard Richards & Amasa Lyman company & they Left them at Devils Gate[.] all Well[.] they Brought Several Letters[.] one for me from my Father[’s] Bro[,] Sister in Vermont[.] A very fine day[.] A little rain Am
Frid 22 When We Went on to the Mountain for our horses A part Was [strayed] & six of our oxen & We did not find them to start untillnoon[.] We then persued our Journey up the Big Mountain three Miles & When on top We could see down into the south End of Great Salt Lake valley & it mad[e] all hearts sw Swell With Joy[.] We then pased on down the Mountain & had A Rough Road[.] camp at Willow Springs”

1848: Hale, Anna Clark, [Autobiography] (in Heber Q. Hale, ed., Memoirs of Anna Clark Hale [1965], 16-18.)
“Anyway, our worries about Echo Canyon did not amount to much—we got down through it safely; but when we got to what was called ‘Big Mountain’ and “Little Mountain’, they lived up to their names alright—and more, too. Father and John finally made it with their double yokes of oxen on their wagons; but poor Mother with just one yoke couldn’t make it. So, Father sent Mary to help John watch the two lead wagons and oxen, while he took one yoke of his oxen and a long chain back and hitched on in head of Mother’s team and helped her over. Oh, My! I never imagined that such big mountains existed in the world.”

1849: Silas Richards, Reminiscences and journal
“October 22. Morning fair and frosty. Crossed Bear River. Deep and rapid. Traveled to Kanyon [Canyon] Creek.
October 23. Day fair, road bad, many steep places crossing creek. Had to ascend the Bluffs which are very steep, the be[a]ver dams being impassable in the road. Camped in ravine two miles east of the summit of the Big Mountain, making twelve miles today.
October 24. The descent of the Big Mountain being very steep, had to rough lock wagons. Traveled to west fork of Little Mountain.
October 25. Arrive in Salt Lake City about two o’clock.”

1853: Joseph W. Young Emigrating Company Journal
“Saturday Oct. 8. Proceeded at 8.45 A.M. Completed the passage through the Kanyon and commenced ascending the Big Mountain at 1 P.M. repaired much of the road and encamped within ¼ mile of the Summit at 6 P.M. Distance 8¾ miles”

1856: Survivor Barnard White: (The Whites’ wagon train was with the Martin and Willie handcart co’s).
“At the foot of Big Mountain…snows stood so deep she had to put on men’s boots. Taller people walked in each others tracks…When they reached the summit and could see Salt Lake Valley below, Elizabeth White, 18, said, “the men took off their hats and we waved our handkerchiefs.”

Bernard White, 16, ”ascending Big Mountain he found snow drifted 20 feet deep in places “we had to cut channels as much as ten feet deep” he said. “I had no shoes or boots on; my feet were in rags.”

1860: Stagecoach (Sir Richard Burton, The City of the Saints and Across the Rocky Mountains to California, originally published 1862 in London):

[Late August 1860] “Presently the ground became rougher and steeper: we alighted and set our breasts manfully against “Big Mountain” … The road bordered upon the wide arroyo, a tumbled bed of block and boulder, with water in places oozing and trickling from the clay walls, from the sandy soil, and from beneath the heaps of rock…the …slopes of the chasm were grandly wooded. … 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…(he noted as wildlife grasshoppers, a chirping squirrel, signs of bears.] …Towards the Pass-summit the rise is sharpest: here we again descended from the wagon, which the four mules had work enough to draw….” (P. 236 in Athearrn’s edition, The Look of the West 1860.)

Howard Egan’s 1847 Diary

(See Pioneering The West, pp 99-104)

Between Mormon Flats -Big Mountain

Major Egan’s fine 1847 journal describes his travels from Mormon Flats and up Big Mountain and into the Great Salt Lake Valley with Brigham Young’s tail-end company. Most pioneers arrived in the Valley a day or two earlier, but Young’s company traveled slower due to his being ill.

Thursday, July 22nd.
[Almost all the 1847 pioneers but Brigham Young’s small rear group entered Great Salt Lake Valley this day]
The morning was cloudy. President Young is some better, and Father Sherwood is doing well. About 7:30 we again proceeded on our journey, about a south course, and traveled about two miles when Father Case rode up and reported that one of his wagon wheels had broken down. About a mile further we stopped. I went back in company with Brothers Kimball and Benson to help Father Case up. Brother Kimball cut a pole and we lashed it under the axletree, and put Brother Benson’s horse ahead of the others and hauled him up. We had a light shower this forenoon. The brethren took out most of Father Case’s load and we proceeded on our journey, having crossed Ogden’s fork [Emigration Creek] four times this forenoon. The road is stoney and rough. This afternoon we crossed the stream seven times, the road winding through a long narrow ravine, and over hills, and through dense thickets of willows and cottonwood groves. We came about eight miles and crossed a very bad slough. One of Brother Young’s horses mired down. He had to unhitch him to get him out.

