Oregon Trail

OregonThe Oregon TrailOregon pioneers
In 1848, the Salt Lake Cutoff was established by Sam Hensley, and returning members of the Mormon Battalion providing a path north of the Great Salt Lake from Salt Lake City back to the California and Oregon trails. This cutoff rejoined the Oregon and California Trails near the City of Rocks near the Utah–Idaho border and could be used by both California and Oregon bound travelers. Located about half way on both the California and Oregon trails many thousands of later travelers used Salt Lake City and other Utah cities as an intermediate stop for selling or trading excess goods or tired livestock for fresh livestock, repairs, supplies or fresh vegetables.

Mormon Trail

MormonMormon Pioneer National Historic Trailheaded west
The Latter-day Saints operated a ferry at this location to assist the church's emigrants and to earn money from other emigrants traveling to Oregon and California. Ft. Bridger (1183 mi west) – Fort Bridger was established in 1842 by famous mountain man Jim Bridger. This was the site where the paths of the Oregon Trail, the California Trail, and the Mormon Trail separated; the three trails ran in parallel from Missouri River to Fort Bridger. In 1855, the LDS Church bought the fort from Jim Bridger and Louis Vazquez for $8,000. During the Utah War in 1857, the Utah militia burned down the fort so that it would not fall into the hands of the advancing U.S. Army under General A.S. Johnston.

Platte River

PlatteNebraskaNorth Platte River
The river valley played an important role in the westward expansion of the United States, providing the route for several major emigrant trails, including the Oregon, California, Mormon and Bozeman trails. The first Europeans to see the Platte were French explorers and fur trappers about 1714; they first called it the Nebraskier (Nebraska), a transliteration of the name given by the Otoe people, meaning "flat water". This expression is very close to the French words "rivière plate" ("flat river"), the probable origin of the name Platte River.

City of Rocks National Reserve

City of RocksCassia Silent City of Rocks
California Trail wagon trains of the 1840s and 1850s left the Raft River valley and traveled through the area and over Granite Pass into Nevada. Names or initials of emigrants written in axle grease are still visible on Register Rock. Ruts from wagon wheels also can be seen in some of the rocks. In 1849, an emigrant party with James Wilkins "encamped at the city of the rocks" on the California Trail just north of the Great Salt Lake Desert. Signatures in axle grease on rock faces can be seen today. One emigrant saw the distant rocks in August like "water thrown up into the air from numerous artificial hydrants."

Fort Bridger

namesake historic fortBridgerFort Bridger State Historic Site
In 1845, Lansford Hastings published a guide entitled The Emigrant's Guide to Oregon and California, which advised California emigrants to leave the Oregon Trail at Fort Bridger, pass through the Wasatch Range across the Great Salt Lake Desert (an 80-mile waterless drive), loop around the Ruby Mountains, and rejoin the California Trail about seven miles west of modern Elko, Nevada (now Emigrant Pass). The ill-fated Donner-Reed Party followed that route, along which they were met by a rider sent by Hastings to deliver letters to traveling emigrants.


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Carson City, Nevada

Carson CityOrmsbyCarson City, NV
By 1851 the Eagle Station ranch along the Carson River was a trading post and stopover for travelers on the California Trail's Carson Branch which ran through Eagle Valley. The valley and trading post received their name from a bald eagle that was hunted and killed by one of the early settlers and was featured on a wall inside the post. As the area was part of the Utah Territory, it was governed from Salt Lake City, where the territorial government was headquartered. Early settlers bristled at the control by Mormon-influenced officials and desired the creation of the Nevada territory.

California Gold Rush

Gold RushForty-Niners49er
, Erinnerungen an den California Trail, John A. Sutter und den Goldrausch 1846–1849. Herausgegeben von [edited by] Christa Landert, mit einem Vorwort von [foreword by] Leo Schelbert. Zürich: Limmat Verlag, 2010, 2011. ISBN: 978-3-85791-504-8 * online edition *Witschi, N. S. (2004). "Bret Harte." Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature. Ed. Jay Parini. New York: Oxford University Press. 154–157. Barbary Coast. California Mining and Mineral Museum. Gold in California. Mercury contamination in California waterways. Women in the California Gold Rush. Ord, Edward Otho Cresap, Topographical sketch of the gold & quicksilver district of California, 1848. from loc.gov accessed October 4, 2018.

Green River (Colorado River tributary)

Green RiverGreenGreen River Basin
Below there, it flows through open sage covered rolling prairie where it is crossed by the Oregon, California and Mormon emigration trails and then further south until it flows past the town of Green River and into the Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Southwestern Wyoming, formed by the Flaming Gorge Dam in northeastern Utah. Prior to the creation of the reservoir, the Blacks Fork joined the Green River south of Green River, today the mouth of Blacks Fork is submerged by the reservoir.

Fort Hall

Old Fort Hall
Soon after Fort Hall, the Oregon and California trails diverged in northwesterly and southwesterly directions. An estimated 270,000 emigrants reached Fort Hall on their way west. The town of Fort Hall, Idaho later developed 11 mi to the east, and Pocatello developed about 30 mi south on the Portneuf River. In the 1860s, Fort Hall was the key post for the overland stage, mail and freight lines to the towns and camps of the mining frontier in the Pacific Northwest. In 1870 a New Fort Hall was constructed to carry out that function; it was located about 25 miles to the northeast. It protected stagecoach, mail and travelers to the Northwest.

