For many years this photo was the first picture in Shann Rupp’s photo story of the Raft River-Humboldt River Route of the California Trail. Shann took the picture while on a Trails West outing in 1995.
In November 2005 Jim McGill sent us a message challenging Shann’s statement that the BLM sign marked the California Trail on top of a ridge. In December 2005 Shann decided to replace the picture of the sign with a view of the nearby scenery and a quote from an old diary. Jim and Shann asked Don Buck to clarify the situation and Don contributed the notes he wrote several years ago for a Trails West guidebook.
Shann Rupp’s Photo Story
Scene near Parting of the Ways in Idaho.
“We left Beaver Creek [Fall Creek] at six o’clock, still traveling down Snake River, and in eight miles came to Raft River, a small stream that flowed from mountains on our left. Here the roads fork again, the right-hand one turning off northwesterly towards Oregon, while we took the left-hand one, going southwesterly towards California, leaving Snake River, and traveling up Raft River.” Margaret Frink, 1850
City of Rocks
“…came out on the road near Steeple rocks…riseing from the base of the mountain in a pyramidal form to the hight of fifty, and one hundred feet; presenting the appearance (with the exception of superior hight) of a Hottontot village.” G. C. Cone, 1849
Register Rock in City of Rocks
A. Freeman & D. Tickner signatures June.12.50 in axle grease on Register Rock in City of Rocks.
Twin Sisters in City of Rocks
Rock Spring in Thousand Springs Valley
“Leaving Goose Creek and coming up a canyon,…we reached Rock Spring, a splendid one issuing out of a rock, but no sign of anything like feed,” John T. Gibson, 1859
Wagon traces approaching Gravelly Ford
Chapter members building fence for common grave marker at Gravelly Ford, 1989
Gravelly Ford gravesite – work crew.
The following persons contributed to this email discussion:
- Don Buck, a retired California educator, is an expert on the trails leading into California. Don is the editor of the esteemed OCTA mapping manual, Mapping Emigrant Trails, and formerly chaired the OCTA Publications Committee. He also is heavily involved in marking the trails for Trails West and has contributed to the Trails West guidebooks.
- Jim McGill, past president of the OCTA Idaho Chapter and editor of Trail Dust, the Idaho Chapter’s newsletter. Jim is also the current chairperson of OCTA’s Mapping Committee.
November 11, 2005
On the Cal-Nev web page, photos of the California Trail, the sign that is pictured of the supposed parting is not accurate. At the top of the grade there is this road that crosses the Oregon Trail ruts, but a road that is much too young to be the California, not on the GLO plat of the area. Your description is accurate that one would have to “take a left turn ” to get on that road, a 90 degree corner! There was never such a thing on any emigrant road! Some BLM person put that sign up some years ago, but that is not the California Trail.
Randy Brown, National OCTA Marking Chair, and I slightly disagree, he maintaining thus far that there was probably not any part of the California Trail on the top of the bluff or rim of basalt rock. I have found good evidence of some deep ruts that indicate the probability of a variant on top, but we know that it came up on the bluff to the south of the parting. The true parting was in the bottom of the flat near the present fenced graves, and nearer the old Raft River channel. The diaries show that the California bound people separated near the river in the bottom.
Attached are two photos, the top one looking down on the parting. Number 1 is the fence around some graves, and #2 a sign below, in the brush, that indicates the parting in the river bottom. Plows, cattle, and crops have obliterated the California ruts, below on private land (arrow), and the second arrow through the brush toward the camera shows the Oregon Trail–coming up to where your sign is placed on top.
The second photo is of the deep ruts of the California about 1/2 mile to the south of the parting, land never plowed but ranged by cows, cows constantly working on diminishing them. In the left background the old dry river bed of the Raft River can be seen, separate from the ruts.
Novembe 15, 2005
A satellite photo of the parting area. There were two branches of the Oregon Trial coming up from the bottom, one about 1/4 north of the signed area of the parting!
November 22, 2005
Editor’s Note: Don Buck sent the following article to Jim McGill. Don’s material came out of the write up he did for the Trails West Emigrant Trails West: A Guide to the California Trail. Trails West is currently revising this Guide for publication later this year but Don’s write up will remain the same. For more information on this Guide and other Trails West publications see the Trails West website.]
