March 2011

Panamint Range Historical Quibble Paper.

Manly and Rodgers Route out of Death Valley, The Probable Way.

Richard Waller,  Lead
Douglas Stewart,  Research Assistant
Laurie Waller, Research Assistant.

For thirty seven years I have explored Death Valley, usually spending a week in the Spring roaming the backroads of Saline, Panamint and Death Valley. I knew of, but little about, the Bennett Arcan (spelling preferred by family)  Party. I knew even less about William Lewis Manly and John Rodgers remarkable journey out to San Fernando and return to Death Valley.

I had seen the diorama at the Death Valley National Monument Visitor’s Center showing the return of Manly and Rodgers to the forlorn group that waited for them at Long Camp but, I paid little attention.

Meanwhile, my old friend and mountaineering companion Doug Stewart’s brother came across old papers belonging to his family, among those was an account by a relative with the name of Skinner who traveled with the Jayhawker party. Doug read those, and gave me the details of Skinner’s account.

This triggered our interest in the ‘Rest of the Story’, as Paul Harvey would say.  We read the Johnson’s book, Escape From Death Valley and William Manly's book, Death Valley in 49 and over the next few years as many books on the 49's as we could find.

In the Spring of 2008 we drove to Death Valley in my Jeep, and ascended Warm Springs Canyon into Butte Valley. The both of us had been through there before, but, this time we had the words of William Manly in attendance, along with the interpretation of Johnson et al.

Now, let me briefly recount the accepted version of the route Manly-Rodgers used to leave the valley.  I have highlighted in red, passages from Manly’s book that appear to illustrate his path out of Death Valley

The accepted route they used was to ascend Warm Springs Canyon to Butte Valley, hence to what became known as Arrastre Spring.

”By night we were far up the mountain, near the perpendicular rough peak, and far above us on a slope we could see some bunches of grass and sage brush. We went to this and found some small water holes. No water ran from them they were so small. Here we staid all night. It did not seem very far to the snowy peak to the north of us. Just where we were seemed the lowest pass, for to the south were higher peaks and the rocks looked as if they were too steep to be got over.”



From there, they ascended the thousand foot east escarpment of the Panamint Range to what became known as Rodgers Pass.  Hence down the west slope of the range to Panamint Valley.

“In the morning we filled our canteens, which we had made by binding two powder cans together with strips of cloth, and started for the summit near bv From this was the grandest sight we ever beheld. Looking east we could see the country we had been crawling over since November 4th. "Just look at the cursed country we have come over!" said Rogers as he pointed over it. To the north was the biggest mountain we ever saw, peaks on peaks and towering far above our heads, and cohered with snow which was apparently everlasting. 
This mountain seemed to have very few trees on it, and in extent, as it reached away to the north seemed interminable. South was a nearly level plain, and to the west I thought I could dimly see a range of mountains that held a little snow upon their summits, but on the main range to the south there was none. It seemed to me the dim snowy mountains must be as far as 200 miles away, but of course I could not judge accurately. After looking at this grand, but worthless landscape long enough to take in its principal features we asked each other what we supposed the people we left behind would think to see mountains so far ahead. We knew that they had an idea that the coast range was not very far ahead, but we saw at once to go over all these mountains and return within the limits of fifteen days which had been agreed upon between us, would probably be impossible, but we must try as best we could, so down the rocky steep we clambered and hurried on our way. In places the way was so steep that we had to help each other down, and the hard work made us perspire freely so that the water was a prime necessity.
In one place near here, we found a little water and filled our canteens, besides drinking a good present supply. There were two low, black rocky ranges directly ahead of us which we must cross. When part way down the mountain a valley or depression opened up in that direction up which it seemed as if we could look a hundred miles. Near by and a short distance north was a lake of water and when we reached the valley we crossed a clear stream of water flowing slowly toward the lake.”



On their return it is accepted by most researchers than they ascended Redlands Canyon, crossed Butte Valley and down Warm Springs Canyon to Death Valley.

