Death Valley and the Story of the ‘Lost ‘49ers’

Bluegreen Resorts’ Bluegreen Club 36 is close to the Las Vegas Strip, but still within easy driving distance of spectacular natural wonders such as Death Valley in the Mojave Desert. In less than 2.5 hours, you can head west and get to Death Valley National Park by car, via U.S. Route 95 North. Contrary to its name, the park is actually home to a diverse range of plants and animals. While Death Valley is the driest spot in the United States and the hottest in the world, fields of wildflowers bloom after a rare rainstorm, and oases create shelters for wildlife.

If you’re planning a visit, you’ll be fascinated by the dramatic and poignant story of the “Lost ‘49ers” and two particularly brave and resourceful young men.

In 1848, gold was discovered near San Francisco, and wave after wave of ’49ers began heading west. Among them was a group under the leadership of Captain Jefferson Hunt. In the winter of 1849, Hunt’s wagons appeared to be stuck in the supply station of Salt Lake City due to the lateness of the year: Anyone who hoped to cross safely into California needed to leave Salt Lake City and make it through the Great Basin Desert and over the High Sierras before snow made safe passage impossible.

Hunt’s party heard about the Old Spanish Trail, which purportedly skirted the southern edge of the High Sierras. The problem facing them was that they knew of no previous wagon trains that had made this trip successfully, and only one person claimed to understand the route. Even in the face of uncertainty, the party elected to try. Eventually, the group split in two, with a larger convoy attempting to follow what they hoped was a shortcut through Walker Pass. A smaller number kept to the Old Spanish Trail.

The larger group became known as the “Lost ‘49ers,” due to a run of bad luck that included a lost map, starving oxen, battered wagons, further splits among the group, and a towering expanse of the Panamint Mountains that seemed to bar their way westward. They were saved from dying of thirst due to a snowstorm.

Two young men, John Rogers and William Lewis Manly, walked for more than 300 miles to obtain supplies. By the time they returned, the men saw that many in the group had tried to press forward on their own, leaving just two families behind. While only one man died over course of the month-long wait, the experience so affected the travelers that one is said to have left the area saying, “Good-bye, Death Valley,” and the name stuck.