Johnson’s Cutoff – 2015
The Johnson’s Cutoff Mapping Team met early in the spring at the Eldorado NF Pacific Ranger Station. Forest Archaeologist, Jordan Serin, met with us to discuss our work during the upcoming season. The King Fire area was of key concern as cleanup projects were planned for areas the Johnson’s Cutoff crosses. Eric Nicita, US Forest Service soil scientist, shared new lidar images showing possible trail tracks through the fire area .
In March we worked below the Pacific Ranger Station attempting to follow the tracks found on the lidar image. We found it to be incredibly steep but several ambitious members made it to the river. Others took the usual trail..Locating the site of the Bartlett Bridge, the original bridge crossing the South Fork of the American River from 1852 to 1855, has been a goal of the mapping team for many years. At the river the group was able to confirm the location of pictures taken in the 1990’s of a possible Bartlett Bridge site.
In April we worked on the north side of the river above the possible bridge site. Before the fire navigating down the hill on the north side to the river was impossible due to the heavy brush, blackberry vines and poison oak. Although is wasn’t a clear path, the fire certainly made it easier. Eric Nicita was with us leading the way to the possible trail segments seen on the lidar image.
Upon reaching the river across from the possible bridge site, Dee Owens and Sharon Hanson discovered a nail scatter. Could this have been the site of Bartlett’s toll house, residence, waystation and infamous “House of Entertainment”? It was just above the river and the blackberry bushes were already making a strong come back after being burned off in the fire.
Just a few of the team made it to the river that day and more work is needed to confirm the site. Hopefully we can still get in there in 2016.
In April we returned to the north side of the river but this time we worked the top of the ridge devastated by the fire. Following our lidar lines and the ridge we came upon a pristine Class 1 section of trail that had been covered by impenetrable manzanita before the fire. Many examples of emigrant era artifacts were found along the rocky swale. The segment was quickly flagged by the El Dorado NF archaeology crew.
We returned to the ridge for the May field days and several other trail segments were verified.
Insulators and com wire from an early 20th Century NF telephone line were found all along the ridge and the start of the descent to the river. It made sense to think if we could find the insulator trail to the river, the emigrant trail would be there also. We were excited to learn the forest archaeology crew had found insulators on a part of the hill between the ridge and the river. In June we went out with the crew and they showed us the insulator trail on the hill but after searching back and forth across the hill not a trace of a trail artifact was found. So we still don’t know the location of the trail all the way to the river.
We didn’t get back out on the trail until October. A section of the Brockliss Grade, a built road from the ridge to the Brockliss Bridge, a replacement for the Bartlett Bridge after it was washed away, goes through private land. In the 1850s the property was owned by Jeremiah Brownell who had a blacksmith shop on the Brockliss Road. Research and a photo from the El Dorado County Historical Museum as well as research done by the landowner painted an intriguing picture of the Brownell Ranch. We met the landowner on the property and using General Land Office Survey notes and the research from the museum we began our search. The lidar image gave us some clues also. After finding a few artifacts along the possible trail line seen on the lidar image we found the blacksmith shop. Everyone found hand forged wagon parts, tools, horseshoes, and things we had no idea what they were. The landowner was as excited as we were. Using the photo from the museum we felt we had a pretty good idea of where the buildings had stood. An article from the local newspaper told of Jeremiah Brownell going across the river to get his mail at Pacific House in 1891 and returning to find everything had burned, house, barn, even his livestock and probably his blacksmith shop too. Now we need to find the Brockliss Road on either side of the blacksmith shop site.