More Traces of the Emigrant Trail:

Iron Mountain Road

Today’s Iron Mountain Road was the route the Mormons took as they headed east over the mountains in 1848. And it soon was followed by the great westward migration — becoming an important leg of the early Emigrant Trail as wagons rushed for Gold Country.

You may remember our earlier newsletter taking you as far as Leek Springs (here’s the short version: take Hwy 88 west and turn off at Mormon-Emigrant Trail, which is Iron Mountain Road. To read the complete earlier Leek Springs adventure, click here!).

Once you get to Leek Springs, stop and set your odometer. Continue past Leek Springs another 2.5 miles to find another historic T-post marking the Emigrant Trail. The T-post itself is not easily visible from the road, so watch carefully for the pullout on your right.

Look for this pull-off on your right.

This Trail marker bears a great quote from an early emigrant named Tiffany, describing how the old route followed the ridge along the “divide.” That means that in many places the early Emigrant Trail stayed higher than today’s road. But its general path was roughly the same.

Tiffany passed this way in the summer of 1849.
Note the classic rounded triangle marker, confirming you’re standing on the original Emigrant Trail. It always gives me goosebumps!

Keep an eye out as you travel the next few miles and you’ll see the old roadbed switching back and forth across the new one. At odometer reading 4.4 miles, for example, the Trail crosses from your right to left over the current paved roadway to follow the ridge. And at 4.6, it swings back again to the right.

At 9.9 miles you’ll begin to see oak trees make an appearance. Westward-bound gold-seekers were happy to welcome this lower-elevation vegetation species, as they now were able to feed oak leaves to their hungry cattle.

The oak trees were beautiful in the late summer and early fall — and so welcome as forage for emigrants’ cattle!

About 21.5 miles into your journey you’ll come to beautiful Jenkinson Lake. After crossing the second dam, watch for a beautiful green-patinaed historic plaque on your right, erected by the Pollock Pines Rotary.

Jenkinson Lake
Admire the great patina on this plaque honoring Walter E. Jenkinson, who championed the creation of the lake which today bears his name. As the plaque notes, this Lake provides an important source of water to the valley.

Here at the Lake, the Jenkinson Lake Sly Park Recreation Area offers a cool waterfall hike, and yes, dogs are allowed (for an extra fee!). For complete information about the park and great photos of the waterfall and the hiking trail, check out this description here. (Scroll down after the page opens.)

Before the lake was created by the dams, this area was a large stream-fed meadow. This made it a great spot for grazing, and the eastward-bound Mormon Battalion stopped here to camp for over a week in July, 1848, dubbing it “Sly Park” (after one of their members), for its “park-like” appearance. Here the anxious Mormons dispatched ten of their men to find the trail ahead and also to look for their three missing scouts (whose bodies they’d sadly find when they eventually reached Tragedy Spring). For a great summary of the history of Sly Park, including its prehistoric use by native Maidu and Miwok peoples and early local ranchers, read here.

As you continue the journey you’ll soon reach a stop sign where the road comes to a “T”. Re-set your odometer here and take left-hand road toward Pleasant Valley on Sly Park Road. In another 1.5 miles you’ll pass an Environmental Ed Center on your right; this is used to teach teachers about environmental issues. (For more information about the Center, see www.slyparkcenter.org).

If you have a bit of time, continue to enjoy this rural road as it winds its delightful way into Placerville! (A longer but much more scenic way to get there than the freeway!)

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#Emigrant Trail #Amador County #History #road trip

Tragedy Spring

One of our recent rambles was a visit to the historic site of Tragedy Spring. We began by heading west on Highway 88 heading west, then took the right-hand turnoff toward Tragedy Springs. (To follow the directions that follow, stop here and set your odometer.) Continue a bit farther along the Tragedy Spring loop road and when you reach odometer reading .3 mile watch for the plaque on your right, embedded in a rock wall at the bottom of a hill.

This plaque was placed by the Daughters of Utah Pioneers in 1967 — 119 years after three Mormon scouts heading east in 1848 were killed. Just below USED to be a basin with a spigot where motorists could get water for their cars or to drink. Modern health worries intervened; the basin is filled with cement and the spigot is no longer there.

This picturesque plaque bears the names of the three scouts (Henderson Cox, Ezra Allen, Daniel Browett), murdered on June 27, 1848 as they camped nearby. Cox, Allen and Browett were part of the famous Mormon Battalion that blazed the original “Mormon Emigrant Trail” across the Sierra.

Although many folks think only about westward-bound gold-seekers, the Mormon band of wagons was actually traveling from west to east, heading back to Salt Lake. They brought with them some bits of gold they had found while in California (some of the men were working at Sutter’s mill when gold was first spotted). But despite the lure of gold, these folks were simply eager to return home. They almost certainly had no idea that the trail they were hacking through the wilderness would carry vast numbers of westward-bound wagons during the Gold Rush in the coming months and years.

