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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The Longer Howard Egan history


– by William G. Hartley

  (“Irish Immigrant” Section by Elayne E. Allebest)


Howard Egan died in 1878.  During his 62 years of life he participated in a number of major historical events.  He kept a diary during some of them.  After his death his sons honored him in 1917 by publishing his diaries and stories about him in a little volume called Pioneering the West.  That book is cherished by his descendants but is also recognized by historians of the American West as a very important record.  Thanks to that book, Howard and his sons Rastus and Ransom are as well-known as anyone involved in the Pony Express story.

The Pony Express, however, is but one niche that Howard carved into the history of the American West and into the history of Mormonism.  He was known by, trusted, and given tough assignments by Mormon leaders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.  He was one of the original 1847 pioneers.  He participated in the gold rush, in huge cattle droves from Utah to California, in western mail operations by pack mules, stagecoaches, and Pony Express, and in working with Native Americans.  He was a policeman and a militia major.  And his writings are valued historic documents.

Irish Immigrant


Howard Egan was born in 1815, in a small cottage approximately five miles outside the town of Tullamore, in King’s County, near the very center of Ireland.   His mother, Ann Meath (sometimes written Ann Meade), gave birth to him in the same cottage in which his father, Howard Egan, had been born in 1782; and probably the same cottage in which his grandfather, Bernard Egan, had been born in 1760.

This humble, three room, 400 sq. ft. cottage in which Howard lived with 12 other family members, still stands today.

World Events

Two major world events occurred in Howard’s birth year, and both had an impact on the family in the years that followed.

Napoleonic Wars

The first was the end of two simultaneous wars, Britain’s Napoleonic War with France and Britain’s War of 1812 with America, both of which ended with the defeat of the French in 1815.  As a result of the armistice the bottom fell out of Ireland’s agricultural market, which had been fueled to feed the warring armies.  Howard Sr., like most Irish farmers, would have experienced serious income losses caused by the post-war depression.

Mt. Tambor

A climate catastrophe also punished Irish agriculture.  On a little Indonesian island, a colossal volcanic eruption, the likes of which had not been seen for at least 1,300 years, dwarfed the carnage of the Napoleonic Wars.

The blast of Mt. Tambora ejected more than 36 cubic miles of ash and pyroclastic material, beyond the atmosphere, into low space, where it orbited for 2 to 3 years.  This made temperatures drop, and the northern hemisphere suffered through a “volcanic winter.”  1816 became known as “The Year Without A Summer.” In Ireland it was known as “The Poverty Year.”

Beyond the freezing weather and failure of crops, Ireland’s famine led to a typhus epidemic that in the years 1817 to 1819, killed 400,000 Irish.


The Egan family belonged to the Killeigh Parish of the Protestant Church of Ireland.  In 1818 Father James Kinsella described the conditions under which this parish was living:

“The desertion of children has of late become common. … Some of them have been supported by the parish; some died; and others [are] yet living…without any support.

“There are [also] a great number of widows in distress: but I think I can say there are 30 who have no relation able to give them any support.

“The general condition of the poorer classes is much deteriorated since 1815.  Their ordinary diet:  Potatoes only; sometimes milk.”

 His Mother’s death

On February 15th, 1823, two weeks after giving birth to twin girls, Howard’s mother died – perhaps as a complication of childbirth – perhaps from typhus or severe food shortages.

Howard was then seven and a half years old, and his father was left with ten children to care for.  At some point they must have realized that it was not going to be possible to remain in Ireland.

The British government was beginning to feel the economic consequences of too many Irish immigrating to England for work, and began exporting its poverty to Canada, South Africa, and Australia rather than house it on its own shores.

Howard Sr. joined the exodus.  He left one of the newly-born twins with relatives, perhaps because she was too frail for the trip, and took the other nine children and immigrated to Canada.

What it was like to sail in steerage

Like most immigrants, whether sponsored by the British Government or not, the Egans would have had to sail in “steerage.”

Mr. Stephen E. De Vere reported on the conditions in steerage:

“Before the emigrant has been a week at sea he is an altered man. How can it be otherwise? Hundreds of poor people; men, women and children of all ages, … huddled together without light, without air, wallowing in filth and breathing a fetid atmosphere, sick in body, dispirited in heart; the fever patients…in sleeping places so narrow as almost to deny them…the natural restlessness of the disease; by their ravings, disturbing those around, and predisposing them…to imbibe the contagion; living without food or medicine …

The supply of water, hardly enough for cooking and drinking, does not allow washing. In many ships the filthy beds, teeming with all abominations, are never required to be brought on deck and aired; the narrow space between the sleeping berths and the piles of boxes is never washed or scraped, but breathes up a damp and fetid stench, until the day before the arrival at quarantine, when all hands are required to ‘scrub up’ and put on a fair face for the doctor and Government inspector.”[i]

Sailing in close, confined spaces also made one vulnerable to Small Pox and Typhus. Whether it was smallpox, typhus, or some other disease, illness and death shadowed the Egans.

Shortly after their arrival, Howard’s sister, Evelina, age two and a half, died on June 30th, 1825.

His sister Ann, age 18, died nineteen days later.

 His brother Bernard, age 15, died exactly one week later.

And Howard’s father, Howard Sr., age 47, died three years later, in August of 1828.

This left Howard, at age thirteen, an orphan. The surviving six Egan children, now parentless in a largely French-speaking foreign country, had to fend for themselves and take care of each other.

Howard Egan’s life appears to have been forged by his early hardships and poverty, and by the loss of so many of his family members.  What happens to the heart, and mind, and soul of a boy who lost his mother when he was eight, three siblings when he was ten, and then his father when he was thirteen?  It undoubtedly set in motion a life of self-reliance and hard work, a desire to have a family of his own, and a search for a way to be joined with his beloved parents and siblings after death — a message and pathway which he believed Mormonism provided.


Not long after his father’s death, Howard went to sea and followed the life of a sailor until grown, when he settled in Salem, Massachusetts. Not much is known about his years as a sailor other than that it is said that he served for three years aboard a man-of-war – a warship, powered by sails, and heavily armed.  Canada had no navy at that time, so if Howard did serve aboard a man-or-war, presumably he served in the British navy.

Howard was no doubt heavily influenced by his life at sea, where absolute authority rested with the officers, whose words were law and discussion was not usually allowed, especially on a man-of-war.

Life at sea gave Howard experience being in the society of men engaged in difficult missions.  He became accustomed to a lonely life, cut off from contact with family and friends.  He learned to manage with few personal possessions, and learned how to survive on simple diets, mainly of dried, pickled, or salted foods.  Being a sailor gave him experience performing hard physical labor for long periods of time, and how to survive great challenges caused by nature, accidents, and malfunctions.  He also learned to associate with extremely tough, crude, and dangerous men, and learned from them how to share songs, and tell exciting tall tales.

As one sailor explained, “In forecastles during watches below, the yarns go round and round and you are not counted a sailor if you can’t keep your end up.”

Howard carried many sailor skills with him throughout his lifetime, including a love of storytelling.

Salem Rope Maker

In the mid-to-late-1830’s Howard left ship life and went ashore.  By 1839 he was living in the port city of Salem, Massachusetts.  There he worked for a Mr. Chisholm at rope making, a trade he likely learned at sea.