“...and all things considered it seemed to oe the quickest way to camp to try and get up a rough looking canon which was nearly opposite us on the other side. So we loaded the mule and made our way down the rocky road to the ridge, and then left the Jayhawker's trail, taking our course more south so as to get around a salt lake which lay directly before us. On our way we had to go close to a steep bluff, and cross a piece of ground that looked like a well dried mortar bed, hard and smooth as ice, and thus got around the head of a small stream of clear water, salt as brine. We now went directly to the mouth of the canon we had decided to take, and traveled up its gravelly bed.
....
The canon was rough enough where . we entered it, and a heavy up grade too, and this grew more and more difficult as we advanced, and the rough yellowish, rocky walls closed in nearer and nearer together as we ascended.
A perpendicular wall, or rather rise, in the rocks was approached, and there was a great difficulty to pursuade the horses to take exertion to get up and over the small obstruction, but the little mule skipped over as nimbly as a well-fed goat, and rather seemed to enjoy a little variety in the proceedings. After some coaxing and urging the horses took courage to try the extra step and succeeded all right, when we all moved on again, over a path that grew more and more narrow, more and more rocky under foot at every moment. We wound around among and between the great rocks, and had not advanced very far before another obstruction, that would have been a fall of about three feet had water been flowing in the canon, opposed our way. “


Departing Death Valley with the Bennett Arcan group it is accepted by most researchers that they ascended Galena Canyon

“We had little trouble in packing up again in the morning, and concluded to take a nearer route to the summit, so as to more quickly reach the water holes where Rogers and I camped on our first trip over the country. This would be a hard rocky road on its course leading up a small rocky canon,”

then crossed over into Warm Springs Canyon, up Warm Springs Canyon to Butte Valley, then across the valley at the bottom of the Panamint Range Escarpment to Redlands Canyon,

“The trail had been more like stairs than a road in its steep ascent, and our camp was at a narrow pass in the range.”


 Then down Redlands to Panamint Valley.

Now, back to our findings, at a point in Warm Springs Canyon,  the  eastern escarpment of the Panamint summit ridge could be seen, rising over a thousand steep feet. At the south end of the ridge the escarpment could be seen slanting down to the left, we saw this, but paid it little attention at the time.


From Warm Springs, the view of the Panamint escarpment dropping to the left.



We had long been curious about the reputed Arrastre which has been claimed to “predate” any known miners in the area. Taking the tortuous track from the Butte Valley Road up to Arrastre Spring, as we came up out of the wash where the Butte Valley Road lay, we could see the green willows that marked the spring, 2,000 feet above us and at the steep slope rising another 1500 feet to Rodgers Pass, taking this in, our eyes moved southward along the ridgeline to where it sloped down to a low pass.


View across Butte Valley toward the Panamint Summit Ridge and Arrastre Spring as would have been seen by Manly and Rodgers at the head of Warm Springs Canyon.



Telephoto view from Lower Butte Valley to Arrastre Spring, taken in February, with the willows leafless,  can you pick it out? Under winter conditions it is very hard to do..

Arrastre Spring is in the gully in right center. In fairness to Manly he had a small telescope and could have seen this, can you tell it is a spring? There was probably an indian trail leading to the spring, but that direction of travel is 90 degrees and 2 miles out from the route to the obvious low saddle at the top of Redlands Canyon. Which was probably also a visible indian trail.



View toward Striped Butte and obvious low gap beyond.


We looked at  the accepted route, and at the low pass, and nearly simultaneously we turned to each other and said, “They did not climb that ridge, not with a low pass staring at them.”

Doug and I, life long travelers in desolate areas, and mountaineers of no great repute, looked at the accepted route over Arrastre Spring and Rodgers pass with the point of view of mountaineers needing to cross the range. Using the accepted route rather than the low pass did not strike us as logical.

So, ever inquisitive, we drove the track to near Arrastre Spring then walked the short distance to the spring.  The spring itself was marginal, that would fit Manly’s description of a seep. What we did not see was room for the escapee party and oxen to spend the night.

There are several other problems with Arrastre Spring being located and used by Manly Rodgers. 

It is darned hard to see in winter. Today the willows that grow there are leafless,  picking that spot as a spring in winter would be hard to do. If there were no willows in 1850 it would be even harder to see. From any distance at all there would be little to distinguish the spring from the surrounding landscape.

Travelers are probably going to stay in the wash bottom expecting to find water at the head of the wash.  Manly & Rodgers would have had to leave the wash and climb to the plain above to see the spring.

From the first point in the wash that the spring can be seen it is about 2 miles to the spring, and 1700 feet lower.  To make a detour to the Northwest of 2 miles and an elevation gain of 1700 feet to the possibility of a spring does not appear to me to be logical, when a low gap, the probable pass, and the probable goal of Manly Rodgers lies  visible to the southwest 90 degrees.

The ascent to Rodgers Pass from Arrastre Spring is another 1500 feet vertical. For  Manly and Rodgers, in poor condition, and in a hurry to get help to climb 3200 feet compared to the 500 feet of climb needed to get to Redlands Pass does not appear logical. When they crossed the Slate Range they crossed at the lowest possible gap, it is logical that they did the same thing crossing the Panamints.

