Author: Brian Ryan

The Oregon Trail Kiosk Tour

Perhaps you’ve seen and visited the Oregon Trail interpretive kiosks along Oregon’s major highways, and wondered where they came from. They are mostly the work of the Oregon Trail Coordinating Council (OTCC), headed by Jim Renner. In 1991 OTCC was commissioned to prepare interpretation of the Oregon Trail in Oregon for the 150th anniversary of the first major migration. They staged plays, campouts, town celebrations, even a wagon train from the Wyoming-Idaho Border.  But a more enduring result of their efforts are the 24 interpretive kiosks OTCC created or refurbished, and four major Interpretive Centers:

  1. National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center at Flagstaff Hill, OR

  2. End of the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center at Oregon City, OR

  3. Tamastslikt Cultural Institute at Pendleton, OR

  4. Columbia Gorge Discovery Center at The Dalles, OR

  • This website will take you on a virtual tour of the interpretive kiosks. Links are also provided to the Clickable Oregon Trail in Oregon, a photo tour of the same route.

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    The sites on both routes are also linked in a Trail Sites List, which will let you access any individual site at will.

  • Panel design & text by Sea Reach LTD; Rose Lodge, Oregon

  • Original art work by Roger Cooke; Marmot, Oregon
    Take the Tour       Trail Site List        OTCC      tomlaidlaw@uswext.net

Government Camp

 

The Barlow Road

 Early Oregon Trail emigrants had little choice but to follow the perilous route of the Columbia River. In 1845, despite warnings from missionaries at The Dalles, Samuel K. Barlow Barlow Roaddecided to forge a wagon road across the formidable Cascades.  Barlow led seven wagons southwest through Tygh Valley toward Mt. Hood–fellow traveler Joel Palmer soon followed withn 23 wagons. With winter fast approaching the trailblazers were forced to cache their wagons and proceed on foot with pack animals to Oregon City. Barlow returned the following spring with a charter from the territorial legislature and a work crew of 40 men to open a toll road.  The Barlow road was rough–“Desparate bad beyond Discription,” for Isom Cranfill in 1847. Many emigrants trekking the rain-soaked slopes with P. V. Crawford in 1851 found, “the most terrible mud we had yet met with during the whole two thousand miles of travel.” The road was an instant success, however, and after 1846 many emigrants chose it over the Columbia River. Barlow charged $5 per wagon and 10 cents per head of stock, and by 1847 with profits in hand he returned the charter to the territorial legislature.

 

RiflemenGovernment Camp

 In 1849 the U. S. Army Mounted Riflemen traveled west on the Oregon Trail to establish posts along the route and in the Oregon Territory. During their journey on the Barlow Road from Tygh Valley nearly two-thirds of the livestock perished while pulling 45 heavily laden wagons. the regiment’s officers ordered the men to cache the wagons’ contents ner this site until they could be retrieved the following spring. The presence of wrecked army wagons and supplies gave rise to the name Government Camp.
Yocum
Permanent settlement of Government Camp began during the 1890s and Oliver C. Yocum was among the first homesteaders. Yocum platted part of his claim in blocks–spelling his name with the first letter of the north/south streets: Yule, Olive, Church, Union, and Montgomery. Although Yocum’s street names survived, his name for the community–Pompeii–did not.mountainclimbers

Yocum built the town’s first hotel in 1899, and others soon followed. During the early 1900s the community was a summer resort and base camp for mountain climbers. 
skiers
Highway 26 opened in 1926 and by the 1930s, the town quickly became a winter resort. Much has changed since Oregon Trail emigrants traveled the Barlow Road through Government Camp toward new lives–today, residents and businesses play host to thousands of visitors year-round.

 

Winter’s Cruel Approach

Oregon Trail emigrants reached Government Camp jaded, weak, and hungry after months of arduous travel. Livestock and draft animals were equally as exhausted: “the whole Caskade mountain was one general horse and ox graveyard.” Jared Fox lamented in 1852. Emigrants suffered from the bitter cold on these forested slopes and often huddled beneath trees in the fog, rain and snow at winter’s cruel approach.

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Winter's Cruel Approach Picture

“…we succeeeeded after a long time, in getting about half-way over the mountains. Then we discovered, to our horror, that it was utterly impossible for us to proceed farther without help. Our cattle could not draw the wagon another yard. None of our companions could assist us, for they were in the same situation as ourselves. We were in despair. Winter was appproching.. In fact, it was apparently already here. Our provisions were almost exhausted. We knew not which way to turn. We tried to walk over the mountains, leaving our cattle to their fate, but we found that impossible. One day I walked six miles, carrying my little girl, and at every step I sank deep in crusted snow.”  Esther M. Lockhart; Emigrant of 1851 (Recollection) .

 

Steep, Rough and Rocky Hills

Most Oregon Trail emigrants camped a few miles to the east at Summit Meadows where many along with William J. Watson in 1849 found, “good grass, but very soft ground, covered with water.”Steep, Rough, and Rocky Hills In 1880 Frank Stevens camped at this swampy mountain meadow and discovered, “Mosquitoes just a-swarming…as thought they hadn’t anything to eat since the first emigrants crossed over this way.” the waon route between Summit Meadows and the Zigzag River passed throught the heart of Bovernment Camp toward Laurel Hill–an incline approaching 60 degrees described succinctly by Riley Root in 1848 as “steep and dangerous,” but considered by many, along with Samuel James in 1850, “one of the worst in the World.”

