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The Journal of 2020 Foresight
Sunday, January 30, 2005  

Never the Twain Shall Meet: Branching Out from the Main Trails West

Chapter Three: The Outpost

By Steve Howard, CKO
The Knowledge Labs

Table of Contents
Chapter One: Basecamp
Chapter Two: The Ridge
Chapter Three: The Outpost
Chapter Four: The Tribal Territories

“As it was understood in Clark's lifetime, "the West" was a boundary in motion that started along the western stretches of the original 13 colonies and moved steadily across the continent. When the Clark family decamped from Virginia, for example, the western wilderness (frontier) was to be found in the Ohio River Valley, and the family seat was established in "a bustling hamlet of about a hundred log cabins" called Louisville.”

Jonathan Kirsch

VIRGINIA LAKES, California. Once you’re in the High Sierras, it’s difficult not to meander away from the main route. After barely beating the closure of the Sonora Pass, hanging out on the Walker River,
and visiting Napoleon’s Guest Ranch we figured it was time for us to explore the back country to sample some of the 24 lakes in the mountains. We sent Trailblazer the change in our itinerary, and by return email, well, he was “Jiggy wid it.”

Journal of 2020 Foresight: From Alexander Mackenzie in 1790 to John Freemont in the 1840s, the early explorers and trailblazers zeroed in on the broad California and Nevada region – to fill in the emerging territory map.

Pathfinder: Over the next decade a from 1840 to 1850 a lot happens to drive the Great Migration westward – mostly led by second generation explorers and trailblazers.

Explorer: True. In 1843 guided by Kit Carson, John C. Fremont launches a more ambitious expedition into the West, traveling from the Great Salt Lake north into Oregon, then across the Sierra Nevada Mountains into California, and finally eastward across what Fremont calls the "Great Basin" and over the Wasatch Mountains to the Arkansas River in Colorado.

J2020F: Fremont's report, published in 1844, becomes a best seller, and his map of the West becomes a reference guide to emigrants taking advantage of the work of a early pioneers from 1792 to 1830 and and from 1831 to 1840 on the Oregon Trail.

Pathfinder: In 1843, the Great Migration, a party of one thousand pioneers heads west from Independence, Missouri, on the Oregon Trail, guided by Dr. Marcus Whitman, who is returning to his mission on the Columbia River.

J2020F: Well, back in Osage County, Missouri the children of the pioneer settlers were glad to sell their land and move further west. Immigrant and pioneer settler alike went west in a Wagon Train bound for the Gold fields of California and 1850 brought a cholera epidemic that is thought to have resulted in the death of half the population.

Pathfinder: Forming a train of more than one hundred wagons, and trailing a herd of 5,000 cattle, the pioneers travel along the south bank of the Platte, then cross north to Fort Laramie in Wyoming. Here they follow the North Platte to the Sweetwater, which leads up into South Pass. Once through the pass, they cross the Green River Valley to newly established Fort Bridger, then turn north to Fort Hall on the Snake River, which leads them to Whitman's Mission.

Explorer: Twain on the other hand turns south and follows Walkers trail into Carson City. Which looks like from the 1895 map that he must enter somewhere near the top right hand corner of Humboldt County – the northeast corner. He then roams the region where Lake Tahoe defines the California and Nevada border, just before Nevada border shears off 45 degrees southeast.

Journal of 2020 Foresight: There’s just something about this place. I can’t put my finger on it. Something about the effect nature has on us human beings.

Explorer: Well, it’s the same spell Mark Twain felt as he traipsed through here. He and Calvin Higby – his mining partner -- “They made a walking trip to Yosemite, carrying their packs, camping and fishing in that far, tremendous isolation, which in those days few human beings had ever visited at all. Such trips furnished a delicious respite from the fevered struggle around tunnel and shaft. Amid mountain-peaks and giant forests and by tumbling falls the quest for gold hardly seemed worthwhile. More than once that summer he went alone into the wilderness to find his balance and to get away entirely from humankind.”

Eagle: Starting at from Virginia Lakes and radiating out from the Yosemite basecamp, our adventure took us way out into the wilderness past where the occasional tourist would go – in the early 1800s would rightfully be called The Tribal Territories.

Explorer: On such a short time frame, we wouldn’t have been able to see and experience so much without the help of the outfitters and local guides.

Pathfinder: And I just loved seeing their families old photos – here’s a couple of the family patriarchs “Boots I and II” -- the William Bluford Taylors. You can easily imagine their beginnings as emigrants following the trail west and settling into this area. Look, there’s Boot II – the first Sierra Forest Ranger at Red’s Meadow circa 1899.

Explorer: So, this place and others like it throughout the West must have served as a strong magnet to families and adventure seekers like Twain around the time of the Civil War.

J2020F: Like Twain’s personal story, the Civil War was also a difficult time for the citizens of Osage County. A few of the earliest settlers had brought slaves. Most settlers from New England, Pennsylvania, and the immigrants from England and Europe did not own slaves nor agree with the practice.

Explorer: I remember when we shot the bull in Lake Tahoe you told us that Larry McMurty wrote about his family leaving Missouri around the same time.

Eagle: Careful. We were sitting, but no dancing horse performed.

J2020F: Ugh! That’s right. Before and during the Civil War several Osage County families with southern roots moved to Arkansas and Texas, but northern families moved to Kansas.

