|Elevation||7,412 ft (2,259 m)|
|Traversed by||Oregon Trail, California Trail, and Mormon Trail, Wyoming Highway 28|
|Location|| Fremont County, Wyoming |
|Range||Wind River Range and Antelope Hills (Radium Springs, Wyoming)|
|Topo map||USGS Pacific Springs|
|Nearest city||South Pass City, Wyoming|
|NRHP reference No.||66000754|
|Added to NRHP||October 15, 1966|
|Designated NHL||January 20, 1961|
South Pass (elevation 7,412 ft (2,259 m) and 7,550 ft (2,300 m)) is the collective term for two mountain passes on the American Continental Divide, in the Rocky Mountains in southwestern Wyoming. It lies in a broad high region, 35 miles (56 km) wide, between the nearly 14,000 ft (4,300 m) Wind River Range to the north and the over 8,500 ft (2,600 m) Oregon Buttes and arid, saline near-impassible Great Divide Basin to the south. The Pass lies in southwestern Fremont County, approximately 35 miles (56 km) SSW of Lander.
Though it approaches a mile and a half high, South Pass is the lowest point on the Continental Divide between the Central and Southern Rocky Mountains. The passes furnish a natural crossing point of the Rockies. The historic pass became the route for emigrants on the Oregon, California, and Mormon trails to the West during the 19th century. It was designated as a U.S. National Historic Landmark on January 20, 1961.
Though well known to Native Americans, South Pass was first traversed in 1812 by European American explorers who were seeking a safer way to return from the West Coast than they had taken to it. As a natural crossing point of the Rockies its pioneering was a significant but surprisingly difficult achievement in the westward expansion of the United States. Because the Lewis and Clark Expedition of 1803-1806 was searching for a water route across the Continental Divide it did not learn of South Pass from local peoples. Instead, the expedition followed a northerly route up the Missouri River, crossing the Rockies over difficult passes in the Bitterroot Range between Montana and Idaho.
The first recorded crossing was made on 22 Oct. 1812 by Robert Stuart, and six companions from the Pacific Fur Company of John Jacob Astor. They were trying to avoid Crow warriors further north, on their return to St. Louis, Missouri from Astoria, Oregon. A Shoshone had told Stuart of "...a shorter trace to the South than that by which Mr. Hunt had traversed the R. Mountains..."In 1856 Ramsay Crooks, one of the party, wrote a letter describing their journey:
In 1811, the overland party of Mr. Astor's expedition, under the command of Mr. Wilson P. Hunt, of Trenton, New Jersey, although numbering sixty well armed men, found the Indians so very troublesome in the country of the Yellowstone River, that the party of seven persons who left Astoria toward the end of June, 1812, considering it dangerous to pass again by the route of 1811, turned toward the southeast as soon as they had crossed the main chain of the Rocky Mountains, and, after several days' journey, came through the celebrated 'South Pass' in the month of November, 1812.
Pursuing from thence an easterly course, they fell upon the River Platte of the Missouri, where they passed the winter and reached St. Louis in April, 1813.
The seven persons forming the party were Robert McClelland of Hagerstown, who, with the celebrated Captain Wells, was captain of spies under General Wayne in his famous Indian campaign, Joseph Miller of Baltimore, for several years an officer of the U.S. Army, Robert Stuart, a citizen of Detroit, Benjamin Jones, of Missouri, who acted as huntsman of the party, Francois LeClaire, a halfbreed, and André Valée, a Canadian voyageur, and Ramsay Crooks, who is the only survivor of this small band of adventurers.