“…Traeled 14 miles today over the worst road that was ever made up an down very steep rough and rocky hills, through mud holes, twisting and winding round stumps, logs, and fallen trees. Now we are on the end of a log, now bounce in a mud hole, now over a big root of a tree, or rock, then bang goes the other side of the wagon and woe be to whatever is inside…” Amelia Stewart Knight; September 8, 1853

 

William Cannon

What, you’ve never heard about the only Revolutionary War veteran buried in the state of Oregon? The first blacksmith and millwright at Fort Vancouver? The not so good hunter who finally brought down a buffalo only to be treed by a grizzly b’ar on his triumphant way back to camp?

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William Cannon was all of these and more. Very little is known of his early years but most historians agree that he was born in 1755 in the territory near Pittsburgh which was claimed by both Virginia and Pennsylvania. With this beginning, he seemed destined to always live his life in disputed territory. In later years he told his friends that he had been in the Revolutionary War battle of King’s Mountain in 1780 and at Cowpens in 1781. A natural mechanic, he probably spent his first 25 years learning the blacksmith and millwright trades. In the army he was probably an artificer (mechanic).

In 1810 Cannon was a soldier at one of the frontier outposts and was at Fort Mackinac, at the juncture of Lakes Michigan and Huron, when Wilson Price Hunt was forming an overland party to go to the mouth of the Columbia River. Hunt was a partner of John Jacob Astor, New York fur merchant, who thought he would settle the ongoing political and commercial border disputes by himself becoming King of the Pacific fur trade. Another group would go by sea aboard Astor’s ship Tonquin. That story has been magnificently told, of course, in Washington Irving’s Astoria published in 1836 and still in print.

Irving’s one and only mention of Cannon on that trip concerned his ineptness as a hunter. Now Cannon was a great mechanic and doubtless knew how to fix guns, but he didn’t know how to operate them very well, and for this took a lot of raillery from his friends. He would go off by himself to practice and one day, to his great delight, he brought down a buffalo. Cutting out a few choice parts, he bundled them up and started proudly back to camp. Suddenly he heard behind him a loud Wauughh! and turned to face a grizzly bear. He dropped the meat and ran–dropped the rifle and climbed a tree, because grizzlies are not very good a climbing trees.They are, however, powerful good at waiting beneath them for long periods of time. Night fell, Cannon couldn’t see but imagined that Ursa Major was still there. Finally, dawn came and the bear (with the meat) was gone, so he climbed down, recovered his gun and went back to camp. Finally, on Feb12, 1812 ffter many other adventures the Overland Astorians finally reached the mouth of the Columbia River and the little fort–Astoria–that had been built by the men of the Tonquin. Along the way they had been the first white party to travel what would become the Oregon Trail, from American Falls to the Dalles. Cannon was first assigned to Willamette Post, near Salem, OR where he bacame one of the first Americans on the French Prairie, near Champoeg, along with Alexander Carson and John Day.

But the war of 1812 dashed all of Astor’s high hopes for the fur trade and Astoria was sold to the Northwest Company. Cannon, among others, chose to stay with the NW Company, and spent ten years with them, as employee in the summer and free trapper in the winter. In 1821, the NW Company and Hudson’s Bay finally merged, and by 1824 Cannon found himself building Fort Vancouver under the direction of Hudson Bay’s new chief factor, John McLoughlin.

By this time he was 69 years old, but apparently still strong and valuable for his skills as a millwright and blacksmith. He created the fort’s first grist mill by gouging a depression in a stump for a mortar and hanging a heavy wooden pestle from a “spring – pole device.” It must have been something like a CB Antenna. He later carved the framework and gears for a larger mill and cut millstones from the local hillside. He also built a sawmill powered by an overshot wheel. He became superintendent of the mills, as well as the blacksmith shop and, in his own domain, was certainly at the top of the pay scale.

All this time Oregon was slowly being settled by a melange of French Canadian and British HBC retirees, American missionaries and businessmen. Cannon had apparently retired from HBC in 1836 and was living and working around Champoeg. Somewhere along the line he married a Chinook woman, but nothing is known about this relationship and he has no descendants.(Since first writing this story more information has come to light. Jim Tompkins found the 1846 will of William Johnson Another early settler in which he conditionally leaves part of his estate to the “son of William Cannon”. Subsequent to that George Brown gave me a copy of the baptism records of Rev. Herbert Beaver at Champoeg, which notes the baptism of John Cannon, son of William Cannon and Polly Clackamas. It was the custom to create a surname for the native by using their tribal name. Nothing further on this matter has surfaced as of Nov. 2003

By 1841 sizeable communities had grown up around French Prairie and Oregon City. In 1838, a petition had been sent to Washington to extend US jurisdiction over Oregon, but nothing was done. The death of Master Trapper Ewing Young finally forced the community into decisive action. Young, in a few short years, had become the wealthiest landowner in the area, and his estate needed some kind of administration. At that time William Cannon was appointed as a Justice of the Peace.

