John Jarvie of Brown's Park
BLM Cultural Resources Series (Utah: No. 7)
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"American states and territories from which they grow are created by acts of statesmen," however, "In the beginning, it is a matter of geography and nature—nothing more." [1] Although the above statement is applied to the state of Utah and to the process by which it was created, it can readily be applied to the small portion of that state where John Jarvie lived—Brown's Park. The Jarvie story and the Brown's Park story are interconnected parts of the same whole. Both stories must be told in order to gain the proper historic perspective.

Brown's Park, originally called Brown's Hole, is a valley some forty miles in length along the Green River bounded on the south by Diamond Mountain of the Uintah Range and on the north by Cold Spring Mountain. Brown's Park lies roughly half in Utah and half in Colorado with some of the northern extremities reaching into Wyoming.

Geography and nature endowed Brown's Hole with certain characteristics that in large measure dictated man's response to the area. Nature provided mild winters which would attract red men at first and provided ideal shelter for white men and their cattle herds as time progressed.

Geographically, the surrounding mountains kept out certain elements while attracting others. A centralized position in the middle of a rich fur bearing area made the Hole a natural rendezvous site for early mountain men and the proximity to great overland trails tied Brown's Hole to the wider world beyond via both northern and southern routes. The Oregon Trail to the north tied Brown's Hole to the northern Rockies while the Old Spanish Trail to the south tied it to Santa Fe and the Southwest. When lines were drawn and the Hole was divided among three states, it became a natural harbor for men who wished to avoid capture by merely crossing one of those lines.

Most of the earth's great cities developed because of locations along coasts or rivers where they became ports or developed harbors and became important keys in the transportation and trade networks. Brown's Hole functioned as a safe harbor also, although the men it sheltered did not create an urban society. They sought out her harbor, created by nature and geography, for specific purposes and when those purposes had been fulfilled, they moved on leaving the Hole a relatively isolated and unspoiled region to this day.

While geography and nature provided the setting, the explorers, traders, and mountain men of Brown's Hole brought the area into the mainstream of American development. They exposed it to the forces that were shaping the country and made it an integral part of it. They discovered its secrets through exploration and, with the mountain men, peopled it with characters who made it uniquely American.

Thus, during the years that Manifest Destiny grew into an American ideology, the men who explored, traded, and trapped in Brown's Hole and, indeed, the entire West provided substance upon which supporters of the ideology could act. By the right of customary usage, Brown's Hole became part of the myth and reality of America's westward expansion. In this remote and isolated area, we can see many episodes from the pageant of the settling of the American West. Indians, fur traders, cattlemen, explorers, settlers, and outlaws all figure in the history of Brown's Hole.

From its earliest history, Brown's Hole has been a place of controversy. Even the origin of its name is shrouded in mystery and contention. The list of possible namesakes seems as endless as the debate it arouses. A traveller in 1839 said, "The place was called 'Brown's Hole' from the fact that a number of years before a white man named Brown had been murdered by the Indians there." [2] Rufus B. Sage, who camped in Brown's Hole in 1842 while searching for a fabled tribe of white Indians known as the Munchies, said it was named after a trapper by the name of Brown who came to the Hole to hunt in the fall. "During his stay, a fall of snow closed the passes so effectually, he was forced to remain till the succeeding spring before he could escape from his lonely prison." [3]

Major John Wesley Powell, in 1869, said Brown's Hole was named "in honor of an old time trapper, who once had a cabin there, and caught beaver and killed deer." [4] Ann Bassett, the first white child born in Brown's Hole, believed that it was named after a French trapper called "Bible-back Brown" who had strongly recommended the sheltered place as being a good place to "hole up" for the winter. From this the name Brown's Hole became fixed, she claimed. [5] Other possible Brown's include Henry "Bo'sun" Brown, one of Ashley's men, Charles Brown who trapped the Green with Henry Nidever in 1831, and the colorfully nicknamed "Old Cut Rocks" Brown.

