Solomon Nunes Carvalho (1815-1897) was a Sephardic Jew born in Charleston, South Carolina who was invited to join John C. Fremont’s 1853-54 expedition as an artist and daguerreotypist. In February at Parowan, Utah, he separated from the expedition due to illness; the expedition had passed a rough winter in the Rockies, surviving off the flesh of their horses for fifty days. From Parowan, “I left for great Salt Lake City, in a wagon belonging to one of a large company of Mormons, who were on their way to ‘Conference.’” After three months convalescing, he traveled to Los Angeles, California with a party “consisting of twenty-three Mormons, missionaries to the Sandwich Islands, under command of Parley Pratt.”
Hoping all enjoyed a delightful Nevada Day this past weekend, here is a portion of Carvalho’s account of May 30, 1854 during their stay in Las Vegas:
We remained at camp all day yesterday, and left this morning at ten o’clock.
We followed up this delicious stream for about three miles; I was curious to see from whence it flowed, the general character of the country indicating that we were not far from its source. Several of us turned from the road, and at a short distance, we found its head waters. It was a large spring, the water bubbled up as if gas were escaping, acacias in full bloom, almost entirely surrounded it—it was forty-five feet in diameter; we approached through an opening, and found it to contain the clearest and purest water I ever tasted; the bottom, which consisted of white sand, did not seem to be more than two feet from the surface.
Parley Pratt prepared himself for a bathe, while I was considering whether I should go in, I heard Mr. Pratt calling out that he could not sink, the water was so buoyant. Hardly believing it possible that a man could not sink in fresh water, I undressed and jumped in.
What were my delight and astonishment, to find all my efforts to sink were futile. I raised my body out of the water, and suddenly lowered myself, but I bounced upwards as if I had struck a springing-board. I walked about in the water up to my arm-pits, just the same as if I had been walking on dry land.
The water, instead of being two feet deep, was over fifteen, the depth of the longest tent pole we had with us. It is positively impossible for a man to sink over his head in it; the sand on its banks was fine and white. The temperature of the water was 78º, the atmosphere 85º.
1 can form no idea as to the cause of this great phenomenon; Col. Fremont made observations on the spot in 1845, and marked its existence on his map as Las Vegas; but he has since told me he did not know of its buoyant qualities, as he did not bathe in it. In the absence of any other name, I have called it the Buoyant Spring.
Great Salt Lake possesses this quality in a great degree, but that water is saturated with salt; this is deliciously sweet water; probably some of the savans can explain the cause of its peculiar properties. We lingered in the spring fifteen minutes. Twenty-three men were at one time bobbing up and down in it endeavoring to sink, without success. I made drawings of this spot, and the surrounding mountains.
Incidents of Travel and Adventurein the Far West
With Col. Fremont’s Last Expedition Across the Rocky Mountains; including three months’ residence in Utah, and a perilous trip across the Great American Desert to the Pacific.
by S. N. Carvalho,artist to the expedition 1856.
[Also posted at Junior Ganymede.]