"Correspondence of the Frontier Guardian," Frontier Guardian, 22 January 1851, 2.
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Editors of the Frontier Guardian:
As I am often interrogated, and frequently receive letters of inquiry in regard to my visit to and from the Great Salt Lake Valley last summer, and also relative to the country, productions, health, roads, future prospects, &c. Permit me through the medium of the columns of your widely circulated and useful periodical, to communicate to my friends—to all interested, and the public generally, a short account of my visit, &c.
I left this place in company with Mr. Orson Hyde, H. W. Miller and Joseph Kelley, on the 5th day of July for the West, (myself enjoying very poor health,) crossed the Missouri the same day, below the Mouth of the Platte, and encamped five miles on the road. The weather was very fine, and we soon began to come up with the hindmost of the emigrants; most of the companies suffering severely with cholera and other diseases attributed in a great measure to the unhealthiness of the low swampy lands so often occurring on the South Side of the Platte River. After traveling about three days in rather a circuitous direction; we came immediately to the Platte river, from which place the road follows the river bank, until we arrived at the South Fork of the Platte—then we turn the angle of the South Fork, following it up for some 40 miles, then again strike over to the Main Platte which we follow to Laramie.
After the grass starts in the Spring the feed is generally good all the way to Laramie—there is very little wood, and much of the way none at all to this place. A few scrabby trees are seen on the islands, and occasionally at a distance in the mountainous bluffs there is cedar. Much of the way emigrants are obliged to use buffalo chips, for fuel when it can be had, though sometimes even this is scarce.
The roads are generally very, even and good, though occasionally passing our sandy roads—and now and then over steep Bluffs—very few or no streams emptying in on the South side, and no springs[.] we are obliged to use the Platte water which though turbid and rily like the Missouri is considered quite wholesome. The Platte river varies in width from one-half to two miles in a full stage of water, raises in depth from one to six feet, though in the fall, the water only runs in numerous channels through the sand leaving the main portion of the river bed, a loose wet quicksand.
Soon after passing Fort Kearney the Buffalo appear, and generally a plenty can be obtained on either side of the river. When fat and young the flesh is sweeter and far nicer than that of domestic cattle. Chimney rock is a rare curiosity, situated on the declivity of the Bluff, about 100 miles below Laramie. It is a pedestal of hard clay, or soft rock some 100 feet or more high, eight or ten feet in diameter, standing on a pyramidial base formed of stone and a hard substance resembling clay. Its top can be seen from the south 25 or 30 miles.
After passing Laramie the road becomes more rough and better watered but with dead grass, but generally timber enough for fuel. Sometimes the way is very precipitous, until we reached the Upper Crossing of the Platte.
Before we reached Laramie we saw a great amount of the remains of property, but after passing this place there is an increased amount, and as we passed still further on the amount of destroyed property is still greater nearly the whole way to the Valley. It mainly consisted of wagons, carriages, buggies, harnesses, saddles, trunks, chests, clothing, guns, chains, and in fact everything an emigrant fits out with, except provisions, and nearly everything in a useless or mutilated state—every thing destroyed that could be burned or in any way spoiled—and from the number of graves there must have been a great deal of sickness. Although the companies were quite healthy as we passed them in this part of country—where the road again strikes the Platte, it is narrow and very deep, and has to be ferried, the expense of which is five dollars. I had forgotten to mention that the South Fork is generally forded, though sometimes with considerable difficulty and delay, it being from one to two miles across the Ford. Soon after crossing the Platte, we came to the worst portion of the alkali country, through this we were seldom out of sight of the dead carcases, of horses or cattle. As we come to the Sweetwater, we find some more rare curiosities of nature; the famous Saleratus Lakes, where you may walk upon what appears to be a lake frozen over, with a light snow on top—you cut up with an axe what appears to be ice, which when tasted is a pungent alkali, (a beautiful specimen, I brought home on my return.) Independence, (or more properly Register) Rock, is situated on the Sweetwater Bottoms is of a course granite—grey, and interspersed with chrystalized quartz—it is some fifty to one hundred feet high, and near half a mile long and is covered with tens of thousands of names and autographs.
The South Pass over the Rocky Mountains is about the smoothest and prettiest portion of the road on the journey. Through here the Antelope abound in numerous herds, skipping and bounding on all sides. A few mineral springs, are occasionally found. One whose waters tasted much like beer, and some like the blue lick waters in Kentucky. Also a tar Spring exists on or near Bear river, and here is also found beds of stone coal—this is about seventy miles from the Valley. Green river, (this side of Bridger,) Bear River, and Weber river, (50 miles east of the Valley,) have to be ferried when crossed early in the season. They are rapid and pure streams, containing trout and other good fish.
All through this country the feed is scarce; but wood and good water is tolerable[.] plenty and rough hilly roads.
On the fifteenth of August, having been out, 40 days, we arrived at Great Salt Lake City all in good health, although we had lost several horses—and others much worn down. This kept us longer on the road than we anticipated, as we were obliged to take it moderately on the last end of the journey.
As my communication has been extended longer than I at first intended, I will bring this to a close and if agreeable will for future numbers speak of the Valley, trip home, the new route, &c.
J. E. JOHNSON.