Hastings Cutoff (Fort Bridger to Donner Springs)

The Hastings Cutoff is described in a Trails West guidebook which may be available for purchase in the CTIC gift shop or you can purchase it directly from Trails West on their website. They have an online photo tour along the Hastings Cutoff. Many of their photos and descriptions are also included here and are identified as being from Trails West.


There is a map accompanying each pair of markers. The location of the Utah markers were difficult to determine. There are two OCTA road guide descriptions which were used as a locating guide.


https://scienceviews.com/historical/hastingstext.html

and

https://scienceviews.com/historical/redlumsprings.html


Consider beginning your tour at Fort Bridger State Historical Park in Wyoming!

Marker HW-1


BLUE SPRING

"Frid. [July] 31 [1846] We Started this morning on the Cut off rout by the South of the Salt Lake. & 4 1/2 miles from the fort there is a beautiful Spring Called the Blue Spring as Cold as Ice passed Several Springs and Encamped at the foot of the first steep hill going west making this day... [12 miles]" - James F. Reed, July 31, 1846


James Reed's journal was published in the Utah Historical Quarterly.

Marker HW-2


COBBLE STONE HILL

"After passing the Mormons we came upon a descent which appeared little removed from an angle of 35 degrees, and suggested the propriety of walking down. There was an attempt at a zigzag, and for the benefit of the wagons, a rough, wall of stones had been run along the sharper corners." - Richard F. Burton, August 24, 1860

Marker HW-3


MUDDY CREEK

"At three o'clock p.m. we crossed Muddy creek, a beautiful clear stream of water with a pebbly bottom, and camped on the west side after travelling 3 miles during the day... we had a pretty campground... The brethren sang hymns for the President; it was a delightful evening." - Thomas Bullock, July 9, 1847


Bullock's diary is published electronically in the Pioneer Database.



Marker HW-4


COPPERAS SPRING

"After traveling three and a half miles we passed a small copperas spring at the foot of a mountain a little to the left of the road. The water is very clear, but tastes very strong of copperas and alum and has a somewhat singular effect on the mouth. It runs a little distance over the red sand ... almost looks like blood at a distance." - William Clayton, July 10, 1847


Clayton's diary can be viewed and downloaded from the LDS Church History Catalog.

Marker HW-5


ASPEN RIDGE

"Following up this hollow a short distance, we came to an impassable barrier of red sandstone, rising in perpendicular and impending masses, and running entirely across it. ... we passed over an elevated plain of gradual ascent, covered with wild sage, of so rank and dense a growth that we found it difficult to force our way through it. The ridge overlooks another deeper and broader valley." - Edwin Bryant, July 21, 1846


Bryant's book can be viewed and downloaded from the Library of Congress.

Marker HW-6


TWO ROADS

"-There are two roads here, one to the right keeps down the creek further, the other bears more south about 1/4 miles nearly due south from rivulet ford, and about 200 yds. to the left of where the southern road begins a 2nd rise and near a black alder bush is a fine spring of mineral tar." - Amasa Lyman, July 11, 1847


Amasa's diary can be read on the LDS Church history website.


Marker HW-7


THE BETTER WAY

"The 52 wagons traveling ahead of us here had taken two different routes, and Hastings had shown us still another which he considered the better way and which we thought to put to the test. Hastings left us in the evening to overtake a company in advance of us." - Heinrich Lienhard, July 28, 1846


Lienhard's diary for this portion of his journey was reprinted in the Utah Historical Quarterly, vol. 19 (1951).


Marker HW-8


SOUTH ROUTE

"25th Traveled to Bear River a distance of 7 m. road hilly - Course S.W. Some pine timber along the river of a good height. Found Harlin's company encamped by the river, and learned that Mr. Hastings with 30 waggons had just left - All the waggons that has come to Bear River 57 - Distance from Fort Bridger to the river 34 m." - James Mathers, July 25, 1846


Mathers' diary was published in Overland in 1846, Dale Morgan, ed., and this entry is available in the Google Books preview.

