Diary of Jedediah Strong Smith

The Crossing of the Great Salt Lake Desert

North 25 Miles. My course was nearly parallel with a chain of hills in the west, on the tops of which was some snow and from which ran a creek to the north east. On this creek I encamped. The Country in the vicinity so much resembled that on the south side of the Salt Lake that for a while I was induced to believe that I was near that place. During the day I saw a good many Antelope, but could not kill any. I however, killed 2 hares which, when cooked at night we found much better than horse meat.

June 23d N E 35 Miles. Moving on in the morning I kept down the creek on which we had encamped until it was lost in a small Lake. We then filled our horns and continued on our course, passing some brackish as well as some verry salt springs, and leaving on the north of the latter part of the days travel a considerable Salt Plain. Just before night I found water that was drinkable, but continued on in hopes of finding better and was obliged to encamp without any.

June 24th N E 40 Miles. I started verry early in hopes of soon finding water. But ascending a high point of a hill I could discover nothing but sandy plains or dry Rocky hills with the exception of a snowy mountain off to the N E at the distance of 50 or 60 Miles. When I came down I durst not tell my men of the desolate prospect ahead, but framed my story so as to discourage them as little as possible. I told them I saw something black at a distance, near which no doubt we would find water.

While I had been up on the hill one of the horses gave out and had been left a short distance behind. I sent the men back to take the best of his flesh, for our supply was again nearly exhausted, whilst I would push forward in search of water.

I went on a shorter distance and waited until they came up. They were much discouraged with the gloomy prospect, but I said all I could to enliven their hopes and told them in all probability we would soon find water. But the view ahead was almost hopeless.

With our best exertion we pushed forward, walking as we had been for a long time, over the soft sand. That kind of traveling is verry tiresome to men in good health who can eat when and what they choose, and drink as often as they desire, and to us, worn down with hunger and fatigue and burning with thirst increased by the blazing sands, it was almost insurportable.

At about 4 O Clock we were obliged to stop on the side of a sand hill under the shade of a small Cedar. We dug holes in the sand and laid down in them for the purpose of cooling our heated bodies. After resting about an hour we resumed our wearysome journey, and traveled until 10 O Clock at night, when we laid down to take a little repose. Previous to this and a short time after sun down, I saw several turtle doves, and as I did not recollect of ever having seen them more than 2 or 3 miles from water I spent more than an hour looking for water, but it was in vain. Our sleep was not repose, for tormented nature made us dream of things we had not and for the want of which it then seemed possible, and even probable, that we might perish in the desert unheard of and unpitied.

In those moments how trifling were all those things that hold such an absolute sway over the busy and the prosperous world. My dreams were not of Gold or ambitious honors, but of my distant, quiet home, of murmuring brooks, of Cooling Cascades. After a short rest we continued our march and traveled all night. The [sound] murmur of falling waters still sounding in our ears and the apprehension that we might never live to hear that sound in reality weighed heavily upon us.

June 25th. [The sun of this day arose on the parched waste and it seemed to us that we were the most unhappy beings on which it poured its floods of light.]

When morning came it saw us in the same unhappy situation, pursuing our journey over the desolate waste, now gleming in the sun and more insuportably tormenting than it had been during the night. [About] at 10 O Clock Robert Evans laid down in the plain under the shade of a small cedar, being able to proceed no further. [We could do no good by remaining to die with him and we were not able to help him along, but we left him with feelings only known to those who have been in the same situation and with the hope that we might get relief and return in time to save his life.]

The Mountain of which I have before spoken was apparently not far off, and we left him and proceeded onward in the hope of finding water in time to return with some in season to save his life. After traveling about [traveling about] three Miles we came to the foot of the Mt and there, to our inexpressible joy, we found water. Goble plunged into it at once, and I could hardly wait to bath my burning forehead before I was pouring it down [in a] regardless of the consequences.

Just before we arrived at the spring I saw two indians traveling in the direction in which Evans was left, and soon after the report of two guns was heard [was heard] in quick succession. This considerably increased our apprehension for his safety, but shortly after a smoke was seen back on the trail and I took a small kettle of water and some meat and going back, found him safe. He had not seen the indians and had discharged his gun to direct me where he lay, and for the same purpose had raised a smoke.

He was indeed far gone, being scarcely able to speak. When I came [within hearing but was not yet in sight he] the first question he asked me was, have you any water? I told him I had plenty and handed him the kettle, which would hold 6 or 7 quarts, in which there was some meat mixed with the water. O says he, why did you bring the meat and putting the kettle to his mouth he did not take it away until he had drank all the water, of which there was at least 4 or 5 quarts, and then asked me why I had not brought more. This, however, revived him so much that he was able to go on to the spring.

I cut the horse meat and spread it out to dry, and determined to remain for the rest of the day that we might repose our wearied and emaciated bodies. I have at different times suffered the extremes of hunger and thirst. Hard as it is to bear for successive days the knawings of hunger, yet it is light in comparison to the agony of burning thirst and, on the other hand, I have observed that a man reduced by hunger is some days in recovering his strength. A man equally reduced by thirst seems renovated almost instantaneously. Hunger can be endured more than twice as long as thirst. To some it may appear surprising that a man who has been for several days without eating has a most incessant desire to drink, and although he can drink but little at a time, yet he wants it much oftener than in ordinary circumstances.

In the course of the day several indians showed themselves on the high points of the hills, but would not come to my camp.

26th June N 10 miles along a valley and encamped at some brackish water, having passed during the day several salt springs and one Indian lodge. The lodge was occupied by 2 indians, one squaw and 2 children. They were somewhat alarmed, but friendly, and when we made signs to them of being hungry they cheerfully divided with us some antelope meat. They spoke like the Snake Indians and by enquiry I found that they were Pahnakkee's from Lewis's River. They had some pieces of Buffalo Robes and told me that after a few days travel to the North East Buffalo were plenty. Although they knew the Shoshones I could not learn any thing from them in relation to the Salt Lake. In the evening I discovered from a high piece of ground what appeared to be a large body of water.