We then ascended a steep hill and found a billet, left by Brother Pratt, which read as follows:
“July 20th, Canyon Creek, Tuesday morning: To Willard Richards, G. A. Smith or any of the Saints: From this point it is five miles west to the summit of the dividing ridge. The road will be of a moderate descent, and considerable better than the one you have passed over for a few miles back. The ravine up which you will go is without water, except two or three small springs, which soon loose themselves beneath the soil. You will pass through groves of quaking asp, balsam, and cottonwood, more than you have seen for many days. From the dividing ridge, you will make a more rapid descent. The hill for a short distance will be quite steep, though straight and smooth. We have descended worse since we left Fort Bridger. You will go down about six miles when you will find a camping place, the grass being middling good. You will find a small spring about 100 rods after leaving the dividing ridge, which soon loses itself in the soil. The bed of the stream remains mostly dry for two or three miles, where you will strike a stream nearly one-third as large as the one where I leave this note. Your road in descending will lead through quite a timbered forest, of principally aspens, but some underwood of oak and small maple. The soil is extremely rich. About one and one-half miles beyond the camping ground, above mentioned, you will find quite a lengthy hill, to avoid passing through a rough rocky canyon. You will then descend in a ravine for three or four miles onto a broad and comparatively level valley, and which is probably an arm of prairie, putting up among the mountains from the western outlet. Most respectfully –Orson Pratt.”

“Elders Amasa Lyman, Charles C. Rich, and the saints: I leave you an extract of a letter from Orson Pratt found at this camping ground, for your benefit and guidance. Yours very truly, Thomas Bullock, Clerk of Pioneer Camp.”

We then descended a steep hill and encamped on the banks of Ogden’s fork [Emigration Creek] about a quarter of a mile beyond where we found the letter, having traveled seven and one-half miles. The sick are getting better this evening.

Friday, July 23rd.
The morning was warm and pleasant, and we proceeded on our journey about 6:45, the road leaving the stream here and turning short to the west, and passing up a ravine, about a west course over a gradual ascent. [They now start the 4.5 mile route up Big Mountain] The road is rough, rocky, and sideling in many places, and leads through dense thickets of underbrush, and quite a forest of hemlock and poplar trees. At length, after traveling about four miles, we attained the summit of the hill. [At the crest of Big Mountain] Here we had a fine view of the snowy mountains and the open country in the distance. We have passed two or three springs during our travel this forenoon. We have begun to descend a long steep hill, part of the way we had to chain both wheels. The descent is winding over a rough road, there being many stumps to annoy us.

About half way down Brother L. Young’s ox wagon turned over. His two little boys were in the wagon at the time, but providentially escaped uninjured, though part of the load, having been disarranged, rolled upon them, stopping up the entrance, but they were liberated by cutting a hole in the wagon cover.

As we descended, the road bearing to the south, we crossed a small stream six times, which ran along the base of the hill through a ravine, and after having come six and one-half miles down a gradual descent we encamped on an open area of ground, spoken of by Orson Pratt, as being an arm of prairie, putting up among the mountains from the western outlet, about 12 o’clock, having come this forenoon about eight and one-half miles.

While we were stopped here, J. Pack and Joseph Mathews rode up on horseback. They reported both companies of the brethren to be about fourteen miles ahead, encamped in a valley about twenty-five miles from Salt Lake, which could be seen in the distance to the northwest. When they left this morning the brethren were preparing to move four miles farther, and then stop and commence planting. They say the soil is very rich and fertile. They also brought a letter from O. Pratt, G. A. Smith and W. Richards to President Young, giving an account of the road and the general features of the country, etc.

After a halt of about two hours we again proceeded on our journey, going south of west a short distance, the valley becoming more confined in its limits as we advanced, until we began to ascend a long steep hill, which is about one and one-half miles to the top. Here Brothers Pack and Mathews left us and went ahead. We began to descend a long steep hill [Little Mountain], bearing a southwest course. The most of the way we had to chain both wheels. As we descended the above hill we saw an abundance of service berries. At 5 p. m. we encamped at the base of the hill, on the banks of a small clear stream of cool water [Emigration Canyon creek]. Its banks are thickly skirted with quaking asp and cottonwood trees. We have come this afternoon three miles, and during the day eleven and one-half miles.