Marker HU-1


YELLOW CREEK

"We are camping for the night upon the west side of Yellow Creek. Good grass and fine water in the bottom crossing the road north and south." - Finley McDiarmid, July 25, 1850


Marker HU-2


ECHO CANYON

"Leaving our camp early, we crossed Yellow Creek, crossed a high ridge, and passed Cache Cave to Echo Creek, which we traveled down about 25 miles, ..." - James W. Denver, July 21, 1850


Denver's diary was published in Arizona and the West, vol. 17, no. 1, (Spring 1975) and can be viewed on JSTOR.

Marker HU-3


ECHO CANYON

"Traveled 16 miles today and camped on Echo Creek. A berry resembling a Black-Currant grows here in great quantities." - William Edmundson, July 31, 1850


Edmundson's journal was published in The Annals of Iowa, Volume 8, No. 7 (1908) and is available for download.

Marker HBRUT-1


EAST CANYON [BRYANT/RUSSELL ROUTE]

"... we found another impassable canon. This canon resembles a gate, about six or eight feet in width, the arch and superstructure of which have fallen in immense masses, rendering a passage ... impossible. Looking up the side of the mountain on our right, we saw a small Indian trail winding under and over the projecting and impending cliffs. ... Indians had passed this way, satisfied us that we could do the same;" - Edwin Bryant, July 24, 1846


Bryant's book can be viewed and downloaded from the Library of Congress.



Marker HJMUT-1


WEBER CANYON DEVILS GATE [JAMES MATHERS ROUTE]

"2nd Went down and examined the pass and found it to be impracticable for waggons to go thro' although a number of men were at work removing all rocks that were not immovable and digging down the hills to make a way over - an exhibition of most consumate folly." - James Mathers, August 2, 1846


Mathers' diary was published in Overland in 1846, Dale Morgan, ed., and this entry is available in the Google Books preview.

Marker HU-4


DONNER HILL

"It seemed impossible for the oxen to pull ... but we doubled teams and the work was, at last, accomplished, almost every yoke in the train being required to pull up each wagon" - Virginia Reed, August 22, 1846


This quote is from Virginia's Reminiscence and can be viewed on the A Celebration of Women Writers website.

Marker HU-5


UTAH OUTLET (JORDAN RIVER)

"left camp late this day on acct. of having to find a good road or pass through the Swamps of the utah outlet finally succeeded and encamped on the East Bank of Utah outlet making 5 (miles)" - James F. Reed, August 23, 1846


This statement comes directly from James Reed's journal. The portion of his journal which covers the Hastings Cutoff is published and discussed in the 1951 (Volume 19) edition of the Utah Historical Quarterly.

Marker HU-6


LAKE POINT

"Traveled to the clear cold springs - five miles. Mountains close to the left, bluffs and big Salt Lake to the right." - John Udell, July 20, 1850


John Udell's 1850 diary is not available electronically but can be found in research libraries and rare book dealers. He also wrote a diary in 1859, which can be read on Hathitrust.



Marker HU-7


MILL SPRINGS

"They was building a mill a saw mill we then went about a mile to the good spring called Bentons mill springs one was salt... we then camped being very tired" - Sarah Davis, August 23, 1850


Sarah's original diary is part of the collection of the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library of Yale University. It is also reprinted in the Covered Wagon Women Volume 2 book (her diary is not available in this preview) and may be for sale in the CTIC gift shop.

Marker HU-8


TWENTY WELLS

"Morning cool and pleasant and we made an early start and travelled over a saleratus plain and around the spur of the mountain. ..." - Hugh Alexander Skinner, July 21, 1850


Skinner's diary is held in the collection of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas. No electronic access is available.