Mr. Chisholm’s firm manufactured lines, Marline, twines and Cords, cod lines, and bed cords made from Russian and Manila hemp and flax.  Ropes were made in ropewalks.  A ropewalk was a long, straight, narrow lane, or a covered pathway, running 1,000 to 1,200 feet long, along which strands were tightly twisted into ropes and cords.  Making rope involved twisting 6 or more yarns in bunches to form strands, and winding the strands to become rope.  It was a process similar to spinning wool, but on a much grander scale.  When finished, ropes then were treated with hot pine tar to make them water resistant.

Marriage To Tamson Parshley

There is no record of how or when they met, but on December 1, 1839 Howard married Tamson Parshley, of Barnstead, New Hampshire, a town approximately 70 miles from Salem.  He was 24. She was 15 – an acceptable age for marriage in their day.

During this time period, cheap Irish labor fostered anti-Irish sentiment in America, and periodic riots sprang up between Irish and “American” work teams.  Newspapers stereotyped Irishmen as alcoholics, labeled them “white Negroes,” and published political cartoons using pre-historic, ape-like images to depict Irish faces.

Then, like now, we see the world through the lens of the media.  No wonder Tamson hated the Irish. So Howard made sure she never learned where he was born.  Howard’s granddaughter, Ora Simmons, explained,

“Howard, knowing of [Tamson’s] aversion, … changed the pronunciation of his name so it would sound like French Canadian and the place of his birth, he changed to Montreal, Canada.”  As a result, Tamson thought Howard was French Canadian, as he spoke some French.

Some 20 years after Howard’s death Tamson was finally told about Howard’s Irish beginnings.  Upon hearing about it, she paced the kitchen, alternately pushing her fist into each hand and exclaiming, “Damn that man; Damn that man!”  “I will never forgive him, and he will have to pay for it in heaven.”

At the end of her life, Tamson called her children around her, and said she forgave him.

Conversion to Mormonism

Salem Massachusetts provided Howard and Tamson with a good beginning for their family.  Their first two children, Howard Ransom and Richard Erastus, were born in Salem in 1840 and 1842.

Salem also provided them with a new religion and a new direction.

Mormon Elder Erastus Snow came to Salem in September 1841.  He preached three times on Sundays at the Masonic Hall, and in private residences during the week.  By the end of November the Masonic Hall was too small to handle the crowds that wanted to hear him preach.

By February 1842 Howard and Tamson were among his first converts, then numbering thirty-six people.

At a conference held on May 25th the Salem Branch had seventy-nine members.  A month later it had ninety.  That’s about the time when Howard quit his job, and as new converts they set out for Nauvoo to live among the Latter-day Saints.

Nauvoo Ropemaker

Howard and Tamson arrived in Nauvoo during the summer or fall of 1842, after a three week trip with a two-year-old and an infant, transferring baggage from train to boat, and from boat to boat, making use of America’s excellent canal system that connected with lakes and rivers.

The city of Nauvoo was then only three years old, and had a population of about 5,000. The Egans lived at the city’s south end, inland four blocks from the river, and rented.

Howard brought his rope making skills, and perhaps some apparatus with him, and set up a rope-making operation, calling it the “Nauvoo Rope Manufactory.”   He announced the opening with this ad in the Nauvoo Neighbor newspaper of April 26, 1843:

“The subscriber wishes to inform the citizens of Nauvoo and the surrounding country, that he has established a rope manufactory in this city, where he intends to manufacture Cordage of every description, bed cords, cloth lines, rope lines, etc. which he will sell at St. Louis prices.   Intends keeping an assortment of the above mentioned articles constantly on hand.  Any persons wishing to purchase will do well to examine his stock before purchasing elsewhere.  All orders promptly attended to. Howard Egan.”

Nauvoo tithing records for 1843 and 1844 show that Howard regularly paid tithing, not in cash, but in labor and in rope, bed cords, and twine.

Nauvoo Legion Officer

Late in 1840 the state of Illinois chartered Nauvoo as a city.  The charter allowed for a military organization known as the Nauvoo Legion, which was to be a unit of the Illinois state militia, answerable to both the mayor and the governor.  State law required every able-bodied male resident between the ages of eighteen and forty-five to be in a militia unit, so Nauvoo males, including Howard Egan, belonged to the Legion.  By appointment from the governor, Joseph Smith commanded the Legion with the rank of lieutenant-general. Howard was made a Major, and commanded a battalion, or perhaps a company, which is why people referred to him as “Major Howard Egan.”

The men received military instruction, drill, and discipline in order to be ready “to execute the laws,” to act as escorts, and to enhance public parades and ceremonies.

Nauvoo City Policeman

Nauvoo was growing rapidly.  By 1843 it had almost 300 businesses of almost every kind, including beer breweries. The City Council banned hard liquors, but beer was not considered liquor. At that time society believed that “drinking-water” posed health problems, whereas beer was thought to be beneficial to one’s health, and each ward was allowed to have a beer retailer.

As Nauvoo’s population grew, so did its crime.  Among the immigrants and visitors were a fair share of thieves, swindlers, seducers, and counterfeiters. Some of these ne’er-do-wells faked religious conversion in order to blend in while secretly committing crimes, or secretly intending to kidnap Joseph Smith and other Church leaders.

Responding to the rising crime, on December 29, 1843 the City Council passed an ordinance authorizing the mayor to select forty men of integrity, fearless defenders of right, who could think and shoot straight, as city policemen, one of whom was Howard Egan. Howard Egan was chosen to keep the peace in the city’s 3rd Ward, no doubt because as an ex-sailor he knew how to deal with rough types of people.

Among the instructions that “Mayor” Joseph Smith gave to the new police force, was the following:

“… ferret out all brothels and disorderly conduct, and if a transgressor resists, cuff his ears.  if any one lifts a weapon, presents, a pistol, etc. take his life if needs be.  Take care of your own lives.”

Then, not separating his city job from his prophetic calling, Joseph Smith blessed the policemen.

On another occasion Joseph Smith gave the police force the following instructions:

“If you see a man stealing and you have told him to stand 3 times, and warned him that he is a dead man if he does not stand, and he runs, shoot off his leg.”

Joseph Smith Bodyguard

As threats against church leaders increased, guards were assigned to protect the homes and families of targeted leaders.  Howard was one of those chosen to guard Joseph Smith and Joseph Smith’s home.

Joseph Smith stated:  “I felt safe when Howard Egan was on guard.”

Electioneering Missionary for Joseph Smith for President

On January 29, 1844 Joseph Smith, with the support of the Twelve, decided to run as an independent candidate for the presidency of the United States.  This would allow him to advocate his views of government and to publicize that the Saints deserved redress for their severe losses in Missouri.  His political platform circulated as a booklet titled View of the Powers and Policy of the Government of the United States.

To launch a nationwide campaign for Joseph Smith’s election, during the Church’s April 1844 general conference, the Quorum of the Twelve and some 340 missionaries were called to promote the Prophet’s political tract, and were assigned to all twenty-six states.   For New Hampshire they selected Willard Snow and Howard Egan to be the number 1 and 2 elders out of the thirteen sent there.

Politicking provided “proselytizing opportunities,” so the electioneers preached nearly daily.  Several baptized converts.  The campaign provided a way to organize and account for the many branches of the Church scattered across the United States, and the campaigners probably did as much to strengthen the existing church as they did to garner votes.

While these electioneering missionaries were out on their respective assignments, mobs killed Joseph Smith on June 27, 1844.   Word of Joseph’s death took time, two weeks or more, to reach some of the campaigners.  Reactions ranged from disbelief to anger to sorrow.  Fortunately, electioneering had taken the Twelve away from Nauvoo and out of harm’s way by the time the murders took place.

