Applegate Trail South

Horner Museum Tour Guide Series

Applegate Trail South: Corvallis to Yoncalla

By Kenneth Munford and Harriet Moore
Originally published in the Horner Museum Tour Guide Series, 1978

A Chronology of the Old Oregon-California Trail

1811-13  Astorians explore, trap, trade and set up sub-posts in Willamette Valley.

1818-21  North West Fur Company sends traders south of Willamette.

1825-43  Hudson's Bay Company sends fur brigades almost annually from Columbia River to California.

1828  Jedediah Smith, American comes north from California.

1834  Ewing Young, Hall J. Kelley (Americans) drive herd of horses from Sacramento to Chehalem.

1835  Dr. William Bailey arrives from California.

1837  Ewing Young et al bring cattle from California.

1838-40  Jason Lee visits Umpquas.

1841-45  Emmons, Hastings, Clyman, etc. use trail.

1846  Scott, Applegates, et al scout South Road from Polk Co. to Ashland and east to Pocatello and bring back immigrants in covered wagons.

1847  More wagons enter valley on Applegate Trail.

1848  Gold seekers rush south; 150 of them take first 46 wagons to California from Oregon

1849  Much traffic - men, equipment, produce, supplies.

1850-56  Indian wars and gold discovery in southern Oregon bring much travel north and south. Immigrants from east over South Road stay in southern Oregon.

1852  Territorial Road from Marysville to Winchester authorized by Territorial Legislature.

1853  Congress appropriates $20,000 to improve road from Umpqua to Rogue River.

1854  U. S. mail service between California and Oregon.

1859  Weekly stage coach service Portland-Sacramento.

1872  Oregon & California railroad extended to Roseburg. Daily stage coach service from Roseburg to Redding.

1911-23  Pacific Highway built as part of "the longest paved highway in the world" from Mexico to Canada. Later designated U.S. 99.

1924  Westside Willamette Valley Pacific Highway (99W) completed through Corvallis to Junction City.

1970s  Interstate 5 replaces U.S. 99 as main artery.

The trails we trace on this tour  known variously as "The Hudson's Bay Pack Trail, " "The Old California Trail, " and "The Applegate Trail" have served many purposes in the last century and a half. Game paths and Indian trails became pack trails for hunters, trappers, and traders. Immigrants widened them into roads for covered wagons. Wagon roads carried stagecoaches, suggested routes for railroad and telegraph lines, and eventually became territorial, county, state and federal highways.

The American fur traders who founded Astoria in 1811 explored and built two sub-posts in the Willamette Valley but did not venture into the mountains to the south. The Canadian North West Company who bought Astoria in 1813, sent 60 men into the Umpqua Valley in 1818 and had a depot or meeting place for trappers there after 1820.

The British Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) absorbed the North West Co. in 1821 and moved the base of operations to Fort Vancouver in 1825. From there brigades spread over the Pacific Northwest to trap and trade and to bring back pelts to be shipped to England.

Alexander McLeod (for whom McCloud river and town in California are named) led several HBC brigades into southern Oregon 1826-28. Joe Gervais scouted a trail between the Umpqua and Willamette for Peter Skene Ogden in 1827. John Work and Michel LaFramboise led brigades through the area in 1832-33. Families sometimes accompanied the French-Canadian voyageurs on long trips and at lonely outposts.

John Work, HBC chief trader, kept a diary of the brigade he led from Vancouver to the Umpqua and back in 1834. It describes a typical route, the first part of which was the same as that taken by Jason Lee later that year on his way into the Willamette Valley.
On May 22, 1834, Work's brigade of 12 men, some with families, crossed the Columbia by boat to Multnomah Channel (Columbia Slough) near Thomas McKay's farm opposite the site on Sauvie Island where Nathaniel Wyeth would soon build Fort William (between Holbrook and Scappoose). On horses obtained from McKay they went over the Tualatin Mountains, possibly on the Logie Trail, and camped near North Plains. South of Forest Grove they camped between Dilley and Gaston. Continuing southward they came into the upper Cheha1em Valley (where Ewing Young would pasture his horses later that fall .