In 1843 a series of meetings was held about the problem of wolves in the area. After the regular meeting, a secret meeting was held by a select few to talk about forming a government. Would the territory be Independent, British, or American? On May 2, 1843, that question was answered. After a heated debate the vote was 52 – 50 in favor of an American provisional government. William Cannon was one of the 52. An obelisk with Cannon’s name on it stands at the spot of that meeting at Champoeg State Park. There is also a plaque to his honor in the DAR cabin at the park.

William Cannon died in 1854, at 99 years of age, and was buried by Bishop Francis Norbert Blanchet in the old cemetery at St. Paul Oregon. The Sons and Daughters of the Revolution researched Cannon and in 1991 a gravestone was erected in the cemetery at St. Paul, declaring him to be the only Revolutionary War soldier buried in Oregon. That 1991 headstone was only a temporary piece of plywood and fell apart a few years later, leaving the grave unmarked for several years. However, on April 12, 2003 an official U.S. Army headstone was erected to Cannon’s honor. it should be there forever.

Blue Mountain Crossing

 

This great Forest Service interpretive area has about a mile of wonderful ruts and great interpretive panels. On weekends they have a living history display of an emigrant couple and their wagon.  In October, 1843, John C. Fremont wrote:

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” October 20  After travelling occasionally through open places in the forest, we were obliged to cut a way through a dense body of timber, from which we emerged on the open mountainside, where we found a number of small springs, and encamped after a journey of ten miles. October 21  there was a very heavy white frost during the night, and the thermometer at sunrise was 30 degrees.”

The trail is also hikable for a short distance on each side of the actual interpreted area.

“The hills here are all covered with fine timber. Some of them are awful steep, however. We went up one today and it took twenty-two head of cattle to haul up one wagon, and there was not much in the wagon, either. Emigrants will therefore see the necessity of kind and careful treatment of their teams at the outset and indeed through the whole of this long journey, to reserve their strength for these difficult places.” (Elizabeth Wood, 1851)
Photos courtesy of  Southwind Productions.

Blue Mountain CrossingBlue Mountain Crossing Locator Map

OAG = DeLorme’s Oregon Atlas & Gazetteer
MOT
 = Franzwa’s Maps of the Oregon Trail
OTR
 = Franzwa’s Oregon Trail Revisited

Philip Foster Farm

 

First Signs of Civilization

Philip and Mary Foster emigrated from Maine by ship to Ft. Vancouver in 1843. After exploring several locations in the Willamette Valley, the Fosters settled here in a log cabin–the current house, built in 1883, is the third to occupy this site. In 1846 Foster joined Samuel K. Barlow’s effort to build and operate a toll road for Oregon trail emigrants over the cascade Mountains from The Dalles. foster succeeded Barlow as primary owner of the barlow Road in 1851 and operated under charter from the territorial legislature until 1857. In July of 1846 Ruben Grant became the first among thousands to drive a wagon over the Barlow road and stop here at what Rev. Neil Johnson in 1851 considered, “the first signs of civilization since I left St. Joseph.” Weary emigrants enjoyed gracious hospitality at the Foster’s farm–some enjoyed themselves too much.  

“…we arrived at Mr. foster’s about 10 a.m., and camped by a creek near the Foster home…and then engaged in dinner at the house at a rate of fifty cents per meal. Our dinner consisted of hot biscuits, cold slaw, fresh beefsteak, and boiled potatoes, served with hot coffee or tea. this meal tasted very good and sweet to us after our long trip of five months across the continent…One young man took a chair at the table with us and continued eating after the thirs table was served. finally Mr. foster, fearing the young man would kill himself by eating too much, ordered him from the table. He very reluctantly obeyed, went out to camp…and laid down in the grass. He soon became a sick young man, and for the next three hours writhed in great agony…”
E. W. Conyers; September 23, 1852

 

Journey Well Nigh Ended

Thousands of Oregon Trail emigrants trekked the Barlow Road. Many crested the east ridge, caught their first glimpse of Philip Foster’s farm, and along with John Tully Kerns found, “Our spirits lifted at this sight…as if our journey was well nigh ended.” Most emigrants stopped here to rest, graze livestock and purchase necessary supplies before continuing toward new lives in the Willamette Valley.

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“Mr. Foster has accommodations for emigrants and their sick. he has a store to supply them with provisions and he booards a great many of them at his own table. He also has pasturing for stock, an abundance of hay, oats, in short everything that the emigrant needs when stopping. Nearly everyone stops for a short time…He has a very comfortable frame house, barn, storehouse, and other out houses. He has a fine young apple and peach orchard, which are both bearing very well. We had a good supper on potatoes and beef. The potatoes raised here are very good indeed, being very dry and rich. The bread is very white, so that the wheat and flour must be good. The house and supper table are crowded like a hotel…” Esther Belle Hanna; September 16, 1852

 

Deschutes River Crossing

 

The Longed for Columbia RiverLong - looked for Columbia river

Early Oregon Trail emigrants floated down the Columbia River or followed its south bank from Fort Walla Walla. In the 1840s travelers established an alternate route from the Umatilla River to The Dalles across the Columbia Plateau. The new route, 4 to 12 miles south of the river, shortened the journey to the Willamette Valley, but as William J. Watson noted in ’49, emigrants found the road “very dusty” and traveled long distances “without water or wood,” Emigrants reached the Columbia River a few miles to the east near Biggs, and some were disappointed by what they found.

