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Wyoming History

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The Cherokee Trail

Part one of five parts - First published 1994 Revised 2002

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Cherokee Trail Bibliography

The Cherokee, in 1849, took a trail west to California that Native Americans and trappers knew well.  Over the trail horses had traveled but not wagons.  Neither the number of wagons nor the number of people that eventually used this road to cross the Sierra Madres makes this trail significant.  What makes this road unique is that Native Americans and their traveling companions did not just cross the Continental Divide; they made a path over the mountains and through the Wyoming Basin.  In letters home they described what they did.  On August 12th, 1849 John Rankin Pyeatt, who traveled with Captain Lewis Evans, wrote to his wife: “This Bridger’s Fort is 48 miles from Green River and 440 miles from the South Fork of the Platte.  36 miles of this distance we have had a road and the balance we have had to make our own road, without trail through mountains and plains” (Pyeatt 1979:18).

Sometimes it has been held as a mystery as to why the Cherokees traveled the trail they took.  Why, for example, did they go west from the North Platte to the Little Snake River and then over the Powder Rim before turning northwest to the Green River instead of taking a more direct route west to the Green from Rawlins Springs or Bridger's Pass?  By looking at early nineteenth century diaries, it becomes clear that the route traveled by the Cherokees was not completely unknown.  In 1824, twenty-five years before Pyeatt went west, General William Ashley had traveled part of the route Evans would take (Morgan 1964:104; Dale 1918: 132-133).   In 1839 the routes in and out of Brown's Park had been written about by Oregon-bound emigrants (Hafen and Hafen 1955:104-107, 169-174). John Charles Fremont had traveled up the Platte River in 1843 (Jackson and Spence 1970: 460-463).  By the beginning of the California Gold Rush in 1849, a great deal was known about the mountain passes over the Rockies.  For example, trappers knew the Continental Divide could be crossed at a place called Twin Groves in south central Wyoming. They also knew you could cross the mountains at a gap near present Rawlins Springs or take a trail over what would later be called Bridger’s Pass.  The Cherokee came to prefer the path past Twin Groves.

Three groups of Cherokee took separate routes west in 1849 and 1850.  The journey began in present Oklahoma at Tahlequah and ended in the California Gold fields. As they turned west and crossed the Platte River, the Cherokee emigrants took different routes to Fort Bridger.  One group went near present Rawlins and down into the Bitter Creek, the other two traveled along the Little Snake River and crossed the  Powder Rim.  The travelers who crossed the Powder Rim either headed into Brown's Park or continued more directly west, but all went through Fort Bridger.  Here we will look at these various routes.  But we need to consider some basic questions.  Where did the Cherokee cross the Continental Divide?  What role did they play in  pioneering  the route of the Transcontinental Railroad  through southern Wyoming?  And why did the Cherokee leave home and travel a remote  path to the gold fields in 1849 and 1850?

While the Cherokees who went west in 1850 pioneered a new trail, part of the area they traveled had been traversed by westward-bound emigrants in 1839. On May 1, 1839, 18 men from Peoria, Illinois, set out from Independence, Missouri, bound for Oregon. Their captain was Thomas J. Farnham, a lawyer from Vermont who had recently moved to Illinois. Farnham and company left Independence and followed the Santa Fe Trail west. In present Colorado they turned north and then headed west over the Continental Divide. Ultimately, they reached the Yampa River and then followed this river through present Routt and Moffat counties, Colorado. Near present Sunbeam, on the Yampa River they left the river and traveled north towards Brown's Park. In the process they crossed the Little Snake River and then Vermillion Creek.

The Peoria party stopped at Fort Davy Crockett before heading north out of the Park. Where they exited Brown's Park is not clear, but it is known that they passed through a canyon of red rocks. More than likely the canyon they passed through was either Jesse Ewing Canyon or the canyon along lower Red Creek. In their diaries they record the fact that they once again reached the Green River somewhere near present Manila, Utah. Traveling north they took Henry's Fork to near Fort Bridger then followed Muddy Creek to the Bear River Divide. Because Farnham's Peoria party so closely follows the Bryan to Brown's Park Road out of the park, it is worthwhile to note the 1839 diary descriptions.