Marker HU-9


DUSTY ROAD

"This is the most drying climate I ever was in. Got a late start, travelled 35 miles by a little after dark; very dusty road most of the way." - Henry S. Bloom, July 29, 1850


Henry Bloom's papers are held in the collection of the Sacramento Public Library. No electronic access is available. Bloom's diary was published as a series in the Illinois Kankakee Daily Republican, May 27 to July 3, 1931.

Jedidiah Smith Trail Marker


TIMPIE POINT

"Coming to the point of the ridge ... I saw an expanse of water Extending far to the North and East. The Salt Lake a joyful sight was spread before us. ... I durst scarcely believe that it was really the Big Salt Lake that I saw. I was indeed a most cheering view ... Those who may chance to read this at a distance from the scene may perhaps be surprised that the sight of this lake ... excited in me these feelings known to the traveler who after long and perilous journeying comes again in view of his home. ... I had traveled so much in the vicinity of the Salt Lake that it had become my home of the wilderness." - Jedidiah Strong Smith, June 27, 1827

Marker HU-10


BIG SPRINGS

"Traveled 15 m and encamped by a point of the mountain at a very large spring of brackish water and but little grass,..." - James Mathers, August 10, 1846


Mathers' diary is not available electronically. It was published in Overland in 1846: Diaries and Letters of the California-Oregon Trail, Volume I, edited by Dale Morgan.

Marker HU-11


HORSESHOE SPRINGS

"Seven miles brought us where the road forked the left hand one leading up a ravine towards the mountain. We took it..." - Madison Berryman Moorman, July 27, 1850


Moorman's diary can be viewed on Hathitrust.

Marker HU-12


DELL SPRINGS

"... we reached 2 good springs, away up on the side of a mountain, two miles from the road. ... about fifty wagons are now camped here" - John Wood, August 2, 1850


John Wood's diary was published as a serial in the 1927 Madera Daily Tribune and can be viewed in the California Digital Newspaper Collection. It was also published in book form in 1852 and can be viewed on the Internet Archive.

Marker HU-13


HOPE WELLS

"The writing was that of Hastings, and her patchwork brought out the following words: 2 days - 2 nights - hard driving -cross -desert -reach water." - Eliza P. Donner Houghton, August 27, 1846


Eliza Donner was only four when the Donner party made its journey across the Hastings cutoff. Her reminiscence can be read at Project Gutenberg.

Marker HU-14


REDLUM SPRING

"... started for the deseret, passing a salaratus spring in a ravine on the left at the foot of the mountains which we passed..." - Hugh Alexander Skinner, July 22, 1850


Skinner's diary is held in the collection of the Kenneth Spencer Research Library at the University of Kansas. No electronic access is available.



Marker HU-15


SUMMIT OF HASTINGS PASS

"Turning west up each practicable ravine the distance of some six or 7 miles to the top of the ridge, the last two miles of which was up some very steep hills." - Pardon Dexter Tiffany, July 25, 1849


The Tiffany family papers are held by the MIssouri Historical Society. No electronic access is available.

Marker HU-16


WEST SIDE OF HASTINGS PASS

"When we go to the foot on the other side we rested our cattle, and took some supper. In an hour we started on our nights journey." - Anonymous, August 5, 1850


Marker HU-17


ROCKY HILL AHEAD

"Some 2 miles ahead of us we could see a rocky hill (Grayback Mountain) which rose about 40 feet above the plain, and over which the road led." - Heinrich Lienhard, August 18, 1846


The quote above comes from the book From St. Louis to Sutter's Fort, a memoir of Lienhard's, and no electronic access is available for this book. However, it may be found in some research libraries (including that of the CTIC) and rare book dealers. A portion of his memoir is reprinted in the 1951 (vol. 19) Utah Historical Quarterly. Heinrich's other memoir, A Pioneer at Sutter's Fort, 1846-1850, can be accessed from the Library of Congress.

