Pioneering the Trail  an Overview  (Cherokee Trail Diaries CTD V 1) 

In 1849 a Cherokee wagon train from the Nation and wagon groups of whites mainly from Washington County, Arkansas rendezvoused on the Grand [Neosho] River at the Grand Saline [salt works] for the sole purpose of going to the California Goldfields.

 There they elected officers with Lewis Evans of Evansville, Arkansas as Captain; Thomas Tyner, 1st Lt.; Peter Mankins, 2nd Lt.; Joseph Waits, 1st Sarg; George North 2nd Sarg;, S B M [Squire Marrs] 3rd Sarg; J[ames] Crawford 1st Division Wagonmaster; Jno Cline 2nd____; Js McCullock 3rd____; Henry Freyschlag 4th___. Cherokees James Vann, Secretary; and Martin Scrimpsher, Commissary were also elected. Not on the list was Dinkley, the sutler at Fort Gibson, who joined the company.

 Under Evans/ leadership the forty-wagon train pioneered [built] the first wagon road northwest through northeastern Oklahoma, crossing the Verdigris River near Coody’s Bluff. The train continued northwest passing just east of present-day Wann, Oklahoma entering the Osage Diminished Reserve in present day Kansas. 

This company information including a printed list of participants can be found in Cherokee Trail Diaries, Vol I  Chapter 3."Rendezvous at the Grand Saline" 

Entering south central Kansas, present Montgomery County, traveling on the highlands between the Verdigris and Caney Rivers, the 40 wagons and 129 people crossed the Walnut River at present El Dorado, Kansas and the Whitewater River near present Potwin, Kansas.  

On May 13, 1849 the wagon train struck the Santa Fe Trail at Running Turkey Creek east of McPherson, and south of Galva, Kansas. A large stone was found, chiseled with a description of the route just taken and placed at this location. It would later become the site of the Fuller ranch and a post office. (visit the Galva Museum for details and information on the Cherokee Trail). 

Lt. Abraham Buford, military escort for the Santa Fe mail returning east, wrote: "Arrived at Turkey Creek...[considering mail safe]...followed the trail     made by Capt. Evans... crossed the Verdigris at Big Island...[proceeding to Fort Gibson 6/27/49] wrote:.."Emigrating parties leaving Arkansas...would do well to follow this is a good and plain way to the old Santa Fe trace...parties leaving Fort Smith..should not, on any account whatever, go by way of Santa Fe...". Southern Shield  Helena, Ark 28 July 1849  p. 3    [Buford had traveled west to Santa Fe along the Canadian River leaving Sept. 1848 and knew the dangers of that route.]                    

 Proceeding west along the "wet route" of the Santa Fe Trail passing Fort Mann [Dodge City, Kansas] the Evans/Cherokee wagon train remained in the forefront of the 1849 California emigration. Leaving the mountain branch of the Santa Fe Trail at Bent's Old Fort (CO) the train continued west, up the Arkansas River to Pueblo. Evan's/Cherokee Company member Davis wrote about Pueblo, "No persons live here but about 10 men and as many women, the most abandoned set of thieves, Mexicans, Indians, half breeds, that ever disgraced any spot on earth, and as lousy as rabbits."




Here a split in the company occurred. A large number of members sold their wagons and formed a “pack” company, hiring mountain man Kit Carson's comrade Dick Owens as guide.  

Owens led the packers northeast along the South Platte River to Fort St. Vrain ( northeast of Denver), crossing the Cache la Poudre River, proceeding north and then west through southern Wyoming near the Colorado border, an old trapper/trader route, to the vicinity of Brown’s Hole (Park) on the Green River, and on to Fort Bridger.

This was the old trapper/ trader route between the four fur-trading forts. Forts St.Vrain (Bent & St.Vrain 1835); Lancaster (Lupton 1836); Jackson (Sarpy & Fraeb 1837); Vasquez (Vasquez & Sublette 1837)) on the South Platte and  Fort Davy Crockett  (William Craig, Prewitt Sinclair, & Philip Thompson 1836) on the Green river in Brown's Hole. (Park) Another mountain man guiding the Ithaca packers over this trail to Fort Uinta was Charles Kinney.

 Captain Lewis Evans/Cherokee wagon company, joined by other wagons from Santa Fe, proceeded from Pueblo north along the front range of the Rocky Mountains on the old Trappers or Divide Trail. This trail, from Santa Fe to Fort Laramie, ran east of Colorado Springs, over “the divide” between the Arkansas and South Platte rivers watersheds, then north down Cherry Creek to the South Platte River, where Denver now stands.

Traveling northeast along the east bank of the South Platte passing the remnants of three trading forts they arrived at the remains of Fort St. Vrain. From the planks of the fort they built a ferry boat and floated it 17 miles to the confluence of the South Platte and Cache la Poudre River east of present Greeley. The Evans/Cherokee wagon train left the trading forts’ trace, forded the South Platte and proceeded west.

With no guide, they again pioneered [built] the wagon road from the crossing of the South Platte River near present Greeley, Colorado west and north to Fort Bridger.

