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
< >

Overview of Major Howard Egan’s Life



Major Howard Egan

Birth: 15 June 1815, Kings County (now County Offaly) Ireland.                                Father: Howard Egan.  Mother: Ann Meade
Death: 16 March 1878, Salt Lake, Utah. Died at age 62.
Wife 1: Tamson Parshley Egan (1824-1905, age 80). Married 1839 (He 24, She 15.)
Children: 6 children:
Howard Ransom Egan (12 Apr 1840- 17 Mar 1916, age 75)
Richard Erastus Egan (29 Mar 1842-21 Apr 1918, age 76)
Charles John Egan (28 Mar 1844-1845, age 1)
Horace Adelbert Egan (12 Aug 1847-4 Mar 1862, age 14)
William Moburn Egan (13 Jun 1851-15 Apr 1929, age 77) (Father: James Monroe)
Ira Ernest Egan (5 Feb 1861-13 Dec 1933, age 72)
Wife 2: Catherine Reese Egan (1804-1860, age 56). Married 1844 (He 29, She 40.)
Children: No children together.
Wife 3: Nancy Redden Egan  (1819-1892, age 73). Married 1846 (He 31, She 27.)
Children: 2 children:
Helen Jeanette Egan Irvine (25 Aug 1847 – 22 Jul 1924, age 77)
Vilate Louise Egan (13 Oct 1849 – 8 Apr 1866, age 17) 
Wife 4: Mary Ann Tuttle Egan (1830-1910, age 80). Married 1849 (He 34, She 18.)
Children: 1 child: 
Hyrum William Egan (24 Jul 1850 – 24 Mar 1888, age 37)

Brief History


Howard Egan was born on June 15, 1815 in Tullamore, King’s County (now County Offaly) Ireland, to Howard Egan and Ann Meade.  The following baptism record of Killeigh Parish, Tullamore, Kings County, Ireland indicates he was baptised on September 20, 1815.Howard Egan birth record

Howard Jr. was the sixth of eleven children. In 1823, when he was nearly eight years old, his mother died, and his father took him and nine of the ten living children and left Ireland bound for Canada. The youngest child, Margaret, was left with an aunt.

They arrived at Quebec, and on June 7, 1825 took the steamer Chambly up the river to Montreal. Just three weeks after they arrived, little Eveline died on July 1st.  Then, less than three weeks later, eight-year-old Ann also died.  And again a week later, fifteen-year-old Bernard died.  Yet with all this heartache, there was still another tragedy to come.  Three years after they arrived in Montreal, their father, Howard Egan (Sr.), died on August 5, 1828 at the age of 46.  He was survived by seven children: (1) Eliza, age 22;  (2) Mary, age 21; (3) Catherine, age 20, who had just married John Ransom two weeks earlier; (4) John, age 16, who would die four years later; (5) Howard (Jr.), age 13; (6) Richard, age 9; and (7) little Margaret, age 8, who was still in Ireland.

After the death of their father, the six surviving children who had immigrated to Canada stayed together in Montreal. It is possible that Howard, then age 13, may have stayed with his sister Catherine and her husband John Ransom for a while. This supposition is supported by the fact that Howard gave his first son the middle name of Ransom.  Family tradition relates that when Howard was old enough – probably about 15 years old – he took a job as a sailor. It is likely that he worked on boats on the waterways of Canada. When he was 23 he made his way to Salem, Massachusetts and took a job with a Mr. Chisholm, a rope maker, and learned the trade.

tamson-1In 1838 Howard became acquainted with Miss Tamson Parshley, who was born July 27, 1824 at Barnstead, New Hampshire, being the third child of Richard Parshley and Mary Caverly.  Howard and Tamson were married on December 7, 1839, he being 24 years of age and she a girl of 15 years and five months.