Others believe that a French Canadian trapper by the name of Baptiste Brown is the rightful claimant. One writer claims that "Two years after Ashley's visit...Baptiste Brown, wandered into the Hole," and "did something a voyageur rarely did; that is he decided to settle down. Choosing a site not far from the confluence of Vermillion Creek and the Green River, he built a cabin for himself and his Blackfoot squaw." [6] Another account says that Baptiste Brown was one of Henry Fraeb's men and had participated in the last pitched battle between Indians and trappers on the Little Snake River, just east of Brown's Hole. Fraeb and three of his men were killed along with forty or fifty Indians. [7] University of Wyoming history professor Dick Dunham supports the Baptiste Brown theory saying, "There are no records to prove it: but tradition, passed on from mountain men to early settlers, is so strongly established there seems no reason for doubting it. So to Baptiste Brown we give the credit for being the first white man to settle in...the whole intermountain West..." [8] Some historians, however, doubt the very existence of Baptiste Brown. Janet Lecompte of Colorado Springs argues convincingly that Brown was a fictional character invented by Colonel Henry Inman in his book The Old Santa Fe Trail originally published in 1897. [9]

Still others feel that Baptiste Brown was actually an alias for Jean-Baptiste Chalifoux. Chalifoux was a French Canadian trapper who operated out of Taos. He led a horse stealing party to California in 1837, operated a trading post in Embudo, New Mexico, in the 1840s, and built the first house in Trinidad, Colorado, in 1869. He visited the Brown's Hole area in 1835 and left his name carved on a cliffside in the Willow Creek drainage. In 1847 he served on the jury trying the murderer of Charles Bent in Taos. It seems unlikely, however, that such a visible personality could have spent so many years living a double life under an alias in Brown's Hole. [10]

J. S. Hoy, an early Brown's Hole cattleman, had the following comments about Baptiste Brown:

As Baptiste Brown of Brown's Hole fame never existed, he will be hard to kill and bury him so deep in the earth or oblivion but that someone will attempt to disinter him, rehabilitate his ghostly skeleton with flesh, blood and life, and expose him to new adventure and dangers, for Baptiste Brown's ghost like all spirits and ghosts has neither beginning nor end; while at the same time affording material for endless discussions. [11]

Hoy proposes that the Hole was named because of its physical appearance. He writes:

When we emerged from Red Creek Canyon that November day in 1872; looking east we could see the entire length and both sides of the Hole, two apparently unbroken mountain ranges, covered with a dense growth of low cedars and pinon, the whole representing a dark brown in appearance approaching black. The rocks also where they were visible, were a dark brown, so that we were all impressed with the same thought—the Hole was rightly named brown. . . All the stories told that it was named after a trapper by the name of Brown are pure fiction. [12]

Unless some new evidence is found, the identity of the elusive Brown will remain a mystery. The earliest recorded visit to Brown's Hole by a white man, however, is not a mystery. In 1825, floating down the Green River, William Henry Ashley first entered Brown's Hole. His boat had been launched above Flaming Gorge and he rode the rapids for six days without food through the perpendicular canyons when "suddenly the mountains drew back, the river widened, and they shot out into beautiful Brown's Hole. Ten miles below was a great campground where thousands of Indians had wintered. . . ." [13] Within a decade of Ashley's visit, Brown's Hole became an important fur trading center.

Brown's Hole became the scene of fur company activity and between 1826 and 1840, nearly every mountain man or trapper of consequence visited Brown's Hole including Kit Carson, Joe Meek, Uncle Jack Robinson, and Robert Newell.

