Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Pahranaget Wash

This is a continuation of my retracing George Q. Cannon's 1849 journey.

On Tuesday, November 13, 1849, The Rich and Smith companies were camped together in Kane Springs Valley, Nevada. It had been a day and a half since they’d had water and their supply was exhausted. George Q. Cannon noted in his journal, that “before daylight,” he, Charles Rich, William Farrer, and one or two others “shouldered” their rifles “and started out ahead on foot.” They “did not eat anything,” hoping to reduce their thirst. To the west they “saw a number of ridges or hills rising suddenly out of the valley. By ascending them” they “hoped to be able to see where” they “could find water.” They “climbed several” of these ridges, but were “disappointed. The prospect for water was dreary. As far as the eye could reach, there was a desert on every side.” Further to the west were the Sheep Mountains where they “thought it likely” they would find water. However, they were so “far distant” that there was “some anxiety” whether they “could hold out to reach them.” Meanwhile, the balance of both the Rich and Smith companies started about “daylight.” A light rain started late morning. Cannon and his companions “kept ahead of the company” and “began to feel faint for the want of food. From the top of the last ridge” they climbed, they “saw the company winding along in the distance” and took their “bearings so as to meet them.” About the time the parties met, they “found a small patch of grass. The animals were both hungry and thirsty, and as this wet grass was what they wanted. Brother Rich had the company stop for awhile. He and those” who “had walked ahead with him, had been without food about twenty-four hours” and “were ravenously hungry.” Rich invited those who had been with him “to eat some hard bread.” This bread was “gratefully accepted, regardless of the thirst which oppressed” them. George Q. Cannon claimed this hard bread was “the best meal” he “ever partook of.” Within an hour, the “scattering drops of rain became a regular shower” and they resumed traveling. Cannon, now riding his horse, “turned up the rim” of his hat and “made it something like a dish.” By keeping his head steady, he used his hat to “catch” rain. The hat gave the water “a smoky flavor, but it quenched [his] thirst.” As they traveled, “every rock that had a hollow in it with water was greedily devoured by the men.” The water “soon began to stand in puddles on the ground” and the men “soon got satisfied as well as the animals.”

Below, a picture from Kane Springs Valley, with Pahranaget Wash in the Coyote Springs Valley in the distance and the cloud shrouded Sheep Mountains in the background.

Finally, at Pahranagat Wash, Charles Rich noted that they “camped in a gully” and “dug away in the bank” to get “dry ground to lay on.” They also “scooped holes” in the sand to obtain water. Henry Bigler wrote that near camp, rain water was “standing in large puddles on the ground” and each man “filled his canteen and camp kettle.” They made “large fires of prickly pine,” likely Joshua trees, but perhaps ocotillo, which burned well, despite being wet.

Below, a gravel pit in the Pahranaget Wash, with standing water from recent rains.
Captain Smith told Charles Rich “that the finger of the Lord was in this, for” they would “have suffered very much had it not been for” the rain and they probably would “have perished.” Cannon wrote that “all felt very grateful, for the providence of the Lord was very visible” to them “in this timely relief.” They traveled about 20 miles that day.

The next day, Wednesday, November 14, 1839, Charles Rich “determined to ascend a big mountain” 10 or 15 miles west of camp as he had “come to the opinion” they “would have to bear south to the Spanish Trail.” As the weather was not clear enough for a good view, he decided to find a camp with water so that they could wait until the weather did clear. He sent three “brethren” towards the mountain to look for water and “a camping place,” or “any signs” of water coming from the mountains. Captain Smith also sent out men “to search for water.” Captain Smith’s men returned to report that they “had found a small spring about three miles towards the south,” which would have been in Pahranaget Wash. They “thought by digging a little, plenty of water” could be obtained. The “brethren [of the Rich company] returned,” and “reported” that they “found no water” to the west. Therefore, “orders was given to pack up and go” to the spring. They “started in the afternoon” and reached what is now called Coyote Spring, which is west of Hwy 93 and about 40 miles from present-day Moapa, Nevada. The spring was “weak,” and full of tadpoles, and after being “cleaned out” it “barely” provided “sufficient water” for the men. However, the animals obtained water from “clay puddles near the spring” formed by the “recent rain.”

I was not able to locate Coyote Spring, but this picture was taken in the vicinity of it. After breakfast, on Thursday, November 15, 1849, Charles Rich, Darwin Chase, George Bankhead and a Mr. Adams “started for the top” of the Sheep Mountains west of camp “in order to get a view of the country” and calculate their “chance” of traveling “on the other side.” Below, the Sheep Mountains, in clouds, as seen from the vicinity of Coyote Springs.
Around 2:00 p.m. they “reached the top,” having passed “through thick clouds the whole way. When on top,” they found themselves “above the clouds with a good view to the west.” There they saw a “large snowy peak looming through the clouds” “about 150 miles west.” They could not tell whether it was “connected with a range or not” because “of the fog.” There was “a high range south west about 80 miles” and “undulating spurs putting out from the range north.” After a quick view, they “started down” again. Some time later they “heard some hollowing below.” One of them “answered,” assuming it was one “of the company searching for them.” In response, they heard the hollowing a “second time.” Charles Rich “advised the boys not to answer for it might be Indians.” Providentially, they “missed the way” they had originally gone up the mountain “and went down two miles south.” It “was after dark” when they “reached the foot of the mountain.” In a “low place” near the “mouth” of “a small canyon” they saw a fire. They “approached carefully” and found “an Indian sitting in a squatted position” about 20 feet away. He was looking in their direction, but “it was so dark,” the Indian “could not see them.” They “withdrew carefully” and resumed their journey back to camp. In his journal, Rich acknowledged “the hand of the Lord” in their “deliverance as there” was “no doubt” in his mind that “the main party” of Indians was “laying” in wait for them on their original “path” up the mountain. Rich estimated they traveled no less than 30 miles.

