Fort Churchill

HOW WILL WE GET THROUGH THE MOUNTAINS?


Close your eyes for a moment and travel back in time to 1850. When you open your eyes, the Fort Churchill buildings aren’t here. You’re looking west at range upon range of mountains as far as you can see. It hardly seems possible that by following the Carson River, you’ll go right through these mountain ranges and have fairly level traveling with only a gradual climb all the way to the foot of the final obstacle — the Sierra Nevada mountains.


By the time emigrants arrived at this point along the California Trail, they had spent the past month following the Humboldt River more than 400 miles across the Great Basin. On that part of the journey, emigrants had seen many mountain ranges, but they were far apart with wide valleys in between them.


Fortunately for the California-bound travelers, there was fairly good grass as they traveled west along the Carson River. The biggest concern they faced was the physical condition of their wagons, their animals, and most of all themselves. In the week prior to arriving at this point on the California Trail, people had suffered through the ultimate survivor experience — crossing the Forty-Mile Desert. That crossing had exacted a huge toll on the men, women, and children making their way west, but their goal was almost in sight.

The prospect for getting through before snow sets in on the mountains, begins to look rather gloomy. Our teams are very much reduced and if they do not recruit soon we will be driven to the alternate of trading away some of our wagons and everything else that can possibly be dispensed with, in order to get through.” - James Bennett, September 14, 1850


James Bennett's diary is available on Hathitrust.

Axle & Hub - The Wagon Axle was carefully engineered to provide maximum bearing strength. The outer end is conical and tapered, with its bottom surface horizontal to the ground so that the turning spokes are perpendicular when they touch the ground. Both the axle and the hub are lined with iron at the points of greatest wear.
Prairie Schooner - These sturdy wagons were the primary vehicle on the trail west. They served as conveyances for both cargo and people, and as shelter from the elements.
Grease Bucket - An essential requirement for the overland journey. The axles of the wagons required frequent lubrication to offset the effects of trail dust on moving parts.