Their route, west along the north bank of the Poudre River through present Fort Collins turned north along Boxelder Creek passing what would become in 1862 the site of the Virginia Dale Stage Station on the Overland Stage and Mail route. They followed John C. Fremont's  oute north onto the Laramie Plains of present Wyoming.

The Evans/Cherokee train traveled north, six miles west of present Laramie, Wyoming, rounding the north end of Medicine Bow Mountains, turning south around Elk Mountain to Pass Creek, then southwest to ford the upper North Platte River near present Pick Bridge. Crossing, the wagon train proceeded west to the foot of the Atlantic Rim [Continental Divide], then, finding they could not proceed over Bridger Pass “for want of grass and water” drove north to present Rawlins [Springs], Wyoming. Several wagons continued north (as Fremont had done on the later named "Sweetwater Cutoff") but returned to join the other wagons of the west bound train.

 The train crossed the Red Desert to Bitter Creek, then went west to present Rock Springs [approximately Interstate 80], where, unable to proceed west, the train turned north and west around the White Mountains to the Green River After crossing the Green River, the wagon train struck the California Trail at Ham's Fork [present Granger]went southwest to Fort Bridger, and proceeded west to the Great Salt Lake.

This trail that originated at Fort Gibson/Tahlequah in Oklahoma and went to Fort Bridger was subsequently named "The Cherokee Trail." It was also referred to as the "1849 Evans/Cherokee Trail," the "Fort Smith to California," the "Fayetteville to California," or The "Arkansas" Route.


Route to California from Salt Lake

 At Salt Lake [City] the 1849 Evans/Cherokee wagon train left the main emigrant route running north [Hensley], and instead traveled west around the south end of the Salt Lake over the Salt Desert. The route was known as the Hastings Cutoff; and the Evans/Cherokee wagon train was one if not the first major train to take this trail in 1849, and one of few to traverse this route since the ill-fated Donner Party crossed it in 1846. Recent research indicates that the wagons left 21 miles east of Donner's Spring by these 1849ers have been erroneously identified as belonging to the Donner party. A recently-found diary indicates that some of James Reed’s books [but no wagons!] were found in the sand by members of the 1849 Evans/Cherokee wagon train.

 Separations within the 1849 Evans/Cherokee wagon company on the Humboldt River resulted in members of the train arriving in California on each of the three major trails--the Carson, Truckee, and Lassen routes. Those who took the Carson route traveled some of the way with Chief Truckee and his band.

1850 Cherokee Wagon Trail (CTD V2)

Where the various crossings of the Verdigris River were, in what time periods, and who crossed where have remained more or less a mystery until recently. Bill Maggard, raised in and around Nowata and knowing the area, and remembering the stories heard as a child,  and with assistance from his wife Darlene, using the diaries in our first book, have answered those questions. The crossings he found are marked on the HERITAGE MAP of NOWATA COUNTY compiled by Herb Couch, drafted by Robert Demos, Map made for and distributed by The Nowata County Historical Museum, Nowata, OK



In early spring, 1850, four separate wagon trains crossed the Verdigris River south of present Nowata, Oklahoma, within two weeks’ time, setting out to follow the trail blazed by Lewis Evans in 1849. The first 1850 wagon train, under Captain Edmonson, would remain in the forefront of the loosely-organized caravan all the way to California. The first three, 1850 ox trains composed of Cherokee and whites, were Captained by Edmonson [Edmondson, Edmiston] and Holmes from Arkansas, and Alfred Oliver from southwest Missouri. The fourth, drawn by horses and mules, was Captain Clement Vann McNair’s all-Cherokee train. Through Oklahoma, Kansas, and most of Colorado, the 1850 route varied little from Evans’ 1849 route.

East of the then-destroyed [August 1849] Bent’s Old Fort, the Edmonson company hired Delaware/French guide Ben Simons. At present Denver, Simons did not follow down the South Platte River to the confluence of the Cache la Poudre River [present Greeley, Colorado] as the Evans/Cherokee company had done in 1849. Instead, Simons crossed the South Platte River there and struck north toward present Laporte through present Longmont, Loveland, and west Fort Collins [Highway 287]. Holmes’and McNair's wagon trains followed the route blazed by Edmonson, while Oliver, in possession of  Lewis Evans’ 1849 Journal, followed the Evans/Cherokee route along the South Platte River to Greeley before turning west.

Clement Vann McNair's train (following Edmonson’s route) stopped north of present Denver, spending two days panning gold on a small creek. Cherokee diarist John Lowery Brown noted the finding of gold on a creek they named Ralston for the discover  Note: Remembering this gold find, some of the same Cherokee and their white Georgia relatives returned to Colorado in 1858 to pan gold. A discovery by the Georgians led to the 1859 Pike’s Peak Gold Rush.