Marker HU-18


GRAYBACK SUMMIT

"...and yet we crossed one steep hill in the night when we had to put our shoulders to the wheel in earnest, lifting the wheels over rocks three & four feet high..." - John Wood, August 5, 1850


John Wood's diary was published as a serial in the 1927 Madera Daily Tribune and can be viewed in the California Digital Newspaper Collection. It was also published in book form in 1852 and can be viewed on the Internet Archive.

Marker HU-19


SMOOTH PLAIN

"We entered upon the hard smooth plain we had just been surveying.... composed of bluish clay, encrusted, in wavy lines, with a white saline substance...." - Edwin Bryant, August 3, 1846


Edwin's diary can be viewed and downloaded from the Library of Congress. You may also be interested in the Edwin Bryant diary tour of our outdoor plaza.

Marker HU-20


SMALL BUTTE

"About five o'clock, p.m. we reached and passed, leaving it to our left, a small butte (Floating Island) rising solitary from the plains" - Edwin Bryant, August 3, 1846


Edwin's diary can be viewed and downloaded from the Library of Congress. You may also be interested in the Edwin Bryant diary tour of our outdoor plaza.

Marker HU-21


BARREN MOUNTAINS

"The roads were gravelly round the end of some high rocks. Barren mountains (Silver Island)." - Robert Chalmers, July 27, 1850


Chalmers' diary was published in the Utah Historical Quarterly Vol. 20, No.1 (1952)

Marker HU-22


DONNER/REED PASS

"Got to the rock of misery, 65 miles, our water all gone and our horses nearly famished for water. Teams giving out, men lying by the side of the road in the hot sun speechless for the want of water." - Henry S. Bloom, August 2, 1850


Henry Bloom's papers are held in the collection of the Sacramento Public Library. No electronic access is available. Bloom's diary was published as a series in the Illinois Kankakee Daily Republican, May 27 to July 3, 1931.

Marker HU-23


END OF MUD FLATS

"...ever closer to the green grass when suddenly first one and then the other ox of our leading yoke fell, scarcely a quarter of mile from the grassy ground" - Heinrich Lienhard, August 19, 1846


The quote above comes from the book From St. Louis to Sutter's Fort, a memoir of Lienhard's, and no electronic access is available for this book. However, it may be found in some research libraries (including that of the CTIC) and rare book dealers. A portion of his memoir is reprinted in the 1951 (vol. 19) Utah Historical Quarterly. Heinrich's other memoir, A Pioneer at Sutter's Fort, 1846-1850, can be accessed from the Library of Congress.

Interpretive Kiosk at Donner Spring

Crossing the Salt Desert


Between 1841 and 1850, as many as a thousand emigrants traveled across Utah's Great Salt Lake Desert in an effort to reach California. The John Bartleson-John Bidwell wagon party - composed of 32 men, one woman, and one infant - was the first to travel by way of Pilot Peak and its refreshing springs. Their scouts found a gap in the Pilot Range just a few miles southwest of here, later called Bidwell Pass, that led them west toward the headwaters of the Humboldt River.


U.S. Army Topographical Engineer John C. Fremont and his expedition, crossed the Salt Lake Desert on horseback and stopped at the Pilot Peak springs in 1845. A year later, California promoter Lansford Hastings, along with James Clyman and James Hudspeth, retraced portions of Fremont's trek to this oasis. Hastings intended to promote a shorter route to California and make a little money with his newly published emigrant guide.


By reducing the number of travel days, Hastings' Cutoff proved profitable for some but was a very dangerous route for covered wagons. Potable water for livestock and humans was limited to widely scattered springs.


Beginning in 1848, California travelers found a safer, although longer, route north of the newly founded Salt Lake City. This "Salt Lake Cutoff" by-passed the hot, 80-mile waterless trek coming across the salt desert, and merged with wagon traffic coming from Fort Hall at City of Rocks in south-central Idaho.