One of the Presidents of the 17th Quorum of the Seventies

Two months prior to his death, Joseph Smith had taught that “the whole of [the] Americas is Zion itself, from north to south.”

Three months after Joseph’s death the Twelve felt they now needed to implement Joseph’s expansion plan, and instituted a two pronged movement to create Church stakes throughout the United States.  First, they assigned eighty-five high priests to go out and preside over branches of the church in all the congressional districts in the Unites States.  And second, they massively expanded the number of seventies quorums.

On January 12, 1845 the Seventeenth Quorum of the Seventy was organized, and Howard Egan was called to be one of its seven presidents.  The quorum’s enrollment records lists Howard as age twenty-nine, a rope maker, and from Lower Canada.

Brigham Young Bodyguard

After Joseph Smith’s death threats from disaffected Mormons and anti-Mormon activists intensified.  Howard was given the responsibility of protecting the Twelve.  At times he guarded Brigham Young and the Young home.  And, in the face of anti-Mormon hostilities, he spent days on patrol outside of Nauvoo.

Joseph Palmer recalled the tense mood:

“Our people determined to protect themselves against mob violence and armed themselves as best they could.  And the Nauvoo Legion was ordered out on muster and put in readiness for protection and to allways act on the defencive.  We were told to place our guns and amonition where we could put our hand upon it [in] the darkest night that ever was, and be ready to run at the tap of the drum.”

Nauvoo Police Constable

Enemies of the Church spread lies about the Saints, including accusations that Nauvoo harbored criminals, which led state legislators to repeal the Nauvoo Charter on January 24, 1845.

The Illinois attorney-general said, “The tide of popular passion and frenzy was too strong to be resisted.”

No charter meant no City Council, no municipal courts, no legal government, and no police.  However, city elections were already in process and 850 people voted on February 3rd.  Despite having no legality, on February 8th newly elected city officials took office and the Council agreed that the city needed “an active standing police [force]” and voted that a police supervisor be assigned to each ward.  Howard was appointed as one of the four constables.  These were paid positions, so at last the Egan household began receiving some compensation for Howard’s police work.

Conditions in Nauvoo worsened.

“[After the Nauvoo Charter’s repeal] the town was soon over-run with all manner of ruffians from the mob camp around about.”  – Police officer, William B. Pace.

“[Parties disembarked from steamboats, caused trouble in the city, then returned to the boat] well knowing we had no law to protect us since the city charter was taken away.” – Wandle Mace.

Nauvoo Temple Builder

Despite growing enemy threats, week by week, the construction of the Nauvoo Temple dominated the city’s life.  Each morning the Egans heard a bell at the temple site toll at 7:00 a.m. to announce the start of another day. It tolled again at noon and 1:00 p.m. and a last time at 6:00 p.m.

As “temple tithing” men and older boys were expected to donate each tenth day of labor to working on the temple – and Howard did his share.  Very likely workmen used Egan ropes at the construction site.

To provide Saints with temple blessings before they vacated Nauvoo and went into the wilderness, leaders rushed sections of the temple to completion and then provided washing, anointing, endowment, and sealing ordinances between late December 1845 and early February 1846.

Howard had baptisms performed in the Temple’s font in behalf of his father Howard and mother Ann, brothers Bernard and John, and sister Ann.  On December 16, 1845 Howard and Tamson received temple ordinances, and on January 23, 1846 Howard was sealed to Tamson, turning their civil marriage into an eternal, celestial one.  That same day Howard was also sealed to a second wife, Nancy A. Redden.  She was nineteen, and Tamson was then twenty-one.

Howard Egan’s main job, along with members of the disbanded old police force, now was to protect the nearing-completion temple from sabotage, and to safeguard the lives of the Twelve.

Temple guards were posted, and the Nauvoo Legion was re-activated and given “shoot to kill” orders.  Tolling of the temple bell would be the signal for men to rush to the parade ground armed and equipped.

Departure from Nauvoo

Brigham Young assumed the position of commanding general of Mormon forces, with authority above that of the Legion generals and the county sheriff, to direct defense efforts.

On September 26th 1845 Brigham Young called the Mormon militia men together and gave instructions:

“I never intend to winter in the United States except on a visit, we do not owe this country a single Sermon.  We calculated to go all the while for I do not intend to stay in such an Hell Hole….  They are as corrupt as Hell from the president down clean through the priest, and the people are all as corrupt as the Devil.  I will leave them and God grant I may live to get to some place of peace, health and safety.”

A week later, during the October 1845 general conference, Elder Parley Pratt explained:

“We want a country where we have room to expand.  The people must enlarge in numbers and extend their borders; they cannot always live in one city, nor in one country.  The Twelve want to take you to a land, where a white man’s foot never trod, nor a lion’s whelps, nor the devil’s; and there we can enjoy it, with no one to molest and make us afraid.  We are not accounted as white people, and we don’t want to live among them.  I had rather live with the buffalo in the wilderness.  [And] in five years we will be as well off again as we are now.”

A committee negotiated with “the Mob Party,” who promised peace that winter, only if the Saints agreed to leave the state by April 1st of 1846.  The Twelve promised the mobs, citizens in nearby counties, and Governor Thomas Ford that they would leave the next spring.

That meant the Saints only had seven months to prepare a mass exodus of close to fifteen thousand people.  Some had even less time to get ready, because renewed anti-Mormon threats in January forced the Twelve and about 2,500 others, including the Egans, to leave Nauvoo two months ahead of schedule, in February, in the winter.

A frenzy of preparations ensued.

Bathsheba Smith noted, “[Nauvoo became] one vast mechanic shop, as nearly every family was engaged in making wagons.  Our parlor was used as a paint shop in which to paint [the finished] wagons.”

The Church advertised to purchase one thousand yoke of cattle to pull them, and the Twelve studied any reports they could find about routes to and places in the West.  A planning committee calculated what each “family” of five adults needed to take on a trip that could be some two thousand miles to the west coast and take four or five months.

Elders Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball examined maps with reference to selecting a location for the Saints west of the Rocky Mountains, and read other travel reports.

In February Brigham Young headed up the departure of the advance group of 2,500 Saints, called the Camp of Israel.  The rest of the Saints, some 13,000, would leave Nauvoo in the Spring.

With a bowed canvas top attached to their wagon, and two teams of oxen or horses hitched, the Egans steered towards one of Nauvoo’s boat landings.  Howard’s son, Ransom, age six at the time, later described the ferryboat river crossing:

“I well remember the Mormon Exodus and of sitting in a covered wagon with Mother and brother Erastus….  The wagon was standing on the bank of the Mississippi river with the front end facing the water.  There was another wagon close by.  I had seen two wagons on a flat boat leave the shore and go out of sight.  Mother said we could go next when the boat came back.  I did not see it for I had gone to sleep, but the next morning when I opened my eyes it was raining, and peeping out of the front end of the wagon I could see that Mother and quite a large crowd of people were standing by a large fire that had been built against a stump just in the edge of the forest. The Mississippi river was just back of us.  We had been brought over in the night.”

