Posts Tagged ‘Fort Smith Route’

The Overland Route to California

April 2, 2009
Emigrant Train (image from

Emigrant Train (image from

The California Trail — What Preparations to Make.

We find in the Fort Smith (Ark.) Herald, a number of circulars and communications from the agents of companies about to start from that place on the Overland Route to California via the Canadian Fork to the Rio Grande, and thence by the Gila or Colorado to the Pacific. The instructions with regard to preparations for the journey will be of advantage to those who design to emigrate. We have here selected and arranged the most important items:


The route via Independence or St. Josephs, Mo., to For Laramie, South Pass, Fort Hall, the sink of St. Mary’s River, &c., the old route — is the best. “Let no emigrant,” say the Arkansas Democrat, “carrying his family with him, deviate from it, or imagine to himself that he can find a better road. This road is the best that has yet been discovered, to the Bay of San Francisco and the Gold Region it is much the shortest. The Indians, moreover, on this route, have up to the present time, been so friendly as to commit no acts of hostility on the emigrants. The trail is plain and good where there are no physical obstructions, and the emigrant, by taking this route, will certainly reach his destination in good season and without disaster. From our information we would most earnestly advise all emigrants to take this trail, without deviation; if they would avoid the fatal calamities which almost invariably have attended those who have undertaken to explore new routes.”


From the head of steamboat navigation on the Arkansas to Santa Fe, is less by about three hundred miles, than from Independence to Santa Fe. In the first place in regard to the route:

According to the distance, as laid down by Lieut. Maury, of the United States Navy, a very scientific gentleman, it is only 1,500 miles from Memphis to Monterey, on the Pacific. — Memphis is accordingly 500 miles nearer to Monterey than Independence, Mo. The time, therefore, will be much shorter than was at first estimated; perhaps it will hardly exceed eighty days travel from this place (Fort Smith) to Monterey, and many confidently believe it will not exceed sixty days. The advantage of starting at this point by the 1st of April, and the difference in the distance, will throw nearly two months’ advantage to the emigrant going this route; and he will be about 800 miles nearer to the point of destination on the 15th day of May, than those who contemplate starting from Independence; and, as a gentleman who has traveled that road remarked, it would be vastly to the advantage of every one living in Missouri, desirous of removing to California, to go the Canadian trail; beside, after leaving this place, provisions and horse-feed can be purchased for 200 miles on this road, which is not the case on the Missouri route. The company will proceed from this place directly to Chapman’s trading-house, four miles above the North Fork of the Canadian, crossing the South Fork two or three hundred yards above the mouth of the North Fork, thence to Edwards’ trading-house on Little River, thence directly on between the North and South Forks of Canadian River, affording at nearly all seasons of the year excellent grazing for stock. These streams rise in the neighborhood of Santa Fe, and often run so close together that they can both be seen from the same point, and are an unerring natural guide to the emigrants on their route, being on the dividing ridge, which is as level as could be well desired, and abounds with springs the entire distance.

The whole distance is susceptible of being settled, and can easily be traveled in the Winter, as the river bottoms have an abundance of Winter grass, which we are assured is excellent for stock of any kind. Buffalo abound on this route, and in such quantities that they cannot be numbered. In addition to this, the Indians have extended their settlements westward to such a distance that emigrants can supply themselves with corn, beef, and other supplies, for eight or ten days’ travel on the route after leaving the point of rendezvous. This route is well defined, Lt. Buford having recently passed over it with a detachment of U.S. Dragoons. No danger need be apprehended from Indians, as there is, we believe, not a single instance where travelers on this route have been molested.


The lightest wagon that can be constructed of sufficient strength to carry 2,500 pounds weight, is the vehicle most desirable. No wagon should be loaded over this weight, or if it is it will be certain to stall in the muddy sloughs and crossings on the prairie in the first part of the journey. This wagon can be hauled by three or four yoke of oxen or six mules. Oxen are usually employed by emigrants for hauling their wagons. They travel about fifteen miles per day, and all things considered, are perhaps equal to mules for this service, although they cannot travel so fast. They are, however, less expensive, and there is not so much danger of their straying and being stolen by the Indians. Pack-mules can only be employed by parties of men. It would be very difficult to transport a party of women and children on pack-mules, with the provisions, clothing and other baggage necessary to their comfort. A party of men, however, with pack-mules, can make the journey in less time by one month than it can be done in wagons — carrying with them, however, nothing more than their provisions, clothing and ammunition. For parties of men going out, it would be well to haul their wagons, provisions, &c. as far as Ft. Laramie or Ft. Hall, by mules, carrying with them pack-saddles and alforjams, or larger saddle-bags, adapted to the pack-saddle, with ropes for packing, &c., when, if they saw proper, they could dispose of their wagons for Indian ponies, and pack into California, gaining perhaps two or three weeks time.


