The Mountain Men, the Cartographers, and the Lakes

Map of Utah Lakes

Publication: Utah Historical Quarterly, Vol. 86, No. 2

Author: Sheri Wysong

Date of Publication: April 2018

PDF File: Wysong-2018-The-Mountain-Men-the-Cartographers-and-the-Lakes.pdf



Six miles north of Milford, Utah, was once a small seasonal wetland more of a sink than a lake—that sat in a depression along the path of the Beaver River, was optimistically called Beaver Lake, and disappeared as white settlers diverted water from the river for irrigation. Five miles south of Garrison, Utah, in the Snake Valley near the Nevada border, sits Pruess Lake, another small water body now altered by diversions.1 These two diminutive features—seemingly unconnected, one of them no longer extant—are part of a larger story that involves some of the major characters of American exploration and cartography in the nineteenth century, including William Ashley, Jedediah Smith, Charles Preuss, and especially David H. Burr. The four men were linearly linked through their activities: Smith and Ashley through the fur trade in the 1820s, Ashley and Burr through government positions in Washington D.C. in the 1830s, and Burr and Preuss through cartographic work in the same city in the 1840s. This article is about the discovery, mapping, and naming of these two lakes, a case study that teaches about the shifting, incomplete understanding and representation of geography in the American West.