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The Sublette Cutoff

Posted in Events on June 1, 2009 Comment (0)
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The Sublette Cutoff
0906 4wd 01 z+the sublette cutoff+parting of the ways

Wagons bound for Oregon during the 1800s were occupied by pioneers and immigrants who had no idea how to get there. They depended on guides, mostly mountain men who had made the journey more than once. Two such men were Caleb Greenwood and Isaac Hitchcock. In 1844, they were in charge of getting the Murphy-Townsend Company across Wyoming when Hitchcock suggested they take a shortcut that would bypass Fort Bridger and save several days of travel.

Although Hitchcock may have suggested the route, Greenwood was probably the one who knew the way. It became known as the Greenwood Cutoff. It involved crossing 45 miles of desert country then continued due west through the mountains before connecting to the original route near the Idaho border. Of course, there were no borders in those days and it was all simply referred to as the Oregon Territory.

The distance traveled over the Oregon Trail by any specific group depended on which shortcuts or cutoffs were taken. For those who used the original trail without shortcuts, the distance was 2,170 miles. Most of them left the Missouri River in early spring. They used Independence Rock in Wyoming as a measurement of progress. If they reached that landmark by Independence Day, July 4th, they were on schedule to cross the mountains in Oregon before the winter snows closed the trail.

The fear of being caught by snow in Oregon was a major factor in choosing shortcuts like the Greenwood Cutoff even though that decision was risky. It included crossing a high desert with no water or grass for the livestock. Each wagon train had to find its own way to deal with that problem.

The Greenwood Cutoff became the favored route for the Oregon Trail simply because it did save time. In 1849, a guide book was written for travelers on the Oregon Trail. In that book, the Greenwood Cutoff was referred to as Sublette Cutoff and still retains that name today.

The Sublette Cutoff splits off from the Oregon Trail following a waterless crossing rather than taking the longer but safer route to Fort Bridger. Using it could have saved a week of travel if the teams could be kept alive. The Sublette Cutoff splits off from the Oregon Trail following a waterless crossing rather than taking the longer but safer route to Fort Bridger. Using it could have saved a week of travel if the teams could be kept alive.

The Oregon Trail connected Kansas City, Missouri, to Oregon City, Oregon. At that time Kansas City was little more than a small settlement on the Missouri River. It was not incorporated until 1850. Oregon City was the first city incorporated west of the Continental Divide. It was established in 1829 and incorporated in 1844. It is located near Willamette Falls and became the destination point for settlers arriving by way of the Oregon Trail.

The Sublette Cutoff begins at a point called, "Parting of the Ways". It can be found in a remote location west of South Pass in Wyoming. The left fork continues south along the original Oregon Trail to Fort Bridger with plenty of water and grass. The right fork heads due west along the Sublette Cutoff.

Upon reaching Parting of the Ways, a meeting would be held. Some travelers would choose the safer route but most often the larger group would leave camp going due west. It was an emotional time for some who parted ways with family and friends with hopes of reuniting in Oregon City before snowfall.

Lone Writer began his journey at False Parting of the Ways on Highway 28 west of South Pass. In 1856, a historic marker was placed at this location designating it as Parting of the Ways. Another marker has since been placed beside the original one stating the true Parting of the Ways is 9.5 miles farther west. The false parting is now a roadside rest stop with no facilities and marks the point where the Oregon Trail crosses Highway 28.

The Oregon Trail between the two Partings has historic markers beside the current BLM route. In fact, there were no specific tracks used by wagons in that part of the country. They did not travel single file. The lands are relatively flat and wagons were able to spread out long distances to cut down on dust and crowding. The tracks designated today as the Oregon Trail follow the general direction but were most likely made by ranchers, hunters, and other traffic long after the railroad rendered the Oregon Trail obsolete.

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Wagons used on the Oregon Trail varied in size and shape. Most of them were simply farm wagons that were fitted with wooden bows arched high above the wagon bed with canvas stretched across the bows. The most common of them were four feet wide and twelve feet long They were packed with tools to keep the wagon moving, food for the travelers, and supplies to keep them alive in all weather conditions. Unless the weather became life threatening, they slept under the wagons due to lack of space. Except for those with physical limitations or illness, they walked beside the wagon rather than riding in it. Oxen were favored for the teams but horses and mules were easier to obtain. Depending on the load and the terrain, teams varied from two to eight animals.

