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Book of the Week — Exploration and Survey of the Valley of the Great Salt Lake of Utah

“After following some miles down the ravine upon which we had encamped, we struck upon an Indian lodge-trail, leading either to Cache Valley or to Ogden’s Hole. This we followed in nearly a southerly direction, crossing many deep hollows and very steep ridges, up which we had to scramble, leading our mules, (it being impossible to ride,) until we struck upon the head of a broad, green, beautiful valley, with an even, gentle descent, which led us, in about three miles, down to Ogden’s Creek, just before it makes a canon, previous to entering Ogden’s Hole. There we encamped for the remainder of the day, with abundance of excellent grass, wood, and water.”

Exploration and Survey of the Valley of the Great Salt Lake of Utah…
Captain Howard Stansbury (1806-1863)
Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co, 1852
First edition
F826 U577 1852 oversize

Captain Howard Stansbury was commander of a detachment of the U.S. Army’s Topographical Engineers. He explored the Great Basin in 1849-50 for the federal government in order to survey the best route through the Rocky Mountains for a railroad to the Pacific Coast. Stansbury’s prose was emotional and descriptive, a style that captivated his readers. Of the expedition’s first gaze upon the Great Salt Lake he wrote, “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…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.”

“…yet it must be remembered that these people are exasperated and rendered almost desperate by the wrongs and persecutions they had previously suffered in Illinois and Missouri; that they had left the confines of civilization and fled to these far distant wilds, that they might enjoy undisturbed the religious liberty which had been practically denied them; and that now they supposed themselves to be followed up by the General Government with the view of driving them out from even this solitary spot, where they had hoped they should at length be permitted to set up their habitation in peace.”

This report on the Great Salt Lake Basin was of particular interest to the public because of its descriptions of the newly established Mormon settlements. The first extensive survey of the Great Basin, the report was a landmark in the cartography of the American West. The accompanying maps established the topography and place names of northern Utah, and the routes and passes through the Rockies for emigrants and, possibly, a railroad.

Appendices include information on quadrupeds, birds, insects, plants, geology and paleontology.

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