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The Peoria party reached Brown's Park in the fall of 1839. Obadia Oakley who "turned back" at Brown's Park gives a good description of the trip into the northwest corner of present Colorado. He also provides a good description of what he encountered as he traveled north from the Yampa River (called the Bear River in 1839).

August 6. This morning we parted from the trappers, and continued down Bear River along a path so difficult that our horses could scarcely keep their footing. About noon we met four French trappers. Fourteen days before they had left Brown's Hole, and were attacked by the Sac [Ute or Shoshone] Indians on Little Snake river; but all escaped without injury--one with the loss of his . . . dog. We camped with them at the junction of the forks of Bear river. They were, as nearly as they could judge, eight days' journey from Brown's Hole. Smith exchanged his horse with one of the party for two others. Saw during the day an old she bear and 3 cubs.

The four succeeding days we traveled about 80 miles, parting from the French trappers the first, and saw an abundance of antelopes, which we could not get near enough to shoot, and two grisly bears which we did--for sport--as they were worth nothing for food, being too fat. The evening of that day was the first pleasant one since we entered the mountains. We cooked the last of our meat the next day for dinner, and killed two bear cubs in the afternoon, which made our supper and breakfast. The third day we cooked the last of the cubs, and at night had nothing. On the evening of the 4th we camped a few miles above the mouth of Little Bear, a fork of Little Snake river, which last empties into Grand river [i.e., the Colorado], and that into the gulf of California. Saw a great many antelopes; but, as usual, they were so shy that we could kill none.

11. Crossed Little Snake river in the morning and traveled till 10 o'clock at night in the hope of finding water. The weather was hot and sultry, neither ourselves or horses had had food or drink since early in the day, and our thirst was intense; but despairing of finding any thing to allay it, we were forced to camp at the foot of a sandy mountain, in no enviable humor, having traveled 22 miles over a most desolate and steril country, mere hills of rocks and sand.

12. This morning we found water, and men and horses rushed to it very much as you may suppose a caravan of camels would after traveling several days across an African desert.

13. Ten miles father bro't us to a fort, situated in what is called Brown's Hole, on Green river. It is a trappers' post, built by Messrs. St. Clair, Craig and Thompson, and is capable of affording protection to 30 men with their families. There were, however, but two white men in it when we got there--St. Clair, and Robinson, a trader--the greater part of the garrison being absent; some trapping, others hunting, as they were destitute of provisions in the fort. We bought meat enough off a Snake Indian for two meals, and were then compelled to purchase three dogs of the same tribe for food, at the rate of 15 dollars apiece! Here was monopoly for you that quite eclipsed Hart & Co. and other flour dealers in the palmiest days of speculation. Dog meat, too! But, gentle reader, do not elevate thy nose at it; for, to hungry men, even dog's flesh is exceedingly palatable. The Indians esteem it a great luxury, and fatten large numbers of them. Thus we lived during the five or six days we remained there.

