Gold Rush 49ers cross the Rocky Mountains

The road west was well marked. Even today the deep ruts of iron rimmed wheels scar the land. The emigrants made a slow, steady approach to the 7,550-foot South Pass that sat between two low rocky hills about 60 feet high, with the Antelope Hills to the south and the Wind River Range on the north.

Wagon ruts, Phil Konstantin

A few miles below the pass Pacific Spring rose in the middle of a dry, barren valley. Filled with fresh, clear water and surrounded by lush grass it was named because a stream from it ran off to the west.

South Pass

They had now crossed the Rockies, survived the cholera outbreak of 1849, the loss of needed animals, breakdowns and the bitter, alkaline water that had plagued them since Fort Laramie. Hope flowered in many hearts. It would be downhill from here. The worst was over. That hope would quickly fade. The hardest part of their long trek had just begun. The nights were cold. Frost covered men who slept on the ground. Days were hot. Past Pacific Springs the first drinking water in a while was found in the Dry Sandy River.  Aptly named because the surface was often dry. Shallow wells had to be dug down to reach the harsh, bitter water below.

Green River meeting of Indians and trappers

South of the Dry Sandy the trail split at a place called the Parting of the Ways. One trail led to the Green River and Fort Bridger. The other, the Sublette-Greenwood cutoff, saved many miles but crossed a 50-mile stretch of waterless desert. Many 49ers, in a hurry to get to the gold fields, chose the shorter route. This was the point where friendships made along the way might end, as those who took the main trial would likely lose touch with those following the cutoff.

Big Sandy Creek WY

Eight miles further the main trail crossed the Little Sandy River. Many emigrants camped here to reorganize after losing friends to the cutoff. There was good water and grass. Both routes had a difficult ford across the Big Sandy and then many long, dry miles without water. Here they would fill every container they could then, because of the oppressive daytime heat, travel at night. If all went well they would make the Green River the next day. A ferry had been set up in 1843, but like the Mormon Ferry earlier, there was a long wait to cross and prices were steep.



  1. Well told. Great pictures. Thanks.

  2. Really like the article, well done

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