On the north side of the Cache la Poudre River, all four 1850 companies rejoined and proceeded north. Near Steamboat Rock the trains joined the Evans/Cherokee Trail of 1849 and followed it north to the Laramie Plains. On entering the Laramie Plains north of the Colorado border near present Tie Siding, the guide Ben Simon turned first Edmonson and then the other three trains west, leaving the 1849 Evans/Cherokee Trail. The four trains were now on the packer trader trail between the four long abandoned fur forts on the South Platte and Green River north of Brown's Hole, today's Flaming Gorge, Wyoming

Again the Edmonson wagon train pioneered [built] a new wagon road that roughly followed the Colorado/Wyoming state border to the North Platte and Green Rivers. Crossing the North Platte River in North Park, they traveled northwest to cross the Encampment River at Riverside, Wyoming. The trains continued westerly, fording the Green River near present Buckboard Crossing [Flaming Gorge]. McNair's Cherokee train [now captained by Thomas Fox Taylor], abandoned their wagons for "Packing". All four companied reached Fort Bridger, joining the main California Trail there.                           

Their route became known as the 1850 or Southern Cherokee Trail and would become heavily used over the next decade or so. By 1857, the year of the Mountain Meadow Massacre, emigration and cattle drives over this trail would surpass numbers of  either the Oregon or the California trails.

In 1850 the Oliver and Holmes ox wagon train companies, and the Cherokee packers, left Salt Lake taking the Hastings Cutoff route south of Salt Lake, the same as taken by the 1849 Evans/Cherokee wagon train. Members of the 1850 trains suffered twice from bouts of cholera; first at Hope Wells, Tooele Co, Utah. Dead were the son-in-law of Cherokee Chief John Ross, Return Jonathan Meigs  Aug. 6th; Runaway Tuff, slave Aug 7th & Russell Aug.7th. Second at Donner Springs, Box Elder Co., Utah, the dead were: on August 11th  Gabriel M. Martin, Cherokee; Henry Street, Seneca; & Davis, white.

The three diarists took the Carson Route over the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the gold fields

In California (CTD V2, Epilogue)

The areas of gold finds or strikes were often named after the person, group or state the miners were from. During the gold rush the Cherokee, with their previous gold mining experience in Georgia, were associated with many bars, diggings, creeks, flats, etc. with the result that California had more Cherokee place names than any other state.

Many of the members of the 1849 and 1850 trains stayed to follow their trade or profession; some went into business, mainly cattle. Starting in 1851 tens of thousands of Arkansas, Cherokee and east Texas cattle were driven to California over the Cherokee Trail, in ever increasing numbers until 1860, when California could take no more cattle.

Emigrant trains from sw Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas to Utah, California, and Oregon surpassed the cattle drives, continuing through the 1850s, -60s, -70s and into the early -80s. Many of the emigrant trains were composed of extended or very close families moving all of their possessions and cattle. The most noted of these was the Baker/Fancher train from Arkansas, most of them massacred at Mountain Meadows, Utah, on September 11, 1857.

The Cherokee Trail to Other Areas (CTD V3, Cpt 9)

Emigrants for Oregon traveled the Cherokee Trail beginning in 1853. The finding of gold in 1850 (recorded in the diary mentioned above) led to the expeditions over the Cherokee Trail to Colorado in 1858. The stampede to the Colorado or Pike’s Peak gold rush in 1859 and subsequently to the goldfields of Idaho in 1862 and Montana in 1864 were important to the longevity of the Cherokee Trail. . A diarist living a El Dorado, Kansas recorded the traffic to the Pikes Peak gold fields." Over one hundred wagons passing daily"; last of April "great many droves of cattle came in"; a  man reported "The road was covered with wagons from here to Fort Gibson on the way to Pike's Peak". The latest research shows that by1857 the traffic over the Cherokee Trail to the west surpassed both the California and Oregon traffic over the South Pass route. See Mike Landon's article in the Spring 2011 Overland Journal. Research may show that it also surpassed the Southern Trail traffic and in 1859 traffic over the Arkansas/Cherokee route would equal the South Platte route and surpass the Smoky Hill Trail.

Cattle Drives East Over the Cherokee Trail (CTD V 3pp.373-382)

The eastward livestock drives of cattle and later sheep in the 1870s and -80s, from Oregon and Washington to the grasslands of Wyoming and Colorado, were the last continental use of the Cherokee Trail. Homesteading roads and highways in southern Wyoming, and highways in Colorado appear to be the last local uses of the Cherokee Trail. In Kansas and northeast Oklahoma, the War Between The States halted traffic in 1862.

The Future of the Cherokee Trail

Trail segments (ruts and swales) and sites (campsites, springs, creeks, rivers, and pilot points) remain visible in Kansas, increase in number in Colorado, and are plentiful today in Wyoming. The authors’ research and maps have been turned over to government agencies to be used for verification to qualify the Cherokee Trail for status as a branch of the California National Historic Trail. As part of the congressional Ominous Bill  the National Park  Service has conducted their scoping (public input) sessions that appear very favorable. National  Historic Trail designation will take congressional action. Efforts are under way to acquaint  the public and congressional members and their staffs with the significance of the Cherokee Trail. Jack and Pat Fletcher will continue their work toward that goal, and ask each of you for your help in trail protection and making the public and our legislatures aware of this national heritage.

The above is from the authors’ books on the Cherokee Trail.
e-mail Dr. Jack E. & Patricia K.A. Fletcher. for more information

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