They forded the Yamhill River near Lafayette or Dayton on May 30 and camped on Salt Creek near Amity. The next day they covered 24 miles over "a fine uninterrupted Plain of fine soil" passing Perryda1e, fording La Creole Creek, and camping on the Luckiamute. On June 1, they camped near Monroe. They followed the Long Tom River, passing Cheshire and crossing what is now Fern Ridge Lake to camp on Coyote Creek, 10 miles west of Eugene.

Up the narrow valley of Coyote Creek they crossed the divide to the upper Siuslaw and camped near Lorane. Wet weather kept them in camp two days, but on the 7th they moved on to Drain, and then to Oakland and the mouth of Calapooya Creek below Sutherlin. Here they turned homeward, still seeking to add to the 100 or more furs they had obtained from Indians along the way. Northward they rode near what are now Cottage Grove, Springfield, Harrisburg, Monroe, Corvallis, Amity, and along the same trail they had come south on.
The first American of record to travel north from California was Jedediah Smith. In 1828 he fled from the Umpqua to Fort Vancouver after 15 of the 19 men in his party had been killed and their horses and furs stolen by the Indians.

The next Americans, Ewing Young, Hall J. Kelley, and 14 others came in 1834, driving 150 mules and horses from the Sacramento to Chehalem Valley.

Dr. William Bailey, wounded in a massacre in which four others were lost, stumbled north to safety on this trail in 1835 - and survived to marry Margaret Smith, the Lee mission teacher who became Oregon's first novelist, and to take an active part in the Provisional Government.

In 1837, Ewing Young, Dr. Bailey, and 15 others herded 630 cattle north from California to Chehalem Valley for the Willamette Cattle Company. Jason Lee rode from Mission Bottom to the Umpqua in 1838 and again, with Dr. Elijah White and Gustavus Hines, in 1840 assessing prospects for a mission in southern Oregon. Expeditions of some size are recorded for 1841 and 1845; others undoubtedly went unrecorded.

Thus, before the Applegates came into the picture, a fairly well known pack trail with several variations had been traveled by hundreds of people going both south and north between the Columbia and California. The unique contribution of Levi Scott, Jesse and Lindsay Applegate, David Goff, and 11 others in the summer of 1846 was that they began to turn the trail into a wagon road on which immigrants from the east could enter the Willamette Valley from the south.

The first road-scouting party of volunteers left Polk County on May 15, 1846, traveling along the west side of the Willamette Valley to the site of Eugene. They unsuccessfully probed what is now the Willamette Pass over the Cascades, then followed an Indian trail paralleling I-5 and got as far as Drain and Oakland before getting discouraged and returning.

A new party, including Scott, Goff, and 9 others of the first party and adding Jesse Applegate as captain, his brother Lindsay, and two others, made a new start in June 1846. According to Lindsay Applegate's account written 31 years later, the men gathered on La Creole Creek (near Dallas) on June 20 and reached the Marys River that day. His details are vague but he mentions passing Spencer Butte, crossing the divide, going down the North Umpqua and up the South Umpqua, and spending days trying to find a feasible wagon route through the hills and canyons of Douglas and Josephine counties.

From Emigrant Creek near Ashland the road scouters turned east over the Cascades and found their way across arid northern Nevada to Fort Hall in southeast Idaho. There they met wagons coming west over the Oregon Trail. They described advantages of the route they had just traversed and as a result 450-500 people in 90-100 wagons decided to try what has become known as the South Road or Applegate Cut-Off. It proved a difficult, and for some a disastrous, route but most of them came through to the Willamette Valley late in the fall.

About half the number took the Applegate Trail from Fort Hall in 1846 tried it in 1847. None came that way in 1848, but as a result of the gold rush many used it in coming west to California through southern Oregon in 1849. As a route for immigrants to the Willamette Valley, however, it was unused after 1847. Those who came that way in later years stopped in southern Oregon, either to settle or to hunt gold, which was discovered there in 1851-52.
Highlights of subsequent development of the old trail to California are indicated in the chronology above. On this tour our route roughly follows the old pack trail of the HBC going south and returns along one of the routes used by immigrants of 1846.

