Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Spanish, Mormon-Wagon and Pack-Mule Trails

People traveling through (or past as the case may be) Mesquite could possibly be wondering: "Why on earth is this town here?"

The answer, as with most other western towns, is that "because it is one days journey on horseback from the last town."   [For a free Google Earth file of this route see: Mormon Wagon Road]

Several groups of Native Americans used the route, then the Spaniards, then the Mormon Pioneers then the Gold Rushers and on and on — and all that was before they invented asphalt, concrete or Interstate systems.

A few Native American tribes actually stayed a while in the area but most were smart enough to just keep "passing through," until… a Mormon Community was sent as part of the settling of the Utah Territory. They, however, had as much difficulty as did the natives.

Yes, there are the Virgin and Muddy Rivers — but, until there were modern inventions which mechanized "terraforming," the wind, sand and blistering inferno always won.

The Old Spanish Trail came through the Mesquite area and was used by pack animals from 1829 to about 1849 as a trade route from Santa Fe, New Mexico to San Bernardino, California.

It came from Utah's Washington County down Holt Canyon, through Mountain Meadows, down Santa Clara Creek, over Utah Hill, down Beaver Dam Wash and along the Virgin River for several miles.

In 1849 the route became used as a "southern route" for westward California gold seekers traveling in the winter – the terrible fate of the Donner Party in the Sierra Mountains being fresh on their minds.

So, the trail route needed to be "modified" a bit so as to accommodate "wider" wagons instead of mere single file, sure footed pack animals.

The Virgin River route through Mesquite DID have water (such as it is) but there were a lot of drawbacks, including but not limited to: over 40 river crossings, quicksand and bogs, washes and ravines, high winter water, summer flash floods AND natives who didn't particularly like "bus tours" through their back yards.

Then, after all that, just try and climb what was called "Virgin Hill" up to the Mormon Mesa on foot! Let alone help push a wagon too heavy for animals to make it. The climb was so steep that unless the wagon was almost empty a top-side "helper" team had to pull on ropes attached to their counterparts unfortunate enough to be hooked to the wagon down below.

Twenty years of this was all anyone could take so in 1869 the new "Miller Cut Off" was opened and the Mormon Wagon Road became used for the growing freight business between Salt Lake City Utah and San Bernardino California.

According to biographer/historian Kelton Hafen "this Road left the Spanish Trail (Highway 91) just north of the Arizona line going west to the Mormon Well in the Beaver Dam Wash." Being the last water for some 35 miles, "it crossed into Nevada about 4 mi. south of '3 corners' (Utah, Arizona & Nevada)." It ran westward about 17 miles onto the Mormon Mesa, across it and to the "Old Muddy" river at Glendale Nevada.

However, this route was no picnic either! There were slow, exhausting pulls through deep sand, a near impossible climb out of the Beaver Dam and Toquop Washes AND inferno-like heat requiring almost more water than humans or animals could carry for themselves. But, it was better on the wagons.

To the initiated the Mormon Wagon Road offered little peril; but to the inexperienced it was dangerous and very unwise to travel alone.

By 1869-70 there were several settlements in the area from: St Thomas (historic), to St. Joseph (Logandale), Glendale, Riverside, Bunkerville, Mesquite and Beaver Dam (yes there was an actual beaver dam.) However, they were barely hanging on.

Some people are malicious enough to think that if the devil were set at liberty and told to confine himself to Nevada Territory, he would...get homesick and go back to hell again.”
Samuel Clemmens, Mark Twain

Many settlers were hanging their hopes on the newly established Cotton Factory in St. George in which nearly all were speculative "co-op" owners. One pioneer described that "many (people in the area) are nearly naked for want of clothing. We can sell nothing we have for money and the (little amount of) cotton is little help."

Needless to say, many died.

The trail generated in this map is only approximate, hand-drawn over Google Earth from books and magazines written by many individuals and their extensive research. It will have special meaning to those who have actually been "offroad" in the area and can thus truly understand the deceptively-brutal, harsh topography — exquisite to look at but an "extreme sport" to navigate.

Unfortunately, most of the research was done before they either had, could afford, or knew how to work GPS units; so, the rapidly disappearing evidence for routes have not been geo-coded such that I could find it. If I ever do – I'll update this map.

The best map that I could find (photo at top) has been used as an "overlay" on the Google Earth Map accompanying this post. It is really out of scale; but, I did align the portion around Mesquite as best as I could.

All this prepares you for our next ride: The Davidson Family Graves.

2 comments:

budhenson said...

Greetings, DJ -
If you're still active, I'd like to get a copy of your Mormon Road file in Google Earth.
I've been working on the Mormon Battalion routes and this would be a help.
Regards -
Kevin battaliontrek.com

D J said...

@budhhenson ... In just the last couple weeks readers have notified me that none of the maps are available through Dropbox. I've contacted them and been informed that, without saying anything to me, the company has decided to switch everything (all urls to my content) over to secure addresses thereby requiring a complete reprogramming of my site and every on of the several hundred links I've posted over the past 8 or so years!

As I've tried to troubleshoot it, it appears that at least a part of their decision was based on trying to now make money from all the confusion and re-programming. I'm trying to break free of Dropbox but really can't afford the expense or time right now so need to deal with all this on a one-off basis.

Here is the new link they have given me: https://www.dropbox.com/s/308y8se8l7ysang/Mormon%20Wagon%20Road.kmz?dl=0 but frankly, I've tried it myself and it's so convoluted that me giving you the directions that I followed may not be meaningful for the computer you are on. I hope you can obtain it.

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