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The Old Spanish Trail and the California Road

An arduous 1,200 mile route between Santa Fe and Los Angeles, the northern most variant of the "Old Spanish Trail" passed through Mountain Meadows during its heyday, between 1830 and 1848. The trail served traders who loaded their pack mules with woolen goods from Santa Fe each fall and returned from California each spring with Chinese goods and mules and horses for markets in Missouri. The trail followed along the west side of the Mountain Meadows to a campsite at the south end of the valley, then down Magotsu Creek.

Attempts to blaze this route began as early as 1765, when Juan Maria de Rivera explored from Santa Fe to the Gunnison River, in Colorado. Fathers Athanasio Dominguez and Velez de Escalante were turned back by heavy snows in 1776 in an attempt to reach California. Traveling as far north as the Provo area, they gave up the venture while camped between modern Milford and Cedar City. Later, Spanish traders made frequent visits from New Mexico to barter with the Utes for pelts and slaves. Jedediah Smith explored the western stretch of the trail from Utah to California in 1826-27.

The first to complete the circuit from Santa Fe to Los Angeles was Mexican trader Antonio Armijo in the winter of 1829-30. Ewing Young's trapping party from Taos may have followed the trail about the same time. In 1830-31, William Wolfskill proved its utility for pack trains, and a brisk trade flourished for a dozen years. After 1848, the trail fell rapidly into disuse.

Discharged members of the Mormon Battalion en route to Salt Lake City from San Diego drove the first wheeled vehicles over the trail in 1848. This opened a new emigrant wagon route known as the "California Road". It was used by gold seekers and other California emigrants and by Mormon travelers. The wagon road shifted to the east side of the meadows to avoid Magotsu Creek. It was this route to California that brought the party of Arkansas Emigrants to the Mountain Meadows, Utah in September of 1857.

Old Spanish Trail Association

Map of the Old Spanish Trail

The Old Spanish Trail in Utah

The Western Writers of America hike to the Mountain Meadows
Massacre memorial along the Old Spanish Trail in Utah, June 2004



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