Wednesday, November 3, 2010

GQC: Muddy River to Las Vegas Springs

November 20, 1849 (Tuesday)

Rich and Hunt Companies (Muddy River near Moapa to 23 miles up the California Wash):

The Hunt and Rich companies, familiar with the “long desert” they had “to cross,” thought it best to” travel during “the night so that” their “cattle would not suffer” as “much thirst as they would in the daytime.[1] Consequently,” they “had everything arranged” before hand and at “noon” left the Muddy and “started up” the California Wash “that led” them “out into the desert. On one side” was “a sort of barrier prepared by the Indians” from which the Indians “attacked” the first “pack company” that “passed” through earlier that fall. “The first part” of the “road was sandy” and thereafter got better.[2] James Brown, George Q. Cannon and Henry Rollins left early with Captain Hunt to scout out the trail. About 12 miles from the Muddy they “found some small pools of water”[3] “near the road” to the left.[4] James Brown and George Cannon stayed behind to guide the Rich company “to it, while Captain Hunt and Henry Rollins went ahead in search of more pools of water.”[5] After the Rich company had obtained water from the pools, sometime after dark,[6] Cannon and Brown “stayed” behind as “guides for the wagon train,” which was still behind. When the wagon “train arrived,” Cannon and Brown “turned them off to the water” and then “had to dip water with cups,” to fill buckets and then “water the stock from buckets.”[7] “The moon shone brightly and made it pleasant traveling.”[8] 23 miles from the Muddy (11 miles from the last water), still following the California Wash, Captain Hunt and Henry Rollins found a “good spot of grass” about a mile to the right (west) of the road. Another 1 ½ miles further to the right, they found “water among some bushes” in “puddles from the last rain,”[9] about midway between Crystal Lake and Dry Lake.[10] The Rich company arrived about 10:00 p.m. and camped near the grass.[11] The Hunt company arrived about 2:00 a.m. and camped. Addison Pratt acknowledged that the “last rains” helped “facilitate” their “crossing” of the “desert very much.”[12]

Today, the California Crossing is identified by two Spanish Trail markers, one on each side of the Muddy River. The marker on the north side of the Muddy can be found by taking the Glendale exit off the I-15, then turning onto SR 168 toward Moapa. Just after crossing the bridge over the Muddy, turn left on to the first dirt road. There are a number of dirt roads in the vicinity, so veer towards the left and get on the dirt road that follows the north side of the railroad tracks. The Spanish Trail marker is about four miles from SR 168. The same road can be accessed at Moapa Siding off of SR 78; it is the dirt road to the right just after crossing the railroad tracks. The Spanish Trail marker on the south side of the Muddy can be accessed by taking exit 88 off of the I-15 onto SR 78 heading north. The marker is to the right as the road turns to the left down a hill above a dairy. The banks of the Muddy at this spot are very steep and it is unknown whether the Muddy was like that then, and if so, how they were able to get the wagons and horses across the River. When I visited over ten years ago, the banks of the Muddy River near the California Crossing were choked by tamarisk. At that time there was a project to eradicate the tamarisk and plant 50 to 60 mesquite trees per acre. I don’t know what impact, if any, the project had at the site. Nevada Historical Marker 139 is located in California Wash on I-15, at the Ute Interchange, and discusses the Journey of Death.

Solomon Nunes Carvalho, who was with John C. Fremont, described the route up through the California Wash as “a loose stony ravine, with much sand; it was very heavy travelling, and our animals moved through it with a great deal of difficulty. We travelled thus for eleven miles, and then gradually ascended the table land, on a harder and better road.”[13]

November 21, 1849 (Wednesday)

Rich and Hunt Companies (California Wash to Las Vegas Creek):

