Tuesday, May 12, 2009

George Q. Cannon's Journey from Salt Lake to California in 1849

I grew up in Salt Lake City, spending my first 18 years there. We vacationed in Southern California quite often and I marveled at the imposing deserts we drove through to get there. I wondered how the pioneers had traveled through that amazing wasteland. In 1983, Judy and I moved to California and have lived here ever since. At least once a year, and usually much more often than that, we drive back to Utah to visit family.

I read a small pamphlet about my great-grandfather, George Q. Cannon, called "A Trip to California," in which he described an amazing journey from Salt Lake to the gold fields of California in 1849, including harrowing experiences in the desert where he barely survived.

I decided I wanted to learn more about his trip and figure out the route he took.

The discovery of two books opened the door for me. First was Crampton and Madsen's In Search of the Spanish Trail: Sante Fe to Los Angeles, 1829-1848. Second was LeRoy and Ann Hafen's Journals of Forty-Niners, Salt Lake to Los Angeles, which included George Q. Cannon's journal as contained in the pamphlet I had. I spent quite a bit of time visiting sections of the Old Spanish Trail, which was the route George Q. Cannon followed for much of his journey.
I pieced together the journal entries of the other participants in that journey and did a day-by-day outline of what they did, and to the best I could determine, where they were at. I also pulled out journal entries of other travelers along that route with descriptions of various places along the trail. It was my intent to write a book on the subject.

Then I was pre-empted. In 1999, Michael N. Landon edited George Q. Cannon's journal and published a volume through Deseret Book titled, The Journals of George Q. Cannon: Volume 1: To California in '49. In the book, Landon traced George Q. Cannon's route, including the cut-off that ended up taking them through extremely difficult country.

Since then, there have been other books written on large portions of the same route, including Leo Lyman and Larry Reese's The Arduous Road: Salt Lake to Los Angeles, The Most Difficult Wagon Road in American History.

So I have pretty much abandoned my intention of writing a book, but intend to share some of my experiences in searching out segments of the route, including some wonderful hiking trips along portions of the trail. Posts on the 1849 route, in geographical order, from Salt Lake to California, are as follows:
Various Groups Start (October 1 to 10, 1849);
Various Groups Continue (October 11 to 18, 1849);
Pahranaget Wash (November 13 to 16, 1849);
Arrow Canyon to the Muddy River (November 17 to 19, 1849);
Stump Spring to Resting Springs (November 26 to 29, 1849);
the Amargosa River (November 29, 1849);
the Salt Spring Hills (November 30, 1849);
Red Pass to Bitter Spring (November 30 to December 2, 1849);
Spanish Canyon (December 2, 1849);
Mission San Gabriel (January 14, 1850); and


  1. Perhaps you'll be writing a cookbook instead. "How to Cook Trail Varmints and Vermin" or something like that.