September 1 – A 5-month virtual road trip along the California Trail
As we begin our final month of a virtual road trip along the California Trail we finish the Hastings cutoff by passing through South Fork (of the Humboldt River) Canyon (GPS coordinates -115.859, 40.746). The entrance to the canyon lies in South Fork State Recreation Area (http://parks.nv.gov/parks/south-fork#). The canyon forced the crossing of the South Fork more than a dozen times. The photo of the end of South Fork canyon was taken by Trail Center staff.
Heinrich Lienhard (journal excerpt at https://issuu.com/utah10/docs/volume_19_1951/s/88944) rather humorously described traveling through this canyon on September 7, 1846. I’ll only quote a portion here but I encourage you to read the entire entry: “Here, at the 14th and last crossing, the road on the right side was ominously high, as also on the left. The stream was wide, and it looked to us as if the water to our left were deep. The right ox of the leading yoke was called Ben; he was a large, lean fellow with very long horns, a little cross-eyed but for the rest a very good, obedient animal; however, there were times when he would have his own way, and thereby he displayed only too well his obstinate oxen nature. As we approached this last crossing, our Ben seemed not well impressed with the wide, deep looking water to our left. He squinted and blinked at it, as if he thought, “This brook is by no means empty; herein go I not.” More to the right the water was not so deep; it flowed over a pebbly place, and we could easily see the bottom. Ben’s ox-understanding told him, probably, that an ox his size ran no risk of drowning in water 1 ½ feet deep. We no sooner commenced the crossing than we found that Mr. Ben was not disposed to go straight down into the water; he turned aside to the right (Gee). Zins, who was driver today, fortunately stopped in time. Thomen remained at the rear of the wagon to keep it from upsetting, for it had a heavy list to the left. I fastened a small piece of rope to Ben’s right horn and sought through hard pulling to draw the stubborn old fellow to the left, while Zins cracked his whip and shouted “Oh haw,” but Ben would Gee and our right wagon wheel rose still higher, as a result of which our wagon inclined yet more to the left. With some difficulty we managed to stop the oxen again. I now placed myself on the right side of the ox Ben and shouted “Oh Haw” while I sought with all my power to shove him to the left, but when all the oxen together began to pull again, I was brushed aside by the squint-eyed fellow as easily as if I had been only a child. Thomen and Zins shouted together, and over toppled our wagon into water 4 feet deep, the bows together with the covering under water and the wheels appearing there where the bows should have remained. The bows of course were broken, and all our belongings lay in the water…”
September 2 – A 5-month virtual road trip along the California Trail
The Humboldt River and Interstate 80 enter what today is called Carlin Canyon about 4 miles southwest of the California Trail Interpretive Center. In early summer the river would sometimes be full enough to make passage through the canyon difficult for wagons because the road crossed the river four times in this canyon. The Greenhorn Cutoff (GPS coordinates -115.950, 40.740) was a 12-mile alternate route over the surrounding hills as a bypass of the canyon. The photo from the top of the cutoff looking back toward the Trail Center along a wagon trail swale is by Trail Center staff.
Bennet Clark (https://digital.shsmo.org/digital/collection/mhr/id/10514) passed along this cutoff on July 21, 1849 and wrote, “Continued down stream, grass no where tolerable & about 10 o’clock found the road leading us away from the river up a narrow canon to the right. Thinking the road crossed only one range of hills & would again strike the river we entered the hollow. The road continued to get steeper until a very high mountain was ascended when we wound around the various mounds composing the range, not to the right then to the left until we suddenly ascended another peak from which we saw the St. Mary’s lying before us some 5 miles distant. There was neither water nor grass in all this distance (12 miles). We were altogether unprepared for this, for which we were of course sufferers. About 3 o’clock in the afternoon we reached the river again where we camped for the night as our teams were much jaded by so long a drive.”
September 3 – A 5-month virtual road trip along the California Trail
After passing through or around Carlin Canyon, emigrants were faced with a much larger canyon bypass. Palisade canyon was too treacherous for wagons so the Trail went over what today is called Emigrant pass and returned to the Humboldt River at Gravelly Ford (GPS coordinates -116.403, 40.575). Travelers had the option to continue on the north side of the river or cross to follow it on the south side. The accompanying photo by Trail Center staff shows the descent to the Ford in the background and a gravesite in the foreground. The grave shown marks the burial site of Lucinda Duncan (https://octa-trails.org/people-places/lucinda-duncan/), and emigrant who died on August 15, 1863.
James Pressley Yager (http://epubs.nsla.nv.gov/statepubs/epubs/210777-1970-4Winter.pdf) commented on her death in his journal from the next day: “An event occured last night that has cast a gloom over our camp; the death of one of its members. An old lady the mother & grand mother of a large part of our train. She had been sick for several days & night before last she became very ill so much so our train was compelled to layover yesterday & last night she died. She was pious and beloved by the whole train, relatives & strangers Her relatives took her death very hard. All of her children and grand children were present except a grand son who is in the confederate army…. August 17 – Before leaving Mrs. Duncans funeral was preached by Cap Peterson. Her remains was carried to its last resting place as we proceeded on our journey & up on a high point to our left about one mile from camp, we paid our last debt & respect to the remains of the departed mother. There upon that wild & lonely spot, we left her, untill Gabrel shall sound his trumpt in the last day. The scene was truely a sad one to leave a beloved mother on the wild & desolate plains. A board with the name of the deceased was put up at the head & boulders was laid over the grave to keep wolves from scratching in it.”
