By Richard E. Lingenfelter
Lines the heritage of dying Valley, tells the tales of its explorers, prospectors, and con males, and discusses the geography and improvement of the valley.
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Extra resources for Death Valley and the Amargosa: A Land of Illusion
Thompson and two partners in Brown's Hole on the Green River, in the northwest corner of present-day Colorado. The declining fur trade was forcing many trappers to look for new pursuits, and the stories of Chalifoux's successful raid on the Mexican missions and ranches in California attracted Thompson, an impetuous twenty-nine-year-old Tennessean; Dick Owens, for whom Owens Valley was named; and about a dozen other trappers. With Phil Thompson as their leader, they set out for California in January of 1840.
Ward claimed to have been over the cutoff three times, apparently on horse raids, and he had even traced out the route for Smith on a crude map, but his geography was faulty. Word of the map and Smith's plan spread quickly through the train, and the cutoff became an obsession with most. Indeed, who could doubt it? Even Fremont's great map of the West, published just the year before, showed a grand but imaginary east-west "dividing range" at about that latitude, and along its stream-fed base a good trail was sure to lie.
But for one reason or another-late starts or delays along the way-they had each reached Salt Lake too late in the season to get to the Sierra before the snow closed the passes. The Spanish Trail was not an inviting route: it was little more than a pack trail and was unsuited for wagons-only one wagon had ever been taken over it. It was poorly watered and foddered, with some jornadas of more than a day without any water or grass at all; and, if all this weren't bad enough, it took the gold seekers about 500 miles out of their way!