Points of Interest


The old pack trail wound its way south from Adair Village and Lewisburg, veered off to the southwest near the Good Samaritan Hospital, and skirted the northwest edge of the city. It went on west to a ford on Oak Creek. On the south side of Bald Hill (Mt. Baldy) packers had a choice in fording Marys River. In dry seasons they could go south and cross near the mouth of Newton Creek. When the river was a rushing torrent, they continued westward to cross a mile or so above Philomath.


By the time the United Brethren decided to build a college here in 1865, the Marys River had long since been bridged at Marysville and the pack trail had no use. The college founders bought a half section (320 acres), reserved 8 acres for the school, and sold off the rest as town lots and small acreages to help raise money for the college. They named the institution Philomath, "lover of learning." The town took its name from the College.
One of the Applegate Trail markers put up in the late 1940s has survived on the school grounds at 16th and Applegate Streets. Go south on 13th Street across Marys River to Independent School. Turn left to Bellfountain Road and south past Inavale School to Greenberry Road.

Herbert Grist Mill

A marker ? mile east on Greenberry Road indicates the location of the first flour mill in Benton County, built by Joshua and Elizabeth Herbert in 1850 and operated by Elizabeth after her husband's death. Also site of Inavale post office operated by John and Mary Mitchell from 1893 or 1896 to 1905.


Named for Bellefontaine, Ohio. John E. Smith, author of The Applegate Trail through Benton County, says the trail ran between the church and store in Bellfountain. Opinions differ in regard to where it went from here. Smith says it angled off to the southeast (as the railroad does now) to Bailey Junction "and thence easterly through the cemetery gap" to Monroe. The late Loris Inman of Eugene, said that he had followed the trail south from Alpine, up Cherry Creek, and over the hill to Ferguson. Both may be right. The pack trail un-doubtedly varied from year to year and from season to season depending on traveling conditions and the whim of the travelers.


After we pass two picturesque churches and a unique private museum, we go south on Territorial Road. The Legislature of the Oregon Territory on Feb. 4, 1852, authorized this road to be built from Marysville, seat of Benton County to Winchester, seat of Douglas County.


All that remains of a fairly large sawmill is the dried-up mill pond and a few shacks. The crop of timber harvested for this mill has now been re-placed by a new crop of Christmas trees.


Early accounts mention camp sites near here. Turn left to Applegate Market and right on road marked "Applegate Trail."


Although one of the two churches bears the peaceful name Bethany, a heated controversy - even involving Prof. John B. Horner of Oregon State College - took place for many decades over what to call this community. Daniel Smith settled here in 1852. R. V. Howard opened a store at what he called Smithfield in 1857. In the meantime, Franklin post office was opened nearby. Howard tried to get the name changed to Smithfield, but there was already a post office by that name in Polk Co. The squabble ran on into the 1930s when the county commissioners finally settled on a compromise, authorizing the name "Franklin-Smithfield". In more recent times "Franklin" seems to have won out.

The marker on the right reads: "West Side Old Territorial Road 1848-1865." This marks the old stage route and DANIEL SMITH donation land claim home site 1852-1908. Smithfield dedicated in his honor 1862. Presented by the Lewis and Clark Chapter, D.A.R. Eugene, Oregon, 1950."

Fern Ridge

Early maps show the old trail crossing the area now filled by Fern Ridge Lake, which was created about 1940 by construction of an earth-fill dam.


Byron Ellmaker did not like the name Duckworth for the place where he operated a smithy in 1884 and got it changed to Elmira, for a town he liked in California.


Named for Veneta Hunter by her father, who started a post office here in 1914.


Named for the Crow family who settled here. Note Applegate School.

Mountain House Hotel SiteBuilt by D. B. Cartwright in 1853, a hotel which stood here until recently was operated by him until his death in 1875 and thereafter by his son-in-law William Russel. It had a post office 1879-1890, was a stage station on the Oregon-California run, and was on the telegraph line which was extended from Corvallis to Roseburg in 1864. At Roseburg the telegraph line connected with a line from San Francisco thereby giving Oregon its first transcontinental connection. The mayor of Portland, Maine, exchanged messages with the mayor of Portland, Oregon, on March 8, 1864. (Note marker on left.)


