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
< >

William Hartley Symposium talk

California as a Driving Force in Howard Egan’s Life
By William G. Hartley, June 12, 2015

Mormon Trail

I admire all of you who have come to this Howard Egan bicentennial commemoration, and especially those who did the Pony Express trail tour and who did the Mormon Trail hike between Big Mountain and Mormon Flats. Thank you, too, goes to the Charles Redd Center for Western Studies at BYU and to Tom Alexander and the Sons of Utah Pioneers for co-sponsoring the event, to Jack Rhodes for helping me with the Pony Express tour, and to the symposium speakers Elayne Allebest, Ron Barney, and Brenden Rensink.

I have included in the front of my biography of Howard Egansome of the tributes that Major Egan’s contemporaries paid him:

“The men here under the command of Egan have acted nobly, been faithful and attentive to duty and truly deserve praise. They could not have done better. Egan is a man who attends to his duty strictly and will never be taken or caught by surprise nor will never be seen running from danger.” (Hancock County deputy sheriff H. G. Ferris, Sept. 28, 1845)

John R. Young: “I knew Personally Porter Rockwell, Howard Egan, Lot Smith, Ephraim Hanks, Robt. T. Burton, Price Nelson & Warren Snow. They were all strong, fearless men–I am thankful that we had such men. They have been a Blessing to the Church, and to the world.” (Janet Burton Seegmiller, “Be Kind to the Poor”: The Life Story of Robert Taylor Burton (N.p.: The Robert Taylor Burton Family Organization, 1988, 421.)

June 27, 1858. “There were two Mormons there, one an exceedingly striking, distinguished-looking fellow, named Howard Egan, the other a vulgar-looking reporter. . . July 18, 1858. Sunday. MessrsSten house and Egan, Mormons both, dined with us. Egan is an exceedingly noble looking fellow, who has been devoted to Tom.” (Elizabeth W. Kane Journal, June 29, 1857 to Aug 8, 1858; Elizabeth Kane, wife of Thomas L. Kane, Philadelphia).

“A Legion major and one of Brigham Young’s most trusted agents.”(William P. McKinnon, At Sword’s Point, Part 1: A Documentary History of the Utah War to 1858 (Norman, OK: Arthur H. Clark Col, 2008), 268.)

Mormon Trail

“If any individuals emerged as heroes from the Utah War, my candidates are Capt. Randolph B. Marcy of the Fifth U.S. Infantry and Maj. Howard Egan of the Nauvoo Legion. . . .He served the Mormon side of the war in important, hazardous assignments ranging from acquiring gunpowder in California to escorting Thomas L. Kane to Fort Bridger and then to California. That Egan did so dependably and without the flamboyance of homicidal peers like Porter Rockwell and Bill Hickman, may have been what prompted Brigham Young to select him repeatedly for such independent assignments. During the Utah War no Nauvoo Legion officer traveled as extensively and alone across unfriendly territory as did Egan.” (William P. McKinnon, At Sword’s Point, Part 2: A Documentary History of the Utah war, 1858-1859.)

Egan’s biography has eight chapters that deal in whole or part with Howard Egan’s California experiences. I spent my teenage years in California and it amazes me that Howard would spend so many years of his life living in and working in the near desert regions of western Utah and much of desolate Nevada and not in California, which he came to know so well.

So I’ll now tell you about “California as a Driving Force in Howard Egan’s Life.”

When the advance company of Saints left Nauvoo early in 1846, Howard Egan became one of its unsung heroes. He went on several trading missions to obtain what the Saints needed from northern Missouri farmers and towns. At Winter Quarters for the Heber C. Kimball family and the camp at large he made several trading missions to St. Joseph, Missouri. In 1849, on Church assignment, he hauled freight and goods to Salt Lake City from Council Bluffs, Iowa. By late 1849, therefore, he was familiar with buying and selling. No doubt that is why he went by Church assignment to California’s gold rush country to operate the Salt Lake Trading Company trading post. On that southern trail to California he interacted often with the Pomeroy brothers’ wagon train that was hauling goods for resale in the gold fields. Howard’s trading post in the gold fields involved him with merchants in Stockton and Sacramento. Stockton, a port city on the San Joaquin River, boomed because of its proximity to the mining regions. He spent at least 20 months as a gold rush merchant.

Then he returned to Salt Lake City by way of the standard California Trail that went northwest across Nevada along the Humboldt River, up to Idaho and north around the Great Salt Lake, then on the Salt Lake Cutoff on the lake’s east side. This was a very long and circuitous route.

When he returned to Salt Lake City in September 1851 Howard needed to find ways to provide for his family. What line of work should he tackle? He’d never been a farmer. He had skills as a rope-maker, a wagon train captain, a freighter, and a trader. By then he knew a lot of people of influence in the Church and in businesses. Possibly he brought back some profits from the gold fields he could use to start over in Utah. He first engaged in local ventures–operating a stable and engaging in the manufacture of leather.

But, he knew California’s trade potential. It was a booming area and needed many kinds of products. Living so close to Salt Lake City’s “down town” district, he became aware of firms that freighted in goods from Missouri River cities to sell in Utah and in California. A leading firm was Livingston & Kinkead. Somehow he and they discussed business opportunities in California. Livingston and Kinkead, probably on their own, sent merchandise to California for retail selling. For them and himself the market for cattle in California attracted him. They hired him to be a cattle buyer, drover, and seller, taking loose stock from Utah on the circuitous California Trail to sell in northern California.