At 10:00 a.m. they started[14] and continued a “gradual ascent” for about 12 miles. They then began to descend over a “rough rocky road” for a “few miles” until they reached “a bottom.”[15] “Several horses gave out,” including the horses of Sheldon Stoddard and John Dixon. After traveling along the bottom[16] they came to and passed over “a wide mud flat covered with mesquite trees.” Past the mud flat[17] they came upon a large area of grass nourished by the waters of Las Vegas Creek. Addison Pratt and Jefferson Hunt had gone ahead of the wagons with the packers. Pratt “heard someone ahead cry out, ‘A hare.’” He “looked ahead and saw a hare at the top of his speed coming nearly in a parallel line with the road.” When the rabbit “came on a line” with Pratt, Pratt “gave him a shot that keeled him over.” As “provisions were getting low,” it was their object to “get all the wild game” they could. Pratt gathered up the rabbit and carried it with him until they arrived at Las Vegas Creek[18] about sunset, where they camped. Pratt stated that Las Vegas Creek “rises from some large springs and runs down through a large valley, covered with immense quantities of good grass. This would support a great number of cattle, and the soil appears to be very rich.” Pratt “soon had” the rabbit “roasted” and as he, Brother Hunt and Brother Rich “were picking his bones, Brother Hunt said, “‘This…is a sort of God send, for the wagons will not be up with us until midnight and we could get nothing to eat until they came.’ However, the wagons arrived earlier than expected, about 10:00 p.m. and Hunt and Pratt were then able to eat more supper.[19] They traveled over 29 miles for the day.[20]

The Spanish Trail followed the California Wash for 27 miles and then crossed broken country for about 12 miles to the present site of Nellis Air Force Base, on the edge of Las Vegas Valley.[21] Water from the Las Vegas springs formed a creek about three feet wide and fifteen inches deep and flowed about three miles to the vicinity of the Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort. There the waters of the creek fanned out over the floor of the Las Vegas Valley, creating meadows which were 2 ½ miles long and ½ mile wide.[22] Below, an early picture of Las Vegas Creek and the meadows, found in the Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort Visitor's Center.
There was also a forest of mesquite, on some flats immediately east of the site of the fort, which supplied travelers with firewood.[23] It appears that the Hunt and Rich Companies camped in the vicinity of the Old Mormon Fort[24] which was established about six years later.

Carvalho described Las Vegas Creek as the “narrow stream of deliciously cool water, which distributes itself about half a mile further down in a verdant meadow bottom covered with good grass.”[25] Orville Pratt, who was on the Old Spanish Trail the year before (1848) and later became a justice of the Oregon Supreme Court, called Las Vegas Creek “the finest stream of water…for its size, I ever saw. The valley is extensive and I doubt not would, by the aid of irrigation, be highly productive. There is water enough in this rapid little stream to propel a grist mill with a dragger run of stones! And, oh! Such water. It comes, too, like an oasis in the desert, just at the termination of a 50 mile stretch without a drop of water or a spear of grass. Pah Eutahs here in great numbers, but they run from us like wild deer.”[26] Below, an early picture of Las Vegas Creek, from around 1903 or so.
Another early picture of Las Vegas Creek.
The site of the Old Mormon Fort is located in Las Vegas on the southeast corner of Washington and Las Vegas Boulevard. For the most part, the Las Vegas Creek bed has been rechanneled or covered over with concrete.[27] Below, the re-created creek in the Old Mormon Fort.
Just above the Mormon Fort, along Veterans Memorial Drive, the creek can still be seen (at least that was the case in 1997), although it rarely has water in it.
November 22, 1849 (Thursday)

Rich and Hunt Companies (Las Vegas Creek to Las Vegas Springs):

“As there was good feed” there, Brother Rich decided they should stay where they were “and let the animals recruit.” Later, he changed his mind and determined to travel to the head of Las Vegas Creek[28] “a few miles ahead.” It “was known that there was good grass” near “several warm springs.”[29] They traveled five miles up Las Vegas Creek to Las Vegas Springs where they camped.[30] Addison Pratt described “the head” of Las Vegas Creek as “a curiosity.” They “found the water running in tolerable streams, from several of” the springs. The springs “were filled with[in] six or eight feet of the surface with quicksand and this was kept in perpetual motion, caused by the sand settling back into the channel and stopping the water until it had gathered force enough to burst its way through the sand, and as the water did not come to the surface at the same point, at such time, it kept the sand continually rolling and shifting from side to side in grand commotion.”[31] At the springs they “began to see the sacrifices of property made by” the members of the Gruwell-Derr wagon train ahead of them. Members of that train had “lightened their wagons of clothing and feather beds. There were piles of goose feathers and down lying in heaps.” It appeared from what was left behind that they were having trouble.[32]

