Author Archives: Walter

The Las Vegas Mormon Fort

A Midpoint Waystation on the Mormon Road

In April 1855, Brigham young, President of the church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, called 30 men to leave their families and possessions in the recently settled towns of Utah to serve a mission at the Las Vegas Springs. The verdant meadows watered by the springs had been seasonally inhabited by the Paiute Indians for centuries. The water and meadows made Las Vegas an important stop on the Spanish Trail (called the Mormon Road after 1848).

Map of the Old Spanish Trail (Mormon Road) from Mountain Meadows, UT. to San Bernardino, CA.

Map of the Old Spanish Trail (Mormon Road) from Mountain Meadows, UT. to Los Angeles, CA.

President Young directed this group of newly called missionaries to become self-sufficient, to provide a place of rest insecurity for travelers between California and Salt Lake City, and to teach the Indians the gospel of Jesus Christ. In the heat of the summer, in June 1855, the missionaries arrived at this site. The mission, intended to be permanent, was first Anglo-American settlement in Las Vegas Valley.

Mormon Fort - Las Vegas, NV.

Mormon Fort – Las Vegas, Nv.

By summer’s end there irrigating gardens were producing fresh vegetables and grains. A new fort was under construction, and a spirit of cooperation and mutual learning was being established with the native inhabitants. They also discovered a deposit of lead or in the nearby mountains. More missionaries were sent to smelt the complex ore in large quantities, but the attempt was unsuccessful.

On 23 February 1857 church leaders sent word to the settlement that the mission was to be disbanded. These early pioneers returned to Utah the left a legacy of faith, devotion, and service shown by their willingness to settle in this hostile environment.

Source: Old Mormon Fort Historical Dedication

Sad Fate of an Inventor

Editor; Dan De Quille –  Virginia City Territorial Enterprise –  1874

 A gentleman who has just arrived from the borax fields of the desert regions surrounding the town of Columbus, in the eastern part of the state,  gives us the following account of the sad fate of Mr. Jonathan Newhouse, a man of considerable inventive genius. Mr. Newhouse had constructed what he called a “solar armor,”   and apparatus intended to protect the wearer from the fierce heat of the sun in crossing deserts and burning alkali plains. The armor consisted of a long, close-fitting material;  both jacket no good being about an inch in thickness. Before starting across a desert this armor was to be saturated with water. Under the right arm was suspended in India rubber sack  filled with water and having a small gutta percha  tube leading to the top of the hood. In order to keep the armor moist, all that was necessary to be done by the traveler, as he progressed over the burning sands, was to press the sack occasionally, when a small quantity of water would be forced up and thoroughly saturate the hood and the jacket below it. Thus, by the evaporation of the moisture in the armor, it was calculated might be produced almost any degree of cold. Mr. Newhouse went down to Death Valley, determined to try the experiment of crossing that terrible place in this armor.  He started out into the valley one morning from the camp nearest its borders, telling the man at the camp, as he laced his armor on his back, that he would return in two days. The next day in Indian who could speak but a few words of English came up to the camp in a great state of excitement. He made the men understand that he wanted them to follow him. At the distance of about 20 miles out into the desert the Indian pointed to a human figure seated against a rock. Approaching they found it to be Newhouse still in his armor. He was dead and frozen stiff. His beard was covered with frost and– though the noon day sun poured down its fiercest rays– and icicle over a foot in length home from his nose. There he had perished miserably, because his armor had worked but too well, and because it was laced up behind where he could not reach the fastenings.”

Devil's golf course, Death Valley

Devil’s Golf Course

 This was Death Valley’s most widely publicized death. It was one that was reported almost halfway around the world, and this terrible death, well, it never happened–it was simply a yarn as used as  filler on a dull day in that summer of 1874.

Jim Beckwourth – Stealing Horses

Notes:
Mountain man Jim Beckwourth flees California during the Bear Flag Revolt Stealing Horses Along the Way

James Beckwourth

I had but little time to deliberate. My people was at war with the country I was living in; I had become security to the authorities for the good behavior of several of my fellow-countrymen, and I was under recognizances for my own conduct. The least misadventure would compromise me, and I was impatient to get away. My only retreat was eastward; so, considering all things fair in time of war, I, together with five trusty Americans, collected eighteen hundred stray horses we found roaming on the Californian ranchos, and started with our utmost speed from Pueblo de Angeles. This was a fair capture, and our morals justified it, for it was war-time. We knew we should be pursued, and we lost no time in making our way toward home. We kept our herd jogging for five days and nights, only resting once a day to eat, and afford the animals time to crop a mouthful of grass. We killed a fat colt occasionally, which supplied us with meat, and very delicious meat too rather costly, but the cheapest and handiest we could obtain. After five days’ chase our pursuers relaxed their speed, and we ourselves drove more leisurely. We again found the advantage that I have often spoken of before of having a drove of horses before us, for, as the animals we bestrode gave out, we could shift to a fresh one, while our pursuers were confined to one steed.

When we arrived at my fort on the Arkansas, we had over one thousand head of horses, all in good condition. There was a general rejoicing among the little community at my safe arrival, the Indians also coming in to bid me welcome. I found my wife married again, having been deceived by a false communication. Her present husband had brought her a missive, purporting to be of my inditing, wherein I expressed indifference toward her person, disinclination to return home, and tendering her a discharge from all connubial obligation. She accepted the document as authentic, and solaced her abandonment by espousing her husband’s messenger. My return acquainted her with the truth of the matter. She manifested extreme regret at having suffered herself to be imposed upon so readily, and, as a remedy for the evil, offered herself back again; but I declined, preferring to enjoy once more the sweets of single blessedness.

I left the fort on a visit to San Fernandez. I found business very dull there on account of the war, and great apprehensions were felt by my friends in regard to the result. Perceiving that was no very desirable place to remove to, I returned to my community. General Kearney was just then on his march to Santa Fe. I took a drove of my horses, and proceeded down the Arkansas to meet him on his route; for it was probable there might be an opportunity of effecting some advantageous exchanges. The general came up, and found me in waiting with my stock; we had been acquainted for several years, and he gave me a very cordial reception.

“Beckwourth,” said the general, you have a splendid lot of horses, really; they must have cost you a great sum of money.”

“No, general,” I replied, “but they cost me a great many miles of hard riding.”

“How so?” he inquired.

“Why, I was in California at the time the war broke out, and, not having men enough at my command to take part in the fighting, I thought I could assist my country a little by starting off a small drove of the enemy’s horses, in order to prevent their being used against us.”

“Ah, Beckwourth, you are truly a wonderful man to possess so much forethought,” and he laughed heartily. “However,” added he, ” trade them off as quickly as possible, for I want you to accompany me. You like war, and I have good use for you now.”  …

from: The Life and Adventures of James P. Beckwourth
Mountaineer, Scout, and Pioneer and Chief of the Crow Nation of Indians