Lansford Hastings

Lansford Hastings

Lansford Hastings was born in Knox County, Ohio, in about 1818. He led the overland wagon train to Oregon in 1842. Later he published The Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California, one of the most important guidebooks of the region. Hastings left California in 1843 and arrived in New Orleans in February, 1844.

In 1846 Hastings guided a party to Fort Bridger. He then attempted to persuade Oregon-bound emigrants to go to California by way of what became known as the Hastings Cut-off. Hastings claimed that his route would remove 300 miles from the distance to Sutter's Fort. His cut-off involved crossing the Wasatch Mountains, round the Great Salt Lake to the south, then due west to the Humboldt River in Nevada, before they reached the main trail from Fort Hall.

Hastings told people the desert was only 40 miles across and that they would find water after 24 hours. It was in fact 82 miles wide and water was only to be found after 48 hours of travelling. Hastings told the Donner Party that three wagon trains had already opted for this route. As they had made poor time the Donner Party decided to take the risk of taking the Hastings Cutoff. The Donner Party was the worst disaster in wagon train history. Forty-two emigrants and two Indian guides had died. However, the remaining forty-seven travellers survived.

After marriage Hastings worked as a lawyer in Arizona City before moving to Yuma. A supporter of the Confederate Army during the American Civil War he devised a plan to capture the southern part of California, Arizona and New Mexico for the South. The plan failed and at the end of the war he fled to Mexico. Later he lived in Brazil.

Lansford Hastings died in 1868.

Primary Sources

(1) Lansford Hastings, Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California (1845)

The author long having had an anxious desire to visit those wild regions upon the great Pacific, which had now become the topic of conversation in every circle, and in reference to which, speculations both rational and irrational were everywhere in vogue, now determine to accomplish his desired object: for which purpose he repaired to Independence, which place was the known rendezvous of the Santa Fe traders, and the trappers of the Rocky mountains. Having arrived at Independence, he was so fortunate as to find, not only the Santa Fe traders, and the Rocky mountain trappers, but also a number of emigrants, consisting of families and young men who had convened there with the view of crossing the Rocky mountains, and were waiting very patiently until their number should be so increased as to afford protection and insure the safety of all, when they contemplated setting out together, for their favorite place of destination, Oregon territory. The number of emigrants continued to increase with such rapidity, that on the 15th day of May, our company consisted of one hundred and sixty persons, giving us a force of eighty armed men, which was thought ample for our protection. Having organized, and having ascertained that all had provided themselves with the necessary quantum of provisions and ammunition, as well as such teams and wagons as the company had previously determined to be essential, and indispensable, and all things else being in readiness, on the 16th day of May, in the year 1842, all as one man, united in interest, united in feeling, we were, en route, for the long desired El Dorado of the West.

(2) Lansford Hastings, Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California (1845)

Upon arriving at Fort Larimie and Fort John, we were received in a very kind and friendly manner by the gentlemen of those forts, who extended every attention to us, while we remained in their vicinity. While here several of our party disposed of' their oxen and wagons, taking horses in exchange. This they were induced to do, under the impression that their wagons could not be taken to Oregon, of which they were assured by the gentlemen of those forts, and other mountaineers. Many others of the party, disposed of their cows and other cattle, which had become tender footed, as from this cause, it was supposed, that they would soon, be unable to travel; but we found by experience, that by continued driving, their hoofs became more and more hardened, until they had entirely recovered. Before leaving these forts, the disaffected of our party, proposed to unite their destinies again with ours; but the main body being so exasperated with their former course, for some time refused their consent, yet in view of the fact, that they must either travel with us, remain at these forts, or return to the States, they were permitted to join us again, when, we were once more, enabled to continue our toilsome, yet interesting journey.

