Egan Biography Presented at the 2018 National Historical Symposium
Catherine Sloan Blake
worked along William Hartley in his final major biography on Mormon Frontiersman Howard Egan. She oversaw the selection of visuals and illustrations and assisted in the design and publication of the book. Ms. Blake presented an in depth overview of Major Howard Egan’s biography at this symposium. It was sponsored by the National Society of the Sons of the Utah Pioneers..
Below are two excerpts from the closing of her presentation:
“The railroad line was a partial victory for Howard who had lobbied long and hard since the 1850’s and proved by pony and stagecoach that the main transportation route to and from California should be along or near a central route. Of Howard’s sixty-two years of life, he spent more years in the stagecoach business than in any other type of employment. He shouldered responsibilities for hundreds of employees, hundreds of expensive vehicles, thousands of livestock, tons of U.S. mail and freight, hundreds if not thousands of passengers, dozens of home and relay stations, and scores of Native Americans. Because of his responsibilities, he personally interacted with and had the trust and respect of top business leaders, LDS officials, military officers, and government agents. To do his job well and right, Howard spent most of his time out on dirt roads monitoring, inspecting, and finding solutions to problems.
Howard spent two decades of his life focusing on the wide, open, unexplored, western regions determining how to best move cattle, people, mail and freight across to California. His contribution in this area is immeasurable. He earns his marks as one of America’s greatest frontiersman.
In Bill’s own words on Howard Egan’s impact, he states:
“Howard held lead roles in FOUR western history developments. The first was his being a lead drover of herds of cattle to help California during its early years. The importance of that livestock flow for California’s development and for Utah’s economy is under recognized by historians.
He deserves star billing, for locating and making usable a vital central trail route from Salt Lake to California south of the Great Salt Lake. While the nation argued about how best to serve California by trail, Howard was one who got out there and probed for a better, more direct way than along the Humboldt River. By difficult searches he discovered a better trail. Captain James Simpson received accolades for supposedly finding that route, but Howard’s “Egan Trail” made Simpson’s work possible. That trail, then road, became the major western wing route for the Pony Express and the overland stagecoach. Pioneering that route is Howard’s most impactful contribution to history.
His other two starring roles were management ones. He set up and supervised most of the “west wing” of the Pony Express. He was the district agent for much of the “west wing’ of the overland stagecoach mail for nearly a decade. He is the one man who primarily made the west wing operational for both of those enterprises. The Pony Express and the stagecoaches changed the West, and manager Howard made the riders and coaches keep going as much or more than anyone else on the ground.
History generally considers Chorpenning and government explorer James Simpson the lead actors in the central trail story. And in the Pony Express saga, Russell, Majors, and Waddell, usually take center stage. Then in the overland stagecoach, Wells Fargo receives top billing. However, Howard deserves to share the center stage spotlight and applause with all those “stars.”Likewise, historians have yet to appreciate two of Howard’s vital roles that affected Mormon history, not just western history. One is the cattle business he helped develop between Utah and California, and its benefits to Mormon stock raisers and to the LDS Church’s finances. The other is how his mail delivery and stagecoach transportation between Salt Lake City and California contributed to the well-being of Mormonism during the 1850s and 1860s. When those two gaps in Mormon history are filled, Howard’s contributions in Mormon history will be enhanced, perhaps giving him star billings.”