Bryant-Russell Party

David L. Bigler
Utah History Encyclopedia, 1994

The vanguard of some 300 emigrants who took the Hastings Cutoff of the California Trail across Utah, south of the Great Salt Lake, was a nine-man pack party led by William H. Russell, a hard-drinking Kentuckian, and forty-one-year-old Edwin Bryant, former editor of the Louisville Courier. Riding mules, they traveled the seventy-five-mile stretch over the Salt Lake Desert in only seventeen hours.

The Bryant-Russell Party became the first to take the newly opened shortcut from Fort Bridger to the head of the Humboldt River at the urging of Lansford W. Hastings and his partner, James Hudspeth, who had traveled from California to meet emigrants near South Pass and promote the route. The feasibility of the desert crossing had been demonstrated the year before by John C. Fremont.

Guided by Hudspeth, the Kentuckians and three scouts from trailing wagon trains left Fort Bridger on 20 July, forded Bear River about four miles north of the later Pioneer Trail crossing, and rode downstream to camp about two miles north of present Evanston. Searching for a wagon route north of Echo Canyon, they headed west from Bear River to strike Crane Creek near its present reservoir, and continued up this waterway to the head of its north fork where they crossed the ridge to follow Trail Creek and Lost Creek canyons to the Weber River at present Croyden.

Failing to pass the upper Weber narrows, the party took the later emigrant route from present Henefer to East Canyon, where they found their way blocked by the narrows at the site of the present dam. Crossing the mountain by an Indian trail, they entered Morgan Valley, passed the Weber narrows at Devil’s Gate, and camped where Uintah now stands. From the bluffs at sunset, Bryant saw the Great Salt Lake “like a sea of molten fire.”

Along the Wasatch Front, the packers rode to the future site of Salt Lake City where they camped before traveling west toward the south end of the Great Salt Lake. Just southwest of present Grantsville, they crossed the Stansbury Mountains by North Willow Canyon, still a horse trail today, to arrive on 1 August at Hope Spring, near Iosepa.

Heading northwest across Skull Valley, they came upon Fremont’s trail of 1845 just short of the brackish Redlum Spring on the east slope of the Cedar Mountains. At the crest of this range, where they crossed about three miles north of Fremont and some two miles south of the later Hastings Pass, Hudspeth pointed toward the Salt Desert ahead and yelled: “Now, boys, put spurs to your mules and ride like hell!”

They did so, setting their course by compass because a sighting of Pilot Peak, west of the Great Salt Lake, was blocked by “dense smoke which hung over and filled the plain.” West of Grayback, the party again struck Fremont’s trail and followed it across the “vast white plain” to reach on 3 August the springs at the base of the 10,700-foot Pilot Peak, the landmark on today’s Utah-Nevada border.

The nine rode into Sutter’s Fort on 1 September, the first to cross the Sierra Nevada that season. Edwin Bryant’s journal of the trip, published in 1848 as What I Saw in California, is one of the classics of the western migration.

See: Edwin Bryant, What I Saw in California (1848); J. Roderick Korns, “West From Fort Bridger,” Utah Historical Quarterly 19 (1951); Dale L. Morgan, The Great Salt Lake (1947); and Henry J. Webb, “Edwin Bryant’s Trail Through Western Utah,” Utah Historical Quarterly 29 (April, 1961).