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Wyoming History

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The Cherokee Trail

Part two of five parts - First published 1994 Revised 2002

Part 1

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Cherokee Trail Bibliography

Not everyone in the Cherokee Nation viewed the gold rush with the same enthusiasm. By the late spring of 1850 many leaders in the Cherokee Tribe became alarmed at the large numbers of men and even females leaving for the gold fields. An article written on March 19, 1849(1), in the Cherokee Advocate, describes California as land without law or government. On Monday June 10, 1850, The Cherokee Advocate published an article warning about the gold fever. The paper lamented the loss of tribal members taken from their homes by the lure of fame and fortune. The editor of the Advocate wrote: "In this universal rising his majesty tul-lo-ni-ca [Cherokee for yellow] has driven numerous Cherokees into the chase, and it is to them too gold for riches at once, and through the journey of life repose in golden dreams" (Cherokee Advocate June 10,1850:2). In this statement the editor was revealing Cherokee attitudes towards gold and wealth in general. The Cherokee were seeking their dreams like all other westward bound gold seekers. Their dream was achieving security so they could rest peacefully seeking harmony with their world. So powerful was this dream of gold to the Cherokee that "it is confessedly the strongest tempter that we have any idea of." "The Cherokees," the editor went on to write, to California "have gone male and female to join in this golden scramble, with families behind, in some measure to take care of themselves, on a mission of four to five years, effecting and demolishing our settled pursuits, plunging hundreds into utter ruin, and depopulating our community" (Cherokee Advocate, June 10,1850:2). The editor perceived the migration of Cherokees from the reservation to California as damaging to tribal stability. In his column on the gold rush he called "for the wisest counsels of our leaders in order to check in some measure this mania that is so much distempering our regular occupations." In a plea for reason the editor added, "I assure our friends with the best feelings for their welfare, that this California gold, although, admitted to be as plenty as dirt, will be their ruin, in nine hundred cases of a thousand" (Cherokee Advocate, June 10,1850:2). In spite of the misgivings by some of the Cherokees who remained in the Indian Territories, westward bound gold seekers continued to leave the nation.

A record of events on the progress of a party traveling on the Santa Fe Trail, was submitted on a regular basis to the Cherokee Advocate. One such article was actually a letter written to the Advocate by O.W. Lipe. This letter covered almost a full page in the May 27th, 1849, Advocate. Lipe mentioned the problems encountered on the trail, such as which route could be traveled with the greatest ease and success (Cherokee Advocate, May 27,1849:2). Even though the party is able to make good time on the trail they were often detained by the loss of cattle and had to wait for the return of the men who went in search of them. The author of this article also discusses the worry and tension the party experienced due to accidents and the low food supply. In his letter to the Advocate the traveler noted he felt very fortunate that he had not encountered any serious accidents but had a close call with misfortune when he fell from his horse. As the result of the fall he suffered only a sore mouth but at the time of writing this letter he had recuperated within a couple of days as his appetite had returned (Cherokee Advocate, May 27,1849:2).

Cooking on the trail is also mentioned in Lipe's letter as the author boasts of his "Baking Biscuits." He also considers the cows to be valuable as they have supplied the train with a "good quantity of milk" and are easy to keep within certain boundaries. Lipe adds, "I never had a better appetite than I have now and above all let me inform you I am a great cook" (Cherokee Advocate, May 27,1849:2).                                

Lipe's letter to the Advocate, like many others the Cherokee paper published, details the difficulties that were encountered traveling west. He noted "the immense number of carcasses of cattle which have died along the road." Lipe reported "tons of iron could be picked up" from wagons abandoned along the route. Lipe explains: "it seems as if the waggons are first left and afterwards burned by others passing and the iron remains" (Cherokee Advocate, May 27, 1849:2). A member of "Captain Evans" company who traveled along the Santa Fe Trail about the same time as Lipe's company reported, "At the place we struck the Santa Fe road, we found the grave where some hapless traveler reposes in the bosom of this beautiful carpeted land ocean, here we obtained a large stone and planted in the fork of the road, and one [of] our cunning workers cut these letters upon it: 'To Fayetteville, Ark. 300 miles -Capt. Evans Cal[ifornia] Cam'y May 12,1849, to apprise the prairie traveler of a new road" (Cherokee Advocate, May 27,1849:2)

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Illness was a constant threat to westward bound emigrants. The Cherokee wagon trains were no different than other emigrant companies and this fact was also printed in the Advocate. The Cherokee Advocate on Monday, August 20, 1849(2), reported that in a single company 14 persons contracted cholera and 8 of them died. Some trains were luckier than others. One author noted that despite the cold weather there has not been any serious illness to date. They did note the weather is often cold and the people in the wagon train bundle up in coats and blankets as they continue on the trail (Cherokee Advocate, July 30,1849:2).