On the 17th we determined to proceed on to fort Hall, about 300 miles beyond. Mr. Kelly, our guide, had never been there, but he made such inquiries here as he thought would enable him to find it without difficulty. So we started, our whole stock of provisions consisting of one of the three dogs, trusting to luck for a supply by the way. We here procured an additional number of horses, having four for packs, and the whole party mounted. Mr. St. Clair told us we could not get farther than fort Hall by winter; that if we staid there through it we should most likely be compelled to eat our horses before springs for there was no game to be killed near it; and that the people there generally had nothing but horse flesh through the winter. With all these discouragements staring us in the face--the difficulty of reaching fort Hall and the impossibility of getting to Oregon before cold weather should set in--the prospect ahead looked rather gloomy. Upon turning our eyes towards the mountains we descried a party of travelers coming from the west; and though every thing was packed for a start, we concluded to wait till they came up. They proved to be a party which had a few weeks previously escorted to fort Hall, in the Nez Perces country, situated on Big Snake river, two missionaries with their wives--Rev. Messrs. Monger and Griffeth--consisting of five persons, viz: Paul Richardson (leader), Dr. Wislizenus, Charles Kline, Mr. Koontz, and a French trapper named Eugene--who had been in the mountains 11 years. Mr. Richardson told us he had been two years in Oregon; that it was a very poor country for farming--not as good as any part of the New-England states; that 15 bushels of wheat to the acre was an extraordinary crop; that corn and potatoes would not yield the seed planted, on consequence of the excessive droughts, which prevail seven months in the year, during which there is not a particle of rain, and the incessant rain the other five months--not hard, but a perpetual misty drizzle; that the Indians and what few white men that were there had the fever and ague and bilious fever they year round; and, to cop the climax of evils, that the musketoes were thick enough to eat what of the inhabitants famine and fever had left. Such a picture of the country to which we had been looking with high anticipations, was so discouraging to Joseph Wood and myself that, after some reflection, we concluded to return with Richardson and his company. They were gratified at this resolution, as their party was quite small, though our joining did not much increase it. Farnham, Smith and the rest of our company parted from us with much regret, but not more than we felt at leaving them. After shaking hands with them all, and wishing them a speedy and prosperous journey, we commenced our return, our faces set towards the abodes of civilization, leaving our companions, who intended to winter at fort Hall in case they found no company going farther, unflinchingly determined, the ensuing spring, to reach "Oregon or the Grave. . . ." (Hafen and Hafen 1955:58-63)

Oakley's diary is significant for several reasons. He notes the importance of Fort Davy Crockett in Brown's Hole. He provides a good description of how difficult it could be to obtain food. Then he clearly explains why he would be compelled to return home instead of continuing on to Oregon.

One of Oakley's companions was a man named Sidney Smith. Smith made the entire trip to Oregon. He "was a controversial character in the group." When he was seriously wounded by an accidental discharge of his gun along the Arkansas River segment of the Santa Fe Trail, a dispute over whether to carry him westward or not led to a split in the party. Nevertheless, in the end he succeeded in reaching his destination (Hafen and Hafen 1955:67).

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Smith belonged to a distinguished American family. He was the grand-nephew of Ethan Allen and his father, Captain John S. Smith served in the Vermont Dragoons in the war of 1812. Now he was involved in pioneering a trail north from Brown's Park to Fort Hall in present Idaho (Hafen and Hafen 1955:67).

Smith, along with the others in the Peoria Party, ran short of food along the Yampa River. Smith writes:

August 10th. 10 m. and Campt on B. R. [Yampa River] this night went to bed and no Supper. 11th Killed our Dog and eat him traveled 20 m. and campt in the prairia without water for 24 hours no Supper this night. 12. up by the break of Day and Started for water we came up to it [Vermillion Creek] about 11 A.M. and hear we Stopt to Refresh ourselves and animals and Cook Some of the Dog. this night brought us to Browns hole, a butiful valley on Green River. Craust from Bear River to this place, Snake River. one days travel or about 35 to 40 m from this place also a Small Stream Called the Vermillian.

13th &14th in Brown's hole. 15 Kelley & I went out hunting and traveled over all most impassible mo[untains] and found no game after traveling from 35 to 40 m. Returned about 11 o.clock at night Staid at the fort till the morning of the 19 and then started for the Columbia with an Indian for our guide a Snake or Shoshone. Traveled 15 m. and Campt. had dog for our Supper. 20th 22m. horse fell about 300 feet with a pack but Did not kill it ware Obliged to leave him. no more Dog meet Shot a fine antilope and fat, throwed our Dog meet away and feasted on a ----[?] from the ribs of the antilope 21st 22 m and Campt on the Green River Saw about 20 antilope but could not Kill any detained by Raine