(3) Lansford Hastings, Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California (1845)

Leaving these forts, we had traveled but a few miles, when we met a company of trappers and traders, from Fort Hall, on their way to the States, among whom was a Mr. Fitzpatrick, who joined our party, as a guide, and traveled with us, as such, to Green river. From this gentleman's long residence in the great western prairies, and the Rocky mountains, he is eminently qualified as a guide, of which fact, we were fully convinced, from the many advantages which we derived from his valuable services. He was employed by Dr. White, who had received the appointment of Indian agent of Oregon, and who was under the impression, that our government would defray all such expenses; which impression, however, I think, was entirely unfounded. Perfect unanimity of feeling and purpose, now having been fully restored, we passed on very agreeably, and with little or no interruption, until we arrived at Sweetwater, near Independence rock. Here we had the misfortune to lose a young man, by the name of Bailey, who was killed by the accidental discharge of a gun. As the ball entered at the groins, and passed entirely through the body, it was readily seen, that the wound must prove fatal. He survived but about two hours, which, to him, were hours of excruciating suffering, and to us, those of gloomy despondency and grief. He was an amiable young man, a native of the state of Massachusetts; latterly from the territory of Iowa.

(4) Lansford Hastings, Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California (1845)

We had scarcely completed our labors, when we were surprised by the sudden appearance of seven Indians, who had descried us from some remote hill or mountain. They presented themselves to us, in the most hostile attitude, rushing towards us with the greatest vehemence; uttering the most terrific and demoniac yells; and with the most frightful gestures, seeming to design nothing but our immediate destruction. With drawn bows and guns, they thus rapidly advanced, while we were cautiously, yet hastily descending the rocky heights; winding our way with all possible haste, to the point at which we had left our guns and horses, at which place, ourselves and the Indians arrived at the same time, when we immediately seized our guns, with a view of defending ourselves. But upon seeing us take our guns, they at once lowered their bows and guns, and extended their hands in friendship. We hastily took their hands, but as hastily proceeded to mount, and to prepare for our departure. We had scarcely mounted, when they evinced a determination to prevent our leaving. One of them held Mr. Lovejoy's mule by the bit, while others laid hold of his person; and others still, stood around with drawn guns and bows. As we were now consulting in reference to the proper course to be pursued, under these peculiar and critical circumstances, their repeated demands to dismount, and their increasing determination and violence, forcibly reminded us of the eminent importance of immediate and decisive action. Finally, we determined to effect our escape, after having, slain as many of our assailants as we could, which, perhaps, might have been five of the seven, as we, together, had that number of shots, upon which we might rely. Just, however, as we had arrived at the above determination, to our astonishment, we beheld the whole country, as far as we could see, completely covered with them, rapidly advancing towards us, with deafening whoops and terrific yells. They seemed to have sprung up from behind every rock, to have come down from every hill, and mountain; and to have emerged from every valley and ravine. Our purpose was now, of course, changed, for resistance was out of the question; to attempt an escape by flight, was dangerous in the extreme, and to accomplish it was utterly impossible; we, therefore, dismounted, and determined to reconcile our minds to our fate, be that life or death. Every thing around us, appeared now, to indicate nothing but immediate torture, and ultimate death, to be inflicted by merciless savages. Their numbers had, by this time, increased to about two or three hundred; and they were still arriving in great numbers.

(5) Lansford Hastings, Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California (1845)

Upon arriving at Fort Hall, we were received in the kindest manner, by Mr. Grant, who was in charge; and we received every aid and attention from the gentlemen of that fort, during our stay in their vicinity. We were here informed, by Mr. Grant, and other gentlemen of the company, that it would be impossible for us to take our wagons down to the Pacific, consequently, a meeting of the party was called, for the purpose of determining whether we should take them further, or leave them at this fort, from which place it appeared, that we could take them, about half way to the Pacific, without serious interruption. Some insisted that the great convenience of having wagons with us, would amply warrant taking them as far as we could; while others thought, as we would eventually be under the necessity of leaving them, it would be preferable to leave them at the fort, especially as we could there obtain tools, and all other means of manufacturing our packing equipage, which we could not do elsewhere. Another reason which was urged in favor of leaving them was, that we could, perhaps, sell them for something at this place, which we could do, at no other point upon the route. The vote having been taken, it was found that a large majority was opposed to taking them any further, the consequence of which was, that there was no alternative for the minority, as our little government was purely democratic. Mr. Grant purchased a few of our wagons, for a mere trifle, which he paid in such provisions as he could dispose of, without injury to himself. He could not of course, afford to give much for them, as he did not need them, but bought them merely as an accommodation. Those who did not sell to Mr. Grant, got nothing for theirs; but left them there, to be destroyed by the Indians, as soon as we had commenced our march. This was a serious loss, as most of the wagons and harness, were very valuable. Eight or ten days were occupied, in consummating our arrangements for the residue of our cheerless journey. In the interim, those of our company, who left us at Green river, had accomplished their preliminary arrangements, and had gone on, several days in advance. We were enabled, at this fort, to exchange our poor and way-worn horses, for those which had not been injured by use; having done which, to considerable extent; having purchased many; having procured such additional provisions as could be obtained; and having convinced ourselves that we were invincible, we, once more, resumed our dangerous journey, over the burning sands, and through the trackless deserts of Oregon.

