Thursday, July 27, 2017

South Pass

Looking West from South Pass. Pacific Butte on the left.
"Top of the World," some say even if it is not a peak and hardly a pass in the traditional sense of crossing mountains. One does have a sense of a spherical earth dropping down in nearly every direction (Wind River Range on the north excluded).

My grandson and I had a wonderful trip exploring portions of the Overland Trail in Wyoming in commemoration of the day after Pioneer Day and my wife's birthday, as she is out of town. The OT refers to four recognized trails that crossed here although Native Peoples have crossed here for millennia. The trails are: Oregon, California, Mormon Pioneer, and the Pony Express. We could also add in the Astorians in 1812, Mountain Men, the Whitman-Spaulding Missionaries of 1836, some commercial stage lines, the overland telegraph, and many visitors, but only us two last Tuesday.

As one of our purposes was family history, I will illustrate a few sites with reference to the Ellsworth Handcart Company of 1856 with my direct-line ancestor, Elinor Jenkins Vaughan, her daughter Jane Vaughan Lewis, Jane's husband John Lewis, and their son, John Samuel Lewis. They crossed South Pass on September 13, the 96th day out from Iowa City. They camped three miles down this road at Pacific Springs which can't be seen but is at the base of Pacific Butte on the left, just before the small ridge, just left of center. My Grandson and I walked down and back to get a feel for the trail. It was a good walk and a better talk.

At one point, I explained that while pioneer children may have sung as they walked and walked, they were probably not always happy. I told him that he was big enough that he would likely have helped with the family handcart, but the younger children above toddler age would get up, have a breakfast of biscuits and tea (long before Pres. Grant started enforcing the Word of Wisdom) and head out on the road in a group led by adults while the others packed up the camp. Eventually, the handcarts would pass the children. Then, the two or three wagons with the company would pass as the oxen were slower than people with handcarts. Hopefully, the new camp would be ready when the children came in. We imagined that mothers might have gone back up the trail to meet their children if they weren't needed for cooking or setting up their camp. I also explained that the children were sometimes guided by the adults with long sticks, like a gaggle of geese. And they were poked or prodded (or worse) if they lagged.

Reflecting on this story for a bit, my grandson explained to me that if he wasn't with the handcarts, he would be with his two younger brothers. And if someone tried to poke them with a stick he would push the stick away and tell them, "You don't have to use the stick. Just tell them what they need to do and I will be sure they do it."

Keeping emotions in check, I told him that he would have been a very good pioneer and was a very good big brother.

Pacific Springs, from the Southwest, just left of center, below the lower ridges of Pacific Butte on the right.
South Pass is the low point on the horizon just left of that with the darker diagonal of the draw going down to the right.
If  you don't need a hike for some quality time with a grandson, you can see the panorama over Pacific Springs back to South Pass from Wyoming Highway 28. There is a turn-out there with parking and several interpretative signs. I was very pleased to see the trail so well marked and presented throughout our trip. That is in part because most of it is on BLM lands and well-maintained by historic preservation groups.

It had to have been a relief to cross South Pass. Ellsworth was also met that day by wagons coming from LDS HQ in Salt Lake City to provide additional supplies for the handcart companies. That was the usual system breaking down later that year when two handcart companies headed out without anyone in Salt Lake getting advance word.

The day after Pacific Springs, Ellsworth camped just three miles beyond at an unknown location. On September 15, they camped at the Little Sandy River, just northeast of the present town of Farson.

Little Sandy Crossing. The hills on the horizon right of center are the Oregon Buttes.
Left of center you can still see Pacific Butte, just this side of South Pass.
I need to do a little more map work and get my cartographic brother-in-law involved because the journal descriptions say they had to dig for water in the sand which makes me wonder if they weren't actually at the Dry Sandy just to the east. They said that the next day they came across a much better stream which was probably the Little Sandy pictured here. They camped that night, September 18, Day 99, at the Big Sandy where the very small town of Farson (pop. 303) now sits at the crossroads of Wyo. 28 and US 191. They do have a store with great ice cream cones. (FYI, "baby" size is one HUGE scoop!) In pioneer days, sand was all there was.

