Major Howard Egan
Captain in Nauvoo Legion & Bodyguard to Joseph Smith
In 1840 the Illinois Legislature granted a charter to form the city of Nauvoo, establish a university, and create an independent military body to be called the “Nauvoo Legion.” The Legion was formed in February 1841, and Howard Egan was given the rank of Captain.
In 1843 Joseph Smith handpicked 40 men of integrity, fearless defenders of right, who could think and shoot straight, as city policemen, one of whom was Howard Egan. In that capacity Howard occasionally served as bodyguard to the Prophet Joseph. As threats against church leaders increased, guards were assigned to protect the homes and families of targeted leaders. Howard was chosen to guard Joseph Smith’s home. Joseph said that “he felt safe when Howard Egan was on guard.”
At the time Joseph Smith was martyred Howard was serving a mission in the Eastern States. After the murder the mobs increased their attacks, and began burning homes. To help protect the Saints, Captain Egan was mustered back into service and led 20 men to guard the Camp Creek area.
Original 1847 Pioneer & Captain of the 9th 10
As mob violence intensified, Church leaders realized that it was no longer possible to remain in Nauvoo, and signed an agreement with the mobs that they would leave. Brigham Young selected 25 men, who were each to select 100 families and see that they were prepared for a journey across the plains to the Rocky Mountains. These companies later appointed captains of fifties and captains of tens. Howard Egan was elected Captain of the Fourth Fifty, and as such was required to be present at council meetings with the leading brethren of the Church.
Captain Egan and his family left with the general exodus of the Saints on March 1st 1846, and wintered at Winter Quarters. In the spring of 1847 Brigham Young selected 143 men, noted for their knowledge of pioneering and for their skill in using firearms and handling teams, to be the vanguard for the rest of the Saints. Egan was appointed Captain of the 9th group of 10 men.
On July 21st Orson Pratt and his 10 entered the Salt Lake Valley. On July 24th Howard Egan and the rest of the Company entered the valley.
Mormon Battalion Envoy
In order to help fund the western exodus of the Saints, Brigham Young sent an emissary to President Polk and members of Congress, proposing that the Saints be given a contract for building roads, way-stations, and bridges for people emigrating to Oregon. The contract was not granted to the Mormons. Instead, because the U.S. had declared war on Mexico, the Mormons were asked to provide 500 Latter-day Saint men to form a Mormon Battalion and march to California. The Battalion was given $21,000, in advance, which was used by the Church to buy wagons and teams for the trek west.
Howard Egan was asked by President Young to act as an envoy for the Mormon Battalion and to bring back the pay and the mail to the Battalion’s families. After a month of difficult travel in inclement weather, Egan and John D. Lee arrived back at Winter Quarters with 282 letters, 72 packages, and the first Battalion payment.
Egan was highly valued and trusted by President Young, who on various occasions asked Egan to be a purchaser of goods for the Saints, a messenger, Brigham Young’s bodyguard, and his nurse.
Trail Blazer & Major in Utah War
Howard Egan was employed for a few years to drive cattle to California. To expedite the journey he blazed a new trail, carefully mapping every foot of the way, hoping to form a new overland stage route. The “Egan Trail” was made famous by a wager. He claimed that by using it he could ride a mule to California in 10 days. Egan mounted a mule at Salt Lake City, and 10 days later, on September 29, 1855, he arrived in Sacramento.
Egan mapped potential sites for some 56 towns along the Egan Trail, 3 of which (Rush Valley, Ruby Valley, and Deep Creek) grew to some importance in his day. Egan settled Deep Creek, built a general store, and later established a relay station there for the Pony Express.
While at Deep Creek during 1857-1858, based upon false reports by enemies of the Church, Johnston’s army was sent to Utah. Egan was called into service with the rank of “Major,” and instructed to harass Johnston’s army by burning his provision trains and guarding the mountain passes that the army would have to pass through.
Pony Express Rider & Superintendent
In 1859 Senator Gwin from California introduced the bill that started the Pony Express system, primarily to prove to a doubting Congress that the Central route was best for laying down a railroad, and that it was passable in winter. It would take 80 riders and 400 horses to traverse the 2,000 miles. Major Howard Egan was appointed Superintendent of the Pony Express line from Salt Lake to Carson City, where he and his two sons, Howard Ransom Egan (age 20) and Richard Erastus Egan (age 18), were responsible for progress of the mail through the Utah Territory, which maintained 23 relay stations.
On the rain-drenched night of April 7, 1860, after riding 75 miles from Rush Valley, and after horse and rider fell into Mill Creek, Major Howard was the first rider to bring mail to Salt Lake City. No one is known to have broken his time record. He contributed much to the system through his valuable experience as a pioneer, trail blazer, and stage coach driver.
After the Overland Telegraph line was completed in October 1861, there was no further need for the Pony Express.
Friend & Missionary to Indians
Howard Egan was noted for his ability to teach the gospel and was called on several missions to the Eastern States during the Nauvoo years. In 1844 he was made one of the Presidency for the state of New Hampshire.
Howard established the first farm in Ruby Valley and befriended the local Indians, learning their language and customs. Egan’s ability to speak the Goshute language largely accounted for his success in getting along with the Indians over the years. He treated Indians fairly, and taught and baptized a large number of them.
Consequently, during the April 1875 General Conference Egan was called on a Lamanite mission. He is credited with converting over 300 Goshute Indians. He also taught them farming skills, how to work for themselves, and encouraged character traits of honesty and industry. He was a true friend to the Indians, many of whom came to him for counsel, and some of whom named their sons after him. A large number of Howard’s unusual, humorous, and dangerous Indian experiences are recorded in his diary, published in the book Pioneering the West.
In The Spotlight
JUNE 11th, 12th & 13th!!!200th Jubilee Celebration of the Birth of Major Howard Egan!
June of this year will mark 200 years since the birth of Major Howard Egan, a significant figure in the history of the American West. And his descendants, along with co-sponsoring historical associations, are having a Centennial Celebration in his honor. There’s lots to do and lots to learn:
Thursday, June 11th: an All Day PONY EXPRESS TRIP (by vehicle, not horse). Historians will give presentations along the way. For more details – click HERE
Friday, June 12th: a fun “learn about Howard Egan” EDUCATION DAY (Morning: walk the Pioneer Trail. Afternoon: visit Egan Sites in SLC. Evening 7-9pm: “Egan Symposium” at the new SLC Viridian Events Center.) For more details – click HERE.
Saturday, June 13th: an exciting “get acquainted with fellow Egan descendants” REUNION DAY at the This Is The Place Heritage Park. (Daytime: Egan’s life experiences are highlighted throughout the Park. (Evening: Dinner; Activities; Mixers; Program.) For more details – click HERE
Hold Your Own Family Group Reunion, before, during, and/or after the Celebration! For ideas – click HERE