“About midnight we reached the longed for Columbia River, but alas! what a disappointment. We had thought that we would find the Promised Land, we had set our hopes on a new Eden! Not so! We found a dry and arid land where there was not a piece of wood, not even a stick, and where a violent wind carried clouds of dust with it. That was it, that was all we found there. We had to take shelter behind our waggons to avoid being buried in the sand that the wind hurled at us with unbelievable violence. We ate a few biscuits and slept as best we could.” 
Honore-Timothee Lempfrit;   September 21,1848

 

Truly HeartbreakingTruly Heart-Breaking!

Oregon Trail emigrants reached the Columbia River after an arduous trek across the dry and dusty Columbia Plateau, where Harriet A. Loughary, emigrant of 1864, noted “nothing indicates life except an occasional  Juniper tree.” Weary emigrants found little comfort on the plateau: water, firewood, and browse for livestock was scarce. Honore-Timothee Lempfrit, emigrant of 1848, descended the bluffs to the Columbia River and exclaimed, “Our poor animals were exhausted by fatigue and were at the point of collapse from inanition.” Some emigrants reached this site and were forced to lighten their loads before crossing the river.

” When we finally reached the Des Chutes region we were obliged to do exactly what those before us had done, doubtless with no lighter hearts than ours. We cast aside every article that we could  possibly spare. One wagon was shaved and whittled down as much as was consistent with strength and safety. All of our belongings were then put into this one, and the other perfectly good wagon left standing disconsolately beside the road. Oh, it was truly heart-breaking! But it had to be done. There was no use repining. Here, too, we parted with our cheery little sheet-iron cook stove, which had been a real Jov and comfort to us all the way across the plains. Words cannot tell how I felt about leaving all these good things of ours, especially the stove, after we had carried them so far.”  Esther M. Lockhart; emigrant of 1851 (Recollection)  

 

Friendships Not Easily SeveredFriendships Not Easily Severed

Oregon Trail emigrants traveling across the Columbia Plateau caught their first view of what William J. Watson, emigrant of 1849, called the “long – looked for Columbia” from the crest of a hill near Biggs. With Mt. Hood towering majestically to the southwest and the Columbia River below, the day was fast approaching when emigrants would part company to become settlers. Relief near journey’s end was surely offset by melancholy.

“this morning our party is separated after months of toil and hardships, dangers and difficulties freely helping to bear each others burden, begets a friendship not easily severed. All of the wagons go over the mountains except our own. We start alone toward The Dalles…”   Harriet A. Loughary; August 24, 1864

 

Deschutes River CrossingDeschutes River Crossing

River crossings were difficult for Oregon Trail emigrant and the Deschutes River was no exception. John McAllister, emigrant of 1852, warned “danger attends the crosage here.. many large rocks and at the same time a very rapid current.” Emigrants, wagons, and livestock all had to cross the river and casualties were common. Amelia Hadley, emigrant of 1851, noted a canoe “bottom side up, with a pair of boots tied in the capstern.” Early emigrants often hired local Indians to assist at this river crossing. During the 1850s pioneer entrepeneurs seized control of the ford and offered expensive ferry service. A toll bridge was established by 1864.

“…we drove four miles to Des Chutes River, a rapid stream heading in the mountain and one hundred fifty yards wide. the wind being high we could not ferry. We then concluded to ford it. The ferryman declared all would be lost, telling enormous lies to alarm us, but we employed an Indian guide who rode before each wagon, giving us the course to the island, the ford being very crooked; he then rode in front of one team, the rest following in a string, the course being nearly straight across the second channel. We paid him $2 for his services, all being across safe and dry. Our ferriage would have been $15; thus we saved $13 by fording.”
Basil Longworth,; September 17-18, 1853

 

Indians of the DeschutesIndians of the Deschutes

After crossing the Deschutes most Oregon  Trail emigrants traveled south of the Columbia and did not see the large Indian villages at nearby Celilo Falls. Indians were not scarce at this river crossing, however, Elizabeth Dixon Smith, emigrant of 1847 exclaimed “the Indians are as thick as hops here.” Although emigrants often found native people helpful, if not essential to survival, cultural diferences were vast and ignorance rarely overcome.
Indians of the Deschutes

That Indian, whose untutored mind
Sees God in the clouds, or hears him in the wind–
Whose soul, proud science never taught to stray
Far as the glittereing sun, or other orbs of day,

Lives far retird–a kanion deep, a solitary dell,
A gloomy shade–’tis there he deigns to dwell.
What is his food, when naught but rocks around
Are seen? No fields of plenty ther to clothe the ground.
His raiment, also scant, to shield his naked form,
No robes of beasts, nor pelts, nor furs, to guard from the storm.
And when with food he chance to break his fast,
He finds no wood to cook his limited repast.
Alas, what then? The salmon and the salmon trout,
In that mad stream are seen to gambol about.
By him prepared upon the rocks, or hung on slender poles,
Not far above, on steep decline, where furious water rolls,
He dries his food, and thus ’tis savd from future harm…”
Riley Root; September 2, 1848

 

Almost InsurmountableAlmost Insurmountable

The Deschutes River drains the eastern slopes of the Cascade Range and flows from Central Oregon to the Columbia River. Here, near its confluence with the Columbia, the Deschutes flows through a chasm that Riley Root, emigrant of 1848, compared to “the valley of Sinbad the sailor.” Oregon Trail emigrants usually arrived at this site in the late afternoon, and after a perilous river crossing they ascended the hill immediately to the west, camping at the summit. Amelia Hadley described this ascent in 1851 as “almost insurmountable.”The emigrant’s route is still visible across the river, particularly in early morning or late evening light.

