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Malheur River and Hot Springs

      The emigrants made their way from the Snake River to the Malheur River across what Sarah Sutton, in 1854, described as “the most dusty dry and hot bare desert that any person ever travers’d…” Vale was the point at which they crossed the Malheur river, watered livestock, camped and washed their clothing; many emigrants took advantage of river water heated by nearby hot springs.

   “Left camp at 11 o’clock & traveled over a sandy country suffered considerable for water as the day was exceedingly hot came to a creek about 6 o’clock & never was water to me more exceptable, though of a very indeifferent quality,  passed down the creek a short distance at the food of a mountain & found boiling water running out of the ground. It made its appearance just above the age of the water in the River in a Boiling state for over a hundred yards it runs more or less. One of our company cooked a fish which he caught in about two minutes perfectly through.”
Medorem Crawford; September 3, 1842


Short Cut Ends in DisasterShort cut Ends in Disaster!

       Weary emigrants were only too receptive to any idea that might shorten their journey, especially if it meant avoiding the Blue Mountains. Stephen Meek, pilot of an 1845 emigration, persuaded 200 families camped near this site to follow him on an alternate route across the desert to the upper Willamette Valley.  The expedition became stalled at Lost Hollow. Unable to find water to the west, the emigrants turned north and twenty-four died before they reached The Dalles.

      “At this place are two trails; the fork is in the bottom above the crossing of the creek, and there is the possibility of the emigrants pursuing the wrong route…Mr. Meek, who had been engaged as our pilot…informed the emigrants that he could, by taaking up this stream to near its source, and striking across the plains, so as to intersect the old road near the mouth of the Deschutes or Falls river, save about one hundred and fifty miles travel; also that he was perfectly familiar with the country through which the proposed route lay, as he had traveled it; that no difficulty or danger attended its travel.”
Joel Palmer, September 3, 1845


BoysChivalry on the Trail

        The Oregon Trail was not a journey to be taken lightly; hardship was the common fare. Boys will be boys however; practical jokes and monkeyshines were not uncommon.

teasing girl       “We were soon joined by a band of youngsters from another camp, all on horseback.  They bantered me to join them, but I pleaded I was on foot and could not join them, a young fellow knowing my timidity and awkwardness told me to take his horse, I accepted and started with them.
I soon found myself along side of a fine, jovial young lady, as we rode slowly along, soon found ourselves far ahead of the wagons, but behind our own company,  suddenly a Chivalryhoodlum came galloping up behind us, and as he passed the young lady’s horse struck him with a whip. Her horse jumped, broke the saddle girth, and a young lady saddle and all were lying in the dust and sand near knee deep, but as she was laughing I knew she was not seriously hurt.
I jumped down, picked her up, caught her horse, tied up the old girth and was ready to proceed, but how will she get aboard? The girl was quite large and heavy, and not a tree, rock or stump within miles of us.  I finally got down on my hands and knees, she stepped on my back and as I arose, she lit on her horse, and we were off…”
 John Johnson; July 25, 1851


Born and Raised

Born and Raised on the Oregon Trail

Stone House

      The Malheur River provided much needed water for both Oregon Trail emigrants and their livestock.  Nearby hot springs must have provided many an emigrant family with the first hot bath in months of dry and dusty travel.  The City of Vale stands today on the same site at which the emigrants camped, and was literally born and raised on the Oregon Trail.

  The hot springs were the site of Vale’s first structure, described by Sarah Sutton, emigrant of 1854 as “a hut and tent occupi’d by a Mr. Turner of Oregon a Trader.” These springs were also the site of Vale’s first legitimate building; the Bulley Ranch, owned by Capt. Jonathan Keeney, a trapper, ferry-man and jack-of-all-trades, who sold whisky to Oregon Trail emigrants.
Lewis B. Rhinehart bought the Bulley Ranch and built the historic Stone House, which was opened as a hotel with a grand ball on New Year’s Day 1873. The Stone House, which still stands on Main Street, served as a stagecoach stop, safehouse, post office and store.  The name Vale was originally bestowed upon the local post office in 1893.