The provisions actually necessary are as follows: 150 lbs. of flour, 150 do. of bacon, 25 do. coffee, 30 do. sugar. Added to these, the main items, there should be a small quantity of rice, 50 or 75 lbs, of crackers, dried peaches, &c., and a keg of lard, with salt, pepper, &c. and such other luxuries of light weight as the person outfitting chooses to purchase. He will think of them before he starts.

image from

image from


Every man should be provided with a good rifle, and if convenient with a pair of pistols, five lbs. of powder, and ten lbs. of lead. A revolving belt pistol may be found useful. With the wagon there should be carried such carpenter’s tools as a handsaw, auger, gimblet, chisel, shaving knife, &c., an axe, hammer and hatchet. This last weapon every man should have in his belt, with a hunter’s bowie-knife.


Emigrants should be at Independence, St. Joseph, (Mo.) or the point of starting, by the 20th of April, and start as soon thereafter as the grass on the prairies will permit. This is sometimes by the 1st of May, and sometimes then days later, according to the season. [Emigrants should be at Fort Smith (Ark.) on the 1st of April, as an expedition will start from that place at that date. The grass on the prairies over which the road lies will then be up sufficiently high to afford fine grazing. All caravans by this route can, if they choose, get a start of forty days of those who take the Independence route.]

Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Mar 6, 1849


California Items.

INTERESTING FROM CALIFORNIA.— From the California Star of December 2d, we take the following interesting items, which have not heretofore been published.

WINTER IN THE MOUNTAINS. — We are glad to learn that many of our citizens have abandoned the unwise project of wintering in the mountains, and returned, or are preparing to return to their homes. We are every day more convinced of the error of those already encamped in the several mountain diggins have committed, and our fears are for even life, in many places, as the forfeit of imprudence.

At the ‘dry diggins,’ where most are located, snow falls to the depth of two or three feet — The weather is extremely cold, and the various streams intersecting the mountains become swollen and rendered almost impassable. This will prevent traveling, and we hope no camp in that remote section is destitute of its Winter supply of provisions. Juba and Feather Rivers, whereon a number have collected, present similar disadvantages to the miner, and urge upon him strongly the better policy of keeping quiet until the return of Spring. To peril health in the manner proposed by many, is scarcely wisdom. The placer is ample to satisfy the grasping mind of the million, and plenty of unworked ground invites labor. Don’t be in a hurry, gents, ‘there’s a few more left of the same sort.’

LATEST FROM THE MINES. — About 800 souls it is calculated will winter at the ‘dry diggins’ alone. On Juba and Feather Rivers, preparations are being made to pass the winter by a great number. Houses are constructed and supplies stored, but a scarcity of provisions for the coming season prevails in every camp. At Juba a settlement has been formed near the upper ‘diggins’ — 150 houses have been erected, constructed chiefly of logs, and hopes are entertained of passing a comfortable winter.

Upon the Middle Fork, at the newly discovered ‘diggins,’ the worthy citizens of Dry-diggin-ville are almost to a man employed in mining, and with very fair success. The diggers are most of the Oregon emigration. From $5 to five ounces per day is the stated yield. The gold is large and extremely beautiful, quite free from sand and pebbles. The usual process of taking it is by throwing up dykes and turning the water from its channel, or draining portions of the river’s bed. In the eddies of the main stream it can be seen in great abundance, and at a depth of 25 to 30 feet in many places. At this aggravating distance it is quite harmless. Kanakas have dived with a desperation becoming pearl fishers, but ‘no go’ — the gold yet remains unfingered. Washing for gold has been generally given up for the season. The water is cold, and Jack Frost regular in his morning visits. As we have before stated, very little gold will be gathered after the commencement of the rains.


SCARCITY OF DWELLINGS. — HOUSES and shanties are so scarce that an occupant of a ten by twelve, who has the shanty on a lease of $10 per month, was offered $30 per month to move out, by a person newly arrived.

CALIFORNIA PISTOLS. — On the last night of the session of Congress $50,000 was appropriated for an additional purchase from the inventor of Colt’s improved repeating pistols, and a joint resolution was adopted instructing the Secretary of War to furnish these arms to emigrants going to California, at the government cost prices. They are thus advantageously supplied on a written application to the War Department..

EARTHQUAKES FOR GOLD FEVER.— An article in the Philadelphia American speaking of California, says:

After the gold mania shall have been abated a little, our emigrant friends will discover another peculiar quality in California, which will, probably, not be much to their liking, namely, that it is a great country for earthquakes. At Monterey, according to sir George Simpson, no less than one hundred and twenty shakes were noticed during two successive months in the summer of 1841. Most of these as may be supposed, were very slight ones; but in proof that they are not always so, Sir George speaks as having seen near the town, besides shattered churches, a ‘rent in the earth a mile or so in length, and thirty or forty feet in depth,’ the result of a recent earthquake.

VERY GOOD — as the Indian would say. It has been suggested by a wag that it would be well for some of those who talk of making a settlement in California, to begin by making a settlement at home before they go.

Huron Reflector (Norwalk, Ohio) Mar 27, 1849

A few good links:

The National Oregon/California Trail Center

Trails West – Markers of the California Trail

Oregon California Trails Association has an interactive map; click on a location and it will take you to a page with pictures and more information, hit the back button and you are back to the map.

Along Your Way – Paths of Empire has two good maps of the Santa Fe trail. You can click on them for a larger view.