These stairs are a picturesque start to your climb!

Look to the left of the plaque to find the stairs, and climb the trail. Here you’ll come to four different sites:

First is another plaque part-way up the trail, set into a rock. This memorial was erected by Sons of Utah Pioneers on September 2, 1967. Beside the stone monument stands a water fountain, where once you could quench your thirst from the mountain spring (but like the spigot at the bottom, unfortunately no longer operational).

 

 

This monument was erected by the Sons of Utah Pioneers. In the left foreground is the once-welcoming drinking fountain.
The spring house.

Slightly farther ahead is a spring house protecting the spring that once fed the fountain. This natural spring is what gave the site its name, “Tragedy Spring.” Imagine the thousands of emigrants and their animals who were grateful for its waters!

       Near the spring house is yet another plaque; this one replicates text carved into a large fir tree as a “gravestone” by the dead men’s companions:
To the Memory of Daniel Browett, Ezrah H. Allen and Henderson Cox who was supposed to have been murdered and burned by Indians on the night of the 27th of June 1848.

The artistic type style used on this 1931 plaque makes it especially beautiful.

The plaque was dedicated by Native Sons and Daughters of Amador County on August 30, 1931.

Finally, beneath a sheltering tree you’ll discover the actual rocked-covered grave of the three Mormon scouts who died here in 1849 while trying to blaze the trail for their companions, who were following with wagons.

Concrete has been added in later years to bind the stones together. But these may very well be the same rocks used by the saddened Mormons to erect a protective stone “cairn” over the communal grave.

A nearby wooden sign explains:  “When members of the Mormon Battalion camped here, they noticed arrows and a newly-made mound. Upon opening it they found the mutilated bodies of their three friends. They reburied them building a [rock] cairn to protect the grave. They also found Allen’s gold pouch, filled with gold dust, and carried it to his widow in Iowa.

As the sign mentions, a pouch of gold dust was found near one of the bodies. This plus a report of finding “arrows” fueled suspicion that it was Indians who had killed the three scouts. However, some modern historians question this conclusion since the Indians in this vicinity were generally peaceful and helpful to settlers. Could it be that white explorers or trappers committed the atrocity and deliberately left arrows behind as a ruse?

Beside the sign you’ll also spot an astonishing tree. Its curved and distorted trunk likely was the result of a heavy snowfall while the tree was young.

As you head back downhill, keep your eye peeled for a picnic table tucked into a shady grove on your right — a great spot to stop for a break or to eat lunch.

Great place for a picnic lunch!

To reach Highway 88 again, continue to follow the loop road (west). Turn right at the intersection to continue west — and we’ll pick up here in the next installment of this emigrant grave adventure!

Key in the Tree

The key is embedded in the side of one of the two large trees, just as you pull off.

Some discoveries just beg for a movie to be made about them. There must be a story behind this mysterious key, wedged firmly in the trunk of a tree at the top of Highway 4. A hidden treasure that this key would unlock? A clue to a long-forgotten murder?

If you’d like to visit the mysterious key for yourself, here’s how to find it (once Highway 4 reopens in the spring!):  Head west on Highway 4, past Kinney Reservoir and Kinney Lakes. Watch for the Ebbbett’s Pass gate and cattle guard; the elevation sign will let you know that you’ve reached 8,730 feet.

Here’s a close-up of the key, firmly embedded in the tree.

Continue 0.3 miles past the gate and cattle guard, and watch for a pullout on your left. The key is in one of the two large trees just as you pull off. (And it goes without saying, but please, please leave it there for the next explorer to find!)

Remnants of an old blaze — not quite grown over — near the base of this tr

Before you leave this peaceful spot in the forest, take a close look at the nearby trees. Here you can also find a very old axe blaze near the base of a tree. This may once have marked the route for the early wagon road, long before the paved highway came through.

As the sign notes, the road here was not completed until Silver Mountain City drew eager miners in this direction, beginning in 1864. (We hope someone will tell them it wasn’t “Silver City” though! That’s in Nevada!) 

On your return trip, take time to read a little bit of history about Ebbetts Pass on the historical sign just west of the cattle guard.

The Toll Station for the Big Tree Carson Valley Turnpike once sat here, when the route opened in 1864. Note the rock retaining wall (probably in roughly its original location, although possibly somewhat rebuilt).

And one more not-to-miss site nearby: a brand new historic marker (just east of the cattle guard) identifying the site of the original toll-keeper’s station on the Big Tree Road! This is the spot where eager miners began their detour from the Big Tree Road to the new boomtown of Silver Mountain when the connecting roadway was completed in the summer of 1864.

These bricks are all that’s left of the original toll-keeper’s station.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Still visible today at the site where the toll station once sat are the old rock retaining walls and a few tell-tale bricks, likely once part of the toll-keeper’s hearth or chimney.

