Eighteen miles west of South Pass, the
emigrants came to the first of many decision points on
the road to California. Parting of the Ways offered the
choice between a safe, established trail following water
and relatively level ground or a substantial shortcut
through dry, barren and mountainous country. Many chose
the shortcut. Mountain man Caleb Greenwood pioneered the
shortcut, but it was known as Sublette's Cutoff by most
pioneers. It offered a direct route west to the Bear
River eliminating the southern dog-leg to Fort Bridger
followed by the older, established emigrant road.
On both routes, the emigrants soon
confronted the Green River, a north-south barrier to
the east-west route of the Oregon-Mormon-California
Trail. Every emigrant had to cross it in some manner.
Over the years, a variety of fords and ferry sites
were established along a 30-mile stretch of the River
from the mouth of the Big Sandy to the Names Hill (La
Barge), serving travelers on the Fort Bridger, Slate
Creek, Kinney and Sublette branches of the Trail.
Fortunately, by the time the
emigration reached the Green on any given year, the
river's annual snow melt flood had mostly passed, but
the Green was still a formidable obstacle. Early wagon
trains drove through the river using fords that
changed annually with each spring's high water. Guides
would force wagons through the current using multiple
teams and dozens of mounted outriders. They followed
gravel bars so narrow that the deviation of even a few
feet meant the loss of a wagon, or worse. In extreme
cases, emigrants had to unload and dismantle their
wagons and float everything across a piece at a time.
Drownings of both the emigrants and their livestock
were all too common.
The Mormons established the first ferry
services in 1847 and eventually ran commercial ferry
operations on both the Fort Bridger and Sublette
branches. Mountain men also established several ferry
services in locations that changed from year to year.
Ben Watts arrived at the Green on July 7, 1849 and
wrote, "The grass being good on the other side, we
swam our stock over very early, then ferried our wagons
over at the Upper Ferry owned by a Mormon."
John B. Hill, 1850
"A rope with pulleys on it was
stretched across the river, and the current carried the
boat across. When we were nearly across, the upper edge
of the boat dipped...and I thought we would be swamped
instantly...and drown the last one of us. At the time,
the Green River was booming."
After crossing the Green, the emigrants
headed off across the barren Sublette Cutoff.
Enterprising Argonauts, always in a hurry, would refine
the Sublette route into additional cutoffs with names
like Slate Creek, Kinney, Hams Fork and Dempsey. Many
wagon trains split up at Parting of the Ways as members
disagreed on the best route to follow. James
Mather wrote, "Our company separated today,
eight wagons taking the common route and the others,
with Major Cooper, taking what is called the
Goldsborough Bruff reached the fork in the road
and recorded that his company, "...had a meeting,
when all of them followed me on the 'Cut-off' except two
ox wagons." He also noticed, "...a stick
driven in the ground, with a board nailed to it,
plastered with notices, of what companies, men...and
when they passed, on either route."
The Sublette Cutoff was a difficult
route through hostile, rugged country. Ben
Watts, traveling in 1849, recorded the accepted
way to cross the long, dry section. "We moved
seven miles to the Big Sandy and camped, in order to
rest our stock and fit them for the coming desert of
51 miles to Green River. We did not start until 6pm
and traveled all night." E.
W. Conyers, on the trail in 1852, described the
mountain country west of the Green River. "The
word steep does not begin to convey an idea of the
roads. Several times I felt sure the wagon would tip
over on the tongue yoke of cattle."
That the route entailed many hardships
is clear from the small emigrant graveyard found on the
cutoff. Among those buried here is Nancy
Hill who died of cholera on June 5, 1852.
Described as a "goddess of a girl," Hill was
healthy one evening and dead the next. According to area
legend, her fiancé returned to tend her grave for the
next fifty years.
But the Sublette Cutoff saved about 50
miles and perhaps as much as three days travel time. For
many emigrants, that was more than enough to justify the