Five miles farther [after crossing Fall Creek and ascending a steep hill], the road bids farewell to the Snake River & strikes off to the left. Here also “The Oregon Trail” strikes off to the right & leaves us alone in our glory, with no other goal before us but Death or the Diggins. Alonzo Delano, July 20, 1849:
A long drive brought us to Raft River, or creek for it is only two rods wide, flowing through a valley three or four miles wide, with good grass near the stream. Here the road forks, one leading to California, the other to Oregon. A few diary accounts, however, are more descriptive and indicate there were three crossings of the Raft River before leaving it. Three crossings show that the first crossing was to the west side of the river at the “parting of the ways.” The second crossing was to the east side about 5 miles south. Also, some diary accounts describe the Oregon Trail continuing up the bluff but not the California Trail. Others make it clear that after crossing the Raft River and leaving the Oregon Trail, emigrants stayed on the river bottom and were not up on the bluff. The most descriptive diary accounts follow. [In most cases, italics are mine.] James A. Pritchard, July 6, 1849:
Within one half mile of our encampment this morning we bid a final adieu to Lewis’s fork of the Columbia River and Struck across the hills for some distance, and descended into the bottom of Raft River. It is a small stream with a smooth strong current and gravely bed. We nooned on this stream some 5 or 6 miles above were we first struck it. It is at the crossing of this stream [first crossing] that the Oregon & California roads separate. William L. Thomas, July 8, 1849:
8 miles travle brought us to Raft River here our course turned up the valey, twice crossing it. [reference to first two crossings before he nooned] Alonzo Delano, July 21, 1849:
Our course now lay southerly, up the creek [Raft River], and during the day we crossed it three times. [This suggests that he crossed the Raft River at the “parting of the ways.”] Joseph Hackney:
[July 24, 1849] we camped for the night on the opposite side of raft river [first crossing] the oregon road turnes off hear thear is a number of wagons camped on the river that inden[d] to go to oregon they are all family wagons [July 25, 1849] Traveled 12 miles our route to day was up raft river we crossed it once during the day [second crossing] the road was very good but terrible dusty [July 26, 1849] Traveled 18 miles we crossed the river 3 miles from camp [third crossing] and then left it for 8 miles … the new cut off came in heare it has never been traveled with wagons before this year Margaret Frink, July 15, 1850:
We left Beaver Creek [Fall Creek] at six o’clock, still traveling down Snake River, and in eight miles came to Raft River, a small stream that flowed from mountains on our left. Here the roads fork again, the right-hand one turning off northwesterly towards Oregon, while we took the left-hand one, going southwesterly towards California, leaving Snake River, and traveling up Raft River. We crossed it three times during the day, and at dark drove into camp on a branch of this stream [Cassia Creek], not far from the junction of the Myer’s Cut-off, which we had passed near the Steamboat Spring. Byron McKinstry:
[Aug. 1, 1850] Raft River I find to be a creek not more than two Rods wide, with at this place narrow marshy bottoms widening above and below, scattering willow and alkali ponds & sloughs, along its banks. We are some 3 or 4 miles from where it empties into the [Snake] River. The Oregon road takes up the bluff and follows the course of the [Snake] River while we keep to the left and follow the creek [Raft River] nearly to its source. … Crossing the creek [first crossing to the west side] we followed up the bottom, the creek on our left for 5 or 6 m.[staying between the river and bluff], the bottoms narrow, the bluffs low but rocky and almost perpendicular. … The meadows are extensive and we found several companies already here recruiting their teams. [Aug. 2, 1850] We keep up the creek through fields of heavy grass, occasionally a wet slough full of duck and snipe, sage hens … Thousands of tons of hay might be cut here. … In 3 or 4 m. crossed [second crossing to the east side], leaving the stream we keep along the sage plain, a slope extending from the hills to the creek, 3 m. Cyrus Loveland:
[Aug. 3, 1850] We proceeded down this hollow, crossed a sandy bottom, arrived at Raft River, crossed, and nooned [first crossing]. This is twelve miles from Fall Creek. Traveled five miles up Raft River and camped after recrossing it [second crossing]. Grass in adundance and plenty of wood. Raft River is a small, sluggish and miry stream with its banks thickly set with willows. Some fish in this river. [Aug. 5, 1850. Loveland laid over on Sunday the 4th] Traveling up Raft River. Crossed it again [third crossing] and nooned. Made nine miles. Grass and wood plenty. Evenng, here we left the river to the left and took across the bottom toward the mountain until we struck a fork of Raft River [Cassia Creek], distance from the main river to this fork nine miles. Here the Hudspeth’s Cutoff road comes in again. James Berry Brown:
[Aug. 18, 1859] Crossed several little creeks of pure, cold water this morning, upon the last of which we nooned. Then left Lewis river and had 10 miles of dusty roads in a south direction to Raft River. Which we crossed [first crossing] and went up 1½ miles before camping. Below here a road takes off in a western direction to Oregon. [Aug. 19, 1859] Road soon crossed Raft River again, and followed up the eastern side [second crossing]. here in a bend of the river we had a long dusty stretch without water. Come to the river about noon and camped. In the afternoon crossed raft river again to the western side [third crossing]. here the road left the river and taking a south Western course around the base of the mountains we come to a small branch of Raft river in 9 miles [Cassia Creek], this last 9 miles was gravel[l]y, smooth and hard. Based on the foregoing diary descriptions, as well as discussions with Randy Brown, Larry Jones, and Lyle Woodbury, the following historical commentary will appear in the forthcoming Trails West revised Emigrant Trails West guide to its markers from the Raft River to the Humboldt Sink.
