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The History of the Applegate Trail

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The History of the Applegate Trail

By Fran Fields

Here’s a surprise from the history books. In 1846, the Applegate Trail that eventually reached Ashland and continued to the Willamette began in Nevada as a cut-off from the California Trail.

Jesse Applegate and his crew made the trail passable for wagons. Approximately 1,300 emigrants followed the road part to Oregon from the Humboldt Sink in Nevada. From Dorris, near the border, the pioneers travelled between what is now the Lower Klamath National (east) and Bear Valley (west) National Wildlife Refuges. [1]

At Keno, the Applegate Trail turned west on a route that incorporates parts of Highway 66. Familiar landmarks include Spenser Creek, Parker Mountain, Pinehurst, the Greensprings, and Emigrant Lake.

The turning point going past the Greensprings and Klamath Junction lies under water in Emigrant Lake. The Trail then crossed Ashland Creek as it entered Ashland and followed what became Bear Creek.

Past Ashland, the Trail heads north into Talent, Phoenix, Medford, and Central Point, between two roads many of us routinely travel: Highway 99 and Interstate 5.

One party traveled a portion of the Trail along present-day Talent Avenue, the Old Highway 99 through Phoenix, and Riverside Avenue in Medford.

In the Fall of 1846, one party camped in Ashland and another at Willows Spring (now Central Point). Scenic views included the Upper and Lower Table Rock plateaus.[2]

The pioneers passed many of the present-day landscapes along Interstate 5 – The Rogue River, Jump Off Joe Creek, Sexton Mountain, Grave Creek, Cow Creek, Umpqua Canyon, Umpqua River, Calapooya Mountains, Elk Creek / Calapooya Creek, and the Willamette River / Valley.

Whether you’re heading east to Klamath Falls, hiking in the Greensprings, playing in Emigrant Lake, or traveling north along I-5, the routes you’re taking reflect parts of the Applegate Trail. You can just imagine the struggles you’d experience advancing on a newly broken trail on foot, by horseback, or in a wooden wagon.

Applegate Trail Map

Applegate Trail, Northernmost thin Red Line (Wikipedia)

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[1]  “The Applegate Trail of 1846: A Documentary Guide to the Original Southern Emigrant Route,” William Emerson, Ember Enterprises ( 1996).

[2]   Ibid.