Captain of the Fourth Fifty – in the 1846 Camp of Israel Crossing Iowa

Howard played two important roles in Brigham Young’s Camp of Israel during its three-month, 320-mile crossing of southern Iowa Territory early in 1846.   When the underway caravan had to reorganize late in March 1846, the Twelve structured it into six companies of fifty wagons each, and assigned Howard to captain the fourth fifty.  Also, when necessity forced the Twelve to send men into northern Missouri settlements and farms to trade Mormon dishes, furniture, jewelry, and clothing for food and feed, Howard was one they sent.  By the time the Camp of Israel reached the Missouri River in mid-June, Howard had become Apostle Heber C. Kimball’s principal trader.

Three-months of rain-soaked, mud-filled travel days with a wagon taught Howard, Tamson, the boys, and Nancy how to be nomads.  They learned a lot about wooden wheels, wagon tongues, yokes, canvas, livestock, camping, campfire cooking, living with little, helping others in trouble, and getting along with those in nearby wagons and tents.

Secret Mission to Retrieve Mormon Battalion Money

 While camped by the Missouri River, Howard and Tamson and Nancy saw hopes fizzle to place an advanced, small group of Mormons in or beyond the Rocky Mountains in 1846.  For such a mountain expedition to happen, Saints would have to quickly cross the Missouri and have enough manpower for that venture and enough to care for Saints left behind.  But, the Missouri crossing took longer than expected, and the surprise call for Mormon Battalion enlistments of 500 men took away prime muscle-power.  So, the uprooted Mormon refugees had to halt near the Missouri River, in a place they would call Winter Quarters, and prepare to stay there through the upcoming winter.  Had they waited until spring for the trek, they could have reached the Missouri River in a month, but by leaving in February they needed more than three months to get there.

The Twelve, desperately needing the departed Mormon Battalion’s paychecks to aid the under-supplied Saints, sent Howard Egan and John D. Lee on a secret errand to pick up the money.  Howard and Lee caught up with the Battalion in today’s Kansas, then traveled with it to Santa Fe.  They survived that difficult and dangerous trip, out and back, about 2,000 miles total, which cost them three months.  But they did bring back over $1,200, or roughly $37,000 in 2013 dollars.  It proved to be a godsend for the westering Saints.  Their long absence, however, placed hardships on their families who had to manage without their labor and influence, and who had no idea where they went or when they’d return.

President Young praised their mission. The two men had gone to the army for money, he announced, and “they have now returned in safety.”  Because of the infusion of Battalion pay, he proclaimed that “there has been a mericle wrought in Israel.”

It had been essential, Brigham explained, that their mission be kept a secret:  “Had their mission been public… the[Missourians] would have followed them, [robbed] and likely have killed them.  Their journey was an arduous one and a dangerous one.”

Winter Quarters and Trade Missions

When Howard returned on November 20th he found Tamson and the children living out of a tent.  Second wife Nancy probably lived with Redden relatives in a tent or cabin not far from Tamson.  On Dec. 7th Tamson and her children moved into their finally finished log cabin in Winter Quarters.  She quickly had it neatly arranged, papered, hung with pictures, and decorated.

In late December food supplies dwindled, so the Kimball Company sent Howard, its principal trading agent, into Missouri on a purchasing trip.  This was the first of five such trips for him, with little time in between each one.  He spent a total of sixty-seven days on these purchasing trips.  All of them were during the winter of 1846.  He camped out nearly every night.  He carried money he was expected to defend.  He located places where he could buy goods.  He priced items, negotiated, made purchases, loaded those into his wagons, and did his best to protect his cargoes from rain, snow, and mud.  He drove on poor and often muddy roads, adjusting his loads as needed.  He stayed prepared to guard his loads day and night from robbers and from critters.

There were almost 200 days between Howard’s departure on the Battalion errand on August 30th and when he returned on March 17th from his last buying trip into Missouri.  He was absent from Tamson and his children 156 of those 200 days, or nearly 80 percent of the time.  But the separating and absenteeism didn’t end, it only increased.  Three weeks after his last buying trip he had to go away again.  This time he left in early April with the 1847 Pioneer Company.  He would be gone for eight straight months.  And compounding the situation for Tamson and Nancy, they were both four months pregnant when he left.

As winter deepened, Winter Quarters became increasingly sickly and deadly for its 3,483 poorly housed and malnourished residents.  An estimated 400 died between August 1846 and April 1847.  Sickness and death would have been far more pervasive had not Howard and dozens of other men like him labored hard to bring in sizable quantities of food and supplies.  Those men merit hero status in our histories.

Captain of Ninth Ten – in the 1847 Vanguard Pioneer Company

In his lifetime, Howard played important parts in several big history events.

Being in Brigham Young’s historic 1847 vanguard Pioneer Company is what first attached fame to Howard’s name.  This 1847 Pioneer trek is to Utah and the Latter-day Saints what the Mayflower voyage is to New England and American history.

Not only did Howard help that venture succeed, but his diary is one of the best accounts anyone kept during that epic trek.  Almost every published history of the 1847 Pioneers draws from Howard’s diary entries (some of which he admitted he copied from William Clayton’s diary).

Brigham Young, responding to the January 1847 “Word and Will of the Lord” revelation he received, organized a handpicked company of 144 men, three women, and two children to travel from Winter Quarters to somewhere west of the Rocky Mountains.  The rest of the Camp of Israel would stay in Winter Quarters.

Compared to overland trail wagon companies before and after it, this one was unique.  It was a religion-organized company led by a church’s top leadership.  And it prepared trails and bridges and a route such that thousands could follow them.

This advance group took good wagons, good teams of horses and mules, and decent food supplies and equipage.  Seven of the twelve apostles went. Brigham Young served as company president and superior captain, and he directed that the recruits be organized under captains and sub-captains.  Captains of a hundred, meaning men not wagons, were Stephen Markham and Albert P. Rockwood.  Then there were five captains of fifty, and fourteen captains of ten.  President Young appointed Howard, or Captain Egan as he was known during the Iowa crossing, to be captain of the 9th ten.

Brigham Young’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 ten took turns leading the train “so as to divide the chore of breaking the road.”  Because Mormons used this route the most, it became known as the “Mormon Trail.”

On April 20th Howard wrote a letter to Tamson.  Here are relevant parts showing his affection for her:  “My dear companion Tamson … I never in my life had such feelings while away from home as I have on this trip…..  I feel sorrowful when I reflect upon your situation for I know your feeling when I am away from you.  [Pray for me and for the children.]  We shall all see each others faces and enjoy each others society again.”

An eastbound traveler took his letter and delivered it.

Then another letter to Tamson.  In it he said: “Thank the Lord we are now in buffalo country and have killed a number of them and we are now traveling 5 wagons abreast of each other as there is Indians all around us…. I want you should write to me the first chance you get, you don’t know how I feel when I see others read letters and know [that] nobody thinks enough of me to write. .. but never mind Tamson, thers no malice at heart, we will live and do better. … Pray for me for I do not forget you night or morning…. Goodby my dear, think of me.”

Entering Great Salt Lake Valley

Near Fort Laramie they ferried across the North Platte River and drove onto the Oregon Trail.  They followed it for five weeks on a long arc northwesterly to South Pass and then southeasterly to Fort Bridger.

Enroute they encountered “mountain man” Jim Bridger, the first white man to discover the Great Salt Lake, back in 1824.  He and others with him offered advice about settlement sites to consider or avoid.  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.