The descriptions of other travelers along the Old Spanish Trail help give us a clearer picture of what the Las Vegas Springs were like. On May 3, 1844, John C. Fremont described the head of Las Vegas Creek as follows: “Two narrow streams of clear water, four or five feet deep, gush suddenly, with a quick current, from two singularly large springs;…The taste of the water is good, but rather too warm to be agreeable; the temperature being 71 degrees in the one, and 73 degrees in the other. They, however, afforded a delightful bathing place.”[33] A number of years later, a Mormon missionary named George W. Bean, described the springs as follows: “The water of the springs is very clear; they are from 20 to 30 feet in diameter, and at a depth of two feet the white sand bubbles all over as tho’ it was the bottom, but upon wading in there is no foundation there. It has been sounded to a depth of 60 feet, without finding bottom; and a person cannot sink to the armpits on account of the strong upward rush of the water.”[34] Below, an old photo of Big Spring.
Although there are numerous springs in the Las Vegas Valley (the water comes from runoff from the nearby Spring Mountains and Sheep Range and comes up through fissures in the underlying rock formations), the largest of the springs, those mentioned in the journals, were the three Las Vegas Springs: Big Spring (another picture of it below),
Middle Spring and Little Spring. Those three springs were the sole source of the Las Vegas water supply until 1907 when the first well was drilled. The springs formed a triangle, with Little Spring being the furthest north in a sandy hillside. Middle Spring, also known as Lower Spring or Spring No. 2, was the largest and provided one-half of the water supply. Las Vegas Creek, which emanated from the three springs, had a combined flow of 287 miners’ inches or 5.74 second feet. In 1906, the springs provided 6,400 acre feet of water for the Las Vegas water supply. As more and more wells were drilled in the Valley, there was an overdraft of the ground water and the water levels receded. The greatest decline was in the vicinity of Las Vegas Springs, where the water level dropped about 100 feet. This resulted in a settling of the land in that area.[35] Below, a depiction of what the springs used to look like, from the Springs Preserve.
Below, the South Fork of Las Vegas Creek (now dry) which emanated from Big Spring, as seen today in the Springs Preserve. The green tree in the background is near Big Spring.
When I visited the area over ten years ago, the springs were inside the fences of the Las Vegas Water District compound (see the picture below). However, the springs are now a part of 180 acre Springs Preserve, a wonderful preservation which includes the springs, themselves, and exhibits, including native animals. The Springs Preserve is located at 333 South Valley View Blvd. in Las Vegas.
An old picture of the Big Spring is below, after it was covered.
Later, a structure with a raised roof was built over the Big Spring. Hafen & Hafen noted that in “one of the headhouses a person may still see the sand continually boiling up in this spring.”[36] Today, the boards of that old structure, now flattened, still exist at the site. The Big Spring dried up in 1962. Note, that the land in the area has dropped.
Another view of the dry Big Spring. I assume that the tree in the background of the old picture above is the same tree as seen in the old picture above.
Another picture of the Big Spring area, taken from a greater distance. The Big Spring is located to the right of the tree in the center and left of the tree and canopy to the right.
[1]  George D. Brewerton referred to the segment of the trail between the Muddy River and Las Vegas Springs as the “Jornada del Muerto” or journey of death. Brewerton explained, “In crossing the desert it is often necessary to march long distances without water; these dry stretches are called by the Mexicans ‘jornada’; the literal meaning of the word being a journey, but in instances like the present it refers to the absence of water upon the route traveled.” These jornadas were generally traveled at night by moonlight. Brewerton explained: “Sometimes the trail led us over large basins of deep sand, where the trampling of the mules’ feet gave forth no sound; this added to the almost terrible silence, which ever reigns in the solitudes of the desert, rendered our transit more like the passage of some airy spectacle where the actors were shadows instead of men. Nor is this comparison a constrained one, for our way-worn voyagers with their tangled locks and unshorn beards (rendered white as snow by the fine sand with which the air in these regions is often filled) had a weird and ghostlike look, which the gloomy scene around, with its frowning rocks and moonlit sands, tended to enhance and heighten.” Brewerton, George Douglas, Overland With Kit Carson: A Narrative of the Old Spanish Trail in ’48, Coward-McCann, Inc. 1930, New York, pp. 68-69.