Humboldt River

HumboldtHumboldt River ValleyHumboldt Valley
By the early 1840s the trail along the river was being used by settlers going west to California. In 1848 the river was explored by John C. Frémont, who made a thorough map of the region and gave the river its current name. The following year the river became the route of the California Trail, the primary land route for migrants to the California gold fields. In 1869 the river was used as part of the route of the Central Pacific segment of the Transcontinental Railroad. In the 20th century, the valley of the river became the route for U.S. Route 40, later replaced by Interstate 80.

Carson River

CarsonCarson ValleyMiddle Carson Watershed
In the 1850s and 1860s, the river was used as the route of the Carson Trail, a branch of the California Trail that allowed access to the California gold fields, as well as by the Pony Express. Gold was discovered along the river in the Silver Mountain Mining District in 1860. The 1868 Virginia and Truckee Railroad transported ore to the quartz reduction mines along the river. Virginia City, Nevada, along the lower watershed, was home in 1859 to the world's greatest silver rush, the Comstock Lode. The Carson Valley provided food and forage for the silver miners and their livestock.

U.S. Route 50 in Nevada

U.S. Route 50US 5050
In addition to the trails of the Pony Express and Lincoln Highway, this portion parallels the Carson River branch of the California Trail. The Carson River forms the southern edge of the Forty Mile Desert. This desert, located between the termini of the Carson and Humboldt Rivers, was the most dreaded part of the California Trail, where travelers had to endure 40 mi of desert heat with no usable water. At Silver Springs, U.S. Route 50 Alternate splits from the main route. Both branches are sometimes called the loneliest road, and the promotional passport issued by the Nevada Commission on Tourism includes a stamping location at Fernley, along the alternate branch.

Independence, Missouri

IndependenceIndependence, MOIndependence †
Between 1848 and 1868, it was a hub of the California Trail. On March 8, 1849, the Missouri General Assembly granted a home-rule charter to the town and on July 18, 1849, William McCoy was elected as its first mayor. In the mid-19th century an Act of the United States Congress defined Independence as the start of the Oregon Trail. Independence saw two important battles during the Civil War: the first on August 11, 1862, when Confederate soldiers took control of the town, and the second in October 1864, which also resulted in a Southern victory.

Portneuf River (Idaho)

Portneuf RiverPortneufPortneuf Range
The valley of the Portneuf provided the route of the Oregon Trail and California Trail in the middle 19th century. After the discovery of gold in Montana and Idaho, it became a significant stage route for the transportation of people and goods. In 1877 the valley was used as the route of the Utah and Northern Railway, the first railroad in Idaho. The Portneuf River watershed is a heavily used and anthropogenically altered system. After a series of heavy floods in the early 1960s the Army Corps of Engineers designed and constructed a concrete channel to control flooding in 1965.


NEState of NebraskaNeb.
European-American settlement was scarce until 1848 and the California Gold Rush. On May 30, 1854, the US Congress created the Kansas and the Nebraska territories, divided by the Parallel 40° North, under the Kansas–Nebraska Act. The Nebraska Territory included parts of the current states of Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. The territorial capital of Nebraska was Omaha. In the 1860s, after the U.S. government forced many of the Native American tribes to cede their lands and settle on reservations, it opened large tracts of land to agricultural development by Europeans and Americans.

Sweetwater River (Wyoming)

Sweetwater RiverSweetwater
The Sweetwater River's connection to the California Trail is of particular interest to members of the Fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta, since it is a site where two early members met, including one of the fraternity's six founders. At a time when such a meeting was incredibly unlikely, the coincidence was so fortuitous as to be chronicled in the fraternity's history. * List of rivers of Wyoming

North Platte River

North PlatteNorthN. Platte River
Following the fur traders, the major emigration trails established along the north and south banks of the North Platte River were the Oregon (1843–1869), California (1843–1869), Mormon (1847–1869) and the Bozeman (1863–68) Trails. The trails north of the North Platte River originally crossed the North Platte near Fort Laramie to join the original Oregon and California Trail Route on the south side. In 1850 Child's Route (Child's Cutoff) extended the north side trail to what is now Casper, Wyoming. The rugged territory from Fort Laramie, Wyoming to Casper meant that the trails often deviated from the river to find an easier path and relied on streams draining into the North Platte for water.

Lahontan Valley

desertforty mile desertForty-Mile Desert
During the era of the California trail the Lahontan and adjacent valleys to the northwest were called the Forty Mile Desert. The valley derives its name from Louis-Armand de Lom d'Arce de Lahontan, Baron de Lahontan, a French soldier. The Forty Mile Desert is a California Gold Rush name for Nevada's Lahontan Valley and the adjoining area to the northwest. Emigrants following the California Trail west came into the Lahonton Valley via the Humboldt River. West of the river's end in the Humboldt Sink, the trail forked, with one branch leading towards the Carson River and the other towards the Truckee River.

U.S. Route 50 in California

U.S. Route 50US 50Highway 50
The earliest roads used by Europeans to cross the Sierra Nevada into California were branches of the California Trail. The first route near the present US 50 was the Carson Route, laid out in 1848 by an eastward Mormon party that wanted to avoid the Truckee Route and its deep crossings of the Truckee River. The group left Pleasant Valley, southeast of Placerville, on July 3, following Iron Mountain Ridge up to the crest of the Sierra at Carson Pass and then descending through Carson Canyon into the Carson Valley. Along the Humboldt River in Nevada, the Mormons met Joseph B. Chiles, who was leading a westward wagon train to California, and told him of their new trail.