|OCTA CA-NV Chapter Trails History||Updated on February 1, 2006|
|Raft River Parting of the Ways|
|Parting of the Ways Message # 4|
|date||November 23, 2005|
|subject||Re: Notes on the Parting of the Ways at the Raft River|
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 the
way 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
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