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 hopefully safer route to Oregon. 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 through the rapids on the Columbia River just outside The Dalles one of their rafts capsized in the current and Lindsay's son Warren, age 9, Jesse's son Edward, also age 9, along with Alexander Mac (Uncle Mac, age 70) drowned. This tragedy made the brothers determined to save others similar grief and find a safer route to the Oregon Territory.

By the Spring of 1846, the brothers had settled in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, planted crops and built cabins, but they were determined to find a safer, more secure 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 about where Highway 66 crosses today. On they traveled 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., see map (65K))

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 travelers 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 and trouble, but they created a new passage to the Oregon Territory that would be used for many years.

In 1853 alone over 3500 men, women, and children took this route. Today, Interstate 5 and Highway 66 travel 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.

The men of the South Road Expedition and their lives afterward

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

Josephine County Historical Society

Josephine County: The Golden Beginnings Short histories of the towns that make up Josephine County

Interesting Names and Places in Oregon

Southern Oregon PAF (Personal Ancestral File) Users Group

Sons and Daughters of Oregon Pioneers

Links about the Oregon Trail

Oregon Pioneers - 1843 Wagon Train

Ashland Oregon Airport Early History

Sunny Valley Applegate Trail Interpretive Center

A Guide to Modern-Day Oregon Trails

Southern Oregon Historical Society

American Trails Home Page
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 firs. Since the Ice Age, this rich botanic tapestry has attracted wildlife, native hunters, pioneers, ranchers, timbermen, and modern travellers.


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