After parting company with Joseph Chiles’ pack train at Fort Hall in September 1843, Joseph Walker guided his six mule-drawn wagons and 25 emigrants southwest until reaching the Raft River where he turned south to pioneer a wagon trail to the Humboldt River. Next year, Isaac Hitchcock guided the eleven-wagon Stephens Party along this same route. By 1846 this “parting of the ways” (California Trail branching off the Oregon Trail) was well established. After reaching the Raft River on Aug. 10, 1846, Virgil Pringle could comment as a matter-of-fact: “… at this place the Oregon and California road fork. We took the California road.” Emigrants came to know this Raft River route to the Humboldt River as the Fort Hall Road. Upon reaching the Raft River in the vicinity of Calder Creek (near Marker C-1), emigrants heading for California could not turn south on the east side of the river. Deep gullies formed by runoffs from North Chapin Mountain, between Calder Creek and Hegler Canyon, prevented wagon travel. By crossing the river to the west side, wagon trains could turn south on level ground at the base of the bluffs until crossing the river a second time south of Hegler Canyon (near Marker C-2). With the opening of the Salt Lake Cutoff in 1848 and the Hudspeth Cutoff in 1849, the Raft River turn-off received much less traffic. However, the opening of the Lander Trail to Fort Hall in 1858 gave new life to the Raft River route to the Humboldt River. Taking the Lander Trail in 1859, James Berry Brown will be one of these emigrants using the Raft River route. The “parting of the ways” is located on the west side of the Raft River in the vicinity of an Oregon-California Trails Association [OCTA] plaque commemorating three emigrant graves which now have a fence around them. A short distance west of the fenced-in grave site, the Oregon Trail can be seen heading west up the bluff. There are two other Oregon Trail branches ascending the bluff (both identified with Carsonite markers), one 0.3 miles north and the other 0.8 miles south of the OCTA plaque marking the “parting of the ways.” Near the southern most branch ascending the bluff is another fenced grave site. Just to the west of this grave site, the trail pictured in the 1931 photo can still be seen heading south for about a mile. Permission to visit the OCTA plaque, graves, and trail remains must be obtained from Lyle Woodbury at his farm south of Marker C-1. His phone number is (208) 349-5591.
November 23, 2005
PARTING OF THE WAYS AT RAFT RIVER: A REPLY AND SUPPORT FOR
DON BUCK’S “NOTES ON THE PARTING.” JIM MCGILL 11-22-05
The diary notes, which Don Buck has put together to support the California Trail route south along the Raft River beyond its parting from the Oregon Trail are extremely valuable in their content and detail. However, they do not absolutely eliminate the probability that one variant went up on and passed along the top of the rim along the western side of the river. In fact some of the emigrants’ accounts about their experiences do allow for and point toward such a variant–but not starting just above the Parting of the Ways! This variant is also supported by the present satellite photo information, the position of he old river channel on the 1872 land plats, the conditions of the river in some places, and the remaining rut evidences on location.
The second page of this paper has an attached map, and 5 satellite photos will be emailed separate from this report.