Lansford W. Hastings promoted his new shortcut to California in person and with his newly published guide. Images courtesy of the Utah State Historical Society.

Desert Oasis


Donner Spring is one of a series of springs along the base of Pilot Peak that bubble up and then quickly sink into the Great Salt Lake Desert. Rain and spring snowmelt seeping from the upper elevations fill underground aquifers that in turn sustain some of these springs throughout the year.


Although the "Sho sha ne," or Western Shoshone Indians, frequented these springs for years, the 1841 Bartleson-Bidwell wagon party were the first known Euro-American emigrants - en route to California - to have quenched their thirst from this small desert oasis. Over the next several years, many pioneers would also stop here to satisfy their thirst.


In October 1845, Captain John C. Fremont and his expedition of topographical engineers traveled west through the arid desert along the southern edge of the Great Salt Lake before finding fresh water along the base of Pilot Peak. Before long, as many as a thousand California-bound emigrants stopped at this and other nearby springs to quench their thirst and to water their livestock.


Swiss emigrant Heinrich Lienhard, accompanying a small group of wagons, reached these springs after two and a half days crossing the salt desert in August of 1846. He recalled, "Everyone was animated and happy; the young girls gathered and sang ... and some of the young men 'danced' to an old fiddle played by a company member." Unfortunately, one traveler in the group, a large black hound, did not join in the gaiety of the moment, having died after drinking too much water.


Just a few days behind Lienhard, the Donner-Reed wagon company gratefully drank from these springs. Hours earlier and miles southeast of here, their wagons became mired in the treacherous salt flats, forcing them to abandon some of their belongings, wagons, and livestock. Seven weeks later and still behind schedule, their ill-prepared and fate-plagued wagon train faced death and more suffering when they became stranded in a fierce, early snow storm as they attempted to cross the Sierra Nevada.

After spending two to three days crossing the Great Salt Lake Desert and nearly perishing in the summer's desert heat, emigrants and livestock drank side by side from the life-saving springs below Pilot Peak.

"... after some difficulty in making our way through the sage, grass, and willows, ... we came to where they had discovered a faint stream of water, and made their camp. Men and mules, on their first arrival, ... madly rushed into the stream and drank together of its muddy waters ..." - Edwin Bryant, August 1846, en route to California

The California National Historic Trail and the Hastings Cutoff between Fort Bridger and northeastern Nevada. Map graphic is courtesy of Interpretive Graphics.

Impacts of the Great Emigrant Flood


Historians often compare the 1848 discovery of gold in California to the effect high octane fuel has on a fire. In the years following the discovery, more than 250,000 gold seekers and farmers poured across the Sierra Nevada in search of fortune or a new beginning.


The road to California was not a single route. From Independence it followed the established Oregon Trail to Fort Bridger before splitting either toward Salt Lake City or to Fort Hall, and eventually the Sierra Nevada, where it splintered into several interior valley destinations. The route through Utah, known as the Hastings Cutoff, rejoined the main California Trail at the Humboldt River in northeastern Nevada.


Harsh travel conditions on the cutoff prevailed during most years. Grass for livestock, wild game, and clean water to drink became scarcer as the pioneers advanced westward. Cholera and other diseases took their toll as well.


American Indians especially suffered from the streaming onslaught of forty-niners across the western landscape. For centuries, native peoples had lived in the West without outside competition for resources. However, the flood of pioneers and the ensuing rivalry for food sources, land, water, and space threatened to destroy their way of life.


Pioneer wagon ruts and traces can still be found in the vast undeveloped West - reminders of the triumphs, struggles, and sacrifices made by those who blazed a road through the wilderness in pursuit of their dreams.

"The trail was nearly a quarter of a mile wide - that is, a row of wagons fifteen-hundred feet across, and extending in front and to the rear, as far as we could see ... a vast sea of white flapping wagon covers, and a seething mass of plodding animals." - John K. Stockton, emigration of 1852.