Amicus, "A Trip Across the Plains," Frontier Guardian, 27 January 1853, 1.
View this source online
In crossing the plains, the emigrant should be very watchful of his horses and mules whilst passing from this place when he strikes the Sweetwater, over beyond the South Pass and until he gets entirely through the country of the Crows and Snakes, for they are among the most cunning, deceitful and thievish of the whole Indian tribes, and will steal horses or mules if any chance occurs. This country (about the South Pass) is a country considered to be neutral ground, belonging jointly to some half dozen different tribes, and here is the place that many will steal in a manner that it may be charged to another tribe.
Many suppose that at the South Pass, high and precipitous mountains arise, leaving a narrow pass for the traveler to pass over. But this is a mistake. The road is no where more nice, level or hard than here. Highlands and table mountains are seen in the distance, but the road itself is as completed as a pavement. Through this region elk, antelope, rabbits, and the sage hen are abundant. Pacific springs just over the South Pass is a cool clear body of water, coming out of the foot of the mountain, and meandering its steady but lengthy course towards the Western Ocean. Here is also grass, and sage to make fire. The Emigrant will almost universally encounter more or less storms here, as scarcely a day in the year but a storm or high wind occurs.
In returning westward by the way of Salt Lake, the huge clay mountains or hills are seen. These are composed of a species of hardened clay; resembling rock, and so hard that it is almost imperishable, though the wild mountain hurricane beat furiously upon it. Many of these hills assume the shape of mounds, houses, chimneys, and even ruins of cities. Sometimes the mountain sides are covered with large pebbles that are blackened and colored by the action of heat, and when the sun shines glistens and sparkles like a sheet of mineral. Some of the most beautiful and pure specimens of stone coal I ever saw, are found in various places on this route, and near them may be found sulphur, and soda springs, possessing more or less medicinal properties. The water of the various streams are cool and clear as chrystal, and run very swiftly, and are stored with the finest of fish in some places. The bottoms of Green and Bear rivers are covered with large cobble rocks brought down from the mountains by the force of the current. Some of the mountains appear to be vast piles of immense rocks cracked and broken by some convulsion of nature. Others are covered with pine and fir, with here and there clumps and bushes that bear the Service berry, a most delicious mountain fruit that is abundant in August. The Indians make much calculation upon this fruit for their food in winter. They are excellent, either dried or green.
The waters of the Great Salt Lake is a perfect curiosity, being so strongly impregnated with salt that it will almost take the skin from the mouth when tasted. This lake has not outlet, but has several large rivers flowing into it. In the winter season this much increases the waters of the Lake, but in summer the evaporation reduces the water, leaving bare thousands of acres of land; and at this season of the year, salt, in many places, may be shoveled up by tons, of the purest quality. The water itself evaporated will produce one to three of the finest and most beautiful table salt. Many majestic and lofty mountains arise amid the waters of this Lake; and when viewed from a distant mountain, presents a view perfectly enchanting, especially towards sundown, when the reflection of the Sun's rays will almost dazzle your eyes. The natural magnetic rock or ore exists, and is found upon some of these mountains, but more abundantly farther South, near Little Salt Lake. This is the richest quality of Iron ore, and produce 75 per cent of pure metal. Here in these vallies is also found stone coal, rock salt, brimstone, chalk, a kind of plaster or cement, copperas, saltpetre, and various other minerals.
In the mountains the grizzly bear is the "lord of the forest," and though seldom is never seen by travelers are quite numerous. They reside in canyons or ravines that are seldom visited by the hunter. Many of them will weigh from 10 to 160 lbs and are a dangerous enemy to fight in an open [illegible].
As you leave these vallies [illegible] proceed westward you cross plains destitute of water or vegetation, sometimes of a few miles and frequently much longer. Many sand deserts with the prickly pear and sage abundant.
In going Southward, you may dig or scoop up the sand when so hot as almost to scorch you, and you will find abundance of water in a very few feet below the surface. This however is not perfectly sweet, but a little impregnated with copperas. This water was not discovered but a few years ago, and that only by accident, as no one would think of digning in the dry, hot sand for water, upon a sterile plain no more than they would look for fresh oysters in the same place. In many places, large streams of water coming down from the mountains, and after rushing on for miles, and sometimes hundreds of miles are lost in the unfathomable sand. Wild game is much more scarce this region than farther East. The mountains are much more precipitous and the road more difficult, nevertheless there is no difficulty in getting along fairly with a reasonable load. The emigrants will find plenty of food for curiosity on the whole road. Every where something new strikes the eye, and excites the greatest curiosity, and when he arrives at the destined port, the greatest of all the curiosities is the view of the precious ore.
For the benefit of many who have never crossed the plains, I will give a bill of the necessary articles for an outfit for one person. Many other comforts could be added should the emigrant feel able to afford the expense. The flour is only calculated from Council Bluff City to Salt Lake, and should the other route be the one selected to travel, double the amount should be taken, and in starting early before the grass is well started, some flour and meal should be provided for the team. Abundance of flour, grain, vegetables, and meat, can be had at Salt Lake at low prices, say $4.00 for flour, $1.00 for corn, wheat or barley, 25 cents for potatoes and onions, butter, eggs, and cheese may also be had, but groceries are high, sugar and coffee some 40c P lb.
Travelling with ox teams more provisions will be required than with horses, but the bill below is for the former. 100 lbs of flour. 50 lbs crackers, 75 lbs bacon and dried meat, 1 e lbs coffee, 2 lbs tea, 30 lbs sugar, 10 lbs rice, 1/2 bushel beans, 1/2 bushel dried fruit, 1 gall. pickles, 6 lbs dried fish, 2 lbs tartaric acid, 4 lbs sup. carb. soda, (these for raising bread &c.) a well selected package of medicines, tobacco, the necessary amount, salt 1/2 bush. Pepper, allspice, ginger, mustard, and cayenne in part or of each kind to suit the taste of consumers, molasses and honey taste very grateful when you get out from civilization, as does many things which a little money will procure, and last but not least a guide book is particularly necessary to a safe and speedy passage across the plains.-Those of the most accurate kind may be had in Council Bluff City.