William L. Manly

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William L. Manly
Born William Lewis Manly
(1820-04-06)April 6, 1820
St. Albans, Vermont, U.S.
Died February 5, 1903(1903-02-05) (aged 82)
Lodi, California, U.S.
Occupation Fur Hunter
Nationality American
Spouse Mary Jane Woods

William Lewis Manly (April 6, 1820 – February 5, 1903) was an American pioneer of the mid-19th century. He was first a fur hunter, a guide of Westward bound caravans, a seeker of gold and then a farmer and writer in his later years.

He wrote an autobiography, first published with the title From Vermont to California, then a second edition with the title Death Valley in '49, that tells of the pioneer experience in America's Far West, in particular the 1848 California Gold Rush.

Early years[edit]

Manly was born near St. Albans, Vermont, the son of Ebenezer Manly and Phoebe (Calkins) Manly.[1] In 1829, at the age of nine, Manly left for Ohio with his family. Later, as a pioneer, he went to Michigan, prior to statehood. He then went fur trapping in Wisconsin and in Ohio and the Dakota Territory. An expert hunter with knowledge of Native Americans, he navigated the Green River.

California gold rush[edit]

In December 1848, at age 29, Manly traversed California's Death Valley (today the centerpiece of Death Valley National Park) as a member of a group of emigrant pioneers traveling overland from Salt Lake City, Utah to the California gold rush (the Death Valley '49ers). These pioneers became lost in the Great Basin Desert, and entered Death Valley, having followed an inaccurate map for three weeks. Their food supplies were almost exhausted, and the oxen pulling their wagons were dying of starvation. Manly, with his associate John Haney Rogers, trekked 250 miles on foot across the Mojave Desert to Rancho San Fernando near Los Angeles, California, to scout an evacuation route for the families trapped in Death Valley, and procure food and horses if a settlement could be located.


In 1850, at 30 years old, Manly returned to Santa Clara Valley and bought 250 acres (1.0 km2) south of San Jose, paying $16 an acre, $4,000 in all. He planted a farm. In 1862, at the age of 42, Manly married Mary Jane Woods of Lodi, California.


Death Valley in '49 (1894)

The notes Manly kept from his youth, which he planned to compile in his autobiography, were lost in a fire. In 1886, at the age of 66, Manly published for first time "From the Vermont to California" in Santa Clara Valley, a monthly agricultural review. In the compilation of his memories, Manly contacted all the relevant persons possible, then with the aid of a publishing assistant wrote the greater part of his autobiography, The Death Valley in '49 , published as a book in 1894, at San Jose from Pacific Tree and Vine Company.


The title Manly chose for his own autobiography was From Vermont to California; the title was changed to Death Valley in '49, ostensibly to encourage sales, although Death Valley is only spoken of in the tenth chapter. Manly recounts in the book how, as the Bennett and Arcane families began their climb out of the valley through the Panamint mountains south of Telescope Peak, someone in the group, probably Sarah Ann Bennett (nee Dilley), or Mrs. J.B. Arcane, turned to take a last look eastward and said "Goodbye, Death Valley!". Only one of the emigrants, a Capt. Culverwell, had died within the confines of the valley itself, while two other people, who Manly remembers in his book as Mr. Fish and Mr. Isham, were found dead along the trail west of the Panamint Range by Manly and his partner John Haney Rogers. Fish and Isham were members of another group of emigrants who called themselves the Jayhawkers, who had been traveling alongside the Bennett–Arcane Party from Salt Lake, Utah. The Jayhawkers had left the Bennetts sometime in the second or third week of December 1849 and walked out of Death Valley, after butchering the last of their oxen for jerky, along a path north of Telescope Peak, perhaps through the pass north of Tucki Mountain that today carries State Route 190 from Olancha to Stovepipe Wells. This pass is today known as Towne Pass, after Captain Towne, the leader of "The Mississippi Boys" group of the 1849 Death Valley pioneers. NOTES: J. B. Arcane was possibly an emigrant from the Basque region of France; if so, the correct spelling of his name would be "Arcan". The first names of many of the 1849 Death Valley Pioneers, including Captain Culverwell, Mr. Fish, Mr. Isham, and Captain Towne, are lost to history.


On February 5, 1903, at the age of 83, Manly died at his home near Lodi, California.


Manly rescued several families of pioneers from Death Valley during the 1849 California Gold Rush. For this reason, three geographic features in Death Valley bear his name: the Manly Beacon near Zabriskie Point, Manly Peak, situated at South between Panamint Valley and the Death Valley, and Lake Manly, the ancient dried lake in Death Valley.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Kane, Michael David (2008). William Lewis Manly. ProQuest. p. 13. 

External links[edit]