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Front Page » February 22, 2011 » Scene » The discovery of the Fish-Lake cut-off trail
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The discovery of the Fish-Lake cut-off trail

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Staff writer

The Emery County Historical Society January meeting was held at the Museum of the San Rafael.

Dottie Grimes as president opened the meeting by introducing Pam Jeffs and Tyler Jeffs for some entertainment. Pam Jeffs played the piano while Tyler Jeffs played the harmonica.

Following the entertainment Wade Allinson introduced the guest speaker Bob Leonard and his program titled the Old Spanish Trail and the Discovery of the Fish Lake cut off. Leonard appeared dressed as a mountain man with an old rifle from the 1800s along with a table of early trade goods and items used on the Spanish trail by pioneers. He also had a large map of the Old Spanish Trail and the Fish Lake Cut Off posted on the wall. The photos on his large poster showed the ruts in the ground and the vegetation changes that indicated where the trail went through Utah.

Leonard has been with the Fish Lake National Forest in Richfield for 31 years as their archaeologist. He is a graduate of Colorado State and lives in Marysvale, Utah. He was instrumental in establishing the Fremont State Park. Leonard started his career at Bents Fort, Colo. and he has traveled to both ends of the Old Spanish Trail.

Leonard became interested in archaeology while traveling with his father, who was in the Army. His father took him to every civil war battlefield in the US. When in Germany with the military his father took him to every castle. His father was very interested in the history of these places. Even now when Leonard goes back East, he goes to visit the battle fields his father showed to him as a child. He enjoys finding artifacts and sharing them with the public.

Leonard said, "We have archaic rock art and Fremont rock art in great abundance in the state of Utah. But we don't have petroglyphs from the early exploration period before the 1800s. Wade Allinson recently sent me a rock art picture of two men on horses with broad brimmed hats and standing up in the stirrups. He hasn't told me yet where it is. I have seen rock art from a period that we know very little about. We know more about the Fremont Indians than we know about the early Spanish exploration and we don't know that much about the early Spanish Trail."

Leonard told the group about George Brewerton who traveled East from Los Angeles to Santa Fe with Kit Carson also known as Lt. Christopher Carson in 1848.

Leonard then launched into a narrative from a book written by Lt. George Brewerton of his trip to the U.S. with a party of pioneers under the Command of Carson. The book's title is "California On His Mind, The Easel And Pen Of Pioneer George Douglas Brewerton. From the publication: California History."

The party traveled east with Carson through the Mojave Desert and began a long trek across the Southwest. Brewerton's early sketches of the Southwest are rare. So are sketches of his early travels, which began in 1846. Many of Brewerton's California drawings were swept into the Green River in Utah, along with the artist, on June 3, 1848--his birthday.

In this narrative Leonard speaks as if he were Lt. Brewerton. "I may look like a mountain man, but I was really very well-educated. I graduated from West Point in 1847. My father was the superintendent of West Point, which didn't hurt and immediately upon graduation I was given orders to report to a Naval vessel on Long Island sound, and to sail for San Francisco.

"It took me six months to make the voyage, getting from New York around the Cape of Good Hope, and up to San Francisco. When we arrived in the San Francisco Bay they wouldn't let us off the boat. At that time there were about 200 people living in San Francisco. In the months to come, I would travel the old Spanish Trail in six weeks. I hadn't been on the San Francisco Bay very long, when I got orders to travel south to the city of Angels or Los Angeles. Santa Fe had been established 181 years before Los Angeles was established.

"I traveled down to Los Angeles, knowing that I was to meet the legendary Kit Carson. In my mind Kit Carson was 6 ft. 4 inches, weighed 240 pounds and could eat bears. When I finally met him he was 5 foot 5 inches. He had a voice as soft as a woman, and at first impression was very much of a disappointment. He did know what he was doing though. Kit was very well-organized. He had been over the Old Spanish Trail three times and a couple of times over the Fish Lake Cutoff.

"When Kit Carson got our pack train organized my personal train was six mules and one horse. I will tell you Kit Carson never rode anything but a mule. I never rode anything but a mule. Mules are more intelligent than horses. They have more endurance that horses. They can carry more weight than horses. Their hoofs are so tough that they don't have to be shod. On the downside, they can kick backwards. They kick forwards and they can kick sideways.

"I was riding along one fine day and we really had not yet gotten out of California, we were in the Mojave Desert, I was lagging behind and that was a dangerous thing to do. There were 28 men in the Kit Carson's party 550 animals and that was a small party to be on the old Spanish Trail. Our mission was to get some people back to Santa Fe and Kit Carson had to deliver some military correspondence as it was near the end of the Mexican war. That was basically our mission. When I arrived in Santa Fe my orders were to report for duty in Mississippi. If you can believe that. I got sick and I never got there. In the Mojave Desert I got dumped by my gray mule and in those days we all carried our weapons on our saddle and in our lap. I got dumped off and I still had the rifle and I cocked it, I took aim at that gray rear end heading off into the sunset. I almost pulled the trigger when I realized a live mule was worth a lot more than a dead mule.