September 4 – A 5-month virtual road trip along the California Trail
The Golconda Hot Springs (GPS coordinates -117.495, 40.961) are not developed in any way and are near a very small town but it was still a landmark on the California Trail. You can read a travel blog about the area at http://backyardtraveler.blogspot.com/2009/04/visit-to-often-overlooked-golconda.html. The accompanying photo was taken by Trail Center staff.
Margaret Frink (https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101079825640&view=1up&seq=93&skin=2021) camped nearby on August 1, 1850: “We crossed the slough as soon as we started. Then we had a very bad hill to climb, though it was short. William Johnson went hunting. We came to the river, but could not cross it. Took to the bluffs. Found the road good with the exception of two very rough places. Started again at three o’clock, but did not proceed far before our small wagon broke down, and we had to stop. Mr. Cole’s party stopped with us, and we rigged a cart out of the wagon. Mr. Clarke’s wagon being ahead, they did not hear of our accident. We encamped in the neighborhood of several boiling springs.”
September 5 – A 5-month virtual road trip along the California Trail
At this point in our virtual journey we’ll begin exploring many of the multiple routes used to complete the journey to California. The Applegate Trail takes off about 35 miles southwest of Winnemucca. Originally developed by Jesse Applegate as a route to get to southern Oregon territory, the Applegate Trail also became a somewhat popular route, in combination with other cutoffs, to get enter Northern California. There is a Nevada Historical Marker at the Imlay exit of Interstate 80 (GPS coordinates -118.166, 40.652) which describes the Applegate Trail. You can also explore the information and guidebooks available from Trails West on their website at https://emigranttrailswest.org/virtual- tour/applegate-trail/. The photograph comes from the Historical Marker Database at https://www.hmdb.org/m.asp?m=67379.
Alexander Ramsay (https://www.jstor.org/stable/3635663) described the decision to try this route on August 13, 1849: “The men who went ahead to examine the contemplated new route returned last evening at dark and reported good road for fifteen miles and grass & water at that distance. This morning early each individual company in the train decided by vote which route they would follow three out of the five companies decided to risk the new route the other two had majorities in favor of following the old route so the prospect was that the train must divide which was a matter of regret to all,…. So we geared up and struck out across the bottom and before we got out of sight of our camp the other two companies concluded to follow and by night we were all together again, about noon we passed the water and grass seen by our spies we stoped two hours here. The water was at a spring upon the side of the mountain to our left and very difficult to get at.”
September 6 – A 5-month virtual road trip along the California Trail
There are several springs along the early part of the Applegate Trail, but few were sufficient to supply the needs of people and animals traveling the route. One – Rabbit Hole Springs (GPS coordinates -118.758, 40.758) – was near the point where another trail established in 1852, the Nobles Trail, would shorten the path to California considerably. An information site about the Rabbit Hole Springs managed by the Friends of Black Rock can be found at https://blackrockdesert.org/wiki/index.php/Rabbit_Hole_Spring. The photograph came from that site.
Alonzo Delano (https://archive.org/details/lifeonplainsamon01dela/page/n7/mode/2up) wrote, on August 16, 1849, “Turning westerly, we pressed on through a small basin beyond the defile, when, after ascending a little elevation, the glad shout was raised, “I see where the spring is!” Several wagons had stopped in the road, and a knot of men were gathered around a particular spot, which marked the place of the glorious element, and with parched tongues we went up. Judge of our disappointment, when we found the promised springs to be only three or four wells sunk in the ground, into which the water percolated in a volume about the size of a straw, and each hole occupied by a man dipping it up with a pint cup, as it slowly filled a little cavity in the ground. Each man was taking his turn to drink, and we had ample time to get cool before our turn came to taste the muddy water; and as to getting a supply for our cattle, it was out of the question. Beyond us, far as we could see, was a barren waste, without a blade of grass or a drop of water for thirty miles at least. Instead of avoiding the desert, instead of the promised water, grass, and a better road, we were in fact upon a more dreary and wider waste, without either grass or water, and with a harder road before us. We had been inveigled there by false reports and misrepresentation, without preparing for such a contingency, as we might have done, in some measure, by cutting grass on the river. Our train came up, followed by others. What was to be done? It was thirty-five miles to the river and about the same distance to the spring ahead. Should we go back? Our cattle had already gone without food or water nearly thirty hours. Could they stand it to go back? Could they possibly go forward?”
September 7 – A 5-month virtual road trip along the California Trail
The small town of Gerlach, Nevada is host to several Trail related points of interest. First, the BLM Field office (https://www.blm.gov/office/black-rock-station GPS coordinates -119.370, 40.659) has some interpretive information about the region including Black Rock desert, the Applegate Trail, and the Nobles Cutoff. Also the non-profit Friends of Black Rock/High Rock is located here (https://blackrockdesert.org/). You can watch a short BLM video about the Nobles Trail at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XU-CSl22JGk&t=50s and perhaps also visit the BLM Nobles Trail website at https://www.blm.gov/visit/california-national-historic-trail-nobles-emigrant-segment.
Solomon Kingery (https://collections.library.yale.edu/catalog/16697317) camped somewhere near here on August 1, 1852 after traveling overnight. He wrote, “Traveld 28 miles across another barren plain or Desert. We Started at 4 o’clock this evening. No water in this distence. The road good, a Sollid Clay, in Some places Coverd with Salt & as Smoth & as barren as a Brick yard, not a Spear of grass or bush in this distence. It is the most beutifull sight that I ever saw looking over it miles ahead, looks like a great great lake of water. This would be a very beutifull Sporting ground if it was in the States. We had a very pleasant moonlight night. About Sunrise we landed at granite Creek. This creek is dry here. Up the Creek about 2 miles we found good water & grass.” The image is from https://blackrockdesert.org/geology/.