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Story of The Applegate Trail 

1996 marks the 150th anniversary of the Applegate Trail, the southern route of the Oregon Trail. It was blazed in 1846 as an alternate and safer route to The Willamette Valley. Three brothers, Lindsay, Jesse, and Charles Applegate and their extended families came to Oregon on the original Oregon Trail during the first major migration in 1843. As the party was rafting down the river just outside The Dalles one of their rafts capsized and Lindsay's son Warren, age 9, Jesse's son Edward, also age 9, along with Alexander Mac  age 70 drowned. This tragedy made the brothers determined to save others and find a safer route to the Oregon Territory.

By the Spring of 1846, the brothers had settled in the Willamette Valley, planted crops and built cabins, but they were determined to find a safer route for emigration. Charles stayed home to care for the family and land. Lindsay and Jesse, along with Levi Scott and ten others formed a scouting party to be known as the the South Road Expedition. On June 20, 1846, they left La Creole Creek, now Rickreall, near Dallas, Oregon on their journey south. They traveled down the Willamette Valley through what is now Corvallis and Eugene. They continued on to just south of Ashland, then turned east, reaching Greensprings Mountain. 

On theyrode across Oregon and Nevada until they reached the Humboldt River, then they turned north along the river for 200 miles.

Being short on supplies, Jesse Applegate was chosen to lead the party continuing onto Fort Hall, Idaho to get supplies and inform emigrants about the new trail. The others proceeded up the Humboldt to where Winnemucca is now and set up a rendezvous and rested the stock. The Applegate Trail runs from Humboldt, Nevada to Dallas, Oregon. Near Humboldt it joins the California Trail, running from near Fort Hall, Idaho to the gold country of California.

As the wagon trains collected at Fort Hall Idaho, the newest trail known as Applegate was a viable optionfor wagon masters. Applegate was and easier route than the main Oregon Trail, but it had it's own risks.

West a few miles from Fort Hall, at the Snake River, the trail moved south following the Humbolt River and passing through The Black Rock Desert of Nevada, the trail entered what is now known as Modoc County California. The trail in a north-westerly direction moved past Goose and Tule Lakes (see note #1) to Lost River, crossing there to the Klamath Basin, then over the low Cascade Range into Southern Oregon. 

In Oregon the trail then followed Keene Creek to the Siskiyou Mountains where it followed the south branch of the Rogue River, then north to the Umpqua River, then forded the Umpqua River and passed through the Calapooya Mountains into the Willamette Valley.

Note #1: It was at a place known as Bloody Meadows near the Tule Lakes area that Indians massacred 65 people on a wagon train. It was blamed on the Modoc Indians, but the Modoc said it was another tribe further east that attacked the wagon train. That could be true, but Bloody Meadows is in the Klamath and Modoc Indians territory.

On August 9, 1846 a group of as many as 100 wagons set out from Fort Hall to cross the new Applegate Trail. In September, the first of the wagons left the Humboldt River and headed across the Black Rock Desert, a treacherous section of the trail filled with Indian attacks, overpowering heat, and very little forage for the animals. Next the wagons rolled into Surprise Valley, then onto Goose Lake and Tule Lake. The party crossed the Lost River on a natural stone bridge, the bridge and a marker to record the expedition are near Merrill, Oregon. The wagons then swung southwest around lower Klamath Lake and on towards Greensprings in the southeast corner of what is now Jackson County.

Levi Scott led the wagon train on from present day Ashland towards the Willamette Valley. The rains had started by the time the wagons reached the Rogue Valley and from here on it would be either rain or snow for weather conditions. Brush and trees made the the trail hard to clear, but the men who joined the Applegate Train had to guarantee to do the road building and clearing needed to be done before more emigrants could use the trail. The train lost Meadow's Vanderpool's flock of sheep at Rock Point to the Indians, and Martha Leland Crowley, a young girl, died October 18, 1846, while the train was moving across present day Sunny Valley, Oregon.

The creek where Martha Crowley died was aptly named Grave Creek. A covered bridge, built in 1920, still spans the creek. The wagon train continued through the southwestern valleys of Oregon until they reached their final destination in the Willamette Valley.

The group had survived much hardship, but they created a new passage to the Oregon Territory that would be used for many years.

In 1853 over 3500 men, women, and children took this route. Today, Interstate 5 and Highway 66 cover the same route. The Applegate was designated a National Historic Trail by the US Congress on August 3, 1992. Known as the southern route of the Oregon Trail, the Applegate Trail provided an alternative for settlers who wanted to avoid the perils of the Columbia River. Not all settlers appreciated the trail some even felt the Applegates had hindered rather than helped them on their way. Time proved the real test, however. After nearly 150 years the Applegate Trail endures as the basis for the state's major transportation routes, allowing today's traveler the opportunity to retrace the steps of Oregon's early trailblazers.

Credits: This article was based on materials provided by the
Southern Oregon Historical Society and the Josephine County Historical Society.

  American Trails is the only national trails advocacy organization working for the common interests of all trails users.

Mentioned above, the Greensprings is the southeastern corner of present day Jackson County. For 11,000 years, seasonal visitors have come here for sustenance and renewal. Hundreds of springs, green glades, and lush meadows mix with towering forests on this layered and fractured volcanic plateau half-a-mile above the Rogue Valley. Three floras--from California, the Great Basin, and     northern forests--bring together oak savannahs, sage flats with junipers, and old growth f irs. Since the Ice Age, this rich botanic tapestry has attracted wildlife, native hunters, pioneers, ranchers, timbermen, and modern travellers.