Stuart's "Travel Memorandum" was left with President James Madison, but the War of 1812 preempted western exploration. A translation of his journal was published in an 1821 French journal, but South Pass would have to be rediscovered by later explorers from information provided by Crow Indians. 51–57:
In 1823 William Henry Ashley's Rocky Mountain Fur Company led to the rediscovery of the pass. Jedediah Smith's party, part of Ashley's Hundred, made the first crossing traveling east to west in Feb. 1824. Ashley subsequently established the first Rocky Mountain Rendezvous in 1825. Ashley sold out to Smith, William Sublette, and David Jackson in 1826, becoming their supplier. 53–77 :158:
In 1832 Captain Benjamin Bonneville, aided by Michel Cerre and Joseph R. Walker, blazed a wagon road across the pass. Their caravan of 20 wagons, in place of the usual pack-train, supplied the fur trappers from Fort Bonneville, which they established near the Green River. 79–82:
In 1834, Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth led the first Methodist missionaries Jason Lee, Daniel Lee, and Cyrus Shepard across the pass. They were accompanied by the naturalist John Kirk Townsend, who documented this first use of the Oregon-California Trail, avoiding the Lander Cutoff used by the fur traders. Wyeth then established Fort Hall on the Snake River and the Lees settled the Willamette Valley. Robert "Doc" Newell's first child was born at South Pass in June 1835. Also in 1835, Thomas Fitzpatrick led Protestant missionaries Samuel Parker and Dr. Marcus Whitman across the pass. In 1836, Fitzpatrick guided the "First White Women to Cross This Pass", Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spalding, along with and their husbands, plus Miles Goodyear and William Gray. By 1838, four additional American missionary women had crossed the pass, Myra Fairbanks Eells, Mary Richardson Walker, Mary Augusta Dix Gray and Sarah Gilbert White Smith. 156–157 :87–107:
The first family of emigrants, the Walkers, crossed the pass in 1840 with the intention of settling in Oregon. Joel Pickens Walker, and his wife Mary Young Walker, made the journey with their four children. In 1841, Fitzpatrick led the Bartleson-Bidwell Party across the pass, the first wagon train. 110,113 :158:
In 1842, John C. Fremont led a United States Army Corps of Topographical Engineers expedition to survey South Pass. Reaching the pass on 8 Aug. 1842, Fremont wrote, "The ascent had been so gradual, that, with all the intimate knowledge possessed by Carson, who had made the country his home for seventeen years, we were obliged to watch very closely to find the place at which we had reached the culminating point." In his 1843 expedition, Fremont was able to determine the elevation of the pass at 7,490 feet above sea level. He wrote, "...it may be assumed to be about half-way between the Mississippi and the Pacific ocean, on the common traveling route...the emigrant road to Oregon." 112–124:
Stephen W. Kearny led the first military expedition to South Pass in 1845. By 1848, 18,487 Americans had crossed the pass, and over 300,000 by 1860. 114,128:
Gold had been discovered in the gulches near the pass as early as 1842. However, it was not until 1867, when an ore sample was transported to Salt Lake City, that an influx of miners descended into the region. The gold rush led to the establishment of booming mining communities, such as South Pass City and Atlantic City. The placer gold in the streams was exhausted quickly, however, and by 1870 the miners began leaving the region. In 1884, Emile Granier, a French mining engineer, established a hydraulic mining operation that allowed gold mining to continue. Gold mining was revived in nearby Rock Creek in the 1930s. Additionally, from 1962 through 1983, a U.S. Steel iron ore mine operated in Atlantic City, and the company's Atlantic City Mine Railroad crossed South Pass.
After passage of the Pacific Telegraph Act of 1860, South Pass Station was established in 1861, at Last Crossing on the Sweetwater River. 244–248,261 South Pass was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1961.:
Wyoming Highway 28 traverses the modern pass, roughly following the route of the Oregon Trail. Wagon ruts are still clearly visible at numerous sites within a few miles of the highway.
The pass is a broad open saddle with prairie and sagebrush, allowing a broad and nearly level route between the Atlantic and Pacific watersheds. The Sweetwater River flows past the east side of the pass, and Pacific Creek rises on the west side. Historic South Pass is the lower of the two passes (elevation 7,412 feet (2,259 m)), and was the easy crossing point used by emigrants. Wyoming Highway 28 crosses the Continental Divide 2.5 miles (4.0 km) to the northwest at elevation 7,550 feet (2,300 m), and its crossing is also named South Pass. The Lander Cutoff Route crosses the Continental Divide at the far northwest end of the broad South Pass region, about 25 miles (40 km) to the northwest of the South Passes, at an elevation of 8,030 feet (2,450 m).
The Oregon Trail was a 2,170-mile (3,490 km) east-west, large-wheeled wagon route and emigrant trail in the United States that connected the Missouri River to valleys in Oregon. The eastern part of the Oregon Trail spanned part of what is now the state of Kansas and nearly all of what are now the states of Nebraska and Wyoming. The western half of the trail spanned most of the current states of Idaho and Oregon.