At Bent's Fort, along the Arkansas River in present Colorado, H. Davis a member of Evan's company wrote home and described for the readers of the Advocate what he had encountered. Here near Bent's Fort the buffalo were plentiful as were the elk and the ponies. They were now "480 miles away from home." From Bent's Fort Evan's company would angle north to Pueblo then follow the "Front Range" of the Rocky Mountains to the Poudre River. Davis wrote initially we had "thought of continuing our route and course, and strike the Oregon road at the forks of the Platte, but find the grass will not justify it consequently we go directly to Bent's Fort, and thence take the nearest and best route to Eldorado" (Cherokee Advocate, July 30,1849:2). Davis goes on to give a brief inventory of lost cattle and information about Evan's company. He writes: "The company are in fine spirits and in good health - not one is sick at this time." Davis then offers a slightly "tongue in cheek" explanation for their health explaining, "Nothing else could be expected from men who cook their food with buffalo chips, snuff the pure bland breezes of the boundless plains and braced up with a 'lively hope' that all the wildest dreams e'er wove in fancy's loom of 'ingots of gold and bags of dollars,' will be realized beyond the Cordilietas" (Cherokee Advocate, July 30,1849:2).

On August 6, 1849, Daniel M. Gunter, another member of Evan's Company, had his letter published in the Advocate. He noted that when Evans company reached the base of the Rockies four wagons turned back "on the 22nd June." Gunter states his brother was told by some trappers at Pueblo "that it was impossible for them to cross the mountains with wagons, which caused thirty men to dispose of their wagons and provisions they could not carry... "(Cherokee Advocate August 6,1849:2). Here at Pueblo and also at a "place by the name of Green Horn twenty five miles south of Pueblo" the Evans company began to split apart in order to take different routes west. Gunter writes:

The packing part of the company, including the former editor of the Advocate, and several other Cherokees, employ a guide, by the name of Owens, a man who was once in Fremonts company, they pay him seven dollars per day and he is to take them to the 'diggins' in 60 days.-- The balance of the company, including 9 men and thirty wagons, are going to attempt to cross with their wagons, and had employed a guide, part Osage, to take them by the Salt Lake. They will endeavor to go the more common route. The Salt Lake from Peublo is four hundred miles [i.e. across the spine of the Rockies], but the way they were going about six [hundred] (Cherokee Advocate, August 6, 1849:2).

Thus Captain Evan's Company guided by a "part Osage" Indian would begin their trip from Pueblo to the Cache La Poudre and west to North Park and then north into present Wyoming.

G.W. Keys who was a member of Evan's Company wrote to his brother L.H. Keys from Salt Lake City on July 15th, 1849. The Advocate, consistently published letters written home to family members by westward bound emigrants. The Key's letter was shortened and offered a brief introductory note that stated, "George W. Keys, and others from this neighborhood left about the 20th of April and joined Capt. Evans' Company, and traveled into Publo [sic], the foot of the Rockies." The Advocate then creates some confusion for modern researchers by adding: "From thence they have been traveling by pack horse" (Ibid., November 12,1849:2). Based on earlier articles it is clear Evans had thirty wagons in his company that traveled up the Poudre River. Clearly Key's was on horseback when he crossed the mountains, but it is also clear others in Evan's company traveled by wagon.

G.W. Key's 1849 letter to his brother does provide a general description of the route to Salt Lake. Key's wrote:

We have been one month coming from Pueblo to this place, a distance of about 400 miles over one of the worst roads in the west with several rivers to cross; we had to swim and raft. In crossing the green river there was one of the company drowned, he was from Benton, Ark. by the name of Garvin. Some of the party lost their guns, provisions, money, and saddles -- which pla[c]ed them in rather an awkward situation --400 miles from any settlement with neither provisions saddles nor guns. After getting to Briges [F]ort, they fixed themselves up and have got to this place where we intend to rest ourselves and reciut our animals &c. We have passed a great many emigrants since we struck the Northern road, besides what have gone ahead and st[aye]d behind. A great many of them have died of the cholera--We have heard that the company of Cherokees that came by the way ofIndependence have lost several of their men from the cholera &c. [In the City of Salt Lake] Flour and bacon is worth 15 cents per lb here and scarce at that (Cherokee Advocate, November 12,1849:2).

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There are a number of problems in determining where the Cherokees crossed the Wyoming Basin in 1849. As is evidenced above, the letter that appears in the Cherokee Advocate is vague when it comes to precise locations. Three sources claim the Cherokees entered in Brown's Park in 1849 (Burroughs 1962; Dunham and Dunham 1977; Tennent 1981). This would have given credence to the southerly route through Brown's Park then possibly west along the Peoria Party's route. Burroughs was not a historian by training and did not see the need to cite sources (1967:8). Dunham and Dunham, who were also not historians by training, do not cite their sources (1977:74-75). Dunham and Dunham do, however, offer the following: "traces of the [Cherokee Trail] can still be seen on the bluffs north and east of the bridge over Black's Fork, for the Cherokee Trail continued to be used by many travelers for the rest of the century" (1977:75). Tennent, who is a historian, used Irving Stone's Men to Match My Mountains: The Opening of the Far West 1840-1900, as the source for information about the Cherokee's trip west (Tennent 1981:120F-134). In the most recent history of Brown's Park, Diana Allen Kouris notes that the Cherokee spent the winter of 1849-1850 in Brown's Park. While Kouris is an excellent historian, publication requirements prevented her from citing her sources. So who were these Cherokee mentioned by Kouris (1988:11-12) and others?