At this point let us look at Manly’s own words, now, in the following it will be apparent that I am accepting some of his descriptions, but not others. Yes, that is true. I believe that there are several issues with taking Manly’s descriptions literally.

Manly’s book was written in 1888, 38 years after the events he describes. Who among us can write a detailed account of what we did 38 years ago? Now, factor in a high degree of stress, stress to the point of being unsure of surviving the events at all. With no discredit to Manly, I believe there are normal and understandable flaws in his recollections.

 He had the assistance of a “ghost writer”, according to accounts, a young woman. Her interpretation and rewriting of his words  I believe also affected the accuracy of his account.

I am not at this time going to address any other routefinding other than the crossing of the Panamint Range.

My thesis is simple, William Lewis Manly and John Rodgers crossed the range by what appeared to them to be the most expeditious route. They did not take the time to climb to the high crest of the range, or as Olesen theorizes, Manly Peak (confusing meters with feet destroys any credibility Olesen may have had, anyone one who can read a topo map properly, and anyone who has actually been in Butte Valley would recognize that it is three times 500 feet from Redlands Summit to the summit of Manly Peak, Doug and I have climbed Manly Peak, and at the standard Mountaineer ascent rate of a class 2 climb of one thousand feet per hour, it took us about 2 hours to make the ascent from Russell’s Cabin).



View from Butte Valley, toward Redlands gap, Striped Butte to the left, Manly Peak beyond, Olesen’s “ephemeral spring” would lie between this spot and the gap.


Manly’s first description with which we are  concerned is this:

“By night we were far up the mountain near the perpendicular rough peak,”


This terminology indicates that this peak had been mentioned before, which means that it must be Telescope Peak, yet Manly was no where near Telescope Peak, he was 12 miles to the south of it with numerous intervening ridges. Even by the accepted route he was not “far up the mountain” he was in or just above Butte Valley.

The next phrase:

“We went to this and found some small water holes. No water ran from them they were so small”


This has been determined to be Arrastre Spring by other historians.  Based on Manly’s  further descriptions of the site, I doubt it, which begs the question, what is it?  Olesen theorizes that this was an ephemeral spring existing due to the deep snow pack. Olesen could be right, or Manly- Rodgers went to Anvil or Hatchett Springs..

Next he states;

“It did not seem very far to the snowy peak to the north of us”. 


This description works for both Arrastre Springs and any other spring in Butte Valley.

Then he says, and this is important;

 “Just where we were seemed the lowest pass, for to the south were higher peaks and the rocks looked as if they were too steep to be got over.”

He states clearly that where he and Rodgers found water seemed to be  the lowest pass. This could not be Arrastre Springs, 1500 feet below the crest. The lowest pass would have been apparent as they traveled, and that lowest pass would be Redlands. He also states that to the south were higher peaks. From either Arrastre Springs, or at the crest at Rodgers Pass, there are no peaks, but small rises in the ridge and quite definitely not rocky.

However, if they were at or near the Redlands summit, the landscape to the south is rocky, and, with a clear view of Manly Peak, he would be accurate in his statement.

His next sentence;

“Through this gap came a cold breeze, and we had to look round to get a sheltered place in which to sleep.”

This is a clear statement, there is a gap with a cold breeze. At Arrastre Springs, over a thousand feet below the crest, it cannot be said that there is a “gap” of any sort. At Redlands Summit, there is of course, quite a gap. If they slept just below the summit any distance they would have caught the breeze to their discomfort.

Next;

 “and started for the summit nearby From this was the grandest sight we ever beheld. Looking east we could see the country we had been crawling over since November 4th. "Just look at the cursed country we have come over!" said Rogers as he pointed over it. To the north was the biggest mountain we ever saw, peaks on peaks and towering far above our heads, and cohered with snow which was apparently everlasting.”

Manly states the summit is nearby, from Arrastre Spring I think a mountaineer would say, the summit was a stiff climb above, rather than “near by”.
There is this;

“To the north was the biggest mountain we ever saw, peaks on peaks and towering far above our heads, and covered with snow which was apparently everlasting.”


This could be true from any location in Butte Valley, however;

 “In the morning we filled our canteens, which we had made by binding two powder cans together with strips of cloth, and started for the summit nearby”.


