Parley P. Pratt Jumps in Where John C. Fremont Didn’t Stop to Bob

carvalho1Solomon 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.]

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About John Mansfield

Mansfield in the desertA third-generation southern Nevadan, I have lived in exile most of my life in such places as Los Alamos, Baltimore, Los Angeles, the western suburbs of Detroit, and currently the northern suburbs of Washington, D.C. I work as a fluid dynamics engineer. I was baptized at age twelve in the font of the Las Vegas Nevada Central Stake Center, and on my nineteenth birthday I received the endowment in the St. George Temple. I served as a missionary mostly in the Patagonia of Argentina from 1985 to 1987. My true calling in the Church seems to be working with Cub Scouts, whom I have served in different capacities in four states most years since 1992. (My oldest boy turned eight in 2004.) I also currently teach Sunday School to the thirteen-year-olds. I hold degrees from two universities named for men who died in the 1870s, the Brigham Young University and the Johns Hopkins University. My wife is Elizabeth Pack Mansfield, who comes from New Mexico's north central mountains and studied molecular biology at the same two schools I attended. We have four sons, whose care and admonition, along with care of my aged father, require much of Elizabeth's time. She currently serves the Church as Mia-Maid advisor, ward music chairman, and choir director, and plays violin whenever she can. One day, I would like to make shoes.

10 thoughts on “Parley P. Pratt Jumps in Where John C. Fremont Didn’t Stop to Bob

  1. Geoff, the site is owned by the Las Vegas Valley Water District. The main office is there as well as wells. The spring stopped flowing to the surface in 1962. In recent years, the Water District has opened up the site as a historical and nature preserve, but I haven’t visited it yet.

    Groundwater supplies 10% of the Las Vegas Valley’s requirements overall, and in summer up to 39%, pumped at this site and others. Las Vegas had plenty of water for a large town/small city, but not for what it became. Water from the Colorado was not pumped in large quantities until 1971. People look at Las Vegas and wonder at how improbable it is that a community would be placed there in the desert, but a century ago, it made good sense.

    LVVWD timeline.

  2. Do you have any idea when the first Mormon pioneers arrived there to stay? Or were they other (non-Mormon) pioneers? I know San Bernadino was settled by Mormon pioneers, and there were other settlements nearby Las Vegas, but I don’t know about the area itself.

    Amazing to think there is a decent spring under that desert.

  3. How absolutely cool. Despite all the reading I’ve done on early Las Vegas, both because that’s the closest thing to a hometown I have and because I’m working on a project concerning the Las Vegas mission of the 1850s, I’ve somehow managed never to have seen this before.

    Our ward (well, my family’s old ward, on Charleston) butted up against the Water District property. Our neighborhood was the last to still draw its culinary water from the old spring, but I understand that the neighborhood gets it from Lake Mead now, same as everyone else. The original water was sweet; the processed stuff is so nasty that I can’t drink it.

  4. Looking west from Las Vegas, we see thirty miles away a range with Mount Charleston and a couple other peaks above 11,000 feet, snow-capped half the year, that replenish the aquifer under the valley floor, which is at 2,000 feet elevation.

    The first settlement was the Las Vegas Mission, which arrived one year and two weeks after Parley P. Pratt’s bath. In 1857, the mission was abandoned, and from 1865 until 1905 was used as a ranch, first by Octavius Gass, and then Archibald and Helen Stewart.

  5. Solomon Nunes Carvalho’s ancestry is a fascinating tale. The Nunes side of the family were prominently entrenched in the social and political arena of Portugal. Solomon’s ancestor Lisbon Nunes was a Crypto Jew, serving as the physician to the King. Lisbon was arrested and under torture, confessed that he and his family were practicing Jews. Many testified on his behalf and the Nunes family were spared the punishment of being burned at the stake. Their fortune was confiscated instead; Nunes secretly continued his covert Jewish practices.

    In the 1720′s Lisbon managed to smuggle his family and others to safety in England. Lisbon took the name of Samuel and his wife became Rebecca. In 1732-33 forty Sephardic Jews emigrated to the colony of Georgia. When they arrived they found the colony ill from intestinal ailment and fever. Nunes and the other Spehards nursed the colony back to health. Despite the care they received some sought to ban the Jewish pilgrims from settling in the Georgia Colony. The objections were overruled, and the Jews were allowed to stay and own land.

    The Carvalho family also from Portugal were among the first Jewish settlers in Charleston South Carolina, a recognized Crypto and openly Jewish community.

    In the naming practices of the Sephardic peoples, if the mother and the father are both from prominent families, the children are given both the name of the mother and the family.

  6. I first ran into this swim party in Fred E. Woods’ A Gamble in the Desert: the Mormon Mission in Las Vegas (1855-1857). Prof. Woods acknowledges Ardis Parshall on the credits page as someone who led him to original source material.

  7. I hope one of Carvalho’s drawings is of the twenty-three men trying to sink in the spring. That drawing would have totally gone viral.

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