Great Basin Quotes

All of the quotes in this room are listed below. Where available, we've provided you with additional information about the source of the quote and possible links to download or access the original source material. The quotes are listed in the order in which you might encounter them in the room.

“In 2 or 3 miles we came to forks of the road, one going around by Fort Bridger and Salt Lake, and the other cutting off the elbow, and joining the first at Thomas’ Fork of Bear River.” – Elijah P. Howell, 1849


No electronic access was located for this reference.

“The Emigrating dress is anything but dressy…. the style of emigrant dress [is] all for comfort – nothing for show.” – Hamet Hubbard Case, 1859


No electronic access was located for this reference.

Excerpt from Joseph Ware's guidebook

“For clothing, you want plenty of strong, cheap goods, for hard service – as well as boots, hats, caps, etc.” – Joseph E. Ware, The Emigrants’ Guide to California, 1849


Joseph Ware's guidebook was very popular among the emigrants. It can be viewed at Hathitrust, and may be available for purchase in the CTIC gift shop.

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Excerpt from Eliza Farnham's book

“… the mirage, when the sun shone, would make every object the size of a man’s hat look as large as an ox, at the distance of a mile or more; so one could ramble all day from one of these delusions to another…” – John Breen


This quote attributed to John Breen of the Donner Party appears in the book California In-doors and Out: or, How we farm, mine, and live generally in the Golden State by Eliza Burhans Farnham, which was published in 1856.


During her three years as matron of the Female Prison at Sing Sing, 1844-1848, Eliza Burhans Farnham (1815-1864) tried to institute reforms based on phrenology. Discharged from the post, she soon learned that her lawyer-husband had died in California, leaving her with affairs to settle there. Farnham set about organizing a pioneer party of single, educated women to join her in the voyage round the Horn. California, In-doors and Out (1856) opens with a description of her harrowing voyage round the Horn in 1849. In 1850 Farnham and her children moved to El Rancho La Libertad, the Santa Cruz farm left to her by her husband. She describes her experiences as a farmer, the position of women in California, mining life, the history of the Donner Expedition based on interviews with survivors, and the 1856 San Francisco Vigilance Committee.


The book can be downloaded from the Library of Congress.

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Excerpt from Stewart's book The California Trail

"During the afternoon the inevitable mirage appeared, and some of Bruff’s men were convinced that they looked at a lagoon fringed by tall trees. Their captain learnedly explained the phenomenon. He thought, however, that even cattle had been deceived, and had stampeded toward the ‘water’. Carcasses lay scattered about in that direction, as far as could be seen.” – George Rippey Stewart, The California Trail


George Stewart's book The California Trail is a well-known and often-referenced history of the California Trail. The book may be available in the CTIC gift shop and can be previewed on Google Books. This quote can be found on p. 281.


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Excerpt from C.F. McGlashan's History of the Donner Party

“The desert mirage disclosed against the horizon, clear, distinct, and perfectly outlined…. Each jagged cliff, or pointed rock, or sharply-curved hill-top, hung suspended in air as perfect and complete as if photographed on the sky. Deceived, deluded by these images, in spite of their better judgment, several members of the company were led far out into the pathless depths of the desert.” – C. F. McGlashan, History of the Donner Party


C. F. McGlashan wrote the History of the Donner Party in 1879. In the preface he wrote " The scenes of horror and despair which transpired in the snowy Sierra in the winter of 1846-7, need no exaggeration, no embellishment. From all the works heretofore published, from over one thousand letters received from the survivors, from ample manuscript, and from personal interviews with the most important actors in the tragedy, the facts have been carefully compiled. Neither time, pains, nor expense have been spared in ferreting out the truth. New and fragmentary versions of the sad story have appeared almost every year since the unfortunate occurrence. To forever supplant these distorted and fabulous reports—which have usually been sensational new articles—the survivors have deemed it wise to contribute the truth. The truth is sufficiently terrible.


Where conflicting accounts of particular scenes or occurrences have been contributed, every effort has been made to render them harmonious and reconcilable. With justice, with impartiality, and with strict adherence to what appeared truthful and reliable, the book has been written. It is an honest effort—toward the truth, and as such is given to the world."


This book can be read for free at Project Gutenberg or downloaded free from Google books.

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“The valley varies in width from a few rods to ten miles and mostly barron this is decidedly the hardest part of the journey that we have as yet experienced – the rivers mountains hills or marshes are not to be compared to these hot sandy deserts…. hot enough to cook eggs in the sand.” – Amasa Morgan, 1849


The 43 page diary of Morgan's travels from Southport (now Kenosha), Wisconsin, to California, via Missouri, Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, and Nevada, along the Oregon and California Trails is held in the collections of the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. Morgan, who is traveling for the purpose of improving his health, notes the large number of parties bound for California from Missouri. He provides a highly detailed account of the journey, such as daily activities, weather conditions, towns, geographical sites, plant and animal life, hunting buffalo and other game, and encounters with Indians (Sioux, Pawnee, and Digger tribes) as well as other wagon trains and travelers, many of whom were also from Midwestern states. He also describes the difficulties and hardships of the journey, including the varied weather conditions (in particular, the desert heat of Nevada), and the monotony. In addition, he records the distance traveled each day, usually between 20-35 miles, by his party, known as the Banner Company.


