The Exploration of Western America, 1800-1850: An Historical Geography

By E. W. Gilbert | Go to book overview

Chapter XII
THE DISCOVERY OF THE GREAT BASIN
AND THE ROUTES OVER THE
SIERRA NEVADA, 1832-1853

The Great Basin was first visited by Spaniards coming in from the south. In 1776 Fathers Escalante and Dominguez travelled from Santa Fé as far as Utah Lake and then returned by way of the Sevier River, crossing the Colorado by one of the few possible crossings of the Cañon. English traders penetrated the Basin from the north, in particular Peter Skene Ogden, who, in 1825, discovered the river called Mary's, Ogden's, or the Humboldt. American fur-traders reached the Basin from the east. One of these traders, James Bridger, discovered the Great Salt Lake in 1824. The expeditions of Ashley and Smith, previously described in chapter X, accomplished a great deal of exploration within the basin itself. Although all this work had been carried out by missionaries and fur-traders, no real knowledge of the distinctive geographical features of the area had been obtained, and many people believed that a great river, the Buenaventura, flowed westward from the Rockies to the Pacific. Bonneville, a fur-trader, threw some light on the darkness of the geographical knowledge of this region, but it was Frémont, a Government explorer, who first described the real physical nature of the area.

Captain B. L. E. Bonneville conducted an expedition to the Rocky Mountains in the years 1832-5, when the fur trade was enjoying its greatest prosperity. Bonneville's principal object was trade, and exploration was only a secondary consideration. Bonneville's work is described by Washington Irving in a book which is also the best available picture of the fur trade.2

____________________
1
The routes of explorers described in this chapter are shown on end Map C, Fig. 34.
2
Washington Irving, The Adventures of Captain Bonneville, U.S.A., in the Rocky Mountains and the Far West. Digested from his Journal and illustrated from various other sources. Philadelphia, 1837, London,

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