Indians were the least of concerns for the immigrants during the 1840s. In fact, they often acted as guides and scouts. Wagons were circled at night, but the purpose was to keep the animals within the circle so they would not wander off. The worst threat was always from weather that varied from blazing hot to below freezing. Sickness from cholera plagued every group. Water sources along the route had been contaminated from the passing of animals and travelers.

Lone Writer uses a laptop with a GPS mapping program published by DeLorme called TopoUSA. That software displays a track for the Oregon Trail that can be followed by utilizing existing BLM roads. Some of the roads are on top of the track being displayed and some are simply near it. Keeping in mind that travelers on the Oregon Trail spread far apart anytime the terrain permitted, there is no way to know how much of the traffic actually followed the Delorme track. In fact, the existing BLM roads may be no less accurate than the designated route.

After leaving True Parting of the Ways, Lone Writer worked his way toward the Little Sandy River. Historic markers can be found along the way. One such marker is high on a hill overlooking the river where the wagons crossed.

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Although pioneers were not obstructed by private property and had plenty of help if they got bogged down in the river, Lone Writer had to look for another crossing. The easiest way to get across is to return to Parting of the Ways and follow the Oregon Trail to the bridge. Once on the other side, Lone Writer followed the river up stream and connected to the Sublette Cutoff at the point where the wagons would have exited the river. The next water came at the Big Sandy River where a recreation area now exists. A campground with facilities is available as well as other water sports opportunities. This would have been the last water for the wagons before striking out for the Green River across open land.

As Lone Writer neared the Green River, the land became hilly with spectacular views. At the top of one hill, he found a historic marker at the gravesite of Lucinda B. Wright. She died at this location on June 25th, 1853, at the age of 47. The family was still three months away from their destination of Salem, Oregon. The original wooden marker was discovered in 1961 and moved to a museum in Pinedale.

Wright's nephew commented about how desolate the location was. Taking a few moments beside the grave to become aware of the wild country that surrounds it provides a very real experience in isolation. The clear blue skies above, the rolling hills in every direction, the smell of the vegetation, and the only sound being a gentle breeze bring all the senses to life. For those who had been on the trail for many months and still had three more to go, leaving a family member at this isolated location in a shallow grave must have been a heart-breaking experience.

The BLM road following the Sublette Cutoff is an easy route for any high clearance vehicle. Using 4WD was not required but we had sunny weather. The BLM road following the Sublette Cutoff is an easy route for any high clearance vehicle. Using 4WD was not required but we had sunny weather.

A few miles from the banks of the Green River, the trail became more difficult to follow. A gas field and private property required numerous detours. After connecting to a major gravel road, a bridge was found going over the Green River very near to where the wagons would have crossed. A short distance later, Lone Writer reached Names Hill. Travelers enjoyed carving their names into the flat rock surface. At that point, the wagons began their long climb into a mountainous area on the way to the Idaho border.

