Southern Route to Oregon
(The following two of four interpretive displays located in this park highlight the Applegate Trail):
In 1846, Jesse Applegate and fourteen others from near Dallas, Oregon, established a trail south from the Willamette Valley and east to Fort Hall. This route offered emigrants an alternative to the perilous "last leg" of the Oregon Trail down the treacherous Columbia River.
The first emigrants to trek the new "Southern Road" left with the trailblazers from Fort Hall in early August 1846. With Levi Scott acting as guide, while Jesse Applegate traveled ahead to mark the route, the hardy emigrants blazed a wagon trail through nearly 500 miles of wilderness arriving in the upper Willamette Valley in November. Emigrant travel continued along the Applegate Trail in later years and contributed greatly to the settlement of southern Oregon and the Willamette Valley.
The Applegate Trail spit into two routes in the northern Umpqua Valley. The eastern route, established in 1846 by Jesse Applegate, Levi Scott, Moses "Black" Harris and twelve others from Polk County, Passed through Cottage Grove, Creswell, Eugene, and Junction City—It is approximated today by River Road and Highway 99. The western route, an ancient
Kalapuya Indian trace and a Hudson's Bay Company "trapper's trail" until the 1840s, was the most widely used alternate route. Known also as the "California Trail," it became a wagon road in the late 1840s. Today, Territorial Road closely follows this historic trail.
Lane County's Applegate Trails
The Applegate Trail evolved into two separate routes in Lane County. The western route, originally a trappers' trail, followed the Long Tom River and eventually became the preferred route of the Applegate Trail. The eastern route, however, carried the first Applegate Trail emigrants. This route was established in 1846 by Levi Scott, Moses "Black" Harris, Cornelius Gilliam and others from Polk county. Leaving the old trappers' trail, the explorers cut across to what are today Eugene and Cottage Grove. They managed to find a new route across the Calapooya Mountains and into the Umpqua Watershed before the expedition collapsed. Returning for reinforcements, Jesse Applegate assumed leadership and together with fourteen others successfully linked the route with the main California Trail. The top of nearby Skinner Butte provides an excellent view of the explorers' path through this region.
....we traveled along the base of the Calapooias, our course being nearly southeast, passing near a
prominent peak since called Spencer's Butte.....One of our party succeeded in capturing an old Indian, and representing to him by signs the course we wished to follow, the old fellow preceded us two or three miles, and put us on a dim trail which had been marked by twisting the tops of the brush along the route. It had only been used as a foot-trail and but seldom at that.
Recollections of 1846