Big Sandy at Farson, looking to the southeast. James Birch grave somewhere on the other side.
Wyo. Highway 28 from the Big Sandy at Farson to Green River Crossing follows along or right on the OT and the Big Sandy. There are several turnouts, each worth a stop. There is one a ways down on the south side of the road for "Pilot Butte" where there are two recreated samples of unknown, pioneer graves. One of the interpretive signs mentions the Ellsworth Co. and the death of James Birch, age 28, who died and was buried on a bluff above the Big Sandy. However, I don't believe he is near either of the two representative graves there. According to the journals, he died in the night at Big Sandy Crossing (Farson) and buried on the east side of the Big Sandy, which would be near where US 191 crosses still in the area of present-day Farson.

My Grandson and the representations of unknown, pioneer graves (not James Birch) at the Pilot Butte turn-out. 
Pilot Butte across the Big Sandy, a marker on the trail and the later teens of my youth.
(and why Cabezon in New Mexico haunted me!)

September 17th, Day 100, Ellsworth cross the Green River at a ford four miles south of Mormon/Lombard Ferry where Highway 28 crosses the Green. They camped two miles past the Green. The river has changed much, but the trail can still be traced and a future hike will be down to the area of the ford,

The Green River at the Lombard (formerly Mormon) Ferry interpretative site and Wyo. Highway 28.
On Day 101, September 18, the handcart pioneers had a boost of spirits (and some food). A group of LDS Missionaries were heading east on the OT. Elder Thomas Bullock reported:
. . . while we were descending the hill to Green River, we very suddenly met Elder Edmond Ellsworth with the advance company of English Saints, over 309, with their hand-carts, trudging cheerfully up the hill; as we neared each other, the heavens and the hills resounded with the loud Hosannahs of the Saints, while the waving of hats, bonnets and handkerchiefs was a lively scene that a daguerrian artist might covet. On our asking why we had not heard from them until we saw them, we were answered, "We have out travelled every other company, not one has passed us, not a horse company, or even a solitary horseman, so we have to carry our own report; and we should have been here sooner, if our ox teams which carry the heavy dunnage, could have travelled any faster." They were very cheerful and happy.
Mary Ham of the Ellsworth Co., who had been suffering from illness and stumbling along the trail (she survived) recorded it this way:
. . . walked on a Head rode a few milles in Brother Oakelys waggon met Brother Parley Pratt and many other Brethen going on missions they gave away Biscuits Potatoes cheese fish &c Hannah got a Potato and had it ready Boiled by the time I came up to the camp I thought it was the nicest I ever Eat, walked to camp in the afternoon

This is the trail heading up the hill where I believe the missionaries were descending and met the handcarts coming up:

We pulled over at signs marking a crossing of the four historical trails on Wyo. 28, but did not follow this portion of the OT.
The same day was 22 miles to camp at Ham's Fork, near where the town of Granger, Wyoming is today. There may have been a stagecoach station there, or shortly thereafter, so the camp was likely just to the northeast where they would first meet Ham's Fork.

Ham's Fork at Granger, Wyoming.
Day 102, September 19, was 23 miles around Church Butte to Black's Fork, nine miles out of Ft. Bridger at the entrance to the Bridger Valley. The camp was probably just north of where I-80 crosses the trail with historical markers in place. That was the end of our explorations this trip. (We still need to drive around Church Butte.) Our people spent two days recuperating at Ft. Bridger then on September 26, 1856, they arrived in the Salt Lake Valley with much fanfare. (My grandson and I went to Wendy's in Evanston.)

Below is my eldest grandson and fellow trail explorer. I can't wait for more grandchildren to become Scout age (boy and girl) as there is some hiking involved in adventures with Grandpa. And I know I can't be poking them with a stick with this guy around.

The stone marker placed at South Pass in 1906 by Ezra Meeker, Oregon Pioneer of 1852,
who is the Pioneer of Overland Trail Preservation.
I'm not sure why he ended the trail in '57*

*Lander Stage Road cut-off. A slightly different trail up South Pass and to the Northeast heading toward Oregon Country. The Mormon Pioneer Trail would have continued on our route for a few more years as it points to Ft. Bridger and the Salt Lake Valley. In the mid-1860s, the Mormon out-and-back companies followed the Pacific Railroad survey route to pick up travelers at the end of the rail line as it extended across Nebraska and southern Wyoming.

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