Like Father, Like Son
Major Howard Egan's Son (1862)

Major Howard Egan was a big name in the American West. He was manager of the Overland Stage stations from Salt Lake City to Sacramento. He demanded the best from all his people and expected even better from his son. Major Egan assigned his offspring the job of driving about fifty head of cattle and hauling a full ton of supplies to Fort Ruby in northeastern Nevada.

Six oxen pulled the heavily loaded wagon. It was an uneventful journey until the road crossed a usually dry alkali lake near the Fort. It was no longer dry but a sea of deep oozing mud. He saw three abandoned stage coaches out about one half mile. The youngster figured he couldn't go around it. The only thing to do was hope the strong oxen could haul the wagon across the mud.

Cracking his whip and verbally bullying the animals, the bull whacker coaxed them out onto the flat where the oxen soon were belly deep in the muck. The wagon was riding on its bed. Egan's outfit could go no farther.

Young Egan studied the problem. His men thought he was a bit crazy when he ordered them to untie the heavy canvas covering from the freight wagon. They spread the canvas flat next to the wagon and loaded some of the supplies onto it. The canvas ends were pulled up then roped at the top. Other ropes were added and attached to the ox yokes. Yelling a few profanities punctuated with whip cracks the teamster got the animals moving. The canvas rig easily slid across the mud. 

It took several trips across the mire and onto dry land but the supplies were finally safe. The men trudged back to the wagon. Egan told them to take the wagon apart and put the parts on the canvas sled. Load by load of wagon parts was moved across the flat until every piece was on shore.

There was no rest for the crew. They put the wagon back together and loaded the supplies. Without washing up, they finished the trip to Fort Ruby. Sentries at Fort Ruby were amazed when they sighted Egan and his party. The men were mud encrusted, as were the cattle, wagon, horses, and saddles. It was a mess but every man had a big grin on his face. They had done the impossible - with some darned good ideas from a teenager. It's a shame that the kid's first name has been lost or omitted from historical records.

Source: Pioneer Nevada, Volume Two, Thomas C. Wilson, published by Harolds Club of Reno, 1956.

Howard Hickson

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