Their first son, Howard Ransom Egan, was born April 12, 1840, and their second son, Richard Erastus Egan, was born March 29, 1842, both in Salem.  In 1842 he and his wife were converted to “Mormonism” by Elder Erastus Snow and baptized. They moved to Nauvoo, Illinois that same year to join the body of the Saints, where Howard and Tamson each received a Patriarchal blessing from Hyrum Smith.  Howard’s blessing indicated that he was of the lineage of Judah, and as such, “numbered with the called and chosen.”

rope makingEgan opened a rope-making business in Nauvoo. The shop no longer exists, but historians have deduced from accounts of people who lived in Nauvoo during this period that Howard’s rope-making shop was built on Water Street.

In 1840 the Illinois Legislature granted a charter to form the city of Nauvoo, establish a university, and create an independent military body to be called the “Nauvoo Legion.” The Legion was formed in February 1841, and Howard Egan was given the rank of Captain.

In 1843 the Nauvoo City Council handpicked 40 men of integrity, fearless defenders of right, who could think and shoot straight, as city policemen, one of whom was Howard Egan. In that capacity Howard occasionally served as bodyguard to the Prophet Joseph.  As threats against church leaders increased, guards were assigned to protect the homes and families of targeted leaders.  Howard was chosen to guard Joseph Smith’s home. Joseph said that “he felt safe when Howard Egan was on guard.” When not on duty or making rope, Howard worked on the construction of the Nauvoo Temple.

At the time Joseph Smith was martyred, Howard was serving a mission in the Eastern States. After the murder the mobs increased their attacks, and in September 1845 they began burning homes.  To help protect the Saints, Captain Egan was mustered back into service and led 20 men to Camp Creek to guard the members in that region.

While in Nauvoo, Tamson bore another son, whom they named Charles John Egan. The child died a year later, in 1845.

The principal of plural marriage was known as early as November 1831. It required the permission from both the leaders of the Church and the first wife to enter into the practice. In 1844 Howard married a second wife, 40-year-old Catherine Reese Clawson Egan, a widow with four living children.

As mob violence intensified, Church leaders realized that it was no longer possible to remain in Nauvoo, and signed an agreement with the mobs that they would leave.  Brigham Young selected 25 men to each select one hundred families and see that they were prepared for a journey across the plains to the Rocky Mountains. These companies later appointed captains of fifties and captains of tens. Part way across Iowa Howard Egan was elected captain of the fourth Fifty, and as such was required to be present at council meetings with the leading Brethren of the Church.

Woodworth-The-Covered-WagonIn February 1846 Captain Egan and his family left Nauvoo with the advance company, the initial stage of the general Nauvoo Exodus. Egan had become an adopted son of Heber C. Kimball, and during the exodus from Nauvoo the Egans traveled across Iowa with the Kimballs. The Egans spent the winter of 1846–47 at Winter Quarters, although Howard had to make several difficult trips down to Missouri to bring back supplies for the Saints.  His son, Howard Ransom Egan, described the home his father built, as follows:  “Howard Egan’s log hut was neatly arranged and papered and hung with pictures and otherwise decorated by his wife,, which made it very pleasant and habitable.”  Winter Quarters was a  settlement that consisted of 700 houses of log, turf and other materials; and was laid out with streets, workshops, mills, etc., and a Tabernacle of worship. Winter Quarters was on a pretty plateau overlooking the river, and was built for protection from Indians. There were 22 Wards with a bishop over each, also a High Council; and the population was over 4,000.  In 1846, while in Winter Quarters, Howard married a third plural wife, 27-year-old Nancy Redding.

In order to help fund the western exodus of the Saints, Brigham Young sent an emissary to President Polk and members of Congress, proposing that the Saints be given a contract for building roads, way-stations, and bridges for people immigrating to Oregon. The contract to maintain the Oregon Trail was not granted to the Mormons.  Instead, because the U.S. had declared war on Mexico, and with the assistance of Thomas Kane, a man sympathetic to the Saints, a deal was worked out with President Polk to enlist 500 Latter-day Saint men to form a Mormon Battalion and march to California as part of General Stephen Kearny’s Army of the West. The men were given a uniform allowance of US$42 each, paid in advance, for their one-year enlistment, and as they were allowed to wear their civilian clothing for the march, the bulk of those funds were immediately donated to a general Church fund. These funds were used to purchase wagons, teams, and other necessities for the American exodus. Eventually more than $50,000 was paid to the Battalion members, a good portion of which was paid to the common fund of the Church.

