Monday, September 16, 2013

The Lassen Trail - The Death Trail

     Around 1840 the California Trail followed the same route as the Oregon Trail until the trails passed through Wyoming and arrived at Ft. Hall, Idaho.  From there the California Trail passed south through Nevada.   Once in Nevada the trail split several times.  At various times different branches over or around the mountain ranges became popular.  In 1848 Peter Lassen began promoting one of these branches of California Trail.  This branch veered north almost to the northeastern corner of California near Goose lake.  This branch then turned south to Lake Amador and ended in Tehama County near Peter Lassen's 22,000 acres ranch.  The Lassen Trail in part was extremely arduous and many emigrants regretted taking this route.  This 'shortcut' was actually about 200 miles longer than some of the other routes.  This trail was nicknamed the 'Death Trail'.
     The Lorton, Mannen and other allied families had left North Carolina after the Revolutionary War and traveled to Warren County, Kentucky.   After a few years some of the families left for Illinois while others left for Missouri.  William Lorton moved to Missouri sometime prior to 1840.  There he and his wife homesteaded 40 acres.  In 1849 William Lorton, his wife, Elizabeth and 14 year old son James left their home in Missouri and headed to California by way of the Lassen Trail.  They may have started to California as a result of hearing the news about the discovery of gold.  They must have gotten a late start or been slowed on the trail because the wagon train didn't arrive in California until late November after the snows had started.  
     James Lorton wrote, “We came the Lassen rout it snowed so hard in the mountains that it broke down our tents we had to leave everything except 4 yoke of oxen we started afoot we would all have perished in site of Sackerment valley but the govermint sent releafe to us. . . . "  The location is uncertain but James stated that both William and his wife died somewhere on the trail.  James had no formal schooling and did not know how to read or write until later in life. 
     It would appear that James spent most of his life seaching unsuccessfully for his pot of gold.  He lived in no less that seven locations in California.

Map that includes the Lassen Tail

Photos of the Lassen Trail

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