Worthy of ConsiderationWorthy of Consideration

      Most Oregon Trail emigrants who camped along the banks of the Malheur River were unimpressed and were eager to trek on toward greener pastures in the Willamette Valley. An anonymous emigrant of 1843 exclaimed: “It is a desert, so rugged, so dreary, and so exceedingly sterile that it cannot, until ages have melted its mountains, until the winds and floods and changes of thousands and thousands of years shall have crumbled into dust its rocks and its sands, yield anything worthy of consideration to the support of human life…”

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     The discovery of gold in 1863 changed this attitude.  The influx of miners created a market for agricultural products first satisfied by the introduction of livestock and produce farming in 1864. Agricultural ventures were flourishing by the 1870’s, and the westward flow of livestock across the Oregon trail that marked the previous three decades reversed its course, as massive herds of  Oregon horses, cattle and sheep were driven east to market. Miners and farmers comprised the first residents, and they are still a mainstay in this region once described as “so exceedingly sterile.”


Blue BucketLegend of the Blue Bucket

 “The captain of the company told all of the young people who had saddle horses to take buckets and go hunt for water. My father, who was then 23 years old and his sister…took their old blue wooden buckets and started out to find water. They finally found a dry creek bed which they followed until they found a place where a little water was seeping through the gravel, and while father was digging for water his sister saw something bright and picked it up.”
W. H. Herren, son of W. J. Herren, emigrant of 1845

    Stephen Meek, pilot of an ill-fated 1845 emigration, successfully persuaded 200 families to attempt a shortcut around the Blue Mountains.  Although the endeavor proved disastrous, legend holds that in their desperate search for water the lost emigrants discovered a small amount of gold!
The search for the Blue Bucket gold led to other discoveries, and prospectors soon descended upon the countryside with their gold pans and pack mules. Although many deposits of precious metals have been found in the region, and mining lured many settlers back to the banks of the Malheur River, the Blue Bucket gold has eluded all seekers.


Snake River Crossing


Snake River Crossing

River crossings were difficult for Oregon Trail emigrants and the Snake River was no exception. Emigrants, wagons, and livestock all had to cross the river; casualties were common. Celinda Hines, emigrant of 1853, watched in horror as her father vanished into the depths of the Snake River at this crossing: “Uncle G swam in & got out Pa’s hat”she lamented. Fortunately, local Indians could be hired to assist emigrants at this river crossing.

. . . our worst trouble at these large rivers, is swiming the stock over, often after swimming nearly halfway over, the poor things, will turn and come out again, at this place, however, there are Indians who swim the river from morning till night it is fun for them, there is many a drove of cattle that could not be got over without their help, by paying them a small sum, they will take a horse by the bridle or halter, and swim over with him, the rest of the horses all follow, and by driving and hurraing to the cattle they will most always follow the horses, sometimes they fail and turn back. Amelia Stewart Knight, August 5,1853


Wagons Crossing SnakeWagons Crossing

For Basil Nelson Longworth, emigrant of 1853, crossing the Snake River near this site was easy with the help of the newly established ferry: “we ran both wagons on the boat and in a few minutes were safely on the other side.” Before the ferry was established, river crossing required careful planning and considerable creativity.

“we found the river here too deep to ford and had to ferry in a large canoe belonging to the Fort. the plan of crossing was to pile the load into the bottom of the canoe and balance the wagon on top of the canoe. this required a good deal of care and skill to prevent capsizing. we had one wagon tumble into the river, but succeeded in getting it out alive. But it was well soaked.”
P.V. Crawford, August 10-11, 1851


Wagon Passage SuccessfulWagon Passage Successful!