To start with several trail researchers have supplied enough evidence to prove that there were 3 separate routes up the bluff that soon joined together and passed on west as the Oregon Trail. The first two northern routes that are within a quarter mile of each other, crossing the east section line of section 12, T10S, R27E, have been marked and rut evidence is quite good. (See Satellite Photo #5)
James Berry Brown (Buck, p. 2) wrote about the third route on August 18, 1859. After crossing the Raft River from east to west at the Parting area and following up the west side of the river for about a mile and one-half, he wrote that “Below here [his camping area] a road takes off in a western direction to Oregon.” (This writer’s italics.) He did not indicate that the third Oregon Trail branch climbed the ridge, but from the bottom land next to the river it had to climb to go west!
“Below” must have meant lower back down the river, so he had gone up the river and had passed the ramp up the side of the ridge, and witnessed it there. That 1.5 miles would put a wagon on past the point on the rim where several emigrant inscriptions are found, and
past the second present fenced grave(s) site. Just beyond the inscription point, going south, up westerly there is a marked ramp up to the top of the rim. It is located in the NE ¼ of section 13 (Satellite photo #4).
On the top of the rim, somewhat overlooked before this time, the satellite photos appear to show two sets of connecting trail evidence, one back to the north and another heading NW to meet the Oregon Trail route. The northern trail seems only to connect to the later road that also passes along the rim above the Parting in section 12. It is likely the NW evidence of a third route–enough to still be seen as a continuous surface disturbance from above—a pattern away from the rim and toward the O.T. route, would have connected to the other combined routes of the O. T. west. (It is difficult to imagine, however, why anyone would have come about one mile south along the river before turning back NW to go on to Oregon!)
A second deeply worn swale/ramp up the rim is found in the bottom half of section 13 (Photo #3), almost one mile up river from the Oregon Trail ramp that Brown wrote about. The good ruts at the top, which have been examined on the ground in both 2004 and 2005 by I-OCTA members, do arc around and head SW along the top of the rim. From there the trail is consistent, and the ruts quite deeply worn in places. These pass along on top for three miles before coming back down to the river area west of Heglar Canyon! A present road runs on top of some segments of those ruts, but much of the route is apart from and parallel to the road, and are Class #1 trail ruts.
Satellite Photo #2 shows some of the southern part of that trail which passes across some private fenced land. Within that fence the ruts have not been driven in and are quite spectacular, a swale showing a lot of original wear. Photo #1 connects almost directly to the south end of Photo #2, and indicates that the used road does cover a short section of the old ruts, but from where the present road curves to the SW, there are deeply etched ruts running south and curving toward the SE before stopping at the land along Yale Road that has been disturbed. On Yale Road to the south is found one of the Trails West, railroad track “T” signs, marking the “California Trail!”
The old river bed is still evident in some places below the rim to the east, and the 1872 GLO plats place the river running against the base of the rim rock in several places. Some included photos show this river bed, and all this makes one wonder how the travelers could have remained on the west side of the river all the way to the second crossing of the river in section 35, near Heglar Canyon. The river flat was not always a single neat channel, and easy to cross. Byron McKinney (Buck, p. 2) wrote on August 1, 1850, that near the Parting the area was “narrow marshy bottoms widening above and below, scattering willow and alkali ponds & sloughs along its banks.”
On his way down the river the next day, before the second crossing, McKinney wrote: “We keep up the creek through the fields of heavy grass, occasionally a wet slough full of duck and snipe, sage hens . . . .” Obviously he was following the bottom land to the second crossing, which would have been quite narrow between the river bank and the steep up-slope to the rim in places. He also wrote, “The bottoms narrow, the bluffs low but rocky and almost perpendicular.”
The land conditions McKinney described give a hint of a reason why some may have chosen to go up and follow the top of the rim. On top they would have been just about overlooking the river in some places, but without any of the sloughs and wet areas to tolerate. At other times the river bottom was surely even wetter and more difficult to negotiate! Cyrus Loveland (Buck, P. 2) wrote, “Raft River is a small, sluggish and miry stream with its banks thickly set with willows.”
