Historic Resource Study, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, 1984
II. White Men Slowly Penetrate the Southern Oregon Wilderness
C. Opening of the Southern Emigrant Route
Although the first overland travelers from the East to Oregon faithfully followed the Columbia River, by the mid-1840s other routes were being sought. Mounting tensions between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the growing number of American settlers in the region demanded a new route well removed from Company posts and influence. In June 1846 Jesse and Lindsay Applegate, Levi Scott, and other residents of the Willamette Valley, having formed a group known as the Old South Road Company, left their homes to open a new wagon road connecting with the Humboldt Trail. This one would be free from jeopardy by the British on the Columbia River in case of war. It would also provide a shorter, easier route from Fort Hall, Idaho, to the Willamette Valley by avoiding the treacherous Snake River portion of the Oregon Trail and the difficult section near The Dalles of the Columbia River that involved dangerous whirlpools, strong currents, and. long portages. Their route passed by or near present Albany, Corvallis, Eugene, Cottage Grove, Roseburg, Grants Pass, Jacksonville, Medford, and Ashland in Oregon, and then past Klamath Lake and along the border between Oregon and California. It entered the latter state via Surprise Valley, continuing on into Nevada and across the Black Rock Desert. From that point it reached the Humboldt River near present Humboldt, Nevada, and, finally, Fort Hall. Here the company met an immigrant train of 150 people that they brought back with them to the Willamette settlements, although not without severe travails and hardships, including Indian attacks, disease, barren deserts, and low food supplies. Less than half the party lived to reach the valley in these first wagons to arrive from the south. This passage, which would be increasingly improved upon and used, was known variously as the Southern Route to the Oregon Trail, the Southern Emigrant Route, or Applegate’s Cutoff. It was instrumental in opening up lands south of the Willamette to settlement and continued to be favored by a few immigrants to southern Oregon. A large portion of it was followed by ’49ers bound for northern California until Indian hostilities seven years later interrupted the flow of traffic.