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Back to our trip

“After we had got across the river we stopped for a few moments to debate whether we should push on further ahead. We were faced with a very steep hill to climb…the Captain was the first to get up the hill and to do so he had to use our four pairs of oxen as well as his own. Thus he had eight pairs and despite this long string of oxen he had the utmost difficulty in reaching the top of the hill. After this he came down for us and we managed to get up the hill quite well. When we arrived at thesummit we found a nice little spot to set up our camp.”
Honore-Timothee Lempfrit;   September 22,1848

 

Deadman pass

 

Hard TimesHard Times

Oregon Trail emigrants labored for days to cross the Blue Mountains on a road that P. V. Crawford , emigrant of 1851, described as “very sidling, rough and stony.” Maria Parsons Belshaw, emigrant of 1853, exclaimed, “I never saw as crooked a road in my life.” The trail through these mountains was indeed arduous, but emigrants like Samuel Dexter Francis in 1861 were not the only ones affected by climbing “the hills, up and down,” the Blues also took their toll on exhausted livestock and worn-out wagons.

“Hard times. many catttle are failing and all are very poor and a good nmany get lost among the thick timber. Agood many wagons are left, some broken and some good and aound because the cattle are not able to take them along.” Cecilia Adams and Parthenia Blank; October 4-7, 1852

 

Brow of the MountainBrow of the Mountain

Missionary emigrant Honore-Timothee Lempfrit stood on a hill near this site in 1848 and observed, “we had a new horizon. It seemed as though we saw a vast expanse of sea in the distance, for the scorched prairies give the landscape a bluish hue.” Unlike Rev. Lempfrit, however, most emigrants cast their eyes beyond the valley below toward what many believed was the last great obstacle between them and the Willamette Valley–the snow-capped volcanic peaks of the Cascade mountains. The dry and dusty Columbia Plateau, however, was soon to prove no average adventure for weary emigrants.

“From the brow of the Mountain, we had a fine view of the Cascade range, fifty miles distant, forming the Western boundary of the valley, stretching far to the North and South, with its lofty peaks of eternal snow rising among the clouds.”
Overton Johnson and William Winter; September 1843

 

A Fine EscapeA Fine Escape

Oregon Trail emigrants generally crossed the Blue Mountains during the months of August, September, and October. Emigrants traveling ear;y in the year often had to clear the trail of debris left in the wake of winter storms, and those reaching the Blues by autumn faced the threat of snow. snow buried the already scarce grazing for livestock, it made difficult hills impossible to climb, and the cold was almost certain death for sick emigrants.

“this morning we saw some packers from the back companies. they say the snow is nearly knee deep and they are camped there. Most deplorable, indeed. We made a fine exscape, for which we thank God.”
Edward Evans Parrish; Oct 23, 1844

 

The long Road DownThe Long Road Down

     Oregon Trail emigrants typically reached Deadman Pass, then known as Crawford Hill, after three days travel over what Edward Evans Parrish, emigrant of 1844, called “the worst road yet.” the descent from this site to the banks of the Umatilla River, noted George N. Taylor in 1853, was “steep but not sideling.” Once down the hill, emigrants camped along the Umatilla  River, and many like Cecelia Adams and Parthenia Blank, emigrants of 1852, found the valley “literally dotted with ponies.”

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  “this day got an early start; in a few miles we came through the thick timber and came to large pines. the road smoother and not so hilly directly we came out of the pines and went down a long hill into the Umatilla Valley; the bottom and bluffs covered with Indian ponies and horses, too. came to the Umatilla river and camped.”  Loren B. Hastings; October 8, 1847

 

Wagon RutsWagon Ruts

      More than 50,000 emigrants traveled west on the Oregon Trail between 1840 and 1850 the constant stream of wagons and livestock charted the course of Oregon’s future, and in some places indelibly etched the landscape with stark evidence of the great emigrant adventure–wagon ruts!
Contrary to popular belief, the Oregon Trail was not a single set of parallel ruts leading from Missouri to the Willamette Valley. In valley and plains emigrants often traveled abreast sometimes widening the trail to several miles. Wagon wheels and oxen hooves carved trenches into the earth and churned up tremendous clouds of choking dust; “a nuff to stifel man and beast,” according to Absalom B. Harden, emigrant of 1847. In the mountains emigrants were constantly attempting shortcuts and looking for easier grades.