Here the old pack trail and wagon road join what later became the main thoroughfare for the Oregon and California (O & C) Railroad and the Pacific Highway.

Drain (pop. 1,250)

A donation land claim settled in 1847 by Warren Goodell was sold to Jesse Applegate, who sold it about 1850 to Charles Drain and son J. C., both of whom later served in the Oregon Legislature. They deeded 60 acres to the O & C Railroad (1871-72) for station and yards and laying out the town. Drain Academy, founded in 1882, was designated Central Oregon State Normal School but operated without state funds until it closed in 1907.

This strategic location on Elk Creek provides access to the lower Umpqua, Scottsburg, and the coast. It is mentioned in many accounts of packers and wagon trains who camped here. Drain grew into a prosperous town, as some of the fine old homes suggest, but when the Southern Pacific rerouted its main line through Klamath Falls to Eugene in the 1930s rail traffic through Drain suffered, and more recently being bypassed by I-5 has caused the town to languish.

Mt. Yoncalla (elevation 1,804 feet)

"Home of the Eagles," long a landmark at the foot of Yoncalla Valley.

Boswell Mineral Springs

The swiftly deteriorating old building you see here - known locally as "The Castle" - is the second grand resort hotel on this site. Conrad Snowden, who took a 320-acre claim here - joining Jesse Applegate on the south - realized the possibility of developing a spa. With a Dr. (John E.?) Payton, who eventually became sole owner, he built a 3-story hotel adjacent to the railroad and widely advertised the curative powers of the mineral springs.
In 1887, Captain Benjamin D. Boswell, USA Ret., and his wife bought the property. A native of Indiana, Boswell had risen in rank from 1st Sergeant to Major in the West Virginia Volunteers between 1861 and 1864. After the Civil War, he received a commission as a 2nd Lt. in the regular army with promotions to Brevet 1stt Lt. and Brevet Capt. "for gallant and meritorious service in the Siege of Vicksburg" and other wartime service. On June 18, 1873, the Board of Trustees of Corvallis College elected him military instructor, and for four years he was the first commandant of cadets and professor of military science at Corvallis State Agricultural College. The Army retired him in 1878.

The Boswells developed the handsome Boswell Mineral Springs Resort hotel in the 1890s with Mrs. B's paintings adorning the walls, potted palms on the wide veranda, and a well tended rose garden. They featured good food, built a swimming pool, and provided recreation for those who came "to take the cure": croquet, tennis, golf, horseback riding, hunting and fishing. The potassium, sodium, magnesium, calcium, and iron compounds in the water were said to provide "Nature's Own Remedy for the Relief of rheumatism, stomach disorders, kidney troubles, and blood diseases."

A disastrous fire in 1901 destroyed the original building. This one, which had been built as a dormitory and ball room was converted into a hotel and sanatorium. After the Boswells, several other owners continued to operate it off and on as late as 1950.

Jesse Applegate Home Site

Some of the men who scouted South Road in 1846 liked this area so much that they moved here. Levi Scott came in 1848, then moved on to found Scottsburg, on the lower Umpqua, a port that became the metropolis of southern Oregon during the gold rushes. Jesse and Charles Applegate moved their families here from Salt Creek in Polk County in 1849. Brother Lindsay explored the Rogue River country on his way to the California mines in 1848. He moved there about 1849 and from 1861 to 1868 operated the toll road from Ashland south over the Siskiyous. The marker here reads:

Pioneer, statesman, philosopher. Leader of migration to Oregon in 1843. Leader of Provisional Government of Oregon in 1844-49.
First Surveyor General in 1844. Trail blazer, Fort Hall, Idaho, to Willamette Valley in1846. Member of Oregon Territory Legislature in 1849. Member of Constitutional Convention for State of Oregon in 1857. Settled here in 1849, 1/2 mile west of this spot. His house was scene of first court of Provisional Government, Southern District, 1852.

Jesse and his wife Cynthia Ann lie buried in a private cemetery above the old home site.

