Opened to emigrant traffic in the spring of 1852, the Johnson’s Cutoff is a variant of the Carson River Route.
The route is named for John Calhoun Johnson who, in the company of his Delaware Indian scout Fall Leaf, first explored an ancient Indian trade route over the Sierras and modified it for emigrant travel.
The advantages of this route were: it was 50 miles shorter than the Carson route, 2,000feet lower in elevation than the highest point of the Carson route, and had only a single crossing of the South Fork of the American River.
This does not mean it was easy. An emigrant in 1852 described the 800 foot rocky climb from Tahoe’s Lake Valley to Echo Summit as “Just like climbing a tree, only harder.”
The Pony Express and legendary Snowshoe Thompson both used this route to deliver mail across the Sierras. Stagecoaches regularly carried passengers at breakneck speed around its steep and stony turns.When silver was discovered in Nevada in 1859, the tide of traffic turned east to carry the heavy freighting traffic of supplies required by the silver mines.
Each year brought modifications and improvements until 1940 when the Placerville and Carson Valley Road, as it came to be known, had settled into its current path. In 1895, Highway 50 was designated California’s first State Highway. It is also an official part of the Lincoln Highway.
The above information is from Ellen Osborn, g-g-grandaughter of John Calhoun Johnson.