Although much physical evidence of the trail has been destroyed by road construction, logging, and agricultural practices, it is still possible to find wagon scars. The most common scars are trenches, little wider than a wagon, which have been eroded by the elements. Two parallel wagon trenches indicating the emigrant route down this edge of the Blue Mountains may be seen near this site.

 

Guides, Pilots & CaptainsGuides, Pilots and Captains

Prior to 1840 only mountain-men, fur traders and missionaries traveled overland to the Pacific Coast. Early emigrants and missionaries traveled under the protection of fur-trade caravans. the decline of the fur-trade found many mountain-men eager to hire-on as guides or pilots–the experienced fur-trader John Gantt was hired by the first large emigration in 1843 to pilot as farr as fort Hall, wher Dr. Marcus whitman assumed the task. by the early 1850s there were many experienced overland travelers, well established routes and published guidebooks for emigrants to follow. Instead of employing mountain-men as guides, pilots or captains were often selected from among the veteran emigrants, and wagon trains were generally organized with strict military discipline. the captain’s responsibility was tremendous and often the need to impart trail discipline to greenhorn emigrants was met with resentment.

“The captain wanted us to carry on further. We had three waggons with us, all the rest had lagged behind. An unusual stratagem for preventing the Captain from pushing on was conceived by the people in the waggons behind us. All of a sudden one of their guides came galloping up and reported to the Captain that one of their waggons had overturned as it was going down the hill. Two men had been crushed under the weight of the vehicle. Can you imagine such agonizing news! At once I spurred my horse and we all went to the help of these unfortunate men. Soon however we learned that it was only a ruse to make us go back. It was a false alarm!”Honore-Timothee Lempfrit; September 9-10, 1848

 

Emigrant Springs State Park

 

Superior Facilities for Those who Follow

Westward emigration on the Oregon Trail was an annual event for more than twenty years, and with each passing year the route improved until it was eventually replaced by railroads and modern highways. Superior Facilities for those Who Follow Early emigrants blazed trails and established routes, and in the Blue Mountains many along with James W. Nesmith, emigrant of 1843, “went in advance and cut timber all day.” Although later emigrants  found a well- worn path to Oregon,  they too often had to clear the trail of rocks, fallen trees, and other debris.

“…We were obliged to ascend and descend three very bad hills, and to pass over eight miles of a very rough and difficult road, a portion of it running through a track heavily timbered with pine.  We cut through this a road for the wagons, and it now offers much superior failities for those who follow.” 
Peter Hardeman Burnett; October 3, 1843

 

Lost LivestockLost Livestock

Water is scarce in the steep, forested slopes of the Blue Mountains and it is often found only at the bottom of steep ravines.  Although forage for livestock is plentiful, it is widely scattered among the trees.  Oregon Trail emigrants quickly discovered that livestock could not be allowed to range too freely.  Many along with Honore-Timothee Lempfrit, emigrant of 1848, found “Nearly all of them strayed during the night…consequently when morning came we found ourselves without any oxen.”  Although the search for lost animals was a common experience, more than livestock could be lost in the forest.

“Could not find all of our cattle, yoked up what cattle we found and moved one mile and camped.

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 Before night we went back and found the balance of our oxen. While we were hunting cattle today, one lady (Mrs. Thatcher) was discovered walking very briskly in the thick timber and asked which way she was traveling, she said she was going to the wagons and wondered what was the reason she could not see them; but when we told that she was one-half mile from the wagons and going in a contrary direction, she was not a little surprised and concluded in such thick timber as this she would not undertake to hunt cattle.”  Loren B. Hastings;  October 7, 1847

 

Oregon Trail emigrants usually reached this site after two days of arduous travel from the Grande RondeValley through the eastern slopes of the Blue Mountains.  Here James W. Nesmith, emigrant of 1843, found “mountains covered with evergreen Timber so Thicktrees which remind me of the scenes of my childhood.”  However, many overlanders like Harriet Loughary, emigrant of 1864, found terror in these mountains as “Panthers and wolves made the night hideous with their screaming.”  with “timber so thick…that you couldn’t see a man 10 steps,” according to William T. Newby, emigrant of 1841, the steep and forested Blues could be frightening indeed!

“…it was then sun-down and the road back to our camp was through heavy timber, which appears dark in daylight; we started back and met our little sister coming after us on horseback;  we went back all the way in a hard run and just before we reached the camp met a man, who seeing we were disconcerted thought he would have some fun; he told us it was three miles back to the camp, and through the darkest road he ever saw, or heard of; he went on and as we were then about ready to give up with fatigue, we almost concluded to wait till morning among the trees and then find our way back or wait their coming, when we met Father who was more uneasy if possible than we, and who was quite out of patience at our ludicrous mistake at least we considered it ludicrous when we got time to laugh:  In running I wore the soles off my moccasins against the sharp stones, and blisterd my feet before I got near the camp.”  Abigail Jane Scott:  September 4, 1852

 

Pipe of PeacePipe of Peace

 Emigrant Springs is a campground today just as it was for Oregon Trail emigrants.  Long before emigration, however, Native Americans also took advantage of this site’s abundant water and found shelter among the towering trees. Although relations between emigrants and Indians were generally positive in the Blue Mountains, cultural differences were always evident.