[2]  Pratt
[3]  Brown; Bigler lets us know that Cannon was along and ahead of the packers.
[4]  Bigler
[5]  Brown
[6]  Bigler
[7]  Brown
[8]  Farrer
[9]  The Mormon Way-Bill, Bigler and Farrer; Bigler and Farrer indicate they traveled 25 miles, Pratt stated 22 miles. After adding the additional mileage off of the Spanish Trail to reach water, the distances would all be very close to each other.
[10]  Hafen, LeRoy R. and Hafen, Ann W. Journals of Forty-Niners, Salt Lake to Los Angeles: With Diaries and Contemporary Records of Sheldon Young, James S. Brown, Jacob Y. Stover, Charles C. Rich, Addison Pratt, Howard Egan, Henry W. Bigler, and Others, Glendale: Arthur H. Clark. 1954 (49ers), p. 90, n. 92.
[11]  Bigler
[12]  Pratt
[13]  Reeder, Ray M. The Mormon Trail: A History of the Salt Lake to Los Angeles Route to1869, unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah, 1966 (Reeder), p. 110; see also Carvalho, Solomon Nunes, Incidents of Travel and Adventure in the Far West; with Col. Fremont’s Last Expedition Across the Rocky Mountains: Including Three Months’ Residence in Utah, and a Perilous Trip Across the Great American Desert to the Pacific, edited and with an introduction by Bertram Wallace Korn, the Jewish Publication Society of America 1954, Philadelphia
[14]  Pratt; Bigler says they started “after breakfasting.”
[15]  Farrer; Bigler gives the ascent as 10 or 12 miles.
[16]  Bigler; Rich said the horses were “sick with the saleratus.”
[17]  Pratt
[18]  Pratt referred to it as “Vegas Creek,” Farrer and Rich referred to it as “the Vegus” and Bigler referred to it as the “abaquo.”
[19]  Pratt; Bigler and Farrer state the wagons did not arrive until “almost morning.”
[20]  The Mormon Way-Bill; Rich stated 28 miles and Bigler stated 25 miles.
[21]  Crampton, C. Gregory, and Madsen, Steven K. In Search of the Spanish Trail: Santa Fe to Los Angeles, 1829-1848, Layton: Gibbs M. Smith. 1994 (Spanish Trail Map), pp. 87-88
[22]  Spanish Trail Map, pp. 87-88; A group of archaelogists excavating the site of the Mormon Fort indicate that the natural meadow was “nearly one hundred acres.” Hohmann, John W., The Old Las Vegas Mormon Fort: The Founding of a Desert Community in Clark County, Nevada, Studies in Western Archaeology No. 4, Cultural Resource Group. Phoenix, Arizona: Louis Berger & Associates, Inc. 1996, p. 17 (Mormon Fort)
[23]  Spanish Trail Map, pp. 89-90; Mormon Fort, p. 21
[24]  Mormon Fort, p. 23 (“The actual site location where the fort was to be built was also one of the primary camping spots, along with the Big Springs location…This appears to be due to a variety of factors, but foremost is its topographical setting which afforded people with an elevated, but level surface which presented a wide vista extending out over most of the surrounding valley, while also affording a location which was close to fresh, running water…also slightly sheltered from the wind with a low ridge situated above the site to the west.”)
[25]  Reeder, p. 111
[26]  Spanish Trail Extracts, p. 355
[27]  Spanish Trail Map, pp. 90-91
[28]  Farrer
[29]  Bigler
[30]  The Mormon Way-Bill lists the distance as five miles. Bigler says it was four or five miles. Farrer , Rich and Pratt say it was six miles. The distance between the Old Mormon Fort and Las Vegas Springs is about three miles. They either camped several miles below the area where the Fort was later built, or their estimated distances were too large.
[31]  Pratt
[32]  Pratt
[33]  Spanish Trail Map, p. 89
[34]  Paher, Stanley W. Las Vegas: As it began – as it grew, Las Vegas, Nevada: Nevada Publications, p. 15 (1971)
[35]  Jones, Florence E. and Cahlan, John F. Water: A History of Las Vegas, Las Vegas: Las Vegas Valley Water District, pp. 2-7 (1975)
[36]  49ers, p. 91, n. __

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