Brigham YoungThe Mormon Battalion was called up on May 13, 1846.  Howard Egan and John D. Lee were asked by President Young to go to Santa Fe and bring back the pay and the mail to the Battalion’s families.  After a month of difficult travel in inclement weather, Egan and Lee arrived back at Winter Quarters with 282 letters, 72 packages, and the first Battalion payment.

In the spring of 1847 Brigham Young selected 143 men, noted for their knowledge of pioneering and for their skill in using firearms and handling teams, to be the vanguard for the rest of the Saints. Egan was appointed captain of the 9th group of 10 men. He left Tamson and the boys, and Nancy with child, in Winter Quarters, and started west toward the Great Basin, traveling once again with Elder Kimball. This left Tamson and Nancy alone in Winter Quarters for about a year. Tamson was often left alone to care for her family during most of her married life, a result of the many assignments Howard received from the church, and his various businesses.

On July 21, 1847 Orson Pratt and his 10 entered the Salt Lake Valley.  On July 24, 1847 Howard Egan and the tail end of the 1847 Company, including Brigham Young, entered the valley.  He spent three weeks there, getting a home and farm ready for his family. During his absence from Tamson, she gave birth to another son, Horace Adelbert Egan, on August 12, 1847, who would later die at age fifteen. Nancy also gave birth to a daughter she named Nancy.

Howard returned to Winter Quarters on October 31, 1847 with Presidents Kimball and Young, spent the winter with his family, and then departed for Salt Lake with Tamson and children on May 24, 1848.

They arrived in Salt Lake City on September 24, 1848 and promptly moved into the Salt Lake Fort. There were 423 apartments the saints were supposed to share within the fort. This is where they lived for about two years. The year of their arrival was the same year, that in the spring, a plague of crickets threatened the planted crops, and when thousands of seagulls intervened and helped save some of the food supply.

After getting Tamson and the boys settled, Howard went back to the Missouri River area where wife Nancy and daughter Helen were.  He brought them west in 1849 while leading a freight company, by Church assignment, that brought to Utah the printing press upon which the Church published the Deseret News.   That fall he married Mary Ann Tuttle as his third (possibly fourth wife).

In November 1849 Howard led a small company, one of five that fall, on a primitive southern trail to southern California.  His assignment, probably from the Church, was to establish the Salt Lake Trading Company in the Sierra goldfields.

While Howard was gone, Tamson renewed her friendship with James M. Monroe, a man she had known back in Nauvoo. James Monroe had been Joseph Smith’s clerk and had also taught Joseph’s children in school.  Around September 1850 Tamson and James had an affair which resulted in pregnancy.  In 1851 Howard returned to Salt Lake to find Tamson with another man’s child. Howard heard that James Monroe was arriving soon in a merchandise wagon train.  To defend his family honor Howard rode out and met Monroe, talked with him, and then, not in anger but for justice, shot and killed him.

Major Howard EganHoward returned to Salt Lake City and turned himself into the authorities. George Albert Smith, one of the twelve apostles, offered to be his lawyer. Smith argued that Egan’s action was justified under Utah’s “Mountain Common Law” and that the usual light penalty for adultery in the United States could not be accepted in Utah.

Howard was employed for a few years to drive cattle to California. To expedite the journey he searched for a more direct route to California and found elements of one.

Some of what became called The “Egan Trail” was made famous by a wager. He claimed that by using it he could ride a mule to California in 10 days. Egan mounted a mule at Salt Lake City, and 10 days later, on September 29, 1855, he arrived in Sacramento. His feat encouraged the development of the Central Route between Salt Lake City and Carson City.

Egan’s explorations helped identify several potential settlement sites along that Central Route,  three of which (Rush Valley, Ruby Valley, and Deep Creek) grew to modest importance in his day. Egan himself settled Deep Creek, established Pony Express and Overland Mail stations there, and operated a general store, farm, and ranch.

