More than 70 years ago, the Deseret News asked, “Who is Utah’s outstanding outdoorsman of the 1850-1950 century?” and then answered: “His name, Major Howard Egan.”
In his last book, “Faithful and Fearless: Major Howard Egan, Early Mormonism, and the Pioneering of the American West,” the late William G. Hartley, an award-winning historian and founding president of the Mormon Trails Association, describes in detail exactly where Howard Egan went and what he did when he got there.
In his review of “Faithful and Fearless” in Utah Historical Quarterly, noted historian William P. MacKinnon writes that “[t]here are few major events in the development of Mormonism, Utah Territory, or the American West during this period in which Egan was not somehow involved.”
Who was Howard Egan?
“A frontiersman of the first order,” Howard Egan was best known for being one of the original Utah pioneers and for his Pony Express exploits. As Hartley compellingly demonstrates, Egan had a life of remarkable variety and adventure.
After emigrating from Ireland as a young child and being left an orphan in Canada, Egan joined the British Royal Navy as a sailor on a man-of-war ship. He then moved to Salem, Massachusetts, where he married Tamson Parshley and joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
From opening a rope-making factory in Nauvoo, Illinois, to working as a policeman and a bodyguard for Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, Egan’s life was full of diverse and exciting opportunities.
These opportunities included fulfilling difficult and dangerous church assignments; leading many large cattle drives from Utah to California; setting the record for the fastest trip from Salt Lake to Sacramento (11 days by mule); becoming one of the heroes of the Utah War; completing the first mail delivery to Salt Lake via the Pony Express; extending friendship and missionary service to the Goshute Indians; and much more.
His adventures continued until he eventually died from an illness he contracted while guarding Brigham Young’s grave against vandals.
History — with a touch of scandal
Although Egan’s life was exciting and adventurous, Hartley doesn’t shy away from the fact that it also included plenty of hardship and sorrow.
Returning to Salt Lake City after almost two years in the California goldfields, he learned that Tamson had a new child that wasn’t his. Although their marriage endured, Egan confronted and killed the child’s father, James Monroe. In the first jury trial of the new Utah Territory, George A. Smith defended Egan on a theory of “mountain common law” and he was ultimately acquitted.
According to a review by Brett Dowdle in BYU Studies, “Hartley deftly handles Monroe’s murder and Egan’s subsequent trial and acquittal in two chapters, which give depth to and perspective on each of the individuals involved. Hartley neither exonerates nor entirely condemns any of those involved in the affair, demonstrating that each came from a difficult position . . . Perhaps more important than his analysis of the consequences for the individuals involved, Hartley uses the event to provide keen insights into the social and political milieu of early territorial Utah.”
Egan raised the child, William Egan, as his own, and William later became the compiler and editor of Egan’s diaries in a book titled “Pioneering the West.”
Learn more about the “Forrest Gump” of the American West
In a world that’s grown used to instant gratification and convenience, Egan’s life is a testament to the hard work and endurance that characterized early pioneers and settlers.
MacKinnon noted that Egan made six round trips between the Missouri River and Salt Lake Valley alone and as many as fifty extensive treks between the Great Basin and the Pacific coast.
“After reading ‘Faithful and Fearless’ and digesting what this Forrest Gump-like pioneer accomplished under daunting circumstances, many of us will feel lazy,” he wrote.
However, readers will also gain a greater appreciation for a bygone era that laid the foundation for the modern American West.
The capstone achievement of a noted Church historian
“Faithful and Fearless” is not simply a family history or biography intended for a limited audience of eager relatives. Although the book certainly includes those elements, in reality, it is the capstone achievement of Hartley — one of the premier historians of the footsteps, pathways, and people that established the foundation of the American West.
After a lifetime of historical research, Hartley spent perhaps the final five or six years of his life writing this scholarly volume consisting of about 600 pages, including more than 100 pages of source materials, over 200 pictures, and almost 20 original maps. Fortunately, Hartley lived to see his book published before he died only a few months later.
Even professional historians have been surprised by what they learned from “Faithful and Fearless.” The tens of millions of people now living in the Western United States might also be surprised to learn more about some of the historical underpinnings of their towns, roads, and infrastructure.
Purchase your copy of “Faithful and Fearless”
The publication of “Faithful and Fearless” is a non-profit venture. The book is available on Amazon or by emailing email@example.com while supplies last.