FROM THE LONDON ATHENAEUM.
"An Expedition to the Valley of the Great Salt Lake of Utah: including a Description of its Geography, Na-tural History, and Minerals, and an Analysis of its Waters; with an Authentic Account of the Mormon Settlement. With Illustrations and Maps. By HOWARD STANSBURY, Captain of the Corps of Topographical En-gineers, United States Army."
"The Mormons, or Latter-Day Saints, in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake: a History of their Rise and pro-gress, Peculiar Doctrines, Present Condition, and Ins-pects, derived from Personal Observation, during a Re-sidence among them. By Lieut. J. W. GUNNISON. of the Topographical Engineers. Philadelphia, Lipph-cott & Co.; London, Low & Co."
The two works here named are the results of expe-dition organized by the Government of the United States, in the spring of 1849, for the purpose of exploring and surveying the Great Salt Lake of Utah and its vicinity; a spot doubly interesting at present, as being the scene of that curious social anomaly, the Mormon community; and as constituting a sort of half-way station: on the vast route which emigrants have to traverse on their way from the civilized confines of the States to the Eldorado of Cali-fornia and the shores of the Pacific. Capt. Stansbury was the head of this exploring expedition, and Lieut. Gunnison was his assistant. The work of the former con-sists of an elaborate official report of the progress of the expedition towards the destined spot; of its proceedings there during the autumn of 1849 and the winter of 1849 and 1850; and of its reconnaissance, on its journey back, of a new route through the Rocky Mountains. The cap-tain occupies himself chiefly with the geology, topography, and natural history of the regions traversed or surveyed; glancing but briefly and incidentally at the Mormons and their doings as a community, which subject he leaves to be more fully discussed in the unofficial volume of his as-sistant, Lieut. Gunnison. The lieutenant's work is, there-fore, a kind of appendix to that of the captain, and is to be read in connexion with it. We cannot but wish that the captain had also undertaken the lieutenant's part of the work; for, though the lieutenant has the advantage of a subject of great general interest, he writes in such an unpractised and helpless yet ambitious style that less of coherent and intelligible information regarding the Mor-mons than might have been expected is to be derived from his account of them. Capt. Stansbury, on the other hand, writes in a plain, clear, and business-like manner; so that what he does say about the Mormonites is more to the purpose than his friend Lieut. Gunnison's more ample descriptions.
The existence of a vast lake of salt water somewhere amid the wilds west of the Rocky Mountains has been known since 1689; when Baron La Houtan wrote an ac-count, which, however, seems to have been as much in-debted to imagination as to observation, of his discoveries in that region. Some attempts have since that time been made to explore its shores; but Capt. Stansbury's party are the first white men that have made the circuit of its waters. The results of the Captain's observations, which were carried on with much skill and immense labor, make the circumference of the lake, exclusive of offsets, to be 291 miles. The neighborhood around is on the same gigantic scale, consisting of deserts sixty and seventy miles across, separated from each other by precipitous rocky eminences of great elevation. Many of those de-serts Capt. Stansbury says would furnish extended plains, absolutely level, upon which a degree of the meridian could be measured to great advantage.
This inland sea is believed by Capt. Stansbury to have been in a past age of infinitely greater extent. He says:
"Upon the slope of a ridge connected with this plain thir-teen distinct successive benches or watermarks were counted, which had evidently at one time been washed by the lake, and must have been the result of its action continued for some time at each level. The highest of these is now about two hundred feet above the valley, which has itself been left by the lake, owing probably to gradual elevation occasioned by subter-raneous causes. If this supposition be correct, and all ap-pearances conspire to support it, there must have been here at some former period a vast inland sea, extending for hun-dreds of miles; and the mountains which now tower from ng its south-western shores were doubtless huge islands, familiar to those which now rise from the diminished waters of the lake."
The first view that the party obtained of this extraor-dinary lake is well described in the following words:
"At our feet and on each side lay the waters of the Great Salt Lake, which we had so long and so ardently desired to see. They were clear and calm, and stretched far to the south and west. Directly before us, and distant only a few miles, an island rose from 800 to 1,000 feet in height, while in the distance other and larger ones shot up from the bosom of the waters, their summits appearing to reach the clouds. On the west appeared several dark spots, resembling other islands; but the dreamy haze hovering over this still and solitary sea threw its dim, uncertain veil over the more distant features of the landscape, preventing the eye from discerning any one object with distinctness, while it half revealed the whole, leaving ample scope for the imagination of the beholder. The stillness of the grave seemed to pervade both air and water; and, excepting here and there a solitary wild-duck floating motionless on the bosom of the lake, not a living thing was to be seen. The night proved perfectly serene, and a young moon shed its tremulous light upon a sea of profound un-broken silence. I was surprised to find, although so near a body of the saltest water, none of that feeling of invigorating freshness which is always experienced when in the vicinity of the ocean. The bleak and naked shores, without a single tree to relieve the eye, presented a scene so different from what I had pictured in my imagination of the beauties of this far-famed spot, that my disappointment was extreme."
