Gold Rush 49ers along the Humboldt River

Emigrants to California continued southwest from the City of Rocks through Granite Pass and on about 100 miles to the Humboldt River, the river that would lead them to within sight of the Sierra Nevada, the last major hurdle on the road to California. Fed by melt water from the Ruby Mountains the beautiful river valley was at first a welcome sight, covered with lush grass for their animals and running with a fresh, cool stream filled with trout. But their joy was short lived. The alkali dust that had plagued them for so long was everywhere, irritating eyes and throats and blackening faces like they had been covered in ash. Days were exceedingly hot while standing water froze at night. But antelope, black tailed deer, sage hens, and prairie dogs were everywhere, a welcome relief to those whose rations were now desperately low.

Ruby Mountains NV

After traveling 60 miles along the river they came to the narrow Carlin Canyon. Depending on the height of the river, the wagons would have to ford the Humboldt up to nine times to get through the five-mile long canyon. Then the trail climbed across Emigrant Gap before returning to the river at Gravely Ford. Here many emigrants camped to rest and some mowed the lush grass in preparation for the hard trek across the barren 40-Mile Desert to come. The farther west they went the grass would become poorer and the river more alkaline. Along the road they would meet Mormons traveling to Salt Lake City from California and hear news of the abundance of gold. Rumors of Indian raids were common. Wolves prowled along the convoys, preying on the weakened draft animals.

Carlin Canyon NV photo by C. Thomas

Then they came to the wells of the Humboldt Sink. In a number of holes dug by emigrants the barely drinkable, sulfurous, salty water was the last they would have for many miles. Some surface water here was so bad it would kill their oxen. Just past the wells was a muddy lake. One man called it “a veritable sea of slime, an ocean of ooze, a bottomless bed of alkaline poison, which emitted a nauseous odor and presented the appearance of utter desolation.” This was the Humboldt Sink where the waters of the river disappeared into the sand. But there was grass here and men mowed it and stored it, for beyond the sink lay the fearsome 40 Mile Desert.

Humboldt River, by Daniel A. Jenks



  1. Marlene Smith-Baranzini says

    Hello, I wish to contact John Putnam. Please reply by email. Thank you. 10/16/13.

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.