Navigation
Navigation for the Sublette Cutoff. Odometer readings taken using an {{{Isuzu Trooper}}}.
Accuracy not known. Reset your trip meter to zero when a zero is displayed.
Trip Meter Latitude North Longitude West Comments
0 N42 17.0820 W109 3.5335 This is the roadside rest stop for False Parting of the Ways with historic markers to read.
0 N42 17.0336 W109 3.6052 At the rest stop exit, make an immediate right turn. Go through the gate and make an immediate left turn. You are now on the designated Oregon Trail. Follow the markers.
1.9 N42 16.6963 W109 5.7955 Marker for Plume Rocks.
4.4 N42 17.3489 W109 8.3396 Left then right on faint two-track. Follow the markers.
4.9 N42 17.0785 W109 8.8021 Left turn.
9.4
0
N42 15.4593 W109 13.6126 Parting of the Ways monument. At this point, the road splits. Take the right fork.
1.4 N42 15.4958 W109 15.3911 Continue straight through.
2.3 N42 15.5493 W109 16.4575 Take the left fork. Marker on left.
3.9 N42 15.2016 W109 18.2120 Take the right fork.
4.4 N42 15.6031 W109 17.9052 This is overlooking the Little Sandy River.
A marker on left is where the trail descended to the river below. It can not be crossed there now.
Go back to Parting of the Ways intersection and take the Oregon Trail to the bridge for the Little Sandy Crossing.
0 N42 15.4593 W109 13.6126 Parting of the Ways intersection. Follow the Oregon Trail westward.
2.1 N42 14.3070 W109 15.6828 Left fork beside marker.
5.6 N42 12.4210 W109 18.8501 Turn left at this intersection. Watch for the markers on the other side of the washout.
7.2 N42 11.8344 W109 20.6091 Monument for Little Sandy Crossing. Cross the bridge.
7.5
0
N42 11.8171 W109 21.2854 Cross the cattle guard and turn right. You will connect to Road 108 on a straight line.
4.3
0
N42 15.0451 W109 19.0695 The Oregon Trail crossed 108 at this point. Turn left and continue westward.
2.9
0
N42 14.6361 W109 22.3757 As we get closer to Big Sandy, we will leave the trail to get around modern changes. At this fence line turn left and follow fence line.
0.5 N42 14.3048 W109 22.7558 Close gates behind you and work your way to the river.
1.6 N42 13.2327 W109 23 8451 Turn left on gravel road.
5.1 N42 14.0017 W109 25.7425 On top the dam for Big Sandy Reservoir. This is a recreation area with camping and a beach.
0 N42 14.7627 W109 25.7360 As you exit the dam, it turns right. A two track goes straight. Reset here and take the two track
0.1 N42 14.6329 W109 25.7787 Turn right. According to TopoUSA, this is the Oregon Trail. At 0.3 turn left.
1.0
0
N42 14.2792 W109 26.6942 From this crossroad, you can see a trail marker far off to the right but there is no road there. In flat areas like this the wagons would be spread out to avoid some of the dust. Go straight.
0.3 N42 14.0757 W109 27.0591 Turn right on a faint trail.
0.6 N42 14.1881 W109 27.3674 Turn left on the Oregon Trail.
1.1
0
N42 14.0192 W109 27.8249 The trail ends at a fence with no gate. Turn right, then left on the gravel road and then straight across highway 191. There is a trail marker ahead on the right side of the road.
0.2 N42 13.9791 W109 28.1444 Take the right fork, then turn right at the T intersection.
1.1
0
N42 14.1871 W109 28.9413 Turn left toward the trail marker. You are now back on the designated Oregon Trail. This is a long stretch mostly straight. Go straight at all crossroads for thirteen miles.
13.2
0
N42 15.3898 W109 44.8216 A major two track crosses here. Computer says it is BLM Road 4204. Go straight.
4.4 N42 15.6574 W109 49.7319 Take the right fork going into a valley.
4.9 N42 15.7878 W109 50.1547 Take the left fork at bottom of valley then the right fork to go up the other side.
9.3 N42 15.4271 W109 54.9528 Turn right at the bottom of a hill.
9.5 N42 15.6957 W109 54.9581 Turn left and climb up the hill
15.0
0
N42 14.7156 W110 0.6349 Intersection for gravesite. There is a natural gas sign at this turn. Continue straight.
The road is following about one tenth of a mile north of the designated Oregon Trail at this point. If you turn left at this intersection, you will find the Lucinda Wright historic marker and gravesite at the point where the road crosses the Oregon Trail. Return to this intersection and continue west after visiting the grave.
1.6 N42 15.5889 W110 1.9200 Left on major gravel road. The computer calls this BLM 4202. There is some sort of complex to the right. Probably natural gas.
Getting through the gas fields is a maze and is probably no where near the actual trail. At this point, the trail was simply trying to get from the hilltops to the Green River basin. The following directions do the same without attempting to stay on the Oregon Trail.
2.9 N42 14.6198 W110 2.8435 Turn right on the Oregon Trail.
5.4
0
N42 14.0086 W110 5.5411 Left turn.
0.2 N42 13.7890 W110 5.5439 Very faint trail going off to right. It is a steep descent downhill. TopoUSA shows it to be near the route used by the wagons.
1.3 N42 13.1613 W110 6.1972 Turn right on the major gravel road. Continue straight through the intersections.
3.1 N42 12.9118 W110 8.1973 Turn left.
4.7
0
N42 12.1668 W110 9.2457 At this point, we are at river level. Campsites are available. Lots of bugs.
1.0 N42 11.5472 W110 8.4586 Right turn.
1.4 N42 11.4716 W110 8.9057 Right fork. This will take you over the bridge for the Green River.
3.4 N42 11.2199 W110 10.8408 Left on Highway 189 toward Kemmerer.
0.7 N42 10.6043 W110 11.2358 Historic marker. Names Hill.

The trail went up hill at this point. Private property now. Jim Bridger as well as many others signed the rocks at the historic marker.

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