This intense repose is broken at times by the presence of myriads of wild fowl:
"The Salt Lake, which lay about half a mile to the east-ward, was covered by immense flocks of wild geese and ducks, among which many swans were seen, being distinguishable by their size and the whiteness of their plumage. I had seen large flocks of these birds before, in various parts of our coun-try, and especially upon the Potomac, but never did I behold anything like the immense numbers here congregated to-gether. Thousands of acres, as far as the eye could reach, seemed literally covered with them, presenting a scene of busy, animated cheerfulness, in most graceful contrast with the drea-ry, silent solitude by which we were immediately surrounded."
The water is described as one of the purest and most concentrated brines known in the world—clear and trans-parent as the diamond; and on analysis it was found to contain twenty per cent, of pure chloride of sodium, with about two per cent, of other salts. Of course such a com-pound must possess an extraordinarily buoyant property, and Capt. Stansbury thus relates his bathing experiences:
"No one, without witnessing it, can form any idea of the buoyant properties of this singular water. A man may float stretched at full length upon his back, having his head and neck, both his legs to the knee, and both arms to the elbow, entirely out of water. If a sitting position be assumed, with the arms extended to preserve the equilibrium, the shoulders will remain above the surface. The water is nevertheless ex-tremely difficult to swim in, on account of the constant ten-dency of the lower extremities to rise above it. The brine, too, is so strong that the least particle of it getting into the eyes produces the most acute pain; and, if accidentally swal-lowed, rapid strangulation must ensue. I doubt whether the most expert swimmer could long preserve himself from drown-ing if exposed to the action of a rough sea."
In many places in the vicinity of this singular lake the ground is thickly covered with salt, presenting a most curious and deceptive appearance:
"The first part of the plain consisted simply of dried mud, with small crystals of salt scattered thickly over the surface. Crossing this, we came upon another portion of it, three miles in width, where the ground was entirely covered with a thin layer of salt in a state of deliquescence, and of so soft a con-sistence that the feet of our mules sank at every step into the mud beneath. But we soon came upon a portion of the plain where the salt lay in a solid state, in one unbroken sheet, ex-tending apparently to its western border. So firm and strong was this unique and snowy floor that it sustained the weight of our entire train, without in the least giving way or crack-ing beneath the pressure. Our mules walked upon it as upon a sheet of solid ice. The whole field was crossed by a net-work of little ridges, projecting about half an inch, as if the salt had expanded in the process of crystallization. I esti-mated this field to be at least seven miles wide and ten miles in length. How much further it extended northward I could not tell; but if it covered the plain in that direction as it did where we crossed, its extent must have been very much greater. The salt, which was very pu-re and white, averaged from one-half to three-fourths of an inch in thickness, and was equal in all respects to our finest specimens for table use. Assuming these data, the quantity that here lay upon the ground in one body, exclusive of that in a deliquescent state, amounted to over four and a half millions of cubic yards, or about one hundred millions of bushels."
Amongst the other peculiarities of this region, we are informed that the excessive dryness of the air caused the wood-work of the wagon wheels to shrink so much that there was great danger of their falling asunder, and it was only by sinking them in a stream during the night that the expedition was enabled to proceed with them. From the same cause the wood-work of the mathematical instruments was rent and split—in some cases breaking the tubes, and otherwise causing serious damage. The mirage on the shore of the lake where the ground was moist and oozy was very great, and gave rise to optical illusions the most grotesque and fantastic.