The average American would not have considered heading west with only a few pack mules. To emigrate without a wagon meant leaving behind the possessions acquired during a lifetime to start anew in the wilderness. When missionary emigrants Marcus and Narcissa Whitman left their one-horse wagon at Fort Boise in 1836, great excitement was generated in the States: emigration to Oregon via wagon was within the realm of possibility. Two years later, Thomas Jefferson Farnham would claim that: “a safe and easy passage has lately been discovered by which vehicles of the kind may be drawn through to Wallawalla.

This being a fishing spot of the Indians, we easily found a canoe made of rushes and willows on which we placed ourselves and our saddles … Perhaps you will wonder why we have left the waggon having taken it so near through. Our animals were failing & the route in crossing the Blue Mountains is said to be impassable… Narcissa Whitman, August 22, 1836


Fort Boise, OutpostFort Boise
Outpost of the British Empire

Chinese and European aristocrats of the early 19th Century had one thing in common, and it was the best that money could buy – a genuine beaver hat! Half a world away, in the Oregon Country, the British Hudson’s Bay company was doing all it could to remain the primary supplier of  furs to make those hats. When American fur traders built Fort Hall as a trading post in what is today southeastern Idaho, the Hudson’s Bay company built Fort Boise across the Snake River from this site to oppose them in 1838. By the mid 1840’s trappers had depleted the beaver population; Fort Boise and Britain’s claim to the Oregon Country was in rapid decline.


Banquet in the WildernessBanquet in the Wilderness

Oases along the Oregon Trail were few, and Fort Boise was one of them. Emigrants stopping at Fort Boise in the 1830’s were greeted and assisted by friendly Indians; they were also offered hospitality that only the Hudson’s Bay Company could provide. Sydney Smith, emigrant of 1839, feasted at a table laid with“fowls, Ducks, Bacon, Salmon Sturgeon Buffalow and Elk… Turnips Cabbag & Pickled Beets…” The banquet was hosted by the clerk of the fort, Francois Payette, a gentleman who could make an emigrant temporarily forget the privations of the wilderness.

“Mr. Payette, the person in charge at Boisas, received us with every mark of kindness; gaveour horses to the care of his servants, and introduced us immediately to the chairs, tables, and edibles of his apartments. He is a French Canadian; has been in the service of the Hudson’s Bay Company more than twenty years, and holds the rank of clerk; is a merry, fat old gentleman of fifty, who, although inthe wilderness all the best years of his life, has retained that manner of benevolence in trifles, in his mode of address, of seating you and serving you at table, of directing your attention continually to some little matter of interest, of making you speak the French language…” Thomas Jefferson Farnham.


Fort Boise in DeclineFort Boise in Decline

The beaver population was decimated by the 1840’s; fur trade was in decline, and so too was Fort Boise. Although friendly Indians were still available to assist crossing the Snake River, many emigrants were shocked by the dilapidated condition of the oasis described so lavishly by those who had gone before them. Charlotte Stearns Pengra, emigrant of 1853, called Fort Boise “that world renowned spot of one miserable block house going all decay…” For emigrants in need of provisions, the Fort’s demise was a serious matter.

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“…a great many had depended on getting provisions here but failed entirely of anything but fish – There is little sugar for sale here at .75 pr pound – Prospects seem to darken entirely around us a good deal for some families are already entirely out of bread and many more will be in the course of one or two weeks – We have enough to last us through but we shall have to divide if necessary.” Cecilia Adams and Parthenia Blank; September 20, 1852.


Sandy, OR


The Devil’s Backbone

The route of the Oregon Trail in Oregon changed many times during the emigration era. Early emigrants braved the wild Columbia River, and later many chose to trek across the desolate Columbia Plateau from Pendleton to The Dalles before turning to the river for the final leg of the journey. After Samuel K. Barlow opened a toll road over the Cascade Mountains in 1846 emigrants were offered yet another alternative that avo8ided the Columbia altogether. The Barlow Road ascended the south flank of Mt. Hood and descended the watersheds of the Zigzag and Sandy Rivers. Emigrants entered the valley below by following the long ridge to the east, called the Devil’s Backbone, and then descending the steep incline to ford the river they climbed the hill and passed through what is today the City of Sandy toward what P. V. Crawford, emigrant of 1851called, “the great Willamette Valley.”Devil's Backbone this viewpoint is named for the Jonsrud family of Sandy, Oregon. T. G. Jonsrud and his wife Kari settled west of Sandy in 1877. the Jonsrud’s son Robert, a blacksmith and sawmill owner, acquired this land in the early 1900s. In 1922 Robert and his wife Tillie built the beautiful Prairie Style house across the road and cleared this viewpoint which has been in constant use for more than 70 years. Philip Jonsrud, Robert’s son, donated the viewpoint to the City of Sandy in 1984.