July 18th was a Sunday, and as usual the encampment devoted the Sabbath to rest, worship, and prayers.  Bishops broke bread and administered the sacrament.  Elder Kimball and other preached, which Howard wrote, “done my soul good,”

On July 19th, forty-one wagons in the main party moved southward following Pratt’s advance group’s newly hacked trail, while fifteen wagons stayed behind with President Young who was ill.  Egan stayed with those fifteen wagons.

On the 23rd they ascended the narrow, rough, rocky, brushy, wooded, steep ravine that leads to “the summit,” near the top of Big Mountain.

President Young directed Elder Woodruff to turn the carriage half way round on the summit so he could view a portion of the Salt Lake Valley.  He later said, “[When I first gazed upon it, the] Spirit of Light rested on me and hovered over the valley, and I felt that there the Saints would find protection and safety.”

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.

On July 24 Howard and Horace Whitney rode ahead on their horses.  Howard wrote in his diary:  “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.  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.”

In his diary Howard penned a fine word picture describing the flat valley floor, the mountains surrounding and enclosing the valley, and the vast lake with a line of white salt along it.  His ex-sailor’s eyes saw potential in the desert-like landscape.  Howard wrote, “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.”

By noon both Howard’s group and Brigham Young’s group reached the others that had camped on the valley floor.

Howard saw men plowing and planting potatoes and others building a dam on a creek, soon named City Creek.  Looking at the snow-capped mountains surrounding him, Howard wrote: “This is the most safe and secure place the Saints could possibly locate themselves in.  Nature has fortified this place on all sides, with only a few narrow passes, which could be made impregnable without much difficulty. … The saints have reason to rejoice and thank the Lord for this goodly land unpopulated by the Gentiles.”

The vanguard pioneers had done their job.  They had found a new location where the Saints could gather.  They were outside of the United States, in a section of Mexico then called California, but where Mexican authorities never visited.  They had arrived late in the planting season, so the first task was to plant crops.  In the hands of this small band of dedicated pioneers, including Howard, rested the future of Mormondom.

Founding Great Salt Lake City

The 1847 vanguard company traded out their saddles and wagon seats for plow straps, shovels, axes, and saws.  Like a construction crew unloading at a new subdivision site, they started building a settlement – farms, orchards, fences, roads, and housing – for thousands of co-religionists soon to arrive.  The barren, dusty, cricket-infested floor of the Great Salt Lake Valley needed an upgrade.

Howard’s 1847 diary provides a good record of the pioneers’ first weeks of labor.

A bugle the next morning, July 26th, started the campers’ first full work day in their new setting.

“We put up our tent this morning to shelter the men working on clothes and shoes.  Others plowed, worked on the road they had followed into the valley, and cut trees for logs, and a few took small exploring ventures.”

By Saturday, July 31st, the pioneers had plowed and mostly planted about fifty acres. They had also started building shelters, houses, and fences to control cattle and protect the planted fields.

Howard, on the verge of leaving the valley, surveyed what progress the pioneers had made and then recorded that: “. . . the laying out of the city is now completed.  It is composed of 135 blocks, each containing ten acres, which is subdivided into eight lots, each containing one and one-fourth acres.  The streets are eight rods wide.  There are three public squares (including the adobie yard) in different parts of the city.  The Temple block, like the rest contains ten acres.”

Along with plowing and planting, work started on shelters and houses, and on fences to control cattle and protect the planted fields.  Other men built houses to form a fort on a ten-acre plot at what would be the corner of 300 South and 300 West.

A month later, on August 26th, Howard left with many others on the trek back to Winter Quarters to gather the Saints and bring them to their new home.  The wagon train consisted of 36 wagons, 42 horses and 35 mules.  That evening President Young appointed captains and sub-groups.  He appointed Howard to be one of the eight captains of tens.

On October 31st, after a day of hard traveling, the Young Company drove into Winter Quarters.   People lined the street to shake hands as they drove along.

This was a triumphant return, for the Pioneers had accomplished one of the most vital missions recorded in the Church’s history – to find and start a new gathering place for the Saints.

Wilford Woodruff wrote:  “We have accomplished more this year than can be found on record concerning an equal number of men in the same [amount of] time since the Days of Adam.”

Howard was happy to be home, and no doubt his two families were glad to see him back safely.  He met for the first time Tamson’s eleven-week-old infant son, Horace Adelbert, and Nancy’s nine-week-old daughter Helen Jeanette, Howard’s first daughter.

In December 18947 the Twelve sent an official “General Epistle” to Mormons throughout the world:

“[The Church’s primary purpose in Great Salt Lake Valley is to build a new temple and establish] a place of peace, a city of rest, a habitation for the oppressed of every clime, even for those that love their neighbor as they do themselves, and who are willing to do as they would be done unto….  The kingdom which we are establishing is not of this world, but is the kingdom of the Great God.”

Taking Tamson and the Boys West in 1848

By agreement with the government, Saints had to leave Winter Quarters by the summer of 1848, which they did.  This refuge site had only lasted for two years, but its suffering and tragedies carved a lasting niche in LDS history.

This second wagon train from Winter Quarters to the Great Salt Lake was different than the 1847 Pioneer Company.  Instead of selected men with good wagons, horse, and mule teams, this company included hundreds of women and children, wagons pulled primarily by oxen, many worn out wagons, some wagons hitched to family cows never harnessed before, and a number of inexperienced drivers, including women and children.  Accidents, spilled loads, stuck wagons, and broken wagon parts, became all too common.  Tamson, because Howard often had to help others, became a good ox-team driver.

On the morning of June 6th, 1848, before the cattle could be brought to camp and hitched to the wagons, Indians had raided the herd and stolen several oxen. Howard and others were dispatched to try to rescue the cattle.  About six miles down the river, at the Elkhorn River crossing, they found the Indians.  They had butchered an ox and were hauling away the raw meat.  There was gun fire from both sides.  Howard and three horsemen with him killed four Indians, and wounded three others.  But Howard had also been shot – in the wrist of his right hand.  At the same time another ball hit Howard’s horse in the neck, causing it to turn towards camp, almost throwing Howard to the ground.  William Kimball helped Howard stay on his horse, as Howard became very faint from loss of blood.  Dr. Joh Bernhisel came and worked on Howard’s wounds.  The bullet cut every cord of the thumb and fingers, but broke no bones.

Howard’s wound limited what he could do in the Heber C. Kimball wagon company, but it was a blessing for Howard’s son, Ransom, who had not seen much of his father.  Ransom wrote, “I now could see him every day, and watch Dr. Bernhisel dress the wound and trim the ends of the cords with a pair of scissors where they stuck out of the flesh.”

Howard was not one to rest.  Five weeks later, near Chimney Rock, Elder Kimball assigned a healed Howard to be a captain of a “fifty,” composed of Mississippi Saints.

On September 24th, in pleasant weather, the Kimball wagon trains rumbled into Great Salt Lake City.   As they drew near, the Saints came out to meet them with cheers, and proudly shared with them beef, beets, squash, carrots, corn, cucumbers, pickles, bread, biscuits, butter, and pies, fruits of their new homeland.

The Egans moved into a room of the Old Fort that had been provided for them, and Howard and Tamson spent three weeks together arranging the cabin and rounding up food and winter necessities.

1848 Return to Council Bluffs to Bring Nancy to Utah in 1849

Howard barely had time to get trail dust out of his clothes before heading off again.  President Young announced that Howard would carry mail back to Kanesville, a small town on the other side of the Missouri River from deserted Winter Quarters, and bring back a carding machine and printing press.  This also gave Howard an opportunity to bring his second wife, Nancy, to Utah.