I think there is a pretty good chance that they climbed Striped Butte, either that, or a short way up Manly Peak, enough to see their back trail and a portion of the canyon route they were going to use.  And likely the spot where the following occured;

["While waiting for the women Bennett and Arcane wanted to go out and get a good view of the great snowy mountain I had told them so much about. The best point of view was near our camp, perhaps three or four hundred yards away, and I went with them. This place where we now stood was lower than the mountains either north or south, but were difficult to climb, and gave a good view in almost every direction, and there, on the back bone of the ridge we had a grand outlook, but some parts of it brought back doleful recollections. They said they had traveled in sight of that mountain for months and seen many strange formations, but never one like this, as developed from this point. It looked to be seventy-five miles to its base, and to the north and west there was a succession of snowy peaks that seemed to have no end. Bennett and Arcane said they never before supposed America contained mountains so grand with peaks that so nearly seemed to pierce the sky. Nothing except a bird could ever cross such steep ranges as that one."]

Manly states;

“To the north was the biggest mountain we ever saw, peaks on peaks and towering far above our heads, and cohered with snow which was apparently everlasting.
This mountain seemed to have very few trees on it, and in extent, as it reached away to the north seemed interminable. South was a nearly level plain, and to the west I thought I could dimly see a range of mountains that held a little snow upon their summits, but on the main range to the south there was none. “



From a summit near or from Rodgers Pass the view to the north would show forested mountains. From Striped Butte or the lower slope of Manly, the crest north toward Rodgers Pass would indeed be nearly treeless. The dimly seen range could be the Sierra, or as Manly admits:

“It seemed to me the dim snowy mountains must be as far as 200 miles away, but of course I could not judge accurately” 


The Sierra is 65 miles as the crow flies, the Argus Range is 21 miles. Neither distance is anything close to  200 miles. I think we are seeing a dimly remembered memory. It may be possible that the ghost writer added an additional zero which when deleted would be an accurate estimate of the distance to the Argus Range. In this description could easily be the descent from Striped Butte and the descent of the several rock falls in Redlands Canyon.

“so down the rocky steep we clambered and hurried on our way. In places the way was so steep that we had to help each other down, and the hard work made us perspire freely so that the water was a prime necessity.
In one place near here, we found a little water and filled our canteens, besides drinking a good present supply. There were two low, black rocky ranges directly ahead of us which we must cross.”




Next;

“When part way down the mountain a valley or depression opened up in that direction up which it seemed as if we could look a hundred miles. Near by and a short distance north was a lake of water and when we reached the valley we crossed a clear stream of water flowing slowly toward the lake.”


Manly states he saw Panamint Valley, and beyond, and a lake of water, and the clear stream of water.  I accept this view as seen from from atop Manly Falls, and the lake and stream from the alluvial fan rather than from higher up, where his view would be blocked by canyon walls.

Reading Manly’s own words it becomes clear that there are various interpretations of his possible route. I think one must be cautious in taking his descriptions literally. The time interval between the trip and the book, combined with the possible rewording or reinterpreting of his descriptions by the young woman who assisted him in writing the book makes it even more difficult to pin down the particulars of his route.

In this case, logic should should apply. He and Rodgers needed the most efficient route possible, that would not include going miles away from the lowest gap in order to ascend an unnecessary 1500 feet to the summit ridgeline when the lower gap was visible.

In sum, Manly and Rodgers did not pass through Arrastre Spring, Rodgers Pass and Middle Park. Manly and Rodgers outbound path over the Panamint Range was  through Redlands Canyon, the same route as their return route, and the route by which they guided the Bennett and Arcan families out of Death Valley.



Legend, distances and elevation gain and loss as calculated by National Geographic Topo software and may not be precise as to actual distance, gain and loss as experienced by Manly and Rodgers, but, should be very close.

Accepted Route in Red, about 24 miles with a total gain of 4871 feet and total loss of 7322 feet.

Probable Route in Green about 15 miles with a total gain of 1613 feet and a total loss of 4417 feet.






Bibliography

BELDEN, L. BURR, Goodbye Death Valley! Death Valley ‘49ers  Inc, 1956,

CHALFANT W. A., Death Valley, the Facts, Stanford University Press, 1930

JOHNSON, LEROY & JEAN, Escape from Death Valley,  University of Nevada Press, Reno, NV. 1984

KOENIG, GEORGE F,  The Lost Death Valley ‘49er Journal of Louis Nusbaumer, Death Valley ‘49ers Inc, 1974.

LONG, DR. MARGARET, The Shadow of the Arrow,  Caxton Printers, Caldwell ID. 1941

MANLY, WILLIAM LEWIS, Death Valley in 49, The Pacific Tree and Vine Co. San Jose, CA 1894

MANLY, WILLIAM LEWIS, From Vermont to California, Santa Clara Valley, 1988

OLESEN, B G, Death Valley ‘49er Trails,  Photophysics, 2004