  “Soon after going into camp two Indians of the Nez Perce tribe visited our camp and, without any invitation, concluded to remain with us all night….we gave them their supper, which seemed to please them very much.  and by the way they caused the food to disapear one would think this was their first supper for a month past. …After supper was over all had to partake of the pipe of peace.  finally, the pipe was passed to Mrs. Burns, who was rather inclined to rebel, never having smoked tobacco, and then the thought of putting the stem of that old pipe in her mouth was to her worse than taking a dose of castor oil.  She gently took her apron and with it wiped the stem of the pipe, and then merely touched the stem to her lips.  this act of hers caused a smile to come over the countenance of both Indians…”  E.W Conyers;  August 31, 1852

 

Weary Months of TravelWeary Months of Travel

      Oregon Trail emigrants generally crossed the Blue Mountains during the month of August, September, and October.  Emigrants traveling early in the year often cleared the trail of windfall and debris left in the wake of winter storms.  Although the trail was open for those reaching the Blues by autumn, drizzling rain and the threat of snow was an added burden. Regardles of the time of year, many overlanders, along with Amelia Stewart Knight, emigrant of 1853, were “delighted with the prospect, of being so near the timber again, after weary months of travel, on the dry dusty sage plains.”

“…it is raining this morning, we are in the valley skirted by snow crested pine covered mountains.  we are noonin on the summit of the Blue mountains  we have been coming up all the forenoon.  the horses are very tired.  drizzling all the time too we travailed till late through a cold rain.”  Many Louisa Black;  September 10, 1864

 

Recovering the Lost Trail

“To you who read or hear my words, I conjure you to take heed and consider their importance. …If we forget the deeds of our forebears, we discard the lessons of history and take a step backward in the march of civilization.  In themeasure a genearation cherishes, so will it be for the future; for the love of country; for reverence of the flag; for the efforts of upbuilding the Nation.   recovering the Lost Trail has a deeper meaning than merely gratifying a whim or satisfying a feeling of curiosity.”  Ezra Meeker:  1915Recovering the Lost Trail

Most emigrants appreciated the enormity of their overland journey, but many were too busy establishing new lives to recognize the long-term significance of the endeavor.  However, Ezra Meeker, emigrant of 1852, was a notable exception.  Meekers’s unique witness of the nation’s expansion inspired him to mount a campaign to recognize and mark the route of the Oregon Trail. Knowing that actions are louder than words, Meeker hitched a team of oxen to a wagon, and between 1906-1908 set numerous monuments along the route of the trail from the Dalles, Oregon to Omaha, Nebraska.  One of Meeker’s markers may be seen near the entrance of this park.  In 1923 President Warren G. Harding also dedicated a second Oregon Trail monument here.
Meeker was encouraged by his first expedition, and in 1910 embarked upon a second wagon trip to locate lost portions of the tril.  In 1916, he retraced the trail in a 12-cylinder Pathfinder called the “Schooner-mobile” to lobby Congress for a national highway along the emigrant route.  Meeker flew a biplane over the trail route in 1925.  Ezra Meeker died in 1928 at the age of 97 just as he was planning yet another trek in an “Oxmobile” given to him by Henry Ford.

 

FAREWELL BEND

 

Farewell Snake River

Oregon Trail emigrants traveled through the Snake River country for over 300 miles. Hardship and danger were constant companions, and death, particularly at river crossings, was not uncommon. The river also sustained life, however, providing water and fish in abundance. For many emigrants along with Cecilia Adams and Parthenia Blank, emigrants of 1852, bidding “farewell Snake” at this site, parting was bittersweet.

“…we came on the Snake river bottom again, here I campt a very good place, a largte dry creek comes in here which has got good grass….There the road leaves Snake river and we see it no more only in the Columbia I was sorry for that for we have caught a number of fish Willie gets his hook and line in a morning and soon catches enought for breakfast for us we have travelled down it for about 360 miles it is a fine stream
George Belshaw
, August 23, 1853

 

Respite for the WearyRespite for the Weary!

Camp sites along the Oregon Trail were determined by the presence of water, grazing for livestock, or simply the end of a long, exhausting day. Although emigrants camped at Farewell Bend, a typical day’s journey brought emigrants from the Malheur river through the alkali desert to camp at nearby BirchCreek. Water was available along this route, but it was often tainted, and many along with Martha S. Read, emigrant of 1852, found themselves “most all sick from the effects.” Farewell Bend provided a welcome respite for emigrants recovering from the effects of bad water and other illness.

“…moved 3 miles to the river to get better water. found plentty of feed. The Indians have visited us every day and brought us fish. they appear fery friendly. We have had very warm days ever sionce we stopt here. To day we have had afew sprinkles of rain. There is an immense sight of sickness on the road. Lydia is getting sick today….” Martha S. Read; September 13, 1852.

 

Cattle is DyingThe Cattle is Dying

        The emigrant road from the Snake River Crossing to Farewell Bend was dry, dusty, and extremely arduous; it was also the end of the trail for many already exhausted oxen. George Belshaw, emigrant of 1853, noted that his “cattle is dying…some of them bleeds at the nose and dies in a few minutes after working through the day.”  Water holes were few, and with the distance between them great, emigrants often faced a life-threatening dilemma: to press on and risk losing their teams to fatigue, or to stop and risk that they would die of thirst.