Howard left Great Salt Lake City on October 13th.  His small party used a light wagon or carriage pulled by mules, and arrived in Kanesville on December 7th, after averaging about twenty miles a day.   Howard was thus reunited with his wife Nancy and fifteen-month-old daughter Helen.

Howard helped prepare Nancy, and fifteen-month-old daughter Helen, and their wagon, for the westward journey.  He needed people to join his wagon train to make it big enough to travel safely in Indian country.  Several families enlisted, either voluntarily or by assignment from the resident apostles.  Howard rounded up the freight and wagons and equipment in Kanesville and elsewhere, and recruited teamsters.   His company had 57 people, 22 wagons, 91 oxen, 6 horses, 5 mules, 3 young stock, 21 fowls, 6 dogs, and 1 cat.  At least two yoke, meaning four oxen or mules or horses, pulled each wagon. Howard had responsibility for seven of the wagons, one-third of the total.

The Egan Company’s first day of travel back to Salt Lake City was May 17th, 1849.  On May 31st they merged into the Oregon Trail with its heavy gold-rush traffic.  The history-changing rush for gold was in full throttle, and the Egan Company had to flow with it.

Howard noted in his journal:

“Today we have passed where the St. Joseph and Independence road intersect; [and] there is one continual string of wagons as far as the eye can extend, both before and behind us…. If the Platte River is low enough I think I shall cross over to the North side when I get above the head of Grand Island, in order to get out of the crowd, that I may have more sea room.  This evening there is twenty-nine camps in sight, numbering from fifteen to forty wagons in a company.”

The pell-mellish, history-changing rush for gold was on full throttle, and the Egan Company had to flow with it.

On August 7th the Egan Company rolled into the Valley.  Their journey from the Missouri River had been exactly twelve weeks.

Howard reunited with Tamson and the boys.  Hopefully they extended a cordial welcome to Nancy and little Helen.  Nancy was then seven months pregnant, and where she and Helen called home isn’t recorded.

Between August and November Howard married his third wife, Mary Ann Tuttle, who had crossed the plains with him and Tamson and the boys the year before.  She was nineteen.

Gold Rush Trading Post Owner

Unfortunately, Howard’s stay at home this time lasted but four months.  Once again, apparently by Church assignment, he had to leave to do business in the California gold fields.

For Howard, this was another big history event in which he became a participant.  He kept a diary, valuable to gold rush history, to prove it.

His purpose was to establish a trading post in the gold fields to service prospectors, Mormon or otherwise.  First, he had to endure hardships on poor trails to get there, and then endured primitive conditions while living there.  Up the Merced River, near Mariposa, he operated a trading post, called the Salt Lake Trading Company.  He also worked with Mormon apostles Charles C. Rich and Amasa Lyman, to minister to Mormons in the gold fields and to collect tithes.  He did some gold mining on his own, traveled frequently through the Sierra Nevada foothills, survived cholera, and finally saw others undermine his business.

No matter what good his store might have accomplished or how much it earned him, his being an absentee father and husband for nearly two years, especially right after repeated absences already, cost his family dearly.

The Killing of James Monroe

Howard returned to Salt Lake City on September 10th, 1851.  He had been away for almost twenty-two months, and had every expectation of a heartfelt welcome from Tamson, Nancy, Mary Ann, and from five Egan children.

Tamson greeted Howard with a surprise, and not a good one.  She mustered courage enough to introduce him to a three-month-old baby boy, a son not Howard’s.  She explained the best she could, that the father was James M. Monroe, whom the Egans had known in Nauvoo, and who had been a boarder in the Egan household during part of the time when Howard was gone.  Her affair with Monroe had been consensual, not forced.

The Egans lived in a culture that had no tolerance for what Monroe had done. Violence wove a prominent thread in the fabric of pre-Civil War American society, and Pioneer Utah had a culture of violence.  At times citizens took justice into their own hands for lack of available legal redress or for unwillingness to trust legal channels.  Newspapers reported hundreds of incidences of duels, lynching’s, and mob violence.

Howard, while trying to digest this betrayal, felt duty-bound to confront Monroe for defiling his family.  So when Monroe was returning to Utah on a business trip, Howard rode out to meet him.  They sat and talked over the wrong he’d done.  Then Howard gave him thirty minutes for contrition and preparation for his death.  At the expiration of the thirty minutes, Egan rose and shot him.

Howard gave himself up in Salt Lake City and agreed to a trial.  When arraigned on October 14th, Howard pled not guilty.   That same day, William Wines Phelps and Apostle George A. Smith entered their appearance in court as Howard’s defense counsels.  Both had barely received certificates to practice law, and neither had argued a case in court before.

George A. Smith argued that Egan’s action was justified under “mountain common law” which obligated the nearest kin to a female who was seduced to take the life of the seducer.  Smith argued for Egan’s acquit

To the jury, Smith asserted:  “[The killing accorded with] the established principles of justice known in these mountains.  If fact, people would consider Howard an accessory to the crime, had he not killed Monroe. Don’t hang a man for doing justice, for the neglect of which he’d be damned in the eyes of the whole community.”

The jury retired, was absent about 15 minutes, and returned with a verdict of not guilty.

(NOTE:  For a more complete history of the killing of James Monroe,                                            Click–HERE to link to an article on the subject: James Monroe Murderedwritten by Edward Hogan.)

The marriage betrayal, the Monroe-Tamson baby, the killing, and the trial impacted the five Egan adults.  Tamson did not have another child by Howard for ten years.  Howard and Nancy had no more children.  She divorced him and subsequently married Bishop A. Raleigh in 1856.  Likewise, Mary Ann had no more children with Howard, also divorced him, and married Titus Billings in January 1854 as his second wife.

Tamson’s son, William, by James Monroe, became part of the Egan household.  He was treated like a son and brother by Howard, Tamson, Erastus, and Ransom.   After Howard’s death, William was largely responsible for the 1917 publication of Howard’s diaries and papers, under the title, Pioneering the West.

Cattle Drover

Now back home after his California Gold Rush trading-post venture, Howard needed to find ways to provide for his family.

Because California had an increasing demand for Utah cattle, Howard became a cattle buyer, drover, and seller, taking loose stock from Utah on the circuitous California Trail to sell in northern California.  He also worked as a cattle drover for the merchandise store of Livingston & Kinkead, and drove cattle to California in 1852, 1853, 1854, and 1857.   On those trips he traveled up the east side of the Great Salt Lake and around its north end, then joined the existing California Trail that cut southwest across Nevada along the Humboldt River.

Finding a Central Route to California

That long, tedious, roundabout route caused Howard to look for a more direct course to and from California.  Once he’d found one, to promote his newly blazed route, he made a bet he could take freight for Livingston and Kinkead, on muleback, from Salt Lake City to Sacramento in 10 days.  Howard’s ten-day plan allowed next to no time for sleeping.  He only stopped four hours out of every twenty-four, as he believed that the animals often slept while traveling slow.  His sleepless, grueling trip actually took eleven days, but it made headline news on October 1st, 1855 as the fastest time on record.

Harold’s Club in Reno, Nevada displayed a painting entitled “Muleback Champion” depicting Howard’s quick trip.  Next to it was a generous retelling of Howard’s historic venture.

