On October 1, 1849, about 400 ‘49ers with 100 wagons left Utah Valley headed for Southern California then the Gold Country with Jefferson Hunt as their guide. A little more than one month later in the Southwestern corner of Utah, nearly all of the emigrants left the wagon train to follow a purported short cut west. Most turned back several days later but nearly a hundred people continued and almost two months later entered Death Valley; they became the Death Valley ‘49ers. Who was Jefferson Hunt; what qualified him to be their guide; and why did the Death Valley ‘49ers abandon his wagon train? These are the questions this book answers.
From July 1846 to May 1848, Jefferson Hunt traveled over 5,000 miles in the American West, and trekked on all or parts of five major Western Trails—the Santa Fe Trail, the Gila River Route, El Camino Real, the Humboldt River Trail, and pioneered the Salt Lake City to Los Angeles Trail—many of which the author traveled while writing this book. Into the Jaws of Hell: Jefferson Hunt: The Death Valley Wagon Train & His Adventures in California chronicles Hunt’s journeys.
Hunt was a farmer when the Mormons left Nauvoo, Illinois. But in Council Bluffs, Iowa, he signed up to become a Captain in the Mormon Battalion, an important unit of Stephen Watts Kearney’s Army of the West that forged a key trail from Santa Fe to Southern California. He and his family settled in the Valley of the Great Salt Lake and later in Utah Valley. Then Hunt led a wagon train of Gold Rush travelers West. Only a year afterwards, Hunt became the father of San Bernardino County, both helping to found the community, and then enacting key legislation in the California Assembly.
Major in the Nauvoo Legion, Captain in the Mormon Battalion, Frontiersman, Settler, Brigadier General in the California Militia, Los Angeles County Supervisor, Assemblyman, Freighter, Founder of Huntsville, Utah, Cache Valley Pioneer—these are the titles Jefferson Hunt held during his long, fascinating life. His treks during this period took him through the present states of Iowa, Nebraska, Missouri, Kansas, Colorado, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Nevada, Idaho and Utah.
Remarkable in scope, illuminating discoveries of important routes and settlements, Into the Jaws of Hell: Jefferson Hunt: The Death Valley Wagon Train & His Adventures in California presents new insights into this extraordinary individual’s importance to the American West.