Harper's New Monthly Magazine,  8 (1884), 388–404.

Salt Lake City

Ernest Ingersoll


Essay, Travelogue


Physical Geography, Exploration, Mapping, Error, Nomenclature, Oceanography, Agriculture, Mining, Christianity

    Describes the physical geography of the 'inland saline sea' (391) that lies amid the 'lifeless alkali deserts' of central Utah, and which was 'put down [...] in maps made toward the end of the last century as much by guess as maps of twenty years ago contained the lakes of Central Africa in problematic positions'. After explaining how the lake was mapped correctly for the first time in the 1830s by Benjamin L E de Bonneville, suggests that it is 'a great pity that the good and proper name Lake Bonneville has been lost in the prosaic name it now bears, and will probably for ever retain'. (388) Warns that if swimmers in the Great Salt Lake accidentally swallow the brine 'it not only chokes, but is described as fairly burning the tissues of the throat and lungs, producing death almost as surely as the breathing of fire'. After all, the 'proportion of saline matter in it is six times as great as the percentage of the ocean, and almost equal to that of the Dead Sea'. But, although the 'waters seem utterly lifeless [...] the innumerable gulls and pelicans there must find something to live upon', and when 'Walking on the shore in midsummer, you are surrounded by clouds of little sand-fleas (Artemia salina)'. The salt in the lake can be obtained by 'damming small bays' and allowing the water to evaporate, and 'great quantities [are] used at home in chlorodizing ores'. (391). Because 'so much curiosity is constantly expressed' regarding the 'private routine of a polygamous family', gives a brief account of such families, although notes that 'less than ten per cent. of the voting Mormon population of Utah are polygamists' (398). Explains that 'all the agriculture of Utah is by artificial irrigation', using water drawn from 'stream[s] fed by the melting snows of the heights' (401). Also notes how the Mormon leader Brigham Young 'always opposed any attempt at a development of the mineral resources of the Territory', and 'forbade all mining to his devotees' (402), an attitude that 'led to a schism in the Church', and which has now been relaxed considerably since Young's death (403).

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