The Continental Divide National Scenic Trail is a United States National Scenic Trail with a length measured by the Continental Divide Trail Coalition of 3,028 miles (4,873 km) between the U.S. border with Chihuahua, Mexico and the border with Alberta, Canada. Frequent route changes and a large number of alternate routes result in the actual hiking distance to be between 2,700 miles (4,300 km) and 3,150 miles (5,070 km). The CDT follows the Continental Divide of the Americas along the Rocky Mountains and traverses five U.S. states — Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. In Montana near the Canadian border the trail crosses Triple Divide Pass (near Triple Divide Peak, from which waters may flow to either the Arctic Ocean, Atlantic Ocean or Pacific Ocean.
The Platte River is a major river in the State of Nebraska. It is about 310 mi (500 km) long; measured to its farthest source via its tributary, the North Platte River, it flows for over 1,050 miles (1,690 km). The Platte River is a tributary of the Missouri River, which itself is a tributary of the Mississippi River which flows to the Gulf of Mexico. The Platte over most of its length is a broad, shallow, meandering stream with a sandy bottom and many islands—a braided stream.
The Mormon Trail is the 1,300-mile (2,100 km) long route from Illinois to Utah that members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints traveled for 3 months. Today, the Mormon Trail is a part of the United States National Trails System, known as the Mormon Pioneer National Historic Trail.
The North Platte River is a major tributary of the Platte River and is approximately 716 miles (1,152 km) long, counting its many curves. In a straight line, it travels about 550 miles (890 km), along its course through the U.S. states of Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska.
The Wind River Range, is a mountain range of the Rocky Mountains in western Wyoming in the United States. The range runs roughly NW–SE for approximately 100 mi (160 km). The Continental Divide follows the crest of the range and includes Gannett Peak, which at 13,802 ft (4,207 m), is the highest peak in Wyoming; and also Fremont Peak at 13,750 ft (4,191 m), the third highest peak in Wyoming. There are more than 40 other named peaks in excess of 12,999 ft (3,962 m). With the exception of the Grand Teton in the Teton Range, the next 19 highest peaks in Wyoming after Gannett are also in the Winds.
The Sweetwater River is a 238-mile (383 km) long tributary of the North Platte River, in the U.S. state of Wyoming. As a part of the Mississippi River system, its waters eventually reach the Gulf of Mexico.
Fort Hall was a fort that was built in 1834 as a fur trading post by Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth. It was located on the Snake River in the eastern Oregon Country, now part of present-day Bannock County in southeastern Idaho, United States. Mr. Wyeth was an inventor and businessman from Boston, Massachusetts, who also founded a post at Fort William, in present-day Portland, Oregon, as part of a plan for a new trading and fisheries company. Unable to compete with the powerful British Hudson's Bay Company, based at Fort Vancouver, in 1837 Wyeth sold both posts to it. Great Britain and the United States both operated in the Oregon Country in these years.
The California Trail was an emigrant trail of about 1,600 mi (2,600 km) across the western half of the North American continent from Missouri River towns to what is now the state of California. After it was established, the first half of the California Trail followed the same corridor of networked river valley trails as the Oregon Trail and the Mormon Trail, namely the valleys of the Platte, North Platte, and Sweetwater rivers to Wyoming. The trail has several splits and cutoffs for alternative routes around major landforms and to different destinations, with a combined length of over 5,000 mi (8,000 km).
Independence Rock is a large granite rock, approximately 130 feet (40 m) high, 1,900 feet (580 m) long, and 850 feet (260 m) wide, which is in southwestern Natrona County, Wyoming along Wyoming Highway 220. During the middle of the 19th century, it formed a prominent and well-known landmark on the Oregon, Mormon, and California emigrant trails. Many of these emigrants carved their names on it, and it was described by early missionary and explorer Father Pierre-Jean De Smet in 1840 as the Register of the Desert. The site was designated a National Historic Landmark on January 20, 1961 and is now part of Independence Rock State Historic Site, owned and operated by the state of Wyoming.
Fort Laramie was a significant 19th-century trading post, diplomatic site, and military installation located at the confluence of the Laramie and the North Platte rivers. They joined in the upper Platte River Valley in the eastern part of the U.S. state of Wyoming. The fort was founded as a private trading post in the 1830s to service the overland fur trade; in 1849, it was purchased by the United States Army. It was located east of the long climb leading to the best and lowest crossing point of the Rocky Mountains at South Pass and became a popular stopping point for migrants on the Oregon Trail. Along with Bent's Fort on the Arkansas River, the trading post and its supporting industries and businesses were the most significant economic hub of commerce in the region.
