PSR Camp

Book Review: Death Valley '49er Trails

Article Index


     Olesen fanaticizes a seep and a spring that no one (including Olesen) has ever seen. The mythical seep is northwest of Striped Butte (p. 60) and the mythical spring is on the floor of Death Valley—the latter he named “Flowing spring” (pp. 13-15 & pp. 91-94). Olesen says Johnson “essentially ignores Manly’s precise statement that the water he discovered was a running stream.” (28:2:1). However, here is what Manly really says: “we found a good spring of fresh water … the small flow from it spread out over the sand and sank in a very short distance.” (1894:144; italics ours). More about this later.

     To support his contention that these miraculous water sources existed in winter 1849-1850, Olesen offers his readers subjective climatic information: “The winter of 1849-1850 was an exceptionally wet one” (25:2:2); followed by: “… the wet winter as shown by ‘49ers [sic] statements” (26:1:1). Then we are told the winter of 1849-1850 “was an unusually wet winter” (93:2:3). Where is all this leading?

     Olesen (99:2:3) now points out Manly said, “‘the winter of 1849-50 was one of the wettest ever seen in California——.’ (Manly: 1849 [1894]: 224)”. Note the long dash after California, which indicates something follows. Let’s see what Manly actually said: “We now know that the winter of 1849-50 was one of the wettest ever seen in California, but for some reason or other none of the wet clouds ever came in this portion of the State to deposit the most scattering drops of moisture” (Manly 1894:224; italics ours). In our eyes, deleting the above italicized words is deceitful and lessens the credibility of the author.

     Olesen uses a solar and lunar ephemeris (presumably from the Internet) and quotations from others in the Hunt wagon train to discredit data from Jayhawker Sheldon Young’s log of 1849-1850. Olesen needs to build a case that Young’s Log is off about ten days to support his conclusion that the “Jayhawkers, Briers, Bennett-Arcan Party and others were at Travertine Springs on or about January [sic] 15th, 1894 [sic], approximately ten-days earlier than recorded by Manly, the Briers and Nusbaumer” (151:2:3). (Since the Briers and Manly were at Travertine at Christmas, presumably Olesen means December 15, 1849). Additional details are given in the next section.

     Olesen tells us the lunar ephemeris for January 5, 1850, shows the moon rose at “1:00 PM” (56:2:3 italics ours). The U.S. Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Department ephemeris that we used to check his contention shows the moon rising at 1:00 AM, a significant difference of 12 hours.

     Olesen says Manly’s Sulphur Water Well is located at Salt Well, but Salt Well is not now, and records indicate never has been, a potable water source. Olesen does not discuss the following firsthand accounts that are contrary to his contention: Frederick Coville, of the Death Valley Expedition, said of Salt Wells on January 20, 1891, “a hole about twenty-five feet deep … found to be a nearly saturated brine.” T. S. Palmer said in 1891, “Salt Wells are two holes about 25 ft deep with a little water in the bottom. Water is a saturated solution of salt” (HM 50827: Jan. 20, 1891).

     In Olesen’s discussion concerning water at Salt Well, he tells us “the growth of Sagebrush, grass and weeds [around Salt Well] proves the presence of water here” (34:1:1). He also directs readers to his photograph 14: We see no grass in the photograph. Perhaps the man in the photograph is standing on it.