In 1827, the Ceran St. Vrain party out of Taos wintered in Brown's Hole. Thomas Smith, who had performed a self-amputation on a wounded leg and whittled himself a wooden replacement, was a member of the party. Known as "Pegleg", he went on to become one of the West's best known horse thieves. Christopher Carson made his first recorded visit to Brown's Hole in 1829 when he came north from Taos to trap along the Green with Uncle Jack Robinson. In September of 1831, the Alexander Sinclair party left Taos and trapped the waters of the Arkansas and the Platte. After catching one hundred beavers, they wintered in Brown's Hole. They found elk to be plentiful, but buffalo were scarce. It is probable that they erected some sort of shelter in the Hole. They returned to the North Platte in the spring of 1832. [14]

Much of Brown's Hole fur trade centered around Fort Davy Crockett. During its brief history, Fort Davy Crockett "was a social center of the Rocky Mountains" [15] as well as an economic center and a crossroads of the West linking the northern fur frontier with the southern. The exact date of the fort's construction is uncertain. Licenses issued to individuals and trading companies authorizing trade with certain Indian tribes at designated places issued by the Superintendent of Indian Affairs in St. Louis, William Clark, of the Lewis and Clark expedition, indicate the existence of a trading post in Brown's Hole dating back to 1832. If this early post was not the actual Fort Crockett, "it is likely the fort was built sometime in 1836, probably during the summer months when trapping could not be carried on." [16]

The three partners in the Fort Davy Crockett venture were William Craig, Phillip Thompson, and Prewitt Sinclair, although it is not certain that they were the ones who actually constructed the fort. Descriptions of the fort have been left by travellers who visited there in 1839. The "Peoria Party" under the leadership of Thomas Jefferson Farnham left Peoria, Illinois, on May 1, enroute to Oregon. The party experienced some hardships crossing Colorado and found it necessary to cook and eat a dog. While some of the party felt the dish tasted like mutton, Farnham declared that "it tasted like the flesh of a dog, a singed dog." [17]

Approaching the fort, August 12, 1839, hungry and exhausted, Farnham was impressed by the beauty of the area and wrote "the bluffs opened before us the beautiful plain of Brown's Hole. . .The Fort. . .peered up in the centre. . . . The dark mountains rose around it sublimely, and the green fields swept away into the deep precipitous gorges more beautifully than I can describe." [18] Though the fort offered little in the way of sustenance, Farnham recalled it fondly. He sat talking with Sinclair until midnight and then Sinclair gave the guest his own bedroom for the extent of his stay.

Farnham described the fort:

The Fort is a hollow square of one story log cabins, with roofs and floors of mud, constructed in the same manner as those of Fort William. Around these we found the conical skin lodges of the squaws of the white trappers, who were away on their 'fall hunt', and also the lodges of a few Snake Indians, who had preceeded their tribe to this, their winter haunt. Here also were the lodges of Mr. Robinson, a trader, who usually stations himself here to traffic with the Indians and white trappers. His skin lodge was his warehouse; and buffalo robes were spread upon the ground and counter, on which he displayed his butcher knives, hatchets, powder, lead, fish-hooks, and whisky. In exchange for these articles, he receives beaver skins from trappers, money from travellers, and horses from the Indians. Thus, as one would believe, Mr. Robinson drives a very snug little business. And indeed, when all the 'independent trappers' are driven by approaching winter into this delightful retreat, and the whole Snake village, two or three thousand strong, impelled by the same necessity, pitch their lodges around the Fort, and the dances and merry makings of a long winter are throughly commenced, there is no want for customers. [19] (See Figure 1)

Photo 1. Uncle Jack Robinson, trader at Fort Davy Crockett (Photo Credit: Utah State Historical Society).