Hunter Creek FlatsApparently, according to the secondary sources, when the Cherokee had traveled as far west as the Rock Springs Uplift, winter set in and they turned south down Red Creek, spending the winter in Brown's Hole. This party reportedly had the double distinction of pioneering a relatively new trail and being the first to drive cattle into Brown's Park. The next spring they returned up Red Creek and descending the ridge between Sage and Currant creeks, continued on to the Green River and points west (Burroughs 1962; Dunham 1977; Tennent 1981).

We do know that Lewis Evans went west in 1849. Leaving the Cherokee Nation, he and his company moved would travel over portions of the future Overland Trail. Captain Howard Stansbury repeatedly refers to Evans' route in his 1850 journal. He also drafted a map showing "Evans' Route." Stansbury reported that Evans traveled the length of Bitter Creek. Specifically, on the 14th of September, 1850, east of present Rock Springs, Stansbury reported following "Evans' Trail" (Madsen 1989:631, Stansbury 1853:233-234). Stansbury would again report spotting Evans' wagon ruts not too far west of Bridger's Pass. Stansbury did not know that Evan's had actually passed closer to present Rawlins Wyoming and the route of the future Union Pacific Railroad. One place that Stansbury showed his subtle wisdom came in describing Evan's route.  We now know that Evans indeed went north then west and reached Bitter Creek somewhere near present Point of Rocks Wyoming.  At present Rock Springs he followed Killpecker Creek north crossing White Mountain and traveling down Skunk Canyon to the Green River. 

Historian Brigham D. Madsen notes that Lewis Evans led his group of Cherokees west under the banner of "Washington County Gold Mining Company." This company left Grand Saline, Arkansas, on April 24, 1849. The company consisted of 130 people and 40 wagons. O. W. Lipe, who sent the report to the Cherokee Advocate that was published in January 1850, accompanied Evans and appears to have been the company's chronicler. One group, according to Madsen "broke away from the Evans party" and actually took the Oregon Trail over South Pass west (Madsen 1989:631-632). 

Captain Howard Stansbury mapped Evans' westward route and also "Jones' Route" on the map made as a result of this 1850 survey (Figure 2). Evans' route is shown as following the Overland Trail. Jones' route approximates the Cherokee Trail. Unfortunately Jones is an unknown entity. The only possibility may be that he is a shadowy Mormon emigrant named "Captain Dan Jones" briefly mentioned in Stansbury's journal as arriving in the Salt Lake Valley on the 28th of October 1849 (Madsen 1989:229).

We are gaining more information about Evans' 1849 party of Cherokees. To date, most of this information is coming from several sources that allude to Evans' route (e.g., Forman 1926; Wright 1934; and Madsen 1989). Apparently one reason "Captain L. Evans" trail is so often mentioned in 1850 diaries is that when he led his company from "Washington County, Arkansas, and the Cherokee Nation" west in 1849 he took the time to carve on stones the fact that he passed a certain point. For example, "at the fork with the Santa Fe Trail" Captain Evans . . . set up a stone marked "To Fayettville, Ark, 300 miles--Capt. Evans' Com'y, May 12, 1849" (Wright 1934:164).  It appears  James Crawford and James Vann wintered in Brown's Park in 1849.  It is clear that the Cherokee emigrant parties often splintered (Wright 1934) and thus a group of Cherokees headed north to the Sweetwater River, while Evans moved west (Fletcher, Fletcher, and Whiteley 1999)

The Cherokees who traveled into Brown's Hole in 1849 pioneered a historically significant trail. Yet the question remains which group of Cherokees actually reached Brown's Park. It is clear it was more than likely not Evan's Company. There is the possibility that they were Cherokees traveling with pack horses. The travelers may even have been the ones guided by Owens from Pueblo. The Cherokee Trail into and out of Brown's Park is significant because it was possibly an alternate emigrant path. Moreover, portions of this route would eventually be used to either haul freight over, drive cattle along, or convey passengers over from Colorado and Utah communities to Wyoming's Transcontinental Railroad (Gardner 1981).

As an alternate emigrant road, the Cherokee Trail that passes through extreme southern Wyoming provides numerous problems to the historian. First, there is a paucity of written documentation concerning the Cherokee Trail in this area. Secondly, secondary sources have tended to muddy the waters concerning where the trail actually crossed the Wyoming Basin. Conflicting reports, numerous conjectures, and the difficulty in identifying actual trail remains compound this problem.

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

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