(6) Lansford Hastings, Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California (1845)

Oregon territory is bounded on the east by the Rocky mountains; on the south by Upper California; on the west by the Pacific ocean; and on the north by the British possessions. The southern boundary was determined in the year 1819, by a treaty between the United States and Spain, which is commonly called the Florida treaty. It stipulates that the boundary between the possessions of the two nations, west of the Mississippi river, shall be as follows: "following the course of the southern bank of the Arkansas to its source, in latitude 42 degrees north, and thence, by that parallel of latitude, to the South sea." This boundary was confirmed by Mexico, as the successor of Spain, in the year 1828, consequently, there is no dispute or difference as to the southern boundary. The northern boundary was settled in 1823, by treaty between the United States and Russia, at 54 degrees and 40 minutes north latitude. These treaties then, fix and determine the boundaries, as between the United States, Spain, Russia and Mexico, which are, in truth, the only powers that ever had any just claim, to any portion of that territory. Great Britain, however, latterly asserts a pretended claim, adverse to that of the United States, to a portion of that country. But so far from having any valid claim to any portion of it, she has no right even to occupy it; other than that right guaranteed to her, by the convention of 1818, the third article of which, provides, "that any country that may be claimed by either party on the northwest coast of America, westward of the Stony mountains, shall, together with its harbors, bays and creeks, and the navigation of all rivers within the same, be free and open for the term of ten years, from the date of the signature of the present convention, to the vessels, citizens and subjects of the two powers. It being well understood, that this agreement is not to be construed to the prejudice of any claim, which either of the two high, contracting parties, may have to any part of said country." The same provisions were indefinitely extended by the convention of 1827; with the further agreement, however, "that it should be competent for either party, at any time after the 20th day of October, 1828, on giving due notice, of twelve months, to the other contracting party, to annul and abrogate said conventions." It is my purpose here, however, merely to state the boundaries of Oregon, to give the authority by which they are established; and to give the authority by which, the subjects of Great Britain occupy that country, conjointly with citizens of the United States.

(7) Lansford Hastings, Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California (1845)

From Coleville, the Columbia continues a westerly course, receiving a tributary from the east, called the Spokan, which takes its rise in the Lake Cauer d'Alene, among the spurs of the Rocky mountains. This river has worn its way through a vastly mountainous and sterile region. Its banks are generally high basaltic cliffs, covered in some places, with sturdy pines and lofty cedars. In the surrounding country, are found some limited valleys and plains, many of which produce abundance of vegetation, and are surrounded by dense forests of good timber. This river, can not be said to be navigable, for any kind of craft, except such as barges and canoes. The lake in which it takes its rise, is about thirty miles in length, and ten in breadth. There are some very fertile plains and valleys in the vicinity of this lake, which produce an abundance of grass and timber, as well as a great variety of wild fruits. The Columbia still tends westward, about sixty miles below its junction, with the Spokan, to its conflux with the Okanagan, above which point, it receives several small tributaries. The Okanagan takes its rise in a line of lakes of the same name, which are situated in the mountains, about one hundred and twenty miles from its mouth. These lakes are all navigable to considerable extent, for canoes, barges and boats. The country through which this river passes, is usually extremely sterile, with the exception of a very few small plains which are covered with vegetation, and a few hills, which are thinly timbered.

