The Way West

The California Trail was first developed in the early 1840s by emigrants seeking land in the country’s far western frontier. The main route of the trail ran through southern Idaho and joined the Humboldt River in Nevada. However, the trail has been described as a frayed rope with many cutoffs and feeder routes at both ends. The specific routes emigrants or gold seekers used depended on their starting point in Missouri, their final destination in California, the condition of their livestock and wagons, their willingness to take risks with shortcuts, and yearly changes in water and forage.

This historic marker is located at Henefer Pioneer Trails Park in Henefer, Utah and is part of The California Trail.

Hastings Cutoff

By 1845, Lansford W. Hastings was convinced that the best route to California lay through the Wasatch Mountains. His route was used from 1846 to 1852 and was then abandoned because of the difficult 83-mile waterless Great Salt Desert crossing. The Donner-Reed party, lagging far behind the majority of the 1846 emigration, following Hasting’s shortcut in a desperate attempt to make up lost time. At the Weber River crossing, just upstream from present-day Henefer, they found a letter from Hastings attached to a sagebrush. He indicated that the trail downriver was very bad for wagons. Camping near the river, at the head of the canyon in the distance, they waited four precious days for James F. Reed and two others to find Hastings and return with news of his new route.

If you had been here on Tuesday morning, August 11, 1846, you would have witnessed the Donner-Reed party moving up Main Canyon, to your left, en route to their destiny in the winter snows of the Sierra Nevadas.

“The most direct route for the California emigrants, would be to leave the Oregon route, about two hundred miles east of Ft. Hall; thence bearing west southwest, to the Salt Lake.” – Lansford Hastings – 1843