“In the evening,” Captain Flake “sent out some mules to meet” the Rich party and “ordered a fire to be made on a high place near camp” to guide them in “for it was cloudy and hardly a star” was in the sky. The “boys” with the mules “returned about” 8:00 p.m. and “reported” they could not find the Rich party. They indicated they had gone “to the foot of the mountain and fired ten rounds, but got no answer.” Around 9:00 p.m., the Rich party arrived back in camp. Rich indicated to the company that “there was no sight” of “water or grass as far as he could see. Neither was there a chance, in his opinion, for a pass” through the Sheep Mountains or beyond. “He could see mountains piled one above another for 150 miles. There was a valley,” likely Desert Valley, on the west side of the Sheep Mountains, which was “at least ¾ of a mile higher than” the Coyote Springs Valley they were in. “It looked like a perfect desert. He said there was a valley southward that ran west.” He felt “that if there was any pass, it must be through it, but there was not a good prospect for water that way.” Rich’s “council” was for them to take “the Spanish Trail” and “all that” had “a mind to follow him” could “do so,” or “if not, they” could “go their own way.” Rich told them “his heart” had “ached ever since” leaving Beaver Dam Wash, which he referred to as “Farm Creek.” He had “told Captain Flake at Farm Creek” that “he wanted to go farther south” and Captain Flake “acknowledged that he had not done” as Charles Rich had recommended. The men of the Rich company were “unanimous in their feelings” to take “the Spanish Trail.” Captain Smith’s company must have been camped some distance away as Captain Smith did not confer with Rich until the next day.

Captain Smith “came up to” the Rich camp in the “morning,” Friday, November 16, 1849, “and asked Brother Rich what discoveries he made from the top of the mountain and what way he thought of going. Brother Rich told him what he had seen and gave his opinion of the route” to the west. “That it was his mind not to” travel west “any farther,” but rather, “he would make for the Spanish Trail.” “Captain Smith expressed his determination to persevere” in continuing west “and swore that he would” continue even “if he died in the attempt.” If the Rich company “did not hear from” him, they “might know that he had died with his face westward and not before he had eaten some mule meat with a good appetite.” George Cannon reminisced: “These were brave words, and were designed to draw a contrast between, what he thought was our lack of perseverance and courage, and the pluck, energy, and unyielding resolution which he and his men possessed. They had, however, but little effect upon us. To our minds it was no evidence of bravery in a man to plunge himself into the midst of difficulties, to expose his life unnecessarily, or to brave starvation and dangers when they could be honorably avoided. It was with no disposition to flinch, or to back out that we came to the conclusion no longer to pursue this route; but prudence and wisdom alike forbade our persistence in that direction.”

Around 9:00 a.m., the Rich and Smith companies “parted. Two or three of Smith’s men left him and joined” the Rich company. These men “had become members of the Church at Salt Lake City.” The two companies “parted with the best of feelings, each one believing his way to be the best.” George Q. Cannon said they “called this spot ‘Division Spring,’ for” it was there that they “separated.”

The Rich company started in a “southeasterly direction, down the bed of” Pahranagat Wash. They “felt buoyant and cheerful” and “spoke of” their “feelings one to another.” They “traveled until afternoon” when they found some “water and grass.” They “rested a little and let” their “horses drink and eat.” After “half an hour” they continued on.

Below, looking back at the Sheep Mountains, no longer shrouded in clouds, from Pahranaget Wash, just as it enters the Arrow Canyon Range.

As Pahranaget Wash enters the Arrow Canyon Range, it narrows and is quite sandy.

When I visited the area, after a recent rainstorm, water still sat in holes in the wash.

About 15 miles from Coyote Spring, they reached “a narrow canyon” now known as Double Canyon or Arrow Canyon. The mountain rose “precipitously” on each side “to several hundred feet.” Below, pictures from Arrow Canyon, taken in early morning light.

Further in to Arrow Canyon.

They traveled into the canyon “¼ of a mile” where they found “plenty” of “grass and water.” Indians were “living” off to their left. They apparently surprised the Indians who ran “and left their bows and arrows, baskets, knives and paints &c.” The Rich company “left all” of the Indians’ “things undisturbed.” The Rich company spent that night in Arrow Canyon.

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