Monday, 26 January 2015

The Crossing of the Great Salt Lake Desert

The Crossing of the Great Salt Lake Desert by Jebediah Smith

The author of this diary, Jebediah Smith, is the leader of an expedition across the Great Salt Lake Deserts of western America. Perhaps more surprisingly is that in the first two entries he makes he neglects to mention any one else who's on the expedition other than himself other than one or two very unspecific mentions of 'we'. As the hardships they as a team, face increase, the author starts to mention them more, perhaps to evoke sympathy in the reader or perhaps because the people he was with became a priority as they ran out of food and water to the extent that they even had to leave one of their party behind in the hopes they could find water for him, I'm happy to report that they are successful but there was no guarantee and he seems to resign himself to losing his friend. It is evident from his attitude that death is common place on the salt lake desert of western America.

Smith often mentions the supply of food and water, as I previously mentioned hardships do fall on the travelers relatively soon on but not immediately. He begins with talking about his inability to catch to catch sufficient food and pretty soon after the frankly unsurprising fact that deserts are dry and there isn't any water for miles upon miles on end. It is really on a passing note that he mentions the horses they lost along the way as they die on their journey, he talks about salvaging the best cut of the meat the animals leave eating what they need that might and drying it out the remains for later which he continues to talk about eating, but only in passing; its evident that although i know horses hold great significance in this time and society what they don't have is individual significance, a horse is a horse there is no personality or even a name as far as I've seen allowed in the horses, which makes me wonder why in typical westerns that people seem attached enough to individual horses to kill others over it, but that's beside my point. Food and water alike was scarce for the majority of this this expedition, which is undesirable. The opposite however seems not to be true; when the travelers encounter a river that needs to be crossed, multiple horses and people are swept down stream.

Smith begins his first few entries by describing the path they took and descriptions of the scenery they encountered. This dwindles as he encounters more hardships as previously mentioned, this is understandable since other things became more important to him rather than their precise location and in some of his middle entries he barely mentions where he is directly, preferring to discuss the hardships the terrain was forcing upon them, whether that be lack of food, lack of water, exhaustion or excessive heat.

Native American are mentioned a couple of times in this account of travelling west, each time they are at least initially treated with cautiousness and fear and yet every time they responded with absolutely no threat and in the majority of cases they aided the travelers to such an extent that without the Native's help Smith and his men would have perished long before they reached their destination and I imagine this was true in nearly all frontier. Naturally this poses the question of why, if the natives were so crucial to the westward expansion, why were they so brutally transported and confined to reserves, Why the two parties couldn't simply find a way to wive together each sharing their wisdom rather than one imposing knowledge on the other who is mistaken for a lesser race? the answer I'm afraid is simply that the European settlers had a deadly combination of xenophobia and a sense of self righteousness which lead to the mass genocide of almost an entire race.

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