(8) Lansford Hastings, Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California (1845)

The climate of Oregon is, perhaps, as varied and variable, as that of any part of the known world, which fact is attributable to the great diversity of local positions, which the various portions of the country occupy, in reference to those regions of perpetual snow, and the Pacific ocean, as well as the altitude of each portion, in reference to the other. The same diversity of climate, as of soil, prevails in the different sections, and the climate, like the soil, is much more diversified in the Eastern section, than in either of the others. In many portions of this section you experience perpetual winter, while in others you have continued spring, depending upon the position which you occupy; and even in the same portion of the country, one day, you have the extreme heat of a southern summer, and the next, the excessive cold of a northern winter. There are other portions of this section where, in the short space of 24 hours, you experience four distinct changes, corresponding in temperature, with a northern spring, summer, autumn and winter.

(9) Lansford Hastings, Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California (1845)

Since it is true, as above seen, that this gigantic company, of British subjects, holds the almost entire control, not only of the trade, but also of the agricultural and commercial resources, of all Oregon, a brief description of that company, may not be deemed inappropriate. This great company, was created in the year 1670, during the reign of Charles II, by a charter which was granted to certain British subjects, under the name and style of the Hudson's Bay Company. This Company was created, with the view of carrying on the fur trade in Oregon, where it soon established, and held the uninterrupted control of the entire trade, of all that country, until the year 1787, when the North American Fur Company was chartered. This Company also established in Oregon, and commenced a very extensive trade, throughout the different portions of that country; but it soon came in competition and coalition with the Hudson's Bay Company, which gave rise to many serious difficulties. The attention of the British government was soon directed to these companies, and as there was no probability of reconciliation, an act of parliament was passed, uniting the two companies, under the name and style of the Hudson's Bay Company, under which name it has continued its operations, up to the present time, wielding an almost unbounded trade, with unparalleled success. The officers of this company, as now organized, consists of a governor general, chief factors and chief traders. The governor general has charge of all the different trading posts or forts, in North America, and for that purpose resides at York Factory, on Hudson's Bay. The chief factors have the control of a certain number of forts or trading posts, within a certain district, or section of country, subject however, to the general superintendence of the governor general. The chief traders also have control of a certain number of trading posts, within a particular district, being subject to the superintendence of the chief factors. Thus, we have briefly noticed, the origin, and the present organization, of that powerful company, which has, so entirely, wielded the destinies of Oregon, for more than half of a century.

(10) Lansford Hastings, Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California (1845)

Captain Sutter's fort, on the Sacramento, and the other, at a farm about forty miles above that place, about the same time, that the main body of the party, arrived at the Sacramento, opposite New Helvetia, the whole company, received every possible attention, from all the foreigners in California, and especially, from Captain Sutter, who rendered every one of the party, every assistance in his power; and it really appeared, to afford him the greatest delight, to be thus enabled, to render important aid, to citizens of his former, adopted country. All those who went with me to California, as well as all other foreigners, who are residing there, are extremely delighted with the country; and determined to remain there, and make California the future home, not only of themselves, but also, of all their friends, and relatives, upon whom, they can possibly prevail, to exchange the sterile hills, bleak mountains, chilling winds, and piercing cold, of their native lands, for the deep, rich and productive soil, and uniform, mild and delightful climate, of this unparalleled region. This delightful country, will form the subject of several successive chapters, which it is believed, will fully show, that the casual allusions, heretofore made to this country, are, by no means, mere, gratuitous exaggerations.

(11) Robert Keyes, letter to James Keyes (March, 1846)

I make this statement to you concerning California, and the operations of men there: Captain Hastings left the 4th of May to meet the company from the United States, for the purpose of persuading them from their path, and enticing them to California. Now, this I can say to you that may hear Hastings tell of the wonders of California... I have seen enough of Oregon to perceive that it is the best grazing country of the two, and for agriculture they won't compare."