22d. 18 m. Crossed Green R. 3 times Saw no game this Day Since leaving browns hole we have passed through what I Shall Call the Valley of the Shaddow of Death the whole Country excep now and then a small Spot on the River is one vast Desert. nothing to cheer up the path of the lonely traveler except the [five words illegible] or the croaking of the Ravens, and other Birds of prey or that doleful howl of the woolf at midnight the whole country is covered with what the mountain men call Sage but I call it wormwood. the Soil is in the places as of gravel of the Size of a mans fist down to that of the Size of Shot. to appearance there is no Soil there is not a Spear of grass but that is burnt up by the Son & the earth so Completely parched up that it is opened so that the horses at times are obliged to Shun the opening to pass.

23d 20 m. and Campt on Henrys fork as well as on the 22d. Saw 5 Buffalow & Several Antilope or goats, country the Same as above as to fertility but more Sandy & perfectly Barren Sand Drifts like Snow, Saw on the 22d 2 mo. or Butes that resembled monuments. 24th Still over a barren and desolate Country Rain this day Shot an antilope out of meet before traveled over a very broken Country Saw 3 different bands of antilopes but there ware very wild Yesterday Saw two Butes at a distance that resembled monuments also one this day besides Several that had the appearance of Domes, farnham Shot another Duck.

25 Still over a barren Sandy gravelly Country Saw 3 different Bands of antilope but verry wild fell in with a trapper by the Name of Madison Gordon invited him back to our Camp as he was out of meet. took Supper & Brekfast then left for fort Crockette or Browns-Hole. traveled 20 m and Campt on Hams Fork as well 26th 25 m. and campt as the above and a mountain of Rocks almost perpindicular by the Side of a Small Brook But the Country Continues to be perfectly Barren Except hear & their a Small Spot on a Stream now and then traveled over a Sandy Gravelly Mountainious Country Shot quarichy or Antilope.

27th 30 m. and Campt on Big Bear River. . . . (Hafen and Hafen 1955:77-79)

Robert Shortess, another member of the Peoria partyprovides a narrative report of his trip west. Shortess actually left Farnham's party as the result of a dispute and pushed north to Oregon from Brown's Park without any of his former associates. While not accompanying Smith it appears Shortess traveled north from Brown's Park, turned west near present Manila, Utah, then followed the Henry's Fork to Fort Bridger. Shortess clearly notes that he crossed "over mountains" when leaving Brown's Park. Travelers who left Brown's Park for points north have to cross a low pass when traveling through Jesse Ewing Canyon. At times both the Bryan to Brown's Park and Rock Springs to Brown's Park Road also traveled through Jesse Ewing Canyon. While the Shortess narrative is not clear as to where he traveled in 1839, he does provide a good point of comparison to the Oakley and Smith versions of what they found in Brown's Park. Shortess writes:

In Brown's Hole we stopped at Fort Crockett, a trading post owned by Thompson [,] Craig and St. Clair, where were several traders and trappers, among whom were Dr. Robert Newell and Joseph L. Meek, who have since become pretty well known in Oregon and Washington, especially the latter. Soon after our arrival we had a snow storm, which continued about 24 hours. The snow fell in the valley about 10 inches and on the mountains about three feet in depth. The part of emigrants, considering that further traveling was impracticable decided (with the exception of the writer) to go into winter quarters, and as soon as the weather moderated commenced building a shanty for that purpose. Newell and Meek being about to start to Fort Hall to sell their furs and lay in a supply of goods for the winter trade, the writer was invited to accompany them. As soon as the snow melted on the low ground we started on our journey of 300 miles, having about three days' provisions of dried meat. Two hunters, Craig and Mitchell, went ahead, promising to bring a supply of meat to our camp in the evening, but came in empty handed, took supper and remained with us till morning, shared our scanty breakfast and left to return no more. We then proceeded on our way up Green river, over mountains covered with snow, to the mouth of Henry's fork, where we crossed and camped for the night. During the day a wolf was killed which was taken along as a final recourse against starvation.