The Cherokee Trail was a historic overland trail through the present-day U.S. states of Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, and Wyoming that was used from the late 1840s up through the early 1890s. The route was established in 1849 by a wagon train headed to the gold fields in California. Among the members of the expedition were a group of Cherokee. When the train formed in Indian Territory, Lewis Evans of Evansville, Arkansas, was elected Captain. Thus, this expedition is sometimes written as the Evans/Cherokee Train. In 1850 four wagon trains turned west on the Laramie Plains, along Wyoming's southern border to Fort Bridger.
Joseph R. Walker was a mountain man and experienced scout. He established the segment of the California Trail, the primary route for the emigrants to the gold fields during the California gold rush, from Fort Hall, Idaho to the Truckee River. The Walker River and Walker Lake in Nevada were named for him by John C. Frémont.
Robert Stuart was a Scottish-born, Canadian and American fur trader, best known as a member of the first European-American party to cross South Pass during an overland expedition from Fort Astoria to Saint Louis in 1811. He was a member of the North West Company (NWC) until recruited by John Jacob Astor to develop the new Pacific Fur Company, which was based at Fort Astoria, on the coast of present-day Oregon. Astor intended the venture to develop a continent-wide commercial empire in fur trading.
The path followed by the Oregon Trail, California Trail and Mormon Trail spans 400 miles (640 km) through the U.S. state of Wyoming. The trail entered from Nebraska on the eastern border of the state near the present day town of Torrington and exited on the western border near the towns of Cokeville and Afton. An estimated 350,000 to 400,000 settlers traveled on the trail through Wyoming between 1841 and 1868. All three trails follow the same path through most of the state. The Mormon Trail splits at Fort Bridger and enters Utah, while the Oregon and California Trails continue to Idaho.
Union Pass is a high mountain pass in the Wind River Range in Fremont County of western Wyoming in the United States. The pass is located on the Continental Divide between the Gros Ventre mountains on the west and the Wind River Range on the east. A triple divide exists nearby, where water may flow to the Mississippi River, Columbia River, or Colorado River. The pass was historically used by Native Americans and early mountain men including the Astor Expedition in 1811 on its way west. On the return trip, fearing hostile Indian activity near Union Pass, the Astorians chose a southern route and discovered South Pass.
The Overland Trail was a stagecoach and wagon trail in the American West during the 19th century. While portions of the route had been used by explorers and trappers since the 1820s, the Overland Trail was most heavily used in the 1860s as a route alternative to the Oregon, California, and Mormon trails through central Wyoming. The Overland Trail was famously used by the Overland Stage Company owned by Ben Holladay to run mail and passengers to Salt Lake City, Utah, via stagecoaches in the early 1860s. Starting from Atchison, Kansas, the trail descended into Colorado before looping back up to southern Wyoming and rejoining the Oregon Trail at Fort Bridger. The stage line operated until 1869 when the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroad eliminated the need for mail service via Thais' stagecoach.
In the American Old West, overland trails were built by pioneers and immigrants throughout the 19th century and especially between 1829 and 1870 as an alternative to sea and railroad transport. These immigrants began to settle much of North America west of the Great Plains as part of the mass overland migrations of the mid-19th century. Settlers emigrating from the eastern United States were spurred by various motives, among them religious persecution and economic incentives, to move to destinations in the far west via routes including the Oregon Trail, California Trail, and Mormon Trail. After the end of the Mexican–American War in 1849, vast new American conquests again enticed mass immigration. Legislation like the Donation Land Claim Act and significant events like the California Gold Rush further lured people to travel overland to the west.
The historic 2,170-mile (3,490 km) Oregon Trail connected various towns along the Missouri River to Oregon's Willamette Valley. It was used during the 19th century by Great Plains pioneers who were seeking fertile land in the West and North.
Split Rock, also known as Twin Peaks, is a mountain in the Granite Mountains of central Wyoming. The peak has an elevation of 7,305 feet (2,227 m), and is located about 10 miles (16 km) north of the Muddy Gap junction between Casper and Rawlins. The mountain is distinctive for a deep V-shaped cleft dividing its summit. The mountain was a prominent landmark on the Oregon Trail and other early settlement routes in the region, which crossed a low rise at the eastern end of the range between Casper and the North Platte River valley and the Sweetwater River.
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