(12) Heinrich Lienhard, From St. Louis to Sutter's Fort, 1846 (1900)

There were two roads from Fort Bridger: the old one via the so-called Soda Springs and Fort Hall, and the new one called Captain Hastings' Cutoff, which was said to be much shorter and which led past the Great Salt Lake. Many parties ahead of us had chosen this route, and since it was supposed to be much shorter, we, too, preferred it.

On the twenty-sixth of July, we finally set out again and took the new road behind the fort, leaving the Fort Hall route to our right. We followed the road, which led through a quickly rising dry ravine to the highest point, then went a little downhill again.

Hardly six miles from the fort we found on the right side of the road an ice-cold spring, coming out of the ground by a thicket. We passed another spring on the right side of the road, but we camped on a creek about six miles away from the first spring, or twelve miles from the fort. There was only a little water in the creek, but enough grass for our oxen.

On the twenty-seventh our road frequently went through depressions between rocky elevations, where we passed several springs, some of which had a disagreeable taste of mineral salts. Around one of these springs the surface of the ground was a rusty red color; the water probably contained some iron elements. In the deep, narrow canyon through which the road passed, there was always grass wherever there was water, but in places the grass was more like rushes. In the evening of this day, near sunset, after we had marched about eighteen miles, we reached the Bear River, where we camped. We met Captain Hastings in the afternoon, but he turned around and came with us, spending the night in our camp.

(13) Jessie Thornton, Oregon and California in 1848 (1849)

A large number of Oregon and California emigrants encamped at this creek, among whom I may mention the following: Messrs. West, Crabtree, Campbell, Boggs, Donners and Dunbar. I had, at one time or another, became acquainted with all of these persons in those companies, and had traveled with them from Wokaruaka, and until subsequent divisions and subdivisions had separated us. We had often, since our various separations, passed and repassed each other upon the road, and had frequently encamped together by the same water and grass, as we did now. In fact, the particular history of my own journey is the general history of theirs. The greater number of the Californians, and especially the companies in which George Donner, Jacob Donner, James F. Reed, and William H. Eddy, and their families travelled, here turned to the left, for the purpose of going by way of Fort Bridger, to meet L. W. Hastings, who had informed them, by a letter which he wrote and forwarded from where the emigrant road leaves the Sweet Water, that he had explored a new route from California, which he had found to be much nearer and better than the old one, by way of Fort Hall, and the head waters of Ogden's River, and that he would remain at Fort Bridger to give further information, and to conduct them through. The Californians were generally much elated, and in fine spirits, with the prospect of a better and nearer road to the country of their destination. Mrs. George Donner was, however, an exception. She was gloomy, sad and dispirited, in view of the fact, that her husband and other could think for a moment of leaving the old road, and confide in the statement of a man of whom they knew nothing, but who was probably some selfish adventurer.

(14) Charles T. Stanton, wrote from Independence to his brother Sidney Stanton (3rd August, 1846)

I may not have another opportunity of sending you letters till I reach California. We take a new route to California, never travelled before this season; consequently our route is over a new an interesting region. We are now in the Bear river valley, in the midst of the Bear River mountains, the summits of which are covered with snow. As I am now writing, we are cheered by a warm summer's sun, while but a few miles off, the snow covered mountains are glittering in its beams.

(15) George Harlan kept a diary of his experiences using the Hastings Cutoff in 1846.

The sides of the mountains were covered by a dense growth of willows, never penetrated by white men. Three times spurs of the mountains had to be crossed by rigging the windlass on top and lifting the wagons almost bodily. The banks were very steep, and covered with loose ' stones, so that a mountain sheep would have been troubled to keep its feet, much more an ox team drawing a heavily loaded wagon. On the 1st of August, while hoisting a yoke of oxen and a wagon up Weber mountain, the rope broke near the windlass. As many men as could surround the wagon were helping all they could by lifting up the wheels and sides. The footing was untenable and before the rope could be tied to anything, the men found they must abandon the wagon and oxen to destruction, or be dragged to death themselves. The faithful beasts seemed to comprehend their danger, and held their ground for a few seconds, and were then hurled over a precipice at least 75 feet high, and crushed in a tangled mass with the wagon on the rocks at the bottom of the canyon.