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Left camp on the next morning, and traveled up Henry's fork till about noon, when we met a small party of trappers, from whom we procured a supply of fresh meat sufficient for a few days. Left Henry's fork and traveled northwest to Black's fork, where we camped near the spot where Fort Bridger now stands.

Continued our journey to Bear river, down the same to Soda Springs; from thence north to Port Neuf and Snake river, and arrived at Fort Hall on the evening of the 11th day form leaving Fort Crockett where we were hospitably received by F. Ermatinger, the gentleman in charge of the fort. During two days previous we had lived on a handful of crumbs of dried meat and a cup of coffee per day to each man. After a few days rest and refreshments, Newell and Meek, having purchased their supply, set out on their return to Green river (Hafen and Hafen 1955:106-107).

It is in the E. Willard Smith journal of 1839 that we find the references to a traveler moving west over the route most closely approximating that of John Lowery Brown and the Cherokees in 1850. LeRoy Hafen, one of the most important western historians of the 1950s and 1960s, states that the: "Journal of E. Willard Smith is one of the best records of conditions and activity in the central Rocky Mountains during fur trade days" (Hafen and Hafen 1955:151). It may well have served as a guide for the John Lowery Brown expedition.

Smith left Independence and, like the Peoria party, took the Santa Fe Trail west to Bent's Fort. Unlike the Peoria party, Smith turned north and traveled to the South Platte. Following the South Platte River downstream, Smith went north to Fort Vasquez where they abandoned their wagons. Smith then headed to the Poudre River. In traveling west along the Poudre he would approximate the route of the Cherokees in 1850. Pressing west to Fort Davy Crockett, he again moved along portions of the future Cherokee Trail. Unlike the Peorians, he would return to Fort Vasquez without traveling further north or west.

Smith, on September 18, 1839, reached the Poudre River. Upon reaching this river Smith wrote:

18th. We encamped last night on a small stream. Cache-la-Poudre, called so because powder was hidden there some time since. Our camp was just at the foot of the mountain in a very pleasant place. During the day we passed several pools and creeks, the water of which were impregnated with salt-peter.

19th. Today we began to go among the hills at the foot of the mountain, quite an agreeable change from the prairies in hot weather to mountain scenery. A person soon becomes tired of traveling over the prairie--all is so monotonous. The road we are traveling now is surrounded by hills piled on hills, with mountains in the background. The water in all the small streams is very good & cold.

20th. To-day the road became rougher. We had some very high and steep hills to climb. One could scarcely think from their appearance, that a horse could ascend them, but we crossed them without any great difficulty. Messrs. Thompson & Craig went before us & killed three Buffaloes. Before this, we had had plenty of fat venison. In the afternoon they killed two deer. At night it was quite cold and frosty.

21st. To-day it is quite cold. We have been climbing more hills. At noon the hunters came to us, having killed six Buffaloes and a calf. We saw a great many Buffalo to-day--encamped in a beautiful valley. Its length is as far as the eye can reach, probably more than sixty miles long & about ten wide. The view from the surrounding mountains is grand. It is surrounded by high hills, with mountains in the background. Large herds of Buffalo were scattered over this valley. There is a large stream flowing through it, called Laramie's Fork, tributary to the north fork of the Platte. It has several small streams flowing into it. The timber on all these mountains and hills is yellow pine--some of it quite large. In this plain there is a very large rock, composed of red sand stone, & resembling a chimney. It is situated on a fork of the Laramie, called Chimney Rock.

22nd. Nothing remarkable to-day except beautiful scenery. We travel twenty miles a day. The weather is very pleasant--quite warm at noon, but freezes hard at nights.

23rd. This morning the road was very rough. At noon we entered a very large valley, called the Park, at the entrance of which we crossed the north fork of the river Platte, a very fine stream. We saw a great number of Buffalo to-day, probably about two thousand.