June 27th North 10 Miles along a valley in which were many salt springs. Coming to the point of the ridge which formed the eastern boundary of the valley I saw an expanse of water Extending far to the North and East. The Salt Lake, a joyful sight, was spread before us. Is it possible, said the companions of my sufferings, that we are so near the end of our troubles. For myself I durst scarcely believe that it was really the Big Salt Lake that [was before me] I saw. It was indeed a most cheering view, for although we were some distance from the depo, yet we knew we would soon be in a country where we would find game and water, which were to us objects of the greatest importance and those which would contribute more than any others to our comfort and happiness.

Those who may chance to read this at a distance from the [be surprised] scene may perhaps be surprised that the sight of this lake surrounded by a wilderness of More than 2000 [thousan] Miles diameter excited in me those feelings known to the traveler, who, after long and perilous journeying, comes again in view of his home. But so it was with me for I had traveled so much in the vicinity of the Salt Lake that it had become my home of the wilderness.

After coming in view of the lake I traveled East, keeping nearly paralel with the shore of the lake. At about 25 Miles from my last encampment I found a spring of fresh water and encamped. The water during the day had been generally Salt. I saw several antelope, but could not get a shot at them.

28th East 20 Miles, traveling nearly parallel with the shore of the Lake. When I got within a mile of the outlet of the Uta Lake, which comes in from the south East, I found the ground, which is thick covered with flags and Bulrushes, overflowed to a considerable distance from the channel, and before I got to the [channel] current the water had increased to between 2 & 3 feet and the cain grass and Bulrushes were extremely thick.

The channel was deep and as the river was high was of course rapid and about 60 yards wide. As I would have to wade a long distance should I attempt to return before I would find dry land, I determined to make a raft, and for this purpose cut a quantity of Cain Grass, for of this material there was no want. The grass I tied into Bundles, and, attaching them together, soon formed a raft sufficiently strong to bear my things.

In the first place I swam and lead my horse over, the mule following, to the opposite bank, which was also overflowed. I then returned and, attaching a cord to the raft and holding the end in my mouth, I swam before the raft while the two men swam behind. Unfortunately neither of my men were good swimmers, and the current being strong, we were swept down a considerable distance, and it was with great difficulty that I was enabled to reach the shore, as I was verry much strangled.

When I got to the shore I put my things on the mule and horse and endeavored to go out to dry land, but the animals mired [down] and I was obliged to leave my things in the water for the night and wade out to the dry land. We made a fire of sedge, and after eating a little horse flesh, we laid down to rest.

29th 15 Miles North Early in the morning I brought my things out from the water and spread them out to dry. We were verry weak and worn down with suffering and fatigue, but we thought ourselves near the termination of our troubles, for it was not more than four days travel to the place where we expected to find my partners.

At 10 O Clock we moved onward and after traveling 15 Miles encamped. Just before encamping I got a shot at a Bear and wounded him badly, but did not kill him. At supper we ate the last of our horse meat and talked a little of the probability of our suffering being soon at an end. I say we talked a little, for men suffering from hunger never talk much, but rather bear their sorrows in moody silence, which is much preferable to fruitless complaints.

30th North 15 Miles I started early and as Deer were tolerably plenty I went on ahead and about 8 O Clock got a shot at a Deer he ran off I followed him and found a good deal of blood and told the men to stop while I should look for him.

I soon found him laying in a thicket. As he appeared nearly dead, I went up to him, took hold of his horns, when he sprang up and ran off. I was vexed at myself for not shooting him again when it was in my power, and my men were quite discouraged. However, I followed on and in a short time found him again. I then made sure of him by cutting his ham strings. It was a fine, fat Buck, and it was not long before we struck up a fire and had some of his meat cooking. We then employed ourselves most pleasantly in eating for about two hours and for the time being forgot that we were not the happiest people in the world, or at least thought but of our feast that was eaten with a relish unknown to a palace.

So much do we make our estimation of happiness by a contrast with our situation that we were as much pleased with our fat venison on the bank of the Salt Lake as we would have been in the possession of all the Luxuries and enjoyments of a civilised life in other circumstances. These things may perhaps appear trifling to most readers, but let any one of them travel over the sand plain as I did and they will consider the killing of a buck a great achievement and certainly a verry useful one. After finishing our repast the meat of the Deer was cut and dried over the fire.

July 1st 25 Miles North along the shore of the Lake. Nothing material occurred.

2nd 20 Miles North East Made our way to the Cache. But Just before arriving there I saw some indians on the opposite side of a creek. It was hardly worth while as I thought, to be any wise careful, so I went directly to them and found as near as I could judge by what I knew of the language to be a band of the Snakes. I learned from them that the Whites, as they term our parties, were all assembled at the little Lake, a distance of about 25 Miles. There was in [the] this camp about 200 Lodges of indians and as the[y] were on their way to the rendevous I encamped with them.

3d I hired a horse and a guide and at three O Clock arrived at the rendezvous. My arrival caused a considerable bustle in camp, for myself and party had been given up as lost. A small Cannon brought up from St. Louis was loaded and fired for a salute.

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My preparations being made I left the Depo on the 13th July 1827 with eighteen men and such supplies as I needed. My object was to relieve my party on the Appelamminy and then proceed further in examination of the country beyond Mt. St. Joseph and along the sea coast. I of course expected to find Beaver, which with us hunters is a primary object, but I was also led on by the love of novelty common to all, which is much increased by the pursuit of its gratification.