Obadiah Oakley, another member of the Peoria Party, records purchasing dogs in Brown's Hole from passing Indians for $15 each. He found the dog meat "excellent, much better than our domestic beef, and next to buffalo." [20]

Five days after Farnham's arrival, a group heading east from Fort Hall stopped at the fort. Dr. F. A. Wislizenus, a German from St. Louis was in this party. He was less kind in his description of the fort:

The fort itself is the worst thing of the kind that we have seen on our journey. It is a low one-story building, constructed of wood and clay, with three connecting wings, and no enclosure. Instead of cows, the fort had only some goats. In short, the whole establishment appeared somewhat poverty-stricken, for which reason it is also known to the trappers as Fort Misery (Fort deMisere). [21]

Kit Carson was the hunter for the fort for at least two years. After attending the 1838 rendezvous on the Popo Agie to the north, he recorded "I and seven men went to Brown's Hole....I was now employed as hunter for the fort and I continued in this service during the winter, having to keep twenty men supplied with meat." [22] Carson returned to the fort again the following winter (1839-1840) after spending the summer in the Black Hills with Dick Owens (See Figure 2). [23]

Photo 2. Kit Carson, hunter for Fort Davy Crockett. (Photo Credit: Utah State University Special Collections).

In the fall of 1839, many traders visited the fort. They included Owens and Carson, Able Baker trading for Bent and St. Vrain, and Thomas Biggs trading for Sublette and Vasquez. Biggs reported that rivalry among traders was so fierce that they would not even observe the custom of carrying each other's letters. [24]

A major incident that might possibly have led to the abandonment of Fort Davy Crockett occurred in the fall of 1839 when a hunting party consisting of seven whites and two squaws led by Carson was attacked by a party of Sioux one morning. The hunters retaliated and after an exchange of fire, the Indian Chief approached in a peace making gesture. When he was within shooting distance, one of the white hunters fired and killed him along with one or two other Indians. On November 1, a small band of Sioux avenging the killing of their peace making Chief, crept into Brown's Hole and ran off about 150 horses from the fort.

Instead of following the guilty Sioux, a band of traders, including fort partner Thompson, attempting to make good the loss, "went to friendly Fort Hall, Hudson's Bay Company post, and stole fourteen horses. On the way back, after enjoying the hospitality of some peaceful Snake Indians, they stole some thirty head from the unsuspecting friendlies." [25]

The majority of whites at the fort condemned the thievery. The thieves, therefore, took the horses to an abandoned fort on the Green River at the mouth of the Uintah. When the robbed Snakes arrived at Fort Davy Crockett seeking their horses, a band made up of Joe Meek, William Craig, Robert Newell, Kit Carson, Joe Walker and twenty-five others set out to find them. They found the horses on an island in the frozen Green River and the robbers in an old fort. Walker attempted to get the horses off of the island and across the river, but the attempt failed when the thieves rushed from the fort.

Walker made a masterly flank movement and getting in Thompson's rear, ran the horses into the fort, where he stationed his men, and succeeded in keeping the robbers on the outside. Thompson then commenced giving the horses away to a village of Utes in the neighborhood of the fort, on the condition that they should assist in retaking them. On his side, Walker threatened the Utes with dire vengeance if they dared interfere. The Utes who had a wholesome fear not only of trappers, but of their foes the Snakes, declined to enter the quarrel. After a day of strategy, and of threats alternated with arguments, strengthened by a warlike display, the trappers marched out of the fort before the faces of the discomfited thieves, taking their booty with them which was duly restored to the Snakes. . .and peace was secured once more. [26]

The horse stealing incident may have helped to splinter the partnership of Thompson, Craig, and Sinclair since they chose different sides on the issue; however, the era of the fur trade was coming to an end anyway. The year 1840, which saw the last major fur trade rendezvous of the mountains, apparently witnessed also the abandonment of Fort Davy Crockett.

Fur trapper Robert Newell lamented the fact that the mountain men were becoming horse thieves and robbers. Summarizing the feelings of old mountain men toward the demise of the fur trade and the new lawless breed, Newell told Joe Meek, "We are done with this life in the mountains—done with wading in beaver dams and freezing or starving alternately—done with Indian trading and Indian fighting. The fur trade is dead in the Rocky Mountains, and it is no place for us now. . .What do you say, Meek? Shall we turn American settlers (See Figure 3)?" [27]

Photo 3. Joe Meek, Brown's Park fur trader. (Photo Credit: Utah State Historical Society).

