Trail MapThe Carson Route (or “Carson River Route”) was opened in 1848 from west to east by remnants of the Mormon Battalion who came to California in 1846 with the US Army to assist in the fight against Mexico.

sutter millUpon their discharge in 1847, many went to work for John Sutter to earn money before their planned return to Salt Lake Valley the following year.

The following is taken from Gold Rush Trail – A Guide to the Carson River Route of the Emigrant Trail by Frank Tortorich, Jr.,  Published by Wagon Wheel Tours, 1998


melissa coray

Melissa Coray – The lone woman on the journey east.

On July 3, 1848, 45 men and one woman with seventeen wagons, 150 oxen, 150 horses and mules hauling supplies, equipment and two brass cannons, began the great journey east.

The group did not want to use the Truckee River Route for they knew how difficult the route, furthermore, it carried the pall of the Donner-Reed tragedy.  Consequently, they headed up the Sierra ridges looking for a different route.  By following Indian trails, this advance group found a new way over the mountains.







On Carson Route

We are still clearing brush on the Carson River Route – Carson Cleanup 2009


The going was difficult as trees had to be cut, brush cleared and boulders rolled out of the way. Despite these difficulties the group moved along 6 to 10 miles a day.  Some layover days were necessary when work on the trail became more arduous.




Leek Springs

Leek Springs

On July 16 the Mormons camped by a creek and on July 17, camped at a spring where wild onions or leeks were growing. The names they gave these camps were Camp Creek and Leek Springs both of which are still in use today.

From the camp at Leek Springs, they worked the trail for several miles when they came to another spring.  Here they found the ground disturbed.  James Sly said it looked like a grave and speculated that their three missing scouts might be buried there.


Tragedy Spring BlazeOn July 19 they broke camp at Leek Spring and moved up the mountain to the other spring.  With tools from their wagon, they carefully dug into the disturbed ground and discovered their three friends in the shallow grave.  Their bodies were stripped of all clothing and riddled with arrows.  Saddened by what they found, a new grave was dug and the bodies reburied.  An inscription was carved on a tree, “To the memory of Daniel Browett, Ezrah H. Allen, Henderson Cox, who was supposed to have been murdered and buried by Indians on the night of 27 June 1848.” The mourners named the place Tragedy Spring.  It still holds that sad name.



West Pass

West Pass as seen from Caples Lake

The next eight days would take the group to the highest point wagons would ever travel during the westward migration, West Pass. This backbone of the Sierra Nevada is 9,600 feet.

On July 30 the Mormon group crossed the second summit of 8,576 feet.  This summit is now referred to as Carson Pass.




On Carson Route

Hope Valley

As they were descending on the east side of the Sierra, they came to a beautiful valley.  Here they felt real hope they could, in fact, complete their journey.  They named the place Hope Valley, another name that is still used today.

At the lower end of Hope Valley, the group had to camp for seven days while men cut trees and moved logs and boulders to make way for their wagons through the river canyon. This would be the most  difficult segment of the Carson River Route.

Finally on August 4, 1848 emerging from the canyon, they followed the Carson River ultimately striking out over the desert.  Then, not certain of the route, the group turned north-west, west of present day Fallon, NV, to find the Truckee River. They reached it near present day Wadsworth, NV, then proceeded east to the Humboldt Sink.