So fun, to visit the real toll-keeper’s location! And when you visit Silver Mountain City next, imagine the exhausted-but-happy travelers exiting the toll road at the other end in the 1860s, ready to begin their mining adventure!

This is the other end of the Big Tree toll road, as it came into Silver Mountain City in the 1860s.

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A walking tour of the Old Genoa Cemetery

We’re so excited — our new book is here! Take a walk through a section of the Old Genoa Cemetery in this new book — and discover the stories of some of Carson Valley’s earliest pioneers and settlers.

“Well-researched and concise — A walk through the Genoa Cemetery is not complete without this guide.”

http://www.clairitage.com/books.html

 

Hope Valley History

Hope Valley received its name from members of the Mormon Battalion making their way back to Salt Lake, who “finally had hope” of reaching their destination once they got this spot. Here they would have found water and grass for their animals, and a place to rest briefly before forging the difficult path down the rocky canyon ahead (Woodfords Canyon).

Two plaques once graced this large rock just east of Pickett’s Junction. Thieves have stolen one plaque, but the Pony Express Marker is still there!

Today there are still fascinating traces of history in Hope Valley — well worth seeking out next time you’re there!

The intersection of Highways 88 and 89 is known today as Pickett’s Junction, but it went by other names in the past. As early as 1854, a hotel owned by Haynes and Warner stood northwest of this spot to serve passing emigrants.

The oval plaque on the left honors the Pony Express, which stopped here from 1861-62

Around 1862 James Green settled slightly west of today’s junction, where the old road veered north. Green operated a dairy ranch, hotel and stage “station” here, and his house was used in 1864 as a reference point for establishing Alpine County’s original boundary line. Polling in the very first county election was held at Green’s Hotel for voters in the “Green’s Station Precinct.”

James Green somehow “went missing” about 1869, just after his third son was born, and his ranch was sold to 24-year-old Samuel Alphonse Nott, a dairyman from Ohio. Nott later became a state Assemblyman, and died in 1880 in Sacramento County.

If you look west from today’s Pickett’s Junction, you will spot this same saddle in the mountains. The old dirt road shown here roughly parallels today’s Hwy 88. This is how the valley looked in 1889, during Pickett’s day. (Photo courtesy of Stephen Drew’s Yerington Collection).

Nott’s Place (as it was known) was sold about 1880 to Edward M. Pickett. Pickett, like his predecessors, operated a stage station here, and his name lives on in today’s place name, “Pickett’s Junction.” When Pickett died about 1899, his estate conveyed the property to Henry Bassman, a local rancher.

This interpretive sign not only contains great information on the Emigrant Trail but also helpfully lets you know you’re in the right spot. The rainbow halo — well, we’d like to say it was a mystical event or ghosts of early passing emigrants, but it’s really just sunlight glancing off our camera lens!

Two clear sections of the Old Emigrant Trail also can still be found in Hope Valley.  The first is a bit hard to locate unless you know exactly where to look. From Pickett’s Junction, go west about 0.3 miles on Hwy 88 (past the intersection with 89) and watch for the Wildlife Area & Fishing Access parking lot on your right. Park in the Fishing Access parking lot, and follow the paved path as it loops around to the left. When you see the interpretive sign, you’ll know you are in the right spot.

The Emigrant path is clear here in sections, though it fades away in others. In spots, trees have sprouted in the pathway the early emigrants took, seeds taking advantage of the disturbed soil.
Before you leave the Fishing Access parking lot, be sure to take the short walk to enjoy the view of the river from the old bridge. In this photo you can also see the special platform (in the distance) that helps make fishing enjoyable and available for anglers with disabilities.      

You’ll easily spot the remains of an early paved road; the old Emigrant Trail ran roughly parallel to this. Look carefully, and you will find the Trail itself. In spots, you’ll notice trees growing in the old trail bed — that’s because seeds found it easy to take root in the disturbed soil.

Park near this gate to access the Fourth Crossing segment of the Trail.

A short drive west of the Fishing Access parking will take you to yet another pristine section of Trail– one especially worth exploring because it is often mentioned in emigrant diaries. Continue west on Hwy 88 about 0.9 miles from the Access parking lot and, after crossing a narrow bridge, look for a graveled pullout near a gate on your left (see photo above).

This is Fourth Crossing — and depressions on both sides of the river here still clearly show evidence of the hundreds of thousands of wagons that made their final river crossing here!
The Emigrant Trail remains clearly visible through this stretch of meadow. This is where the emigrants walked just after crossing the river for the fourth and last time.

This is the area that the emigrants called “Fourth Crossing” — the fourth and last time their wagons had to cross the Carson River. The swale left by thousands of passing wagons is still clearly visible today across the meadow. Another great spot to stop and take a photo!

Hope Valley is always a grand spot for photography! Whether it’s the fall colors, snow-capped winter mountains, or spring and summer greenery, there’s always something beautiful to capture here with your lens!