Though fur trade deteriorated, it continued for awhile in the Hole. William T. Hamilton describes a rendezvous in Brown's Hole in November 1842:

Several traders had come from the states with supplies, and there was quite a rivalry among them for our furs. Bovey and Company were the most liberal buyers, and we sold them the entire lot.

Besides the trappers, there were at the rendezvous many Indians—Shoshones, Utes, and a few lodges of Navajos,—who came to exchange their pelts for whatever they stood in need of. Take it all in all, it was just such a crowd as would delight the student were he studying the characteristics of the mountaineer and the Indian. The days were given to horse racing, foot racing, shooting matches; and in the evening were heard the music of voice and drum and the sound of dancing. There was also an abundance of reading matter for those inclined in that direction. [28]

George Frederick Ruxton also describes a Brown's Hole rendezvous in the 1840s:

Singly, and in bands numbering from two to ten, the trappers dropped into the rendezvous; some with many pack loads of beaver, others with greater or less quantity, and more than one on foot, having lost his animals and peltry by Indian thieving. Here soon congregated many mountaineers, whose names are famous in the history of the Far West. [29]

Nevertheless, the fort soon deteriorated and eventually disappeared. John C. Fremont passed through the Hole in 1844 and noted "the remains of an old fort on the left bank of the river." [30]

It seems likely, considering the fact that a group of old mountain men and squaws continued to live on at nearby Ft. Bridger, that some trapping would have continued in Brown's Hole even after the great demand for furs had ceased. Old Louis Simmons, for one, continued to trap in Brown's Hole into the 1870s. [31] Josie Bassett Morris, remembering her sister Ann's birth (which she says was in 1874), recalled, "And I tell you, my sister was a curiosity, a baby in Brown's Park. Old trappers and old mountaineers of all kinds came to see the baby." [32] However, the gradual abandonment of the fur trade in Brown's Hole ended one chapter in the valley's history and opened another of permanent settlers and cattlemen.

During the transitional period, Brown's Hole hosted some important visitors. On his way to New York in 1842, Marcus Whitman passed through the Hole heading southeast to avoid hostile Indians who were rumored to be in the South Pass area. [33] In 1849, a band of Cherokee Indians enroute to the California gold fields wintered in Brown's Hole. [34] That same year, another band of Forty niners, fearful of wintering among the Mormons in Salt Lake City, floated through Brown's Hole on the Green River seeking a route to the coast. After a terrifying trip through the rapids in Lodore Canyon, the group, under William Manly, left the river and headed to Salt Lake, having decided to take their chances with the Mormons after all. [35]

Little is heard of Brown's Hole during the 1850s, but by the 1860s, Brown's Hole's reputation as a favorite wintering spot for cattle began to grow as a direct response to the discovery of gold in California and the continued growth of population there. Many Texas cattlemen found it necessary to winter their herds enroute to the coast and Brown's Hole proved to be the ideal spot. The earliest, arriving in the early fifties, was W. H. Snyder who had purchased cattle in Texas for $10 a head and sold them in California for $30 per head. [36]

Although most of Brown's Hole's permanent settlers did not arrive until the 1870s, "Uncle Sam" Bassett, from upstate New York, ventured into the Hole as early as 1842. According to an entry in Bassett's diary, Brown's Hole saw its first white woman on June 22, 1854. Warren D. Parsons and his wife "Snapping Annie" had arrived. "Our first white squaw," Bassett wrote, "is expertly driving her slick oxen, Turk and Lion." With the arrival of the female bullwhacker, Bassett, a confirmed bachelor, lamented that "Man's freedom in this paradise is doomed (See Figure 4)." [37]

Photo 4. Sam Bassett, early Brown's Park settler. (Photo Credit: Glade Ross Collection).

