Here are the history-related posts that I put together for the California Trail Interpretive Center for the month of January.
For Frontier Fridays in January, we’ll take a look at some history of the Applegate Trail. The Applegate Trail begins about 35 miles southwest of Winnemucca, Nevada, travels through the Black Rock Desert into Northern California and eventually ends in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The Nevada and northeastern California portion of the trail can be explored through the California Trail Interpretive Center Mobile app or the associated website at https://ctic.oncell.com/en/applegate-trail-lassen-meadows-to-goose-lake-263593.html.
Jesse Applegate left Missouri in 1843 and traveled the Oregon Trail along with his two brothers. Before reaching the Willamette Valley they had to brave the mighty Columbia River, in which two of the brothers, including Jesse, lost their two nine-year-old boys. Their trip to Oregon was part of the first large migration across the Oregon Trail. With over a thousand people and several thousand animals, the train in which the Applegate’s traveled split into two components, of which Jesse became the “Captain” of the “Cow Column” comprising the emigrants transporting large herds. In 1868 Jesse Applegate wrote a reminiscence called “A Day with the Cow Column in 1843” that was published in The Overland Monthly (and can be read online at https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101064464892&view=1up&seq=127&skin=2021). In it he said, “those not encumbered with or having but few loose cattle attached themselves to the light column, those having more than four or five cows had of necessity to join the heavy or cow column.” He proceeds to describe in great detail what a typical day during their journey was like. Read it. You’ll find it interesting! The sketch of Applegate was rendered from memory by his nephew about 50 years after Jesse’s death.
The Applegate brothers were determined to find a southern route for emigrants which would avoid the Columbia River, where they had suffered the loss of two children. Also due to territorial tensions with Britain, they wanted to heed the call of Oregon’s provisional governor for a party to locate a southern route into Oregon that could avoid the British forts along the Oregon Trail. Leaving in May, they scouted a possible route down to near present-day Imlay, NV and then proceeded eastward along the California Trail to Fort Hall to intercept Oregon-bound travelers and pursuade them to follow their new route. Edwin Bryant (https://www.loc.gov/item/55048851/), in his 1846 journal, records encountering the Applegate party on August 9: “Just as I was crossing Mary’s river … I saw at the distance of about half a mile a party of some ten or fifteen men mounted on horses and mules, marching towards the north. Spurring our animals, we rode with as much speed as we could make, in a direction to intercept them…. I felt quite confident that they were a party from California…. We soon learned that they were a party of men from the Wilhamette valley in Oregon, headed by the Messrs. Applegate, who had left their homes on the 10th of May, and since that time had been engaged in exploring a new and more feasible wagon-route to Oregon… Having completed their labors, they were now on their way to Fort Hall for the purpose of meeting the emigrant trains bound to Oregon, and guiding them by this route to their destination…. Such was their condition in regard to provisions, that they expected to be compelled to slaughter one of their horses for food, unless they met some of the emigrant trains within a day or two.” The painting was found on Etsy (https://www.etsy.com/listing/11081178/mountain-men-ride-painting-original).
J. Quinn Thornton, in his book Oregon and California in 1848 (available on the Internet Archive at https://archive.org/details/oregoncalifornia01thor/page/226/mode/2up?q=personag) describes the arrival of Jesse Applegate at Fort Hall on August 8, 1846. He said, “In the forenoon one Jesse Applegate came into camp, and informed the company that himself and Colonel Nat. Ford had united together for the purpose of … exploring a new route, which should be both better and nearer than the old one to Oregon…. Applegate affirmed the following things, among others: 1. That the distance to Oregon, via the Dalles Mission was from 800 to 850 miles. 2. That the distance by his cut-off was estimated by him to be at least 200 miles less than that route. 3. That the party who had explored the new road with him, estimated it at even 300 miles nearer. 4. That the whole distance was better supplied with water and grass than the old road. 5. That it was not more than 190 or 200 miles to the point at which his cut-off left Ogden’s River. 6. That the road was generally smooth, and, with the exception of a dry drive of thirty miles, well supplied with an abundance of good water, grass, and fuel.” Thornton reluctantly agreed to travel with Applegate on the new route. However, on August 12 he said, “Wm. Kirquendall and Charles Putnam left our company in the morning, to go forward with others, led by Captain Applegate, to mark and open the new road….” By the 21st he commented, “The veracious captain had very prudently gone forward… He thus kept his precious person out of the way of receiving harm from the outraged and duped emigrants, who were unfortunate, rather than weak, in their reliance upon his statements. To have shot him would certainly have been wrong. But that the injured and incensed emigrants, had he been with us, would have poured out his blood upon the sands of the desert, over which his cut-off conducted us, within the next three days, I have no doubt…. ” Finally, by November 5, Quinn remarks, “We had become too weak, in consequence of want of food, to travel further. But there was a hope indulged, that food would be sent us from some of the settlements. Applegate had long before escaped into the settlements, and we had already learned too much of the character of that very veracious personage to expect relief in any way from that quarter.” Quinn’s party made it, but barely. Similar to Lansford Hastings (re: the Hastings Cutoff), Applegate’s reputation was tainted by the difficulties encountered by those who followed his advice. The picture is the frontspiece of J. Quinn Thornton’s book.
While the Applegate Trail led to Oregon, their were three main routes that branched off and led into northern California from it. In 1848, Peter Lassen saw a business opportunity to lead emigrants into his northern California property by branching off the Applegate Trail at Goose Lake. He opened a supply station there and lured as many as half of the ’49 gold seekers through his ranch. Unfortunately, his route added 200 miles to the total distance to reach the gold fields of California.
In 1852, William Nobles established a route which became known as the Nobles Trail that branched off the Applegate Trail at Black Rock and was a much easier wagon route into northern California.
The Yreka Trail was an additional branch from the Applegate into extreme northern California and was also opened in 1852.
You can explore all three of these trails with the wonderful guidebooks from Trails West, Inc. (https://emigranttrailswest.org/). The 1845 sketch of the Stone Bridge crossing on the Applegate Trail near the Yreka Trail junction was downloaded from the Trails West website.