|OTCC Interpretive Kiosk
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 decided 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.
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 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.
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.
"...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." 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