Baker Valley Rest Area
The Lone Tree
Oregon Trail emigrants entered the Baker Valley after days of arduous travel through the Burnt River watershed, where James Nesmith, emigrant of 1843, considered "The roads rough and the country rougher still." Early emigrants crested the south flank of Flangstaff Hill, and with the Blue Mountains looming to the west, the rolling valley below present d a single tree -- the Lone Pine.
at last found the top of the mountain at a distance we could see what
we sippose to be the Blue mountains and they struck us with terror their
lofty peaks seemed a resting place for the clouds. Below us was a large
plain and at some distance we could discover a tree which we at once recognized
a "the lone pine" of which we had before heard. We made all possible
speed and at 7 1/2 o'clock the advance party arrived at the Tree nearly an
hour before the cattle. The Tree is a large Pine standing in the midst
of an immense plain intirely alone. It presented a truly singular apearance
and I believe is respected by every traviler through this Treless
Country." Medorem Crawford; September 8,
The Oregon Trail was never a single set of parallel ruts leading from Missouri to the Willamette Valley. In valleys and plains where wagons and oxen hooves churned up tremendous clouds of choking dust, emigrants often traveled abreast, sometimes widening the trail to several miles. Although ferries and toll roads were eventually established at river crossings and difficult hills, the trrail remained an unimproved road. Emigrants lacked incentive to engage in road building, especially when they never expected to return over the same route. In this valley, where the trail followed the Powder River, a passing lane would have been helpful.
"...we came in contact with a train forward of us that traveled so very slow that we were retarded at least an hour, we passed them and went on at a good job till we overtook another slow train and were hindered an other hour We however reached a stream of running watter at about two o'clock which was very graifying to us and the poor cattle which have traveled 18 miles without drinking, and the last 8 miles were very dusty and the middle of the day very hot...." Charlotte Stearns Pengra; September 21, 1853
The Vandal Hands of Man
The Lone Pine stood in an otherwise treeless Baker valley. In 1839 Sidney smith noted, "there is no other pine in sight and this rears its head in the prairie like a towering monument." The Lone Pine was a sentinel to Indians, fur trappers, missionaries, and emigrants until felled in 1843 by what John Fremont called "some inconsiderate emigrant axe." the Lone Pine, called l'arbre seul by French-Canadian fur trappers, was soon referred to as the Lone Pine Stump.
"This noble tree stood in the center of a most lovely valley about ten miles from any other timber. It could be seen at the distance of many miles, rearing its majestic form above the surrounding plain, and constituted a beautiful landmark for the guidance of the traveler. Many teams had passed on before me, and at intervals, as I drove along, I would raise my head and look at that beautiful green pine. At last, on looking up as usual, the tree was gone. I was perplexed for a moment to know whether I was going in the right direction. There was the plain, beaten wagon road before me, and I drove on until I reached the camp just at dark. That brave old pine, which had withstood the storms and snows of centuries, had fallen at last by the vandal hands of man." Peter Hardeman Burnett; September 27, 1843
Oregon Trail emigrants caught their first glimpse of the Blue Mountains from the desolate hills east of the Baaker Valley: "they struck us with terror," wrote Medorem Crawford, emigrant of 1842, "their lofty peaks seemed a resting place for the clouds." Emigrants found plenty of water and grazing in the Baker Valley, but with snow visible in the Blues, and the road ahead described by Esther Belle McMillan Hanna in 1851, as "very tortuous," they did not tarry.
"...started up a long hill without any timber, as we
reached the summit, little sister Rosa was sitting down in front. she
jumped up in great glee and said 'Johnnie
I see the Boo Mountains.' looking toward
the north and west the Blue Mountains were in plain view. We could trace
the outlines for many miles, and to our unaccustomed visage, they appeared
to be covered with a thick growth of small pines. In the state of the
atmosphere they appeared to be a beautiful blue."
1861, Henry Griffin, a prospector from California, discovered gold eight miles southwest of the present site of Baker City. Emigration patterns changed immediately, and eastern Oregon became a destination for both gold-seekers and settlers. Many earlier emigrants to western Oregon moved back to the fertile valleys they had admired during the initial migration. They soon established farms and stores, and settlers provided hay and produce to travelers bound for the gold mines. During the 1860s large wagon trains loaded with freight were a common sight in theis valley..
"Laid over all day on excellent grass 2 miles west
of Powder river. A large empty freight train passed us, going west
for a load. 6 and 8 mules to a wagon. Two little bells on the
top of the hems of every mule. the same one we sen in boise city one
wekk ago today. splendid day. the first day I have had a good rest
and enjoyed it. No shoeing to do today. something new."
S. B. Eakin; august 5, 1866
The Baker Valley was known to Oregon Trail emigrants as the Powder River Valley. Emigrants camped on sloughs along the Powder River and many along with Joel Palmer, emigrant of 1845, found local Indians eager to "barter for cattle." although emigrants and Indians continured to bater, and many like George Belshaw in 1853 bought their first "Salmon fish" from the Indians, itinerant traders from the Willamette Valley soon moved in to peddle supplies.
"...here are some poor traders come out from Oregon with provision to meet the sufering emegrants who have lost nearly all their cattle, and some we know have spent all their money, and others nearly all, and they only ask 35 dollars per hundred for flour and sugar 40 cents per pound, and cheese 75 we expect to get to the Grand round tomorrow, and hope to meet with a more pleasing prospect we have good grass here good water and wood and all well, and have some thing to eat yet, but nearly out.." Sarah Sutton; August 13, 1854