Mormon Trail
In Utah cattle became a currency. Church members paid their tithing, one-tenth of their increase, not in cash but in kind. Much tithing came in as livestock. Livestock became the Church’s main medium of exchange for paying obligations to merchants, and Church sales of livestock driven to California generated needed cash or gold. William Egan, then a youngster, later recorded bits of information he heard from Howard or Tamson or his brothers about Howard’s cattle business. “During the time of my childhood my father was traveling most of the time to California and he was quite successful and made money in selling cattle for Mr. Livingston & Kinkaid,” he said; “We had plenty and some to give.” He said that “Father bought cattle in the winter time and got them together and fattened them and he drove them along to California for beef.”

On December 9, 1852 he arrived back in Salt Lake City from southern California “accompanied by the mail.”

Again in 1853, working for Livingston & Kinkead, Howard drove a large herd of cattle to California for resale. The company employed him to get the cattle there timely, to beat the competition. In addition he had to guide the wagons of “paying passengers anxious to leave Utah.” He impressed one passenger, Mrs. Benjamin Ferris:

Capt. Egan, the conductor of our train, may fairly be termed a mountaineer. He has been back and forth from Missouri to Salt Lake, and from the latter to California, with the mail and with cattle, sundry times; and is reputed to be among the most experienced and safe for such an enterprise.

The cattle and wagons used the usual route north of Great Salt Lake. Mrs. Ferris wrote that she and her party tried to keep track of their whereabouts by using a copy of Fremont’s map “but are compelled to rely much more upon Capt. Egan, who pronounces the map inaccurate.”
On May 23 an addition of some 600 cattle, mostly cows, joined the Livingston herd. Howard, disliking the Humboldt route, decided he’d try a short cut. He led them on a 150-mile course off the normal Humboldt River trail, which exploration became a “trail not followed.”

Howard’s 1855 daybook notations document quite well how and where he sold cattle that year and at what prices. His notations from January through June show that he traveled between Stockton, Sacramento, Auburn, Stringtown, Putah, Washington, Volcano, Jackson, Grass Valley, Georgetown, Placerville, and other places in that gold mining region. On days when he made sales he noted down the number of cattle, cows, or steers involved.

Then Howard recorded his trip back to Utah during which he left the Humboldt route and explored for a shorter, more direct way. He found one, so when he reached home he made a bet he could go from Salt Lake City to Sacramento in ten days. His diary records his near sleepless, barely endurable, historic trip, using a central route that went along the south side of the Great Salt Lake.

On October 1st, Mr. Kinkead sent a dispatch from San Francisco to Salt Lake City that announced he’d received word from Sacramento about Egan’s arrival there “in eleven days” from Salt Lake City. Howard stayed in the Sacramento area.

In 1857 he again drove cattle to California. The Utah War broke out so he returned home during winter on the southern route. He brought a secret load of ammunition with him for the Nauvoo Legion to use in the Utah War.

Howard shifted from cattle droving to carrying mail for and mail contractor George Chorpenning, This was mule train “jack-ass mail.” When Chorpenning’s western mail contract expired in 1858, he signed a new and lucrative contract to carry the mail between Placerville and Salt Lake City from July 1, 1858 to June 30, 1862. He chose to travel the standard route via the Salt Lake Cut-off and the California Trail. He employed Howard to help supervise the central route mail runs. But, he and Howard wanted a more direct route, a central route. Howard had found one in 1855, but the question became: could a central trail be made suitable for “wheeled traffic” like stage coaches and wagons?

On October 30, 1858 George Chorpenning left Salt Lake City to lay out a road along the Egan Trail, no doubt with Howard’s help. On November 21 Chorpenning dispatched fifty wagons and three hundred animals southwest from Salt Lake City on that route to Ruby Valley and then to the Humboldt. By December his mail started following the route he and Howard had laid out. Never again would mail move over the “north around the Great Salt Lake” route.

From then on, Howard’s pack mail and stagecoach operations concentrated on the stretch from Salt Lake City to Ruby Valley. Army explorer James Simpson’s 1859 expedition helped refine the central route to Carson City. In 1860-61 the Pony Express used that central route, as did the 1861 national telegraph system. Stage coaches ran the route at the same time.

Mormon Trail

This western wing, almost all of which Howard supervised, contained 53 stage stations. Each station kept 8 horses for stages and 2 for the Pony Express. The total number of horses was 600. About 50 wagons and stagecoaches were put on the line. Stagecoach drivers’ routes averaged 50 miles. The official schedule between Sacramento and Salt Lake City required seven days and about six hours.

When the Pony Express ended, Howard continued as superintendent of what became the stagecoach Overland Mail. His appointment, dated July 1, 1862, reads: “Major Egan this day becomes Superintendent of the Overland Mail Line from Salt Lake City to Carson.”

After the late 1850s Howard’s need to do business in California itself ended, but his need to keep mail and stagecoach passengers flowing between California and Salt Lake City continued. His heavy business responsibilities made California always be on his mind.

In the book’s final chapter we assess Howard’s personality and character. One section deals with what kind of Mormon he was. In that section I make this important point:

A key barometer measure of Howard’s commitment to Mormonism not to be overlooked is that he did not become a Californian. Howard knew California well, north and south. His trips there constantly showed him how much better California was than Utah in terms of land, climate, and opportunities. Had Howard wanted the economic betterments or seasonal mildness that California offered for him and his family, or had he wanted to distance himself from Mormon leadership or Mormon practices, he would have moved to California. Many dissatisfied Saints did, but he chose to stay within his church’s Great Basin Kingdom.

Thank you.


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