“…We have arived at the conclusion that the much-dreaded place that the world calls “hell” is no more to be dreaded, for on our trip across the Continent we have safely passed through “The Devil’s Gate,”  and witnessed a great many of his works while reviewing his grand estate, and at last, after arriving away out here in Oregon, we have had the exquisite pleasure of driving our team over the old man’s backbone. That is, “The Devil’s Backbone.” Here we will leave the old man’s carcass to be wet with the mists of an Oregon winter.” E. W. Conyers; September 22, 1852


During the covered wagon era thousands of Oregon Trail emigrants reached the valley below on the Barlow Road by descending the south side of the long east ridge called the “Devil’s Backbone.” Samuel James made this descent in 1850 and “let the wagons down by ropes.” Once down, weary emigrants, wagons and livestock forded the river–accidents were common.Sandy River Crossing

“Came on to the crossing of the Sandy, a very hard stream to cross, as the current is very rapid and the bed of the stream full of large smooth rocks and very deep. Mr. H got on one of the mules to cross and I on the other. when he got to the deepest part, his poor mule stumbled and fell, throwing Mr. H. off on a large rock and the mule on one of his legs, so that he could not move. There happened to be a man wading at the same time, who came to his relief as soon as he could. Mr. H. got loose but it was some time before they got the frightened mule out. I was very much alarmed. I though that Mr. H. would certainly be drowned or seriously hurt, but he sustained no injury but a bruise on his leg, his pants being cut on the rock. My heart seemed to turn over when I saw him fall! He was soaked up to the waist. He emptied his boots, which were full of water, and walked 8 miles in this condition.” Esther Belle McMillan Hanna; September 14, 1852


The trek westward on the Oregon Trail was arduous: wagons broke down, animals died of exhaustion, and supplies were depleted. Early emigrants found few permanent trading posts and often relied on trade with Indians for survival. During the 1850s itinerant traders from the Willamette Valley wandered the trail to supply emigrants. Later entrepeneurs, like the Revenue family, established permanent trading posts along the emigrant route.First House West of Cascades
Francis and Lydia Revenue emigrated from Illinois with their young daughter Mary in 1853. After fording the Sandy River, Francis is reported to have said, “The cattle are so poor– they badly need rest. there’s game here in the foreat and fish in the river so we’ll winter here.” The Revenues secured a 320 acre land claim on the south bank of the Sandy and established a trading post; they also built a toll bridge which operated until 1862. For many years the Revenue place was the first settlement encountered by weary travelers on the Barlow road west of the Cascades.

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But in the past, even education was difficult.

The Sandy area’s first school was built on the Revenue’s land in 1868 in part to educate the 8 children born after emigration to Oregon. John, the eldest Revenue son later recalled, “I yarded the logs for that first school to the site when I was 14 and attended the school three months a year until I was 19.” In the mid-1870s Francis Revenue purchased land in the new village of Sandy where he built a store and hotel. Most of the level land visible across the river top to the east is part of the Revenue’s Donation Land Claim.

“Traveled over the Backbone to the last crossing of the Sandy…and camped near the first dwelling house we found in the Cascades. Here we found like civilization cock crowing and dogs barking, corn and potatoes growing all which seemed to us like home.” Philip Condit; September 15, 1854


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

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.
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. 
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
 = Franzwa’s Maps of the Oregon Trail
 = 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