Major John Wesley Powell visited Brown's Hole on his famous river expeditions in 1869 and 1871; however, he had been in Brown's Hole in 1868 while exploring the area in preparation for the journey. During this preliminary period, Major Powell and his wife Emma walked to the hills, climbed the summit and looked down upon Brown's Hole and the river. In that beautiful setting, he assured her of his determination to succeed in the exploration. [38]

Powell's first river expedition reached Brown's Hole on June 4, 1869. His diary records, "We start early and run through to Brown's Park." He goes on to

Halfway down the valley, a spur of red mountain stretches across the river, which cuts a canyon through it. Here the walls are comparatively low, but vertical. A vast number of swallows have built their adobe houses on the face of the cliffs. . . . The young birds stretch their little heads on naked necks through the doorways of their mud houses, clamoring for food. They are noisy people. We call this Swallow Canyon. [39]

Photo 5. John Wesley Powell. (Photo Credit: Utah State University Special Collections).

George Y. Bradley's journal describes a portion of the journey through Brown's Hole: "June 6, '69. . . . The river is so broad and still and the wind contrary that we have had to row all the way and I feel quite weary tonight. Would rather have rapids than still water, but think I shall be accommodated, for we have now reached the canyon at the lower end of Brown's Hole. . . ." [40]

It was on this trip that Andrew Hall "surprised the major with a display of learning by suggesting that the canyon be named Lodore after the waterfall in Cumberland commemorated in Southey's poem." [41]

Photo 6. Members of Powell's 1871 expedition departing Green River, Wyoming. (Photo Credit: Utah State University Special Collections).

On Powell's second expedition in 1871, he arrived in Brown's Hole on June 8. This time he met two Texas cattlemen, Harrell and Bacon, who had wintered there with eighty-five hundred head of cattle, eighty ponies, and ten Mexican herders. Powell's men exchanged goods and left letters with Harrell to be posted at Green River Station. They also left one of the crew members, Frank Richardson. Richardson had proved unable to cope with the voyage. He was constantly getting into trouble, being bruised and scraped. "To top his achievements, while eating, he sat on a hot coal, ignited his pants, yelled 'fire', and jumped into the river." [42]

Captain F. M. Bishop's journal records: "Frank will leave us here and go back to Green River Station, as he was found in no way suitable for the trip. He is not of much value, yet he is one of us." Jack Hillers's diary also records the parting: "Everything being ready, the boys all shuk hands with Frank. He felt bad about leaving, the tears were in his eyes, but failed to shed any. I felt bad about leaving him." [43] Richardson's discharge, not withstanding, the 1871 trip through Brown's Hole was a peaceful one. The boats were lashed side by side, and Powell, from his high perch read aloud Scott's poem The Lady of the Lake. [44]

Powell is often credited with changing the name of Brown's Hole to Brown's Park. If he, indeed, is responsible, he does not mention it in his journals or emphasize the naming as he did with Swallow Canyon, Flaming Gorge, Gates of Lodore, or any of the other sites he christened. His men also treat the matter quite casually: Hillers, "Major called it Brown's Park. . .this park used to be called 'Brown's Hole'" Bishop, 'Brown's Park', more generally known as 'Brown's Hole', is a valley some thirty miles long, and averaging about ten miles in width." [45]

It is ironic, although very much in keeping with the character of the area, that the valley named after an unknown would also have its name changed by an unknown. Whether or not Powell is responsible for the name change, the valley was being called Brown's Park by 1869 and along with the new name a new era was beginning for the area.

Geography and nature had called the valley's first inhabitants. Their marks upon it had "claimed" it for America and forced it into the path of American expansion. Now new forces were about to emerge. Brown's Hole had been the home of nomadic Indians and mountain men. Brown's Park would be the home of permanent settlers like John Jarvie who would play host to other nomadic bands when such colorful characters as Kid Curry, Sundance Kid, Butch Cassidy, and the Wild Bunch would turn Brown's Park into a favorite watering hole along the Outlaw Trail.

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Last Updated: 21-Nov-2008