During the Utah War Egan served in four ways:  he brought ammunition from California for Utah’s militia, did patrol duty in and beyond Echo Canyon, guarded peace envoy Thomas L. Kane, and escorted Kane back to Pennsylvania.

11-pony express riderIn 1859 Senator Gwin from California introduced the legislative bill that started the Pony Express system, primarily to prove to a doubting Congress that the Central route was best for laying down a railroad, and that it was passable in winter. It would take 80 riders and 400 horses to traverse the 2,000 miles.

When the Pony Express was established Egan was appointed Superintendent of the line from Salt Lake City to Carson City. Howard and his two sons, Howard Ransom Egan (age 20) and Richard Erastus Egan (age 18), were responsible for progress of the mail for that segment.

On the rain-drenched night of April 7, 1860, after riding 75 miles from RushValley, and after his horse slid off a plank bridge and both of them fell into Mill Creek, Major Howard arrived as the first rider to bring mail to Salt Lake City.  Being in his 40’s, he was the oldest known Pony Express rider. After the Overland Telegraph line was completed in October 1861, there was no further need for the Pony Express.

Another highlight of Egan’s life was the raising of cattle and sheep to furnish the meat for the Pony Express and the stage coach lines.

Because of his constant work using the overland trails, Howard befriended the local Indians, learning their language, customs, and survival techniques. He was able to speak the Goshute language, which largely accounted for his success in getting along with the Indians over the years.  He treated Indians fairly, and helped teach and baptized a large number of them when calleed on a mission among the Goshutes in 1875. He also taught them farming skills, how to work for themselves, and encouraged character traits of honesty and industry.  He was a true friend to the Indians, many of whom came to him for counsel.

Egan also served as a U.S. deputy clerk for the 3rd Judicial District Court for Utah Territory,  as a Salt Lake City police officer, and as deputy sheriff. Howard was also a special guard to President BrighamYoung at the Lion House and at the Church Offices.

Brigham Young graveAt the time of the President Young’s sickness and death, Egan acted as his special nurse.

After the death of President Young, Egan was appointed as a special guard at Brigham Young’s grave in Salt Lake City.  Howard got his feet wet one dark night while guarding Brigham Young’s grave and took sick, which resulted in inflammation of the bowels.  Less than two weeks later, on March 16, 1878, he died at the age of sixty-two.  Tamson was the only spouse still married to Howard at the time of his death – the others having divorced him.

Major Howard Egan was well known and well regarded. His funeral service was packed full and many friends were unable to gain admittance. The funeral sermon was preached by his friend, Elder Orson Pratt.

A large number of Howard’s unusual, humorous, and dangerous Indian and pioneering experiences are recorded in the book Pioneering the West, edited by his son, Howard R. Egan. It includes vivid descriptions of food gathering and preparation for a wide range of American Indian dishes, including ants, crickets, rabbits, rats, antelope, pine nuts, and moles, as well as sharing riveting tales of pioneer life, Indian medicine, and death-defying Pony Express exploits.  The book is a captivating glimpse into the life of a colorful Mormon frontiersman and an eyewitness account of some of the most exciting days of the Old West.


1. Drake, J.Raman. Howard Egan: Frontiersman, Pioneer and Pony Express Rider, Master’s Thesis, BYU Department of Religion, 1956.  Copy of Thesis also found here: Howard Egan: Frontiersman, Pioneer and Pony Express Rider.

2. Pioneering the West, 1846 to 1878 : Major Howard Egan’s diary : also thrilling experiences of pre-frontier life among Indians, their traits, civil and savage, and part of autobiography, inter-related to his father’s, Edited and in part written by William M. Egan, 1917.

3. Adele Newman Knudson, “A Brief History of the Family of Howard Egan and Anne Meath of Tullamore, Offaly (formerly Kings), Ireland,” posted at

Another location for a full text of:  Pioneering the West.




© 2023 Major Howard Egan Family Foundaton ™ - All Rights Reserved.