There is no known electronic access to this diary.

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Excerpt from Harriett Ward's August 22, 1853 diary entry

“[Record Bluff] is a huge sandstone bluff in which … thousands have … inscribed their names there, perchance thinking it might, at some future day, afford to some dear friends who should be winding their weary way through this lone wilderness a momentary pleasure in knowing that they were standing just where that dear one had stood, years before, and gazed with the same feelings of delight with which we now look upon it.” – Harriet Sherrill Ward, 1853


No electronic version of Harriet's diary could be located. It was published in 1959 as Prairie Schooner Lady: The Journal of Harriet Sherrill Ward, 1853.

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Excerpt from John Steele's August 8, 1850 diary

“we caught a glimpse of what at first appeared to be a city of ruins. There were walls, domes, monuments, spires, palaces, and roofs, all of dazzling white.” – John Steele, August 8, 1850


John Steele's diary Across the Plains in 1850 can be viewed on the Hathitrust website.

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Excerpt from Helen Carpenter's August 18, 1857 diary

“This is known as the City rocks and certainly bears a striking resemblance to a city…” – Helen Carpenter, August 18, 1857


The diary excerpt above is from Helen Carpenter's diary and is referenced on the informational panels along the City of Rocks mural. Her diary can be downloaded from the Oregon - California Trails Association (OCTA) website. Two of her diary entries are quoted in the Jumping Off Town Room, where Helen was introduced.


This quote came from her August 18, 1857 diary entry - 84 days or 12 weeks since leaving Missouri.

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Excerpt from Margaret Windsor's memoir

“I carried a little motherless babe 500 miles, whose mother had died, and when we would go from camp to camp in search of some good, kind, motherly woman to let it nurse no one ever refused when I presented it to them.” – Margaret Windsor Iman, 1852


Margaret's memoir was published in an article prior to her death. A seven page PDF file of the article can be downloaded from the University of Washington.

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Excerpt from Ezra Meeker's journal

“The dead (from cholera) lay sometimes in rows of fifties or more…. Crowds of people were continually hurrying past us in their desperate haste to escape the dreadful epidemic.” – Ezra Meeker, 1852


The first part of the quote above can be found on page 99 (and a similar one on page 40) of Meeker's diary (link below). However, we were unable to verify or locate the second part of the quote.


Ezra Meeker's diary can be downloaded from the Oregon Pioneers website. It has not only his 1852 diary, but a record of his retracing (backwards) the Oregon Trail in 1906 to enlist support from local communities for erecting monuments commemorating the Trail. Ezra later flew in a plane along the trail and just before his death in 1928 persuaded Henry Ford to outfit a Ford chassis with a covered wagon top so Ezra could re-travel the trail once again. Unfortunately he died before being able to make that journey.

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Excerpt from the August 3 diary entry of Jane Gould

“They had just buried the babe of the woman who died days ago, and were just digging a grave for another woman that was run over by the cattle and wagons when they stampeded yesterday. She lived twenty-four hours, she gave birth to a child a short time before she died. The child was buried with her. She leaves a little two year old girl and a husband. They say he is nearly crazy with sorrow.” – Jane Gould Tourtillott, August 3, 1862


Jane's diary was published as The Oregon & California Trail Diary Of Jane Gould In 1862: The Unabridged

Diary. No electronic access was located. The book is available in rare book collections and libraries.

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Excerpt from the August 6, 1850 entry in John Wood's diary

“This was the severest trial I have had by far, the desert proving to be 93 miles instead of 75, as we had understood, and having to walk all the way almost without stopping, with but little to eat and drink, and no sleep, was soul-trying in the extreme.” – John Wood, 1850


John Wood's diary was published as a serial in the 1927 Madera Daily Tribune and can be viewed in the California Digital Newspaper Collection. It was also published in book form in 1852 and can be viewed on the Internet Archive.

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Edwin Bryant's August 3, 1846 diary entry

“We struck a vast white plain uniformly level, and utterly destitute of vegetation…. As we proceeded the plain gradually became softer, and our mules sometimes sunk to their knees in the stiff composition of salt, sand, and clay.” – Edwin Bryant, 1846


Edwin Bryant initially traveled with the Donner Party, but near Fort Laramie, he traded his wagon for a team of pack mules so he could travel faster than the wagon party. He and those who chose to accompany him took the advice of Lansford Hastings at Fort Bridger and decided to try the route along the southern end of the Great Salt Lake. It was just west of that that Bryant references in the diary entry from August 3.


Edwin's diary can be viewed and downloaded from the Library of Congress. You may also be interested in the Edwin Bryant diary tour of our outdoor plaza.