John Lytle of the Burley BLM office has done some research on this area. He wrote to this writer on November 16, 2005: “There is some photo evidence that the periphery of the Raft River was used. Many of the early accounts render the Raft as almost [im]passable because of willows. . . there still is very good aerial photo evidence of the trail or at least “a trail” on the bench above the Raft bottoms.” (My italics-JWMc)
The placement of the Trails West sign is significant, for it is up the hill along Yale road, about ¼ mile west of the narrow space between the perpendicular rim and the old river channel (Photo #1). It is near the line of the end of the ruts that come down from the top of the rim, and which ruts are continuous south from the later road, connecting all theway back to the ramp up the rim in the bottom half of section 13. There are few evidences of the trail left in the river bottom by now except back near the inscription point. The upper route that remains seems to be a good bet to be a variant that was used by emigrants!
It is negatively significant that the 1872 GLO land plats of the area show little evidence of he California Trail route. The Oregon Trail is shown accurately on all the plats going to the west. However, only on the plat for T10S, R28E, crossing two section lines, is the California Trail indicated. These locations are also important because as we have seen in the diary entries, the emigrants talked of crossing the Raft River east to west before heading south along the west side of the river for about 5 miles. There must have been an east side of the river route also for a distance to the south, however, for the plat shows such a route.
The “Y” from the Oregon Trail is on the east side of the river, almost in the E-W middle of the upper half of section 7, and the trail goes south all the way down section 7, only slightly to the east of its center. It is then shown crossing the south section line, and going for about ¼ mile into section 18 before ending. The Surveyor’s notes for this section line are as follows:
“East on a line between Sections 7 & 18
24.00 [chains =1584 ft.] Raft river 50 [ft.] wide runs north
38.00 [2508 ft.] Emigrant road bears N & S
43.17 Set post in mound as per instruction for ¼ Section corner”
That placed the California Trail, “Emigrant road,” 924 feet east of the river. On the bottom section line of section 18 only a crossing of the line was indicated on the plat with no road connections above or below, and the trail was less than 1/8 mile from the west side. It had curved back to the SW during that mile within section 18, about the same curve that the river is shown to have made. One variant of the California Trail did remain on the east side of the river to that point, however, and was not indicated again crossing back into T10S, R27E. Apparently no diary account has been discovered indicating the use of this “Emigrant road” east-side route. It was once there, but probably crossed to the west side of the river somewhere in section 24, T10S, R27E, or more south!
Don Buck write, “Emigrants heading for California could not turn south on the east side of the river” (p. 3), but according to the GLO plat evidence they must have been able to go a couple of miles before having to cross to the west side! As Don also wrote–what would have been accurate on the more southern part of the east side of the river–“Deep gullies formed by runoffs from North Chapin Mountain, between Calder Creek and Hegler (sic) Canyon, prevented wagon travel” (p. 3).”
Only across one section line on the southern part of T10S, R27E, between sections 25-26, did the surveyor indicate a road crossing. That is also on the east side of the river but was headed away from the river to the SE. That could have been the road from the second crossing of the Raft River in section 26 by emigrants, but was just north, not “south of Hegler (sic) Canyon,” as Don Buck described (p. 3).
The good grassland that the Surveyor often described, “1st rate grazing,” had probably so hidden the trail remnants by 1872, near and on the west side of the river, that it was not very visible as the Surveyor crossed the river bottom often and indicated only the river crossings of section lines!
McKinney wrote, “The meadows are extensive. . .” and also “through field of heavy grass. . . .Thousands of tons of hay might be cut here. . . .” (Buck, p. 2). Cyrus Loveland verified, “Grass is abundant. . . . Grass and wood plenty,” (Buck, p. 2)!
Oh that we had the accounts of every emigrant that passed this way–what a rich history and details of the trail! We do not, however, but there appears to be some remaining evidence of a variant part of the way along top of the rim above the Raft River. And this would not have been out of the way, only a stones throw in some places above the west side of the river. There are good reasons for some emigrants to have chosen to travel this trail segment.
It seems fairly well settled that the California Trail did not go up on the rim at the Parting on the river plain (sec. 12), and certainly did not make a 90 degree corner (Map #5) to turn south! From that place to the location of a second ramp, a deep swale up to the top in the bottom half of section 13–and consistently going south and SW–the present dirt road is shallow and does not appear as a part of the old trail. SW from that trail ramp all the present evidence of ruts, swales and reasonable trail-sense shouts “trail ruts!”
Jim McGill 11-22-05
November 23, 2005
Five Photos of “Parting” area below. Responses to the companion Paper are welcomed! Jim