The Lore of Captain Francis P. Salty – The Great Salt Lake Pirate

by Miri Gubler with Discover Davis

Ahoy scallywags!  ‘Tis the story of Captain Francis P. Salty, the famous land-locked Utah pirate, who sparked many great legends of his adventures in the Great Salt Lake with his trusty and unlikely steed: Davis the bison.

Little is known of his origins…some say he was a rogue Mormon pioneer, deeply salty from his handcart trek out west, who took to looting burgeoning settlements along the Wasatch Front, burying his treasure on multiple islands in the Great Salt Lake and frequently terrorizing the ranchers on Antelope Island by poaching their cattle.

Others say he’s an old pirate who escaped the noose in the Carolinas and made his way out west with the remnants of his treasure.  Perhaps when starting a new life, this fugitive could not entirely give up his pirate life, and longing for the blue, salty seas and the calls of the seagulls, found a bit of home in the great inland sea…the Great Salt Lake.  His love of the sea gave him the nickname “Salty,” although others claim the name was born from his personality being saltier than that of the Great Salt Lake because, depending on the time of year, he was always irritated by something…be it the bugs on Antelope Island, the lack of women in the valley, or the harsh northern Utah winters.

Captain Francis P. Salty rendered by Megan Christensen

Some legends say he was so fearless and gruesome that he captured and tamed a bison on his journey west, others believe he stole one from George Frary, who swears he brought 12 bison to the island in 1893 and that Salty absconded with one.

It is believed that he commandeered Brigham Young’s vessel: the Timely Gull, and left him marooned on Antelope Island in order to sail the Great Salt Lake and distribute his booty amongst its many islands: Stansbury, Fremont, Gunnison, Carrington, and Antelope.  His treasure map of each stash is hidden in the Wasatch Mountains that the old sailor grew to love almost as much as the sea.  Some believe his map is atop or en route to Francis Peak, but none have found it…yet.

Despite the gruesome legends of his past, many believe he spread the rumors himself to keep people away, giving him the space and solitude he craved as he found much satisfaction and amusement in the peace and solitude of the mountains…hiking and summiting peaks, sailing the Great Salt Lake, and exploring the county with Davis, his bison matey. Arr!

He and his unlikely steed are rumored to be the inspiration for “Guy on a Buffalo.”


Come see Captain Salty and others at this year’s 1st Annual Scarecrow Walk at the USU Botanical Center! This free event will take place September 9th through September 18th. Don’t forget to vote for your favorite scarecrow.