Antelope Island is by far the largest and most popular isle in the Great Salt Lake. With Utah State Park status, the island is visited by thousands annually. However, is the island technically misnamed?
“Island offers nature study. Antelopes refused to remain. Bathing beaches unsurpassed” was a July 2, 1922, headline in the Salt Lake Telegram newspaper. This story was by Harvey Hancock. (Article available via newspapers.com, subscription required.)
The Isle was originally titled “Church Island,” because The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints originally owned it and early pioneers vacationed there.
The Telegram story states, “The name ‘Antelope Island’ became the name in common use after an attempt was made to range a herd of antelope placed upon its hills. The conditions were suited to these animals and their efforts to escape is one of the most tragic stories of animal life.”
The dissatisfied leader of the antelope jumped in the briny waters and was willing to try and swim up to 16 miles to the enticing green fields of the mainland of Davis County. The other antelope followed. Only one antelope reached the shore and died from exhaustion. The others drowned in the lake.
This extinction apparently happened some years before 1922. And, soon after, a herd of buffalo were placed on the island. They flourished and did not attempt to flee the isle.
In fact, the Davis County Clipper of Sept. 12, 1924, stated, “… for the last thirty years, the name Buffalo Island has been used interchangeable with the other two names (Church and Antelope),” because one of the nation’s largest surviving herds of Buffalo resided there.
Notwithstanding, it must be mentioned that some of the earliest of pioneer visitors to the Island had reported seeing a herd of antelope there.
The Davis County Clipper of Nov. 17, 1933, reported: “Late in the fall of 1848 while riding at the north end of the Island, Lot Smith, Fielding Garr and Heber P. Kimball came unexpectedly upon a herd of antelope …”
(Heber P. Kimball was a son of Heber C. Kimball.)
Thus, antelope may have naturally lived on the Island in the mid-19th century. Perhaps, they were hunted out and later some antelope transplanted there hated the conditions there then. (There may likely still be some antelope living on the isle today, but buffalo far outnumber them.)
So, “Buffalo Island,” instead of “Antelope Island” could have become its official moniker.
More history: Salt Flats
• “Legislators visit Great Salt Beds” was a March 3, 1909, headline in the Deseret Evening News. The Western Pacific Railroad was showcasing its new train line to Wendover and for many this was the first time they had seen the immense natural feature we today call, “The Bonneville Salt Flats.”
The story mentioned how the railroad had to use dynamite to make deep holes in the gleaming white salt flats to erect telegraph poles. It also mentioned that the salt flats could be of immense value — even to the University of Utah — once the U.S. Supreme Court decided on their ownership. The immense salt could provide the salt needs of the world for a number of years.
It was not until several years later that the salt flats were envisoned as a speedway.
• “Expect to break world records … Trial runs are made. Salt beds make ideal racing course; Fast time marked up” was an Aug. 12, 1914, headline in the Salt Lake Tribune.
While they were still called “salt beds,” instead of “salt flats,” and the location of them was given as “Salduro,” a 10-mile course was set up and 141-mile-per-hour speeds were initially recorded there.
That first year of operation, cars often also raced against trains.
More history: Mount Olympus
• Mount Olympus (elevation 9,026 feet) was a first-rate challenge for climbers in the early 20th century. One of the earliest recorded accounts of hiking Olympus was in the Utah Daily Chronicle newspaper of May 21, 1924. The University’s Hiking Club scaled the peak, despite the presence of large drifts of snow along the way. In fact, the hikers slid down some of the snowdrifts en route off the mountain top.
• Mount Olympus itself was also a haven for moonshine stills during the alcohol prohibition era. The Salt Lake Telegram of Jan. 27, 1926, reported that a peak known for its quality spring water, had been found to house two illegal stills, 1,700 gallons of mesh and 300 gallons of the finished product. Federal authorities seized it all and the alleged operator was out on a $1,000 bond.
• Mount Olympus was also the site of a few accidents in the early 20th century. “Injured S.L. Peak climber” was a July 15, 1936, Salt Lake Telegram headline. Roger Carney, 24, of Salt Lake, fell on the mountain, broke and ankle and lay for 18 hours on a ledge before being rescued.
• The Telegram of Sept. 19, 1949, stated that Ronald Davis, 17 and Deaune Satterfield (no age given), both of Salt Lake, were stranded on Mount Olympus when darkness set in and they were unable to safely climb down. A few short falls in the darkness proved to the young man and woman how dangerous a nighttime descent was. They were able to start a fire with the few matches they had, but still had a chilly night. A search party, climbing a different side of the mountain, missed them the next day on the way down.
Lynn Arave worked as a newspaper reporter for more than 40 years. He is a retired Deseret News reporter/editor, from 1979-2011. His email is email@example.com. His Mystery of Utah History blog is at http://mysteryofutahhistory.blogspot.com.