Gold Rush 49ers, Fort Hall to the City of Rocks

West of Soda Springs the main emigrant trail turned northwest along the Portneuf River and on to the Snake River. The trading post of Fort Hall sat on a large plain where Lewis’ Fork met the Snake. Built in 1834 by Nathaniel Wyeth to supply the fur traders and Indians, it was said to be small and poorly made. In 1838 it was sold to Hudson Bay Company. Past the fort the trail continued along the Snake River then, at a narrow gap along the road that came to be called Massacre Rocks because of an ambush in 1851 from the local Shoshone Indians led by a Chief called Has No Horse, the trail split at another parting of the ways. Those who were bound for California and the gold rush headed south while those destined for Oregon went west.

The Tetons and the Snake River, Ansel Adams

Fort Hall, 1849

Badger from The Wind in the Willows

By now many of the emigrants were meeting the mountain men who had lived and explored the Rocky Mountains most of their lives. From them they heard of a shortcut that left the main trail five miles past Soda Springs. Called the Hudspeth’s Cutoff it was said to be 175 miles shorter, but it had five mountain ranges to cross and effectively saved no time. Many 49ers took it however, and it was here that they noted a large number of rattlesnakes. One man wrote of a colony of badgers that lived in burrows near the trail. By now some emigrants traveled by foot, carrying all they owned on their back. Others still had pack mules and a few used oxen to carry their supplies. When they reached the Raft River and the main trail again and learned it was still 130 miles to the Humboldt River they were sorely disappointed.

City of Rocks, Idaho, Trailhead NPS

By now little things meant a lot to the emigrants. The song of a brown thrush in the middle of the Rockies sounded like a thrush from the east and evoked memories of home and friends, a small bed of onions someone had planted nearly brought tears. Soon they crossed a broad valley with a range of volcanic hills nearby and entered a deep ravine that took them along vast piles of rocks. Called the City of Rocks, the valley was several miles long by a half-mile wide. James Wilkins said it looked like “a dismantled, rock-built city of the Stone Age.” Here the trail from Salt Lake City rejoined the main trail to California.

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