A short time after our arrival at this place, the sky became overcast with clouds, and a strong wind, setting in from the southwest, gives the appearance of a very heavy storm. The grass here is rather tall and rank, though in places is pretty good. The sick are gaining strength as fast as could be expected, considering the fatigue of the journey. The day has been the hottest we have experienced since we left Winter Quarters. There was not a breath of air in the ravine, and the dust was almost suffocating.

Saturday, July 24th.
[No record at the time said Young said “this is the place.” Wilford Woodruff, who was with Young, said 33 years later that Young had seen the valley in an earlier vision, and looking at the expansive valley below on July 24th said “It is enough. This is the right place, drove on.” This day marked 111 days the Pioneers, including Howard, spent traveling to this destination.]

The morning was pleasant. In getting up our horses we discovered that some were missing, two of Brother Whitney’s and two of Brother Smoot’s. The camp started, leaving Brothers Whitney’s and Smoot’s wagons behind. I rode ahead about a mile and could not find them, nor see any tracks. I then returned and went back about three miles and found them. After I got to the wagons, Brother Whitney and I got on our horses and rode ahead. The road was rough and uneven, winding along a narrow ravine, crossing the small stream, which we last encamped on, about fifteen or twenty times. We then left the ravine and turned to the right and ascended a very steep pitch, where we beheld the great valley of the Salt Lake spreading out before us [Probably near where the Pioneer Monument is in This is the Place State Park].

My heart felt truly glad, and I rejoiced at having the privilege of beholding this extensive and beautiful valley, that may yet become a home for the Saints. From this point we could see the blue waters of the Salt Lake. By ascending one of the ridges at the mouth of this canyon, the view over the valley is at once pleasing and interesting.

These high mountains on the east side, extending to the head of the valley, about fifty miles to the south, many of them white on the tops and crevices with snow. At the south end is another mountain, which bounds the valley in that direction, and at its western extremity it is joined by another range, forming its western boundary to the valley and extending in a northerly direction until it ceases abruptly nearly west of this place. The valley between these mountains is judged to be twenty-five to thirty miles wide at the north end of the last mentioned mountain. The level valley extends to the Salt Lake, which is plainly visible for many miles in a western direction from this place.

In the lake, and many miles beyond this valley, are two mountains projecting high in the air, forming a solemn but pleasing contrast with the dark blue waters of the lake. Beyond these two mountains and in the distance, in a direction between them, is another high dark mountain, supposed to be on the western boundary of the lake, and judged to be eighty to one hundred miles from here. At this distance we can see, apparently, but a small surface of the water, extending between this valley and the mountains referred to, but that surface is probably thirty miles wide. Looking to the northwest, another mountain appears, extending to the north till hidden by the eastern range. At the base of this mountain is a long ridge of white substance, which from its bright shining appearance is doubtless salt, and was probably caused by the dashing of the waves, and then hardened by the sun.

The whole surface of the valley appears, from here, to be level and beautiful. The distance from here to the lake is judged to be forty to fifty miles. Throughout the whole extent of the valley can be seen very many green patches of rich looking grass, which no doubt lays on the banks of creeks and streams. There is some little timber also on the streams and in the direction of the great lake many small lakes appear upon the surface, the waters of which are doubtless salty.

From a careful view of the appearance of the valley from this place, it cannot be concluded to be otherwise than rich and very fertile.

After leaving the canyon about two miles we came in sight of the other camps, a few miles to the west. Proceeding on we found the road descending gradually but very rapidly. At 11:45 we arrived at the camp of the brethren, having traveled nine and one-fourth miles today, making the total distance from the guide board at Pratt’s Pass to this place 41¼ miles, and from Fort Bridger 115½ miles, and from Fort John (Laramie), 512½ miles.

On our arrival among the brethren we found them busily engaged in plowing and planting potatoes. They have already plowed a number of acres, and got considerable planted. Others of the brethren are engaged in building a dam on the creek to turn the water on the land, so as to supply the lack of rain by irrigation, for which this place is admirably adapted, on account of the many streams descending from the mountains. The descent being rapid, the water courses can easily be turned to any portion of the land at pleasure and little labor.”


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