24th. To-day we are still traveling in the Park, and surrounded by herds of Buffalo. The weather is still pleasant and we have moonlight nights. It is so cold at night the water freezes. Last night one of our party set a trap for a beaver. When he went this morning to remove it, he found a beaver caught. 25th. To-day we have had a very rough road to travel over, and at evening encamped on a ridge called "the Divide." It divides the waters of the Atlantic from the Pacific. It extends a great distance North and South. On the West side of it are the head waters of the Columbia and the Colorado of the West--the former emptying into the Pacific, the latter into the Gulf of California. On the East side are the head waters of the Missouri and its tributaries, and also the Arkansas. We had a slight shower in the evening--have seen no Buffalo to-day.

26th. To-day we have traveled only fifteen miles. The scenery is very rough. We saw only a few Bulls and no cows. Nearly all the hills and valleys since we came among the mountains are covered with wild sage or wormwood, which grows in stiff bushes, six or seven feet high. The stalks are large as a man's arm. There are a great many black currants among the mountains--also plumbs and sarvis berries and hawthorne berries.

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27th To-day we have traveled about twenty miles. The weather still continues very pleasant. At evening, just before we encamped for the night, we came to a place where some whites had encamped a few days previous for the purpose of killing Buffalo and drying their meat. From the signs around us we thought they must have had a fight with the Indians, probably Sioux. We saw the skeletons of four horses, killed in the fight. The Whites had thrown up a breastwork of logs for a defense. To-night we put our horses in an old horsepen we found at our camping place, which is on Snake River, a tributary of the Colorado of the West.

28th To-day we have had a good road & got along well. We are still on [Little] Snake River. No Buffalo have been seen, but the hunters killed an Elk out of a herd of about twelve. The meat resembles venison very much in taste, tho not quite so tender.

29th. To-day we left Snake river and about noon came across Indian signs. We supposed there must have been about forty Indians, probably a war party of Sioux that had passed but two or three hours previous to our coming. If they had seen us we must have had a fight.

30th. Yesterday afternoon my horse gave out and I was obliged to lead him about three miles. The day was quite warm & we suffered very much for want of water. We encamped at some Sulphur Springs. The hunters shot an old Buffalo. To-day I was obliged and let my horse run loose. I was afraid that he would be unable to travel all day, even in this way. My boots were torn to pieces and I could procure no moccasins. I traveled forty miles in this way over a very rough road covered with prickly pears. My feet were very much blistered. The day was very warm. After traveling forty miles without water, I lost sight of the party, who were in advance of me. As it was growing dark & my feet pained me very much, I concluded to stop for the night and encamp by myself on a stream called the "Vermilion," that we had just reached. I did so and remained there all night along. I think I never suffered so much from thirst as I did to-day.

From the point where Smith writes he left the Little Snake River to where he reaches the Vermillion, Smith more than likely followed the route of the future Cherokee Trail. It appears he may have ascended from the Snake River via the Cherokee Basin to Cherokee Rim, Smith then moved west through the Powder Rim to Vermillion Creek.

On October 1 Smith writes:

Oct. 1st. I left my lonely camp early and walked pretty fast over the gravel and prickly pears that lay in my path, not expecting to see anything of the rest of my companions until I arrived at Brown's Hole, but after traveling two miles I discovered them encamped at a small lake in a valley [possibly on the north side of Irish Canyon]. You may imagine I was not a little pleased to see them. They were just eating breakfast, which I partook with great pleasure having eaten nothing the day before. At evening we arrived at Brown's Hole, our place of destination. This is a valley so called on Green River, in which is a Fort.

Oct. 2nd. Today I heard [from Kit Carson] the particulars of the fight at the breastworks near Snake river, referred to a few days since. It appears that the party was composed of seven whites and two squaws, who had come there from Brown's Hole, for the purpose of killing Buffalo and drying their meat. They had been there several days, and dried a large quantity of meat, when they were attacked by a party of Sioux, about twenty in number. The attack was made toward morning while it was yet dark. They fired mostly at one man, named Spiller, as he lay asleep, and pierced him with five balls, without wounding any one else. This awakened the rest of the men and they began to strengthen a horse pen they had made of logs, to form it into a breastwork. They digged some holes in the ground for the men to stand in, so as to protect them as much as possible. As soon as it became light, they commenced firing at the Indians, of which they wounded and killed several. After exchanging several shots, the principal Indian chief rode up towards them. When they were within shooting distance, they fell back behind some trees and gave the signal to his companions, who fired and killed the head chief and one or two others. The Indians kept up a firing for a short time & then retreated. When the chief was shot he jumped up and fell down, the others were very much excited, and raved and tore around. He was a distinguished chief.