Charles Applegate House

Of the three Applegate brothers Charles, 37, was the eldest. Lindsay was 35, Jesse 32, when they came west from Missouri in 1843. Charles stayed home on Salt Creek while the others scouted the Applegate Trail in 1846. In 1849 he moved here to Yoncalla and in the 1850s started this house, which has been added to and remodeled several times since. It is now owned by a descendent, Col. Rex Applegate of Scottsburg - His son, Rex, Jr., helps maintain the old home and grounds in fine condition. Charles' granddaughter, Hazel Peret, well along in years but agile in mind and memory, still lives in Yoncalla.

Rice Hill

From here south to Ashland there is one main thoroughfare through the canyons of the North and South Umpqua, Canyon Creek, and Cow Creek over Sexton Moun¬tain, and along the Rogue River and Bear Creek. Early explorers tried to find easier routes on either side but always came back to this one. The railroad loops out on easier but not shorter grades in several places, for the most part the Pacific Highway, the railroad, and I-5 run the same channel.
Incidentally just over Rice Hill to the south, the thoroughfare follows Cabin Creek down to Oakland. Near the mouth of that creek, the Reverend Josephus A. Cornwall, rabidly pro-slavery Cumberland Presbyterian minister whom we met on Tour #5 at Spring Valley Church, stopped for the winter of 1846-47 and built what is supposed to be the first cabin built by an American in Douglas County. He had lost his oxen and wanted to save his wagons, library, and equipment. With help from the Willamette Valley he moved his family north the next spring. He founded churches near Marysville (1849) and in several other communities.

North from here, opinions differ in regard to how the first wagons on the Applegate Trail reached the Willamette Valley. Instead of following the old pack trail we have come south on, some wagons are known to have taken a route that more closely follows I-5, on which we return north, through Cottage Grove, Creswell, and Eugene.

North from Eugene, the starving immigrants devised various means of getting to the settlements in mid-valley and farther north. Some made canoes or boats to travel by water. Some rode horseback to get supplies back to the wagons. For wagons in the flatlands, mud, rain, and high water, caused problems.

One old wagon route approximates River Road through Santa Clara, bypassing Junction City to the northeast. Some wagons may have crossed the Willamette and gone north to Chemeketa on the east side. On the route we are paralleling, the wagons reached 99W at Benton-Lane park and crossed the Long Tom in the vicinity of Monroe. At Winkle Butte travelers found a pleasant camping spot between the two hills. It was above the flooded lowlands and wood was available for camp fires.

"The next stream was Mary's River," Rev. A. E. Garrison wrote, "This was also full; here we took our wagons to pieces and ferried over on the smallest canoe I ever saw." North of Corvallis, the most used route appears to have been the old pack trail from Adair Village through Airlie to Dallas. From there the immigrants could follow down La Creole Creek to the Ford and Goff homes at Rickreall and on to Salem and the Methodist mission.
The only houses the '46ers saw before reaching La Creole Creek were those of Skinner at Eugene, Avery at Marysville, Lewis at Lewisburg, and Read at Adair Village.

Among the Applegate Trailers of 1846 who later became prominent are Tabitha Brown, 66, co-founder of Pacific University, and her son Orus; Col. Alphonso Boone, 50, grandson of Daniel Boone, a widower with 10 sons and daughters, who with two of his sons operated Boone's Ferry at Wilsonville and whose daughter Chloe married Geo. L. Curry, Territorial Governor 1853-59; Rev. J. A. Cornwall, Cumberland Presbyterian minister; J. Quinn Thornton, 36, lawyer, judge, author; and Lucy Henderson, 11, who six years later married Judge Mathew Deady, a founder of the Multnomah Public Library and for 20 years Regent of the University of Oregon.
For vivid descriptions of the struggles of these and others to get to the Willamette Valley and for other details see Klamath Echoes, No. 14, 1976, "Applegate Trail II, West of the Cascades," edited by Devere and Helen Helfrich.

John Work's diary was published in Oregon Historical Quarterly, September 1923. See also Ewing Young: Master Trapper by Kenneth Holmes.