Jackass Mail

Once California had become a state in 1850, it caused a tough problem for the U.S. Postal Department. California need a mail service to and from the East.  In 1851 Woodward & Company won the contract to deliver mail monthly between Salt Lake City and Sacramento by pack mule teams.  Their mail system, dubbed the “Jackass Mail,” suffered from start-up challenges, especially the snows in the Sierras and Indians.  One Indian attack killed partner Woodward.  The last challenge killed the company.  It could not survive the Utah War’s disruptions in mail service.

The Utah War

In midsummer of 1857, President Buchanan ordered army units to march to Utah, regain federal control over the territory, and put down Mormon rebellious attitudes.

In September Mormon patrols in present-day Wyoming found infantry moving rapidly towards Fort Bridger.  Spies reported that some soldiers were boasting they would drive and plunder the Utah pioneers and “scalp old Brigham.”

A representative from the approaching army, road ahead to Salt Lake City to arrange for the army’s arrival.  He consulted with LDS leaders, claiming the army had peaceful intent.  Distrusting his report, they told him the expedition would be resisted and that the Mormons would destroy their communities if the army tried to come in.  Returning with that report, the army decided to winter near Fort Bridger.

After the army’s representative left, Governor Brigham Young declared martial law. The Nauvoo Legion created defenses.  And anticipating an army occupation, the Egans with Mormons north of Utah Valley left their homes in the spring of 1858 and joined the “Move South.”

As a defensive measure, Mormons who had recently purchased Fort Bridger and nearby Fort Supply, burned them on October 3rd so the army could not use them.  As they left they met unguarded supply trains, and torched three of them.  Others joined Porter Rockwell and burned grass ahead of the army.  Their “most significant accomplishment,” however, was stealing 1,400 of the army’s 2,000 head of cattle, while startled guards watched.  Rockwell took the livestock into Salt Lake Valley for safe keeping, later to be returned.

Both sides averted open warfare, but an unfriendly army stayed and established an army post.

Howard, as a Nauvoo Legion officer, handled various military assignments.  On one California trip, perhaps selling cattle, he secretly brought back ammunition for the Nauvoo Legion.  He was also part of the military escort that brought peace-envoy Thomas L. Kane into Salt Lake City.  When April brought a peace agreement, Howard helped escort the new Utah governor Alfred Cumming into Salt Lake City, and then guarded peace emissary Thomas L. Kane back to his home in Philadelphia, a trip that lasted from May until August 1858.

Stagecoach Overland Mail Superintendent

After the Utah War concluded, Howard devoted his time to the mail and freight business. The exciting era of overland staging between the Missouri and the Pacific, which started in 1858, lasted eight years.  During that time Howard became a stage coach expert.  As a supervising agent for the Chorpenning Coaches, he oversaw mail, package express, and passenger operations from Salt Lake City to Placerville.  He knew how coaches were built and how to repair them, what kids of loads they could carry, the best types of horses or mules to use, how to pick and handle drivers and conductors, and what the relay stations needed.  Howard often made trips riding in a stagecoach, and at times he was the driver.

Early in July, 1859, Howard, as superintendent for the Chorpenning mail, helped guide a huge cattle herd over his Egan Trail, and later helped prepare it for stage coach travel.

A reporter for the Deseret News pointed out that not long ago the regions west of Great Salt Lake were barren uncultivated desert inhabited only by Indians, but now there were gardens and farms scattered in that region, a “little oases in the desert.”… “[Those improvements were due primarily] to the mail route and its gentlemanly and energetic managers, and the names of Chorpenning, Schell, and Egan will be had in remembrance by the children of the pioneer settlers of these valleys.”

Pony Express

Battles for mail contracts led to the formation of the Pony Express.  Starting in April 1861, it operated for 19 months.  The lives of Howard and his sons Howard Ransom and Richard Erastus are probably best known for their Pony Express participation.  All three were riders, but the sons rode the most.  Howard managed a Pony Express division, its stations, riders, and remounts for 322 miles in western Utah and eastern Nevada desert regions.  Two noted historians of the Pony Express said of newly-hired Howard that “his knowledge of the West was inferior to none.”  Howard’s district occupied the most difficult and dangerous division on the whole Pony Express line.

The Pony Express’s exploits are legendary and its story excites imagination.  Young, small riders.  Fast horses.  Super-quick changes of mounts and mail pouches.  “The mail must go through” determination, bravery, and heroic endurance.  Daring riders racing night and day through deserts, heat, wind, and snow.  Downed horses whose riders shoulder-carry mail to the next station.  Narrow escapes from Indians.  Mail stations burned and remounts gone. It reduced the time for messages to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts from six to eight weeks, to about 10 days.

During the very first Pony Express run into Salt Lake City, Howard feared the mail might reach the relay station at Rush Valley faster than expected, and there would be no relay rider.  So he went there as precautionary backup.  As he anticipated, the mail arrived early, so the rider transferred the mail to Howard, and on a stormy afternoon he headed for Salt Lake City.

Son Howard describe his father’s famous ride.

“The pony on this run was a very swift, fiery, and fractious animal.  The night was so dark that it was impossible to see the road, and there was a strong wind blowing from the north, carrying a sleet that cut the face while trying to look ahead.  But as long as he could hear the pony’s feet pounding the road, he sent him ahead at full speed.  All went well, but when he got to Mill Creek, that was covered by a plank bridge, he heard the pony’s feet strike the bridge and the next instant pony and rider landed in the creek, which wet Father above the knees, but the next instant, with one spring, the little brute was out and pounding the road again… And here let me say, it was a very long time before the regular riders came up to the time made on this first trip, if they ever did.”

Horses for the Pony Express traveled at a speed of about ten miles per hour, and at times they were galloped up to twenty-five miles per hour, as the mail needed to cover 250 miles per day.   In order to maintain a rigid schedule, 157 relay stations were located from 5 to 20 miles apart, as the terrain would permit.  At each “Relay Station” riders would exchange their tired horses for fresh ones.  On one ride, the rider changed horses six to eight times.  At “Home Stations” they enjoyed room and board before riding back on their route.

When the telegraph line opened, the Pony Express closed down.  “The pony was fast, but he could not compete with lightening.”

Of most importance, the Pony Express proved to the eastern establishment that the Central Route could be used by the railroads to bind the country together.

Howard Egan’s book, Pioneer the West, published in 1917, contains many Pony Express stories, making it one of the best sources historians use for studying the Pony Express.

Deep Creek Station and Ranch (Ibapah, Utah)

Beginning with the Pony Express and expanding during the stagecoach era, Howard developed at Deep Creek a well-supplied and staffed “home” station, a telegraph station, a sizeable ranch with flocks and herds, a sawmill, and a store.  The Egan spread was a prime oasis on the traffic-filled road west.  Almost a settlement, Deep Creek became his home-away-from-home.  It produced extra income for him and the family, as did the store he set up at the Ruby Valley Station in Nevada.  More important than income, perhaps, Deep Creek and Ruby Valley and the roads between, taught Howard’s sons, Ras, Ransom, Hyrum, and Willie, how to work, and work hard.  Deep Creek had other settlers, so the Egan properties had neighbors.

Son Ransom said Deep Creek was “our principal home” where “Father and his sons were quite successful in raising hay and grain for the mail stations and in ranching.”  They supplied “stations along the road” with beef and mutton. They kept about twenty cows for milking, which chore “fell to the lot” of sons Ransom and Hyrum. Egan sons, too, had “the cowboy job of riding the range for beef cattle, hunting horses and herding sheep,” as well as helping on the farm, plowing, planting and irrigating, and hauling hay.