"Let me tell you what they were trading. The pack train had no wagons. The pack train originated in Santa Fe going west carrying woolen goods, ponchos and blankets on mules and when they arrived in Los Angeles they would trade for mules and horses. You could get a horse for one blanket, you could get a mule for two or three blankets. These traders carried bales and bales of blankets and ponchos.

"The people that traveled the old Spanish Trail were merchants. They would take their goods to California. The goods were not exchanged for money. They were exchanged for mules and horses. The biggest caravan on record had 4,525 animals with 300-400 men as herders. The average caravan was made up of 1,000-2,000 animals.

"That is why we're finding the artifacts we're finding in Salina Canyon and the Fish Lake Cut Off. Because of the impact on the environment by so many animals traveling through that area. This is why we can find evidence of their trail 180 years later. The trail in some locations is as much as a half mile wide and it was used for 20 years by tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands animals. Deep ruts can still be seen where the caravans passed.

"On the Fish Lake Cut Off there are usually three or four ditches or ruts where people and animals traveled side by side. These trails are more like 30-100 feet wide. The Fish Lake Cut Off was usually used by smaller caravans as there was grass and water insufficient for a large caravan.

"When Kit Carson left Los Angeles he got behind a small caravan of about 1,000 head of stock and 200-300 hundred men. It took us eight days to get around that caravan. We wanted to get around them because they would have fouled up the water holes, the springs and would have eaten every blade of grass. We wanted to get away from people like that.

"In the diaries of these pioneers, they could ride between 30 and 50 miles a day and they were not shy about complaining about the bad things in their lives. They complained that they were hungry. They complained that they were cold. They complained about anything and everything.

"When they were traveling in the Mojave Desert and because some of the watering holes were 50 miles apart the caravan would start out about 3 p.m. in the afternoon riding all night long to get to that next watering hole before the sun came up. It was often 120 plus degrees during the day in the desert. A big broad brimmed hat was a great summer hat. That kind of hat gave shade and helped keep the sun off of you.

"When we got into Utah the first people we met were Indians and an Indian Chief named Wakara or Chief Walker. He and Brigham Young were the two most powerful people in Utah at that time. Wakara his family and friends set up a camp near a lake across from Parowan. As every caravan was coming through they would flood the creek. (In that area you can sometimes find arrow heads, bullets, knives and some times fire arms.) This was a way for Chief Walker to exact a toll from those that wanted safe passage through his territory. If you didn't pay passage, life was not a happy experience. We paid our fare down there by Parowan and then went on to Fish Lake. We were hungry and there was a Ute Indian that showed up he traded us fish for a couple of charges of gun powder. We noticed that the fish had been taken with an arrow head. Looking around we found twin creeks down where Fish Lake Lodge is now. We found thousands of fish spawning. We waded in and started throwing out fish by hand. We had fish chowder. We were well fed. There was grass in the area especially by Johnson Valley. That was why the Fish Lake Cut Off was nice for the smaller groups. After the Mojave Desert the Fish Lake area had relatively cool temperatures. You had fish, you had grass and you had water. The big caravans went farther North through Salina Canyon," said Leonard.

Speaking for myself as Bob Leonard, what we have found recently is phenomenal. "We have used satellite images. We have found cairns, we found one cairn at the edge of the Antelope Mountains that had fallen over, it was made of 100 plus pound rocks. The cairn was more than 12 feet long lying on the ground. It must have been at least 7 feet tall when it was standing. The cairn was to guide people coming through the valley, that they were to cross through this pass.

"We even found a St. Anthony Spanish Cross carved into a rock. The cross was shown to us by a heavy equipment operator. The cross was to the side of and a foot off of an existing road. The cross is an indicator of where the trail splits. The Fish Lake Cut Off goes southeast and the Old Spanish Trail goes northeast one half mile farther on. We spent two years looking for the Old Spanish Trail using satellite images and field surveys using GPS. We are 90 percent certain now that what we found is the Old Spanish Trail and the Fish Lake Cut Off.

"Before this I thought the Trail was gone and the trail was under Interstate 70 or had been taken by development. Then a field archaeologist working for the BLM wanted to show me where the Fish Lake Cut Off started and show me what had been found. My reaction was, after viewing the area, for years I have been walking over things like this. Then it became a seven day a week obsession with me, looking for and mapping that trail. Finding the Old Spanish Trail and the Fish Lake Cut Off is a nice way to end an archaeologists career," said Leonard.

The next historical society meeting is on Feb. 24 at 6:30 p.m. and will feature Tom McCourt, author and columnist.

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February 22, 2011
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