We moved off in good style from this camp. After a day or two and before we reached what is called Little Salt Lake, an attempt was made to make a short cut, to save distance. The train only went on this cut off a day or two when Capt. Hunt came back from the front and said they had better turn back to the old trail again, which all did. This was a bad move, the train much broken and not easy to get them into regular working order again. We were now approaching what they called the Rim of the Basin. Within the basin the water all ran to the north or toward Great Salt Lake, but when we crossed the rim, all was toward the Colorado River, through which it reached the Pacific Ocean. About this time we were overtaken by another train commanded by Capt. Smith. They had a map with them made by one Williams of Salt Lake a mountaineer who was represented to know all the routes through all the mountains of Utah, and this map showed a way to turn off from the southern route not far from the divide which separated the waters of the basin from those which flowed toward the Colorado, and pass over the mountains, coming out in what they called Tulare valley, much nearer than by Los Angeles.
This map was quite frequently exhibited and the matter freely discussed in camp, indeed speeches were made in the interest of the cut-off route which was to be so much shorter. A clergyman, the Rev. J.W. Brier, was very enthusiastic about this matter and discoursed learnedly and plausibly about it. The more the matter was talked about the more there were who were converted to the belief that the short road would be the best. The map showed every camp on the road and showed where there was water and grass, and as to obstacles to the wagons it was thought they could easily be overcome. A general meeting was called for better consideration of the question. Capt. Hunt said: “You all know I was hired to go by way of Los Angeles, but if you all wish to go and follow Smith I will go also. But if even one wagon decides to go the original route, I shall feel bound to go with that wagon.”
A great many were anxious to get the opinion of Capt. Hunt on the feasibility of the new route for he was a mountain man and could probably give us some good advice. He finally consented to talk of it, and said he really knew no more then the others about this particular route, but he very much doubted if a white man ever went over it, and that he did not consider it at all safe for those who had wives and children in their company to take the unknown road. Young men who had no family could possibly get through, and save time even if the road was not as good as Los Angeles road. But said he “If you decide to follow Smith I will go with you, even if the road leads to Hell.”
On the route from near Salt Lake to this point we found the country to grow more barren as we progressed. The grass was thinner, and sage brush took the place of timber. Our road took us in sight of Sevier Lake, and also, while going through the low hills, passed Little Salt Lake, which was almost dry, with a beach around it almost as white as snow. It might have had a little more the dignity of a lake in wet weather, but it was a rather dry affair as we saw it.
At one point on this route we came into a long narrow valley, well covered with sage brush, and before we had gone very far we discovered that this was a great place for long eared rabbits, we would call them Jack Rabbits now. Every one who had a gun put it into service on this occasion, and there was much popping and shooting on every side. Great clouds of smoke rolled up as the hunters advanced and the rabbits ran in every direction to get away. Many ran right among the horses, and under the feet of the cattle and under the wagons, so that the teamsters even killed some with a whip. At the end of the valley we went into camp, and on counting up the game found we had over 500, or about one for every person in camp. This gave us a feast of fresh meat not often found.
It was on this trip that one of Mr. Bennett’s ox drivers was taken with a serious bowel difficulty, and for many days we thought he would die, but he eventually recovered. His name was Silas Helmer.
It was really a serious moment when the front of the train reached the Smith trail. Team after team turned to the right while now and then one would keep straight ahead as was at first intended. Capt. Hunt came over to the larger party after the division was made, and wished them all a hearty farewell and a pleasant happy journey. My friend Bennett whose fortune I shared was among the seceders who followed the Smith party. This point, when our paths diverged was very near the place afterward made notorious as Mountain Meadows, where the famous massacre took place under the direction of the Mormon generals. Our route from here up to the mountain was a very pleasant one, steadily up grade, over rolling hills, with wood, water and grass in plenty. We came at last to what seemed the summit of a great mountain, about three days journey on the new trail. Juniper trees grew about in bunches, and my experience with this timber taught me that we were on elevated ground.
Immediately in front of us was a cañon, impassible for wagons, and down into this the trail descended. Men could go, horses and mules, perhaps, but wagons could no longer follow that trail, and we proposed to camp while explorers were sent out to search a pass across this steep and rocky cañon. Wood and bunch grass were plenty, but water was a long way down the trail and had to be packed up to the camp. Two days passed, and the parties sent out began to come in, all reporting no way to go farther with the wagons. Some said the trail on the west side of the cañon could be ascended on foot by both men and mules, but that it would take years to make it fit for wheels.
The enthusiasm about the Smith cut-off had begun to die and now the talk began of going back to follow Hunt. On the third morning a lone traveler with a small wagon and one yoke of oxen, died. He seemed to be on this journey to seek to regain his health. He was from Kentucky, but I have forgotten his name. Some were very active about his wagon and, some thought too much attention was paid to a stranger. He was decently buried by the men of the company.
This very morning a Mr. Rynierson called the attention of the crowd and made some remarks upon the situation. He said: “My family is near and dear to me. I can see by the growth of the timber that we are in a very elevated place. This is now the seventh of November, it being the fourth at the time of our turning off on this trail. We are evidently in a country where snow is liable to fall at any time in the winter season, and if we were to remain here and be caught in a severe storm we should all probably perish. I, for one, feel in duty bound to seek a safer way than this. I shall hitch up my oxen and return at once to the old trail. Boys (to his teamsters) get the cattle and we’ll return.” This was decisive, and Mr. Rynierson would tarry no longer. Many others now proceeded to get ready and follow, and as Mr. Rynierson drove out of camp quite a respectable train fell in behind him. As fast as the hunters came in and reported no road available, they also yoked up their oxen and rolled out. Some waited awhile for companions yet in the fields, and all were about ready to move, when a party came in with news that the pass was found and no trouble could be seen ahead. About twenty-seven wagons remained when this news came, and as their proprietors had brought good news they agreed to travel on westward and not go back to the old trail.