© 2009 Utah Humanities Council
In the fall of 1845, the famous American explorer John Charles Fremont crossed over the Rocky Mountains into what’s now eastern Utah bound for the Great Salt Lake. Two years earlier, he and a small party of men had probed the lake’s brackish waters in a rubber boat, camping on the island that bears his name. Now he was headed back, intending to discover more about the body of water he called “the Inland Sea.”
Upon reaching the lake the second time, Fremont set about investigating the region’s ecosystem. He marveled at what he called the “incrustations of fine white salt” that practically covered the lake’s southern beaches and the insect larvae that called the salty beach mud home.
Perhaps the most interesting story to come from Fremont’s 1845 visit to the Great Salt Lake, however, comes from the explorer’s trip to the long, almost peninsular island near the lake’s southeastern margins. Area Native Americans had told him he could easily ride his horse across the sandbar that linked the island to the shore. Taking them at their word, Fremont took his guide Kit Carson and a few men and rode “across the shallows to the island,” recording later that the water never reached “above the saddle-girths” and that the “floor of the lake was a sheet of salt resembling softening ice, into which the horses’ feet sunk to the fetlocks.” When they finally reached the island, the party found grass and water, as well as a considerable herd of antelope, a few of which Fremont and his men killed for food. When they at last left the island and returned across the sandbar, they were accosted by a local Indian man who claimed all the antelope on the island were his and that they would have to pay for the animals they had shot. Fremont, not wanting to anger the man, gave him some cloth, tobacco and a knife to make up for the dead antelope—and to the island he gave the name of the beasts that roamed it. It became Antelope Island.
John C. Fremont, The Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, Oregon and California (Buffalo: Derby, Orton and Mulligan, 1852), 198-208; John C. Fremont, Memoirs of My Life (Chicago: Belford, Clarke, and Company 1887; reprint, New York: Cooper Square Press, 2001), 430-432; Dale L. Morgan, The Great Salt Lake (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1973), 140-145 and 149-150; Tom Chaffin, Pathfinder: John Charles Fremont and the Course of American Empire (New York: Hill and Wang, 2002), 153-170 and 257-261.