Explorer: His went to Texas, right?

J2020F: Right. If my great-great grandfather had survived the Civil War, he might have moved like many of those that supported the North and served in the Union Army after the War.

Explorer: But instead, like the German immigrant families and their descendants, they stayed put, right?

J2020F: Right. They lived only a few miles from Daniel Boone’s settlement. If they had caught gold fever, like Twain they might have caught the stage in Pauldingville. site of Kenner's Tavern and Stage Coach Stop on Booneslick Road.

Pathfinder: Then they’d make their way up the Missouri River to Jefferson City, Independence and St. Joseph. The general route began at various jumping off points along the Missouri River and stretched to various points in California, Oregon, and the Sierra Nevada.

Explorer: This site says the specific route that emigrants and forty-niners used depended on their starting point in Missouri, their final destination in California, the condition of their wagons and livestock, and yearly changes in water and forage along the different routes.

Pathfinder: Roughly four times as many (250,000 gold-seekers and farmers) chose the route to California through Nevada as those who took the Oregon Trail when they had a choice. They left Missouri in May and had to make the Sierras before October, or risk the “Donner Party Fate.”

J2020F: It looks like from these maps that two trails from northeast Nevada branched into a 5 or 6 routes surrounding the Reno and Carson City region. According to the National Park Service, “Today, more than 1,000 miles of trail ruts and traces can still be seen in the vast undeveloped lands between Casper Wyoming and the West Coast, reminders of the sacrifices, struggles, and triumphs of early American travelers and settlers.”

Pathfinder: The Nevada routes terminated in north central California. Each of the trails became known as the Applegate Trail. Nobles Trail, Lassen Trail, Beckwourth Trail, Truckee Route, Carson Route, and perhaps the most important, the Walker River - Sonora Route

Explorer: In the spirit of the times, Mark Twain fled civilization to rampant individualism and lawlessness – something he’d later regret in his writings, but in the beginning, he thrilled to the adventure. “I dreamed all night about Indians, deserts, and silver bars, and in due time, next day, we took shipping at the St. Louis wharf on board a steamboat bound up the Missouri River.”

J2020F: I remember you telling us that with a $150 ticket in hand he left by Ben Holliday’s overland coach for Nevada City, with only 25 pounds of luggage.

Eagle: A trip rule that might have made our journey a little more comfortable!

Explorer: Right. On the fifth day of his journey – the crossing of the South Platte at Julesburg (or Overland City)“ -- 750 miles from St. Joseph to Carson City he sings Ben Holladay’s praises, while at the same time he laments the characters encountered along the way. “The station-keepers, hostlers, etc., were low, rough characters, as already described; and from western Nebraska to Nevada a considerable sprinkling of them might be fairly set down as outlaws--fugitives from justice, criminals whose best security was a section of country which was without law and without even the pretence of it.”

J2020F: This is in 1860 or 1861, so wouldn’t the Pony Express have used the same trails? I remember we discovered that US 50 between Sacramento and Carson City and then 1900 miles east to Missouri marked their route.

Explorer: Yeah, that’s right. Here’s the beginning to Twain’s passage: “In a little while all interest was taken up in stretching our necks and watching for the "pony-rider"--the fleet messenger who sped across the continent from St. Joe to Sacramento, carrying letters nineteen hundred miles in eight days!”

Pathfinder: The pony express riders, the overland stages and emigrant wagon trains followed a string of forts and outposts continuing on through the South Pass to the Sierra Nevada’s. While other on Overland trails almost always meandered through narrow mountain passes, Hunt’s South Pass turned out to be ideal for wagon trains and stagecoaches.

Explorer: Twain noted his passing of Fort Laramie, for example.

Eagle: Known as a pivotal trading post developed by William Sublette in the early days and as one of may sites where the US Government signed and broke major treaties with the Indians – with the Sioux in the 1860s. Sitting Bull saw the writing on the wall, as it were, and refused to attend the Fort Laramie ceremonies.

Pathfinder: Not only did stagecoaches and wagon trains encounter the hardships passing through the Rocky Mountains, but, they faced some of toughest terrain when they next faced the Sierra Nevada’s.

Explorer: Twain describes the many times he crossed the Sierra Nevada’s and endured the tall tales of the drivers and conductors.
And if the ruts and rocks didn’t jar your teeth lose, then you were subject to the dreaded “‘Washoe Zephyr’ set in; a soaring dust-drift about the size of the United States set up edgewise came with it, and the capital of Nevada Territory disappeared from view.”

J2020F: Now, didn’t we already find out that Nevada had originally been a part of Utah? Washoe sounds familiar.

Explorer: Yes, Twain claimed it was called Washoe or Carson County and tells how the rapid influx of emigrants tipped the majority voting scales from the Mormon settlers to the miners and their interests.

Pathfinder: Well, during the 1860s money talked. Even Lincoln needed funds to finance the Union side of the Civil War.

Explorer: Not only is Twain’s life in mining camps interesting, but his descriptions of the riches extracted from the Gold Hill Mines and others in Humboldt County, with his analysis of the millions of dollars tied up in the Capitalist’s enterprises outsourcing to Liverpool, England for processing reads like the Wall Street Journal today.

J2020F: Following his curiosity, though, almost killed him.

Got Knowledge?
Copyright ©2002 - 2006 Aarnaes Howard Associates. All rights reserved worldwide.

9:29 AM

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