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“After cattle have worked all the way from the STATES here , they become weak and tired, and it does not take much to make them a load. Sometimes having a good feed, then poor, then none at all, is enough to try anything.  We have come 12 miles and camped at Sulphur spring; a poor place with very little water and that inferior.” Samuel Handsaker; September 4, 1853

 

Hook, Line & FishtrapHook, Line and Fishtrap

      Rivers and creeks along the Oregon Trail supplied emigrants with both food and water, and the Snake River was no exception. although some emigrants employed hook and line , most found it easier to trade with the Indians. Long before the arrival of emigrants, local Indians had perfected techniques for harvesting the bountiful Snake River salmon.

“I have not observed that the Indians often atttempt fishing in the ‘big river’, where it is wide and deep; they generally prefer the slues, creeks, &c. Across these a net of closely woven willows is stretched, placed vertically, and extending from the bottom to several feet above the surface. A number of Inidans enter the water about a hundred yards above the net, and , walking closely drive the fish in a body against the wicker work. Here they are frequently become entangled, and are always checked; the spear is then used dexterously, and they are thrown out, one by one, upon the shore.  With industry, a vast number of salmon might be taken in this manner.” 
John Kirk Townsend, Naturalist; August 24, 1834

 

Old's FerryEastbound Lane Opens

       Gold was discovered in Idaho during the 1860s, and emigrants traveling westward often met prospectors heading east. Gold rushers seeking the most direct route to their bonanzs crossed the Snake River near farewell bend.  In 1863 Reuben P. Olds, a local entrepeneur, realized substrantial profits from both emigrants and miners by establishing a ferry a few miles to the south.  Old’s ferrry allowed emigrants to bypass the Snake River crossing near Fort Boise and follow an alternate route along the north bank of the river.

“Going seven miles we reach the ferry. It took all the fore noon to get our party across, only one wagon at a time, with one span of horses or one yoke of oxen, for which we paid $2.00 in gold dust or $4.00 in Green Backs, but with plenty of patience and still plenty of money we finally crossed. When the ferryman said, ‘here you are in a land of rain, grain, and big red apples,’  yet neither was realized only in anticipation.” Harriet A. Loughary; August 5, 1864

 

Lost LucyLost Lucy

  It was not easy for Oregon trail emigrants to account for everything that had to be unloaded and repacked at cmp sites or river corossings. some things, including family members, were accidentally left behind.

“…we left unknowingly our Lucy behind, not a soul had missed her until we had gone some miles, when we stopt awhile to rest the cattle; just then another train drove up behind us, with Lucy   she was terribly frightened and so was some more of us, when we found out what a narrow escape she had run.  she said she was sitting under the bank of the river, when we started, busy watching some wagons cross and did not know we were ready.  I supposed she was in Mr. Carls wagon, as he always took charge of Frances and Lucy…when startign he asked for Lucy, and Frances says ‘shes in Mothers wagon.’  as she often came in there to have her hair combed.–it was a lesson to all of us.”
Amelia Stewart Knight; August 8, 1853

 

Old Fort Boise

“Left our camp 2 miles above Fort Boise & passed the mud-walld Fort of Boise & the clerk was Kind enough to make us out a Sketch of the rout to walla walla.” (James Clyman, 1844).

Fort Boise was built by the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1834, in response to Nathaniel Wyeth’s Fort Hall, the stone he rolled into the garden of the Rocky Mountain Fur Company (A Majority of Scoundrels, Don Berry, p. 400). There is nothing on the spot today except a locally built monument, but that is  very well worth seeing.  I’m not going to show you everything. The object is to whet your appetite. There is a replica  of the fort in the nearby town of Parma, ID. The site is easy to find and worth the trip.

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Oregon Trail KioskTHIS IS THE Oregon side of the crossing, showing the interpretive kiosk with a blowup of one of the interpretive panels. Again, there is more to see here. The arrow says the crossing is a mile east, but I couldn’t find it. I was stopped by a dead-end road, private property, and angry dogs. We crossed to the south side of Snake River and camped about three o’clock. In crossing we tied the oxen to the stern of each wagon in front, at the same time a chain from the hind part of each wagon was made fast to the yoke of oxen in the rear. I thank God for the mercies that have attended us through all our difficulties.” Rev. E. E. Parrish (1844)

Ft. Boise Locator Map

Old Fort Boise
OAG = DeLorme’s Oregon Atlas & Gazetteer
MOT
 = Franzwa’s Maps of the Oregon Trail
OTR
 = Franzwa’s Oregon Trail Revisited

The Old Fort Boise site must be approached from Idaho; there is no bridge. It is kind of fun to go back through Parma and over to Adrian, Oregon, where you will find a South Alternate interpretive display. I didn’t even know there was a South Alternate till I did this trip. Franzwa’s directions allow you to follow the South Alternate for a few miles.

The next stretch, Keeney Pass, is relatively barren of modern improvements, so it will give a good idea of the terrain the emigrants encountered. Click on the red dots.Click on blue dots or the word Kiosk for the Interpretive Kiosk Tour Sites