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“We were now thrown entirely upon our own resources. All the country beyond was to us a veritable terra incognita, and we only knew that California lay to the west.”


John Bidwell's Addresses and Reminiscences can be downloaded from the Library of Congress. You can read more about Bidwell in the quotes section of the Great Plains room.

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Excerpt from James Reed's letter published November 5, 1846 in the Sangamo Journal.

“The rest of the Californians went the long route, feeling afraid of Hastings’ cutoff. But Mr. Bridger informs me that it is a fine, level road with plenty of water and grass.” – James F. Reed, July 31, 1846


This quote came from an article in the November 5, 1846 Sangamo Journal. It was a letter that James Reed sent from Fort Bridger on July 31, 1846.

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Excerpt from Lovina Graves' memoir

“The Captain of the Donner Party was then seeking the new road or shortcut to California. … an easier and more pleasant road.” – Lovina Graves, Reminiscence of 1846


Edna Maybelle Sherwood, Lovina Graves' granddaughter, wrote down the memoir of her grandmother before Lovina passed away in 1906. The memoir was published in the June 14, 1940 edition of the Weekly Calistogan and can also be viewed and downloaded as part of the book Unfortunate Emigrants.

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“Take from the earth and give back to the earth, and don’t forget to say please and thank you.” – Julia Parker, Miwok/Pomo/Paiute


Julia Parker has spent most of her years living and working in Yosemite Village in California. Although she was born in her native Pomo territory, her early teachers were elder Indian traditionalists and basketweavers of the Sierra Miwok and Mono Lake Paiute people. After her mother's death when Julia was five, she and her siblings were placed in a foster home and later sent to Stewart Indian School near Carson City, NV. There she met her husband to be, Ralph Parker, and in 1948 they married and moved back to the Yosemite area. Ralph was employed by the National Park Service and Julia worked as a housekeeper for the Yosemite Park and Curry Company. In 1960, Park naturalist Douglas Hubbard wanted to revive demonstrations of Indian basketweaving at the Yosemite Museum and Julia volunteered. With master elders as her teachers, most significantly Ralph's mother, Julia soon was demonstrating basketweaving in the park. She also revived the practice of making acorn meal and mush, which in the traditional way uses a basket for the cooking process. Julia's work has been featured at the National Museum of the American Indian, the Heard Museum, and the National Museum of Natural History. In 1983 when Queen Elizabeth II visited Yosemite, Julia gave her one of her baskets and today it is in the Queen's Museum in Windsor Castle. Julia has been a central figure in the organization and ongoing activities of the California Indian Basketweavers Association.


This quote is commonly attributed to Julia (as her motto) and may appear in the 2013 book Scrape the Willow Until it Sings: The Words and Work of Basket Maker Julia Parker.

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Excerpt from Alan Hall's book A Man Called Plenty Horses

“Since the white man has made a road across our land and killed off our game, we are hungry, and there is nothing for us to eat. Our women and children cry for food, and we have no food to give them.” - Chief Washakie, Shoshone


The origins of this quote is not readily apparent, but it appears in the Alan Hall book A Man Called Plenty Horses: The Last Warrior of the Great Plains.


From the Chief Washakie Foundation website:

The history of the American West recognizes Washakie as one of its most remarkable leaders. Revered for statemanship and respected in battle, he united his people into a significant political and military force. A skilled orator and charismatic figure who spoke French, English and a number of Indian languages, he successfully negoitiated land and education settlements for the Shoshone.


Tradition holds that Washakie was gifted with an ability to foresee what the future held and work out the destiny of his people to the best possible advantage. He rose to a position of leadership in 1840, bringing together disparate groups of Shoshone warriors. With immigrants pressing along the eastern slope of the Rockies through traditional Shoshone hunting grounds, Washakie sensed that the tide of the White Man could not be stemmed. He believed if the Shoshone were to retain their lands, they would need to make peace with the immigrants, and he convinced his own people and the U.S. government of the need for a protected Shoshone territory.


On July 3, 1868, Washakie signed the Fort Bridger Treaty that established a three million acre reservation in Wyoming's stunningly beautiful Wind River country. Thanks to his foresight and leadership, this Warm Valley remains the home of the Shoshone today.


The Fort Bridger treaty included pledges for building schools; Washakie was as committed to his people's education as he was to protecting their lands. To this end, he and his good friend the Welsh clergyman John Roberts established a boarding school for Shoshone girls. Built on sacred ceremonial grounds along the banks of Trout Creek, the school encouraged tradition and native speech.


Washakie remained an active and respected leader until his death at 102. His wisdom, gained from a centruy of experience and leadership, was sought by non-Native Americans as well as his own people.


When Washakie died on February 20, 1900, he was accorded a full military funeral, the only one known to be given an Indian Chief. The mourning Shoshones, Arapahos and soldiers formed the longest funeral procession in the history of Wyoming.


Chief Washakie is buried in the old military cemetery at Fort Washakie. The cemetery road leads to the heart of Wind River country, the land he loved and fought to protect and preserve for his people.


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