Oct. 3rd. Still at the Fort, which is situated in a small valley, surrounded by mountains, on Green River, a tributary of the Colorado. It is quite a stream, about three hundred yards wide. It runs through a narrow passage in the mountains, the rocks forming a perpendicular wall on each side, five hundred feet high.

6th. We had a snow storm to-day. It fell about six inches deep. I intended to go to Fort Hall, a Fort belonging to the Hudson's Bay Company, situated on the head waters of the Columbia, but the party disappointed me (Hafen and Hafen 1955:169-175).

Smith did not travel north from Brown's Park over any of the future historic trails leading to Bryan or Rock Springs but he came close to taking the same route the Cherokees took to reach the Green River in 1850. His journal, and those of the Peoria party show the significance of Brown's Park and set the foundation for future traveler's knowledge of the area. Moreover, since there is so little data about the Cherokee Trail, E. Willard Smith's diary sheds some light on why the Cherokee would attempt to travel up the Poudre River then cross over to the Little Snake River on their way to the Green River. In essence the Cherokee were not traveling on an unknown trail. They were taking a route known to trappers and possibly by others, such as the "Saints" living in the Salt Lake Valley. Clearly, by 1840 the locations of the area's future trails were beginning to emerge.

One of the earliest reference to the Cherokees traveling west along portions of E. Willard Smith's route appears in the Cherokee Advocate. The Advocate was published in the Cherokee Tribal Capital at Thalequah in present Oklahoma. In 1849, a group of Cherokee emigrants chose to avoid the more heavily traveled trails over South Pass and took a more southerly route west to California. However, the exact route that the Cherokees took is not well defined. The leader of this group was Captain Lewis Evans. Describing Evans' route west in '49, the Cherokee Advocate reported:

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We traveled from Pueblo by the following route: Ft. St. Vrains, on South Platt--crossed South Platt at the mouth of the Cache A La Pudre--up said stream thro' the mountains to Laramie Plains; thence crossed Laramie rivers near the mountains, crossed Medicine Bow river, crossed Medicine Bow Mountains; crossed the North Park and North Platt, Green river, south of the South Pass, and intersected the Independence road on Black's Fork, about 14 miles west of Green River (Cherokee Advocate, January 21, 1850; Metcalf 1978).

From the above, it can be seen that the exact route the Cherokees took in 1849 is difficult to retrace. However, the Cherokee Advocate provides some glimpses into the route the Cherokee traveled in 1849.

Leaving for California

Hearing of the discoveries of gold in California many Cherokee's were enticed to the gold fields to seek their fortunes. It is a place where, in the words of one writer people could go to quench their "thirst for gold". According to the Cherokee Advocate, men who were worth only a few dollars are worth thousands within a few months of their arrival to California (Ibid., March 19, 1849:1). Newspaper reports like these enticed many Cherokees to abandon their homes and head for the gold fields during the summer of 1849.

Lured by the promise of striking it rich, one Cherokee in the spring of 1849 advertised he was selling his property in order to travel to California. Lorenzo Delano, advertised in the Cherokee Advocate his intentions of going west. His property was called "a desirable place for the Farmer, Merchant or the man of pleasure" (Cherokee Advocate, March 19, 1849:3). Lorenzo was not alone in selling everything he had on the Cherokee Reservation and heading for California. Selling their goods and heading for California the Cherokee gold seekers were caught up in the dreams of a bonanza at the end of the "California Trail".

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If you have any questions please feel free to contact Dudley Gardner.

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