This gave Howard a lot of working time with his sons, and William provides us insight into Howard’s kind nature toward his children.

“Father never punished us, and never spoke a cross word but once to me.

When we were taking grain to Eight Mile Station. . .I was driving two yoke of cattle with a loaded wagon and in crossing some corduroy bridge, I missed the bridge and we had to unload, which made him a little angry.  [Then, crossing a bridge over the West Creek, the hind wheels pulled the plank off the bridge and we had to unload again.  After I delivered the load and was returning home Father road up behind me and said for me to take his horse and come on in to milk the cow and he would bring the team.  He said I must not notice him when he spoke a little angry at me in the lane as he was a little excited.  The idea of his apologizing to me hurt me much more than a good licking would do.”

Mining Near Deep Creek

Technology twice put Howard out of work.  First, the transcontinental telegraph ended his Pony Express supervisory job in 1861.  Then, in May 1869 transcontinental steam locomotives and coast-to-coast steel rails killed his stagecoach employment.  Once the stagecoaches stopped, relay and home stations east and west stood deserted; the Egans’ markets dried up.  The semi-desert regions between Salt Lake City and central Nevada had been his livelihood.  Ransom estimated that Howard had made more than fifty trips across the central routes during his mail explorations and cattle drives.  Quite a record.

Now, at age fifty-three, what would resourceful Howard do next to earn a living? And where?  He thoroughly knew the remote regions and their resources.  He knew an invasion of prospectors was swarming the mountains and valleys all along the Central Route, some making rich strikes.  But he also knew Salt Lake City well and many high-up people there.  And the city is where the family home was, where Tamson and Ira lived, and daughter Helen, and where Willie was moving.  Howard had good reasons to move to the city.  But Howard stayed at Deep Creek to work mining claims nearby for six years, and then made his home in the city.

Between 1869 and 1874 Howard staked nearly a dozen claims and found some good deposits.  But his partners’ reluctance to sell when they had a good offer cost them dearly.  They had hoped a railroad spur would be built connecting their mines with the transcontinental railroad.  It didn’t happen.

As a miner, Howard did physically hard outdoor or underground work – dirty, boring, dangerous, lonely work, under primitive living conditions.

Yet the mines failed to reimburse him for the means he had expended in them, which was the substance of the entire Deep Creek Ranch farm land.  Howard lost everything as a miner.

Missionary to the Gosiutes

Son Erastus explained:

“While Father was working the mining property he was also engaged in missionary work among the Indians.”  He helped teach them “good habits of honesty and industry” and through his influence the Indians were induced “to settle down to civilized life, and have since became quite successful in farming, for they had been used as farm and hay hands many years on the Deep Creek property and now they were shown how to work for themselves.”

Pioneering the West documents that Howard had many friends among the Gosiutes and describes many times when he showed compassion for Indians in dire conditions

A strange spirit began stirring among Native Americans that extended from Ibapah to northwestern and southwestern Nevada and into Utah and Idaho.  It resulted in several thousands of Indian being baptized by Mormon officiators.  At Deep Creek the stirring caught LDS “Indian Farm” missionaries by surprise.

Lamanite conversions became a major focus at the Church’s April 1875 General Conference, and Howard and three other Deep-Creek-related men received mission calls to teach the Gospel to the Gosiutes.  How long he served or what he accomplished isn’t known.  Pioneering the West merely says that Howard “aided much” in teaching Gosiutes and “imparting to them a knowledge of the Gospel.”

Last Years in Salt Lake City

Son William explained that “having exhausted all his resources at Deep Creek, Father came to Salt Lake about 1875 and lived at the old home with his family.”  Tamson was there, and so was fourteen-year-old Ira.

Howard became one of the Salt Lake Police and also Deputy Sheriff, which provided the family with a source of income.

Howard also “became a special guard for Pres. Brigham Young at the Lion House and Church offices.”  The guard assignment demonstrates the high level of trust and confidence President Young placed in Howard.  Their friendship went way back, at least to 1845 in Nauvoo.  This was not a token appointment.  Howard, then about fifty-nine, was not an old man given a watchman type job out of sympathy.  Young needed toughness and dependability.

Nurse for Brigham Young

Brigham Young suddenly fell ill on August 23, 1877 and died six days later.  Howard was one of several who helped attend to him during his failing days.

Howard’s son William said: “At the time of Pres. Brigham Young’s last illness” [father] “acted as special nurse, in which capacity he had many times acted before in various cases, and was often called a doctor.”

Special Guard Duty at Brigham Young’s Grave

After the death of Pres. Young, Howard was the special guard at his grave. The grave needed to be protected from vandalism and from any disgruntled Mormon or Gentile who might try to dig up the body and desecrate or steal it.  Those who guarded the grave took turns, each doing a shift.  For Howard and anyone else doing the guard work at night, a building was erected so that he could look out on the grave any time of night, without getting out of bed, by the light that was kept burning.

 Howard’s Death

William Egan notes that “in March 1878 Father got his feet wet one dark night and took sick, which resulted in inflammation of the bowels.”

When fellow grave-guard and friend, William L. Ball returned from a trip on March 5th he made the following journal entries:

“[I] found Brother Egan very sick, [and] with his request layed hands on him & asked God to heal him.  [I then] Went to grave to stay the night.”

“Today he is very sick, got a bottle of oil, took it to the office, had it blessed, gave him some, prayed for him.  Brother Cushion [Cushing?] and me anointed and layed hands on Bro Egan.”

March 8th:  “Egan seems a little better.  [We] anointed him again and I asked God to heal him.”

Ball visited Howard every day, and every day entered a note about Howard’s condition in his diary.  Here a just a few of those daily journal entries:

March 10th:  He is very weak. . .I pray all the time for Brother Egan hoping he will get well.

March 12th:  Bro Egan is very sick, yet stayed with him most of the day.

March 15th:  seems worse this morning.  Dr. Bendick said they can’t do anything for him, he will live till tomorrow… I am staying with him all of the time.  I anointed, Bro Egan layed hands on him [with] Erastus.

March 16th:  Bro Howard Egan died.  10 minutes past 12 this morning.  I feel like I have lost a good friend.  Brother James Jack, who had been Brigham Young’s chief secretary, gave me orders to pay funeral expenses which I feel thankful for.

As a grave guard, Howard had been a Church employee, so the Church paid for his funeral expenses.  Howard died six months after Brigham Young did.  His cause of death was inflammation of the bowels after a two-week sickness.  He was sixty-two years old, almost sixty-three.  Elder Orson Pratt preached at his funeral.


Given Howard’s many trips on the Egan Trail, Pony Express Trail, and the Overland Mail route it’s appropriate that several physical features out there today bear the Egan name.  He found and named the narrow five-mile long Egan Canyon, at the west mouth of which the Pony Express and the Overland Mail had a station.

The “Egan Range” of mountains extends from Egan Creek near the historic community of Cherry Creek south for approximately 108 miles.  North of Egan Canyon in what is now the Cherry Creek Range is Egan Peak, reaching 7,440 feet high.  Near Ely, Nevada is a recently designated “South Egan Range Wilderness.”  Until descendants erect a monument to Howard, like the family tried and failed to do in 1915-1917, the landmarks bearing the Egan name serve as monuments to his adventurous and contributory life.

[i](From Emigration From The British Isles, by W.A. Carrothers, p.194.)


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