The difficulties which the party had to encounter were very great; so that the journey from Fort Leavenworth, on the Missouri, a distance of less than 1,200 miles, occu-pied the Expedition about twelve weeks. But the obsta-cles in the road to the Salt Lake dwindled into insignifi-cance when compared with the difficulties in its immediate vicinity. In one place Capt. Stansbury says:
"At two o'clock in the afternoon we reached the western edge of the plain, when, to our infinite joy, we beheld a small prairie or meadow, covered with a profusion of good green grass, through which meandered a small stream of pure fresh running water, among clumps of willows and wild roses, arte-misia and rushes. It was a most timely and welcome relief to our poor famished animals, who had now been deprived of al-most all sustenance for more than sixty hours, during the greater part of which time they had been in constant motion. It was, indeed, nearly as great a relief to me as to them, for I had been doubtful whether even the best mule we had could have gone more than half a dozen miles further. Several of them had given out in crossing the last plain, and we had to leave them and the baggage behind, and to return for it after-ward. Another day without water, and the whole train must have inevitably perished. Both man and beast being com-pletely exhausted, I remained here three days for refreshment and rest. Moreover, we were now to prepare for crossing an-other desert of seventy miles, which, as my guide informed still lay between and of the lake. He had passed over it in 1845 with Fremont, who had ten mules and several horses in effecting the passage, having af-terward encamped on the same ground now occupied by our little party."
The importance of the exploration so gallantly conduct-ed by Capt. Stansbury is indicated by the fact that the Valley of the Great Salt Lake is the only point between the Missouri and the Pacific Ocean whence supplies of provisions can be procured; and it is of the utmost con-sequence, therefore, that it should be considered in any scheme for a road across this vast continent to Cali-fornia.
The number of emigrants to the "Diggings" had been so great that Capt. Stansbury described the road as be-ing as broad and well beaten as any turnpike road in the country; but the dangers and difficulties which the emi-grants have to encounter, from the want of bridges or fer-ries, and more especially from the terrible scarcity of water, which causes hundreds of cattle to die on the road, thus forcing the emigrants to abandon nearly all they possess, glad to escape with their own lives, are numer-ous and terrible in the extreme. The evidences of these sufferings meet the traveller's eye all along the route, but especially as he approaches the district of the Great Salt Lake. The road is strewed with the carcases of horses and cattle which have fallen exhausted from fatigue and thirst, or poisoned by the saline springs; dozens of wa-gons lie on the road in heaps, burnt, disabled, or aban-doned; hundreds of pounds of bacon and other provi-sions thrown away from the failure of the means of trans-port; and with these lie in confused abandonment almost every article of household furniture and every sort of cooking utensil that can be imagined. For hundreds of miles the prairie is covered with excellent clothing, har-ness, ploughs, miners', blacksmiths', and carpenter's tools of every possible variety, together with bar iron, steel, and other materials of industry, excellent scientific in-struments and books of every description, collected doubt-less with much labor and great sacrifice, and carried with infinite trouble and anxiety a distance of perhaps two thousand miles, to be at last left to rot on the road through this terrible and extraordinary country. No wonder, then, that a vast number of those who set out full of health and vigor either terminate their hopes and fears in these dreary solitudes, or retrace their steps with sad hearts and shattered frames.
Capt. Stansbury's party frequently passed from four to six graves of emigrants in a day, many of them recently made—nameless but sad mementoes of disappointed hopes and sanguine enterprise. Scarcely a day passed in which they did not meet some party of emigrants returning in wretched plight, all that they possessed sold, given away, or abandoned. Some of the men attached to this Expedi-tion disgraced themselves by abandoning it for the land of promised gold. One party of these, as the Captain af-terwards heard, were stripped by the Indians of every ar-ticle they possessed, and were left to find their way to Ca-lifornia in the most miserable plight.
An amusing instance is here recorded of the way in which an ingenious emigrant met a difficulty. Having a number of kegs of brandy which he was compelled to leave in the prairie, he buried his cherished cordial in the earth, covered it like a grave, and placed at the head a full and particular, if not true, account of the deceased—his name, age, where he was "raised," and when he fell, being set forth in remarkably distinct characters. Fur-ther on, he sold the brandy to some traders, who easily found the affecting memorial, and draw the spirit from its repose.
We have often heard curious anecdotes of the prairie dog, but none more strange than those related by Capt. Stansbury, which, from the evidently cautious character of the narrator, demand attention. He says that the holes in the ground in which these little creatures live are shared by the rattlesnake; several instances of which came under the observation of the party. But, what is still more extraordinary, we are told that a little white burrowing owl (Stryx cunicularia) is also frequently found taking up its abode in the same domicil; and this strange association of reptile, bird, and beast seem to live together in perfect harmony and peace. The Captain does not give this latter fact on his personal voucher, but says that he has been assured of it from so many, so various, and such credible sources, that he could not doubt it.
Next week we shall return to these volumes for some interesting particulars relating to the new Mormon settle-ment in the valley of this great Salt Lake.
Click tabs to swap between content that is broken into logical sections.