Historic Context Statements
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Chapter 5:
Overland Travel in the Craters of the Moon Region, 1852-1904

Overview of Overland Travel on the Snake River Plain

Beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, a mass migration transformed the American West, forever changing a region composed mostly of Indians and Hispanics living in small villages and tribal communities. Neither uniform nor steady, migration brought diverse groups of people to the West, such as Anglo Americans, European immigrants, black Americans, Mexican immigrants, and Chinese, all of whom formed migration streams flowing north, east and west. For all of this diversity, however, Anglo Americans dominated western migration, a fact which only slightly simplifies a complex process, especially when it comes to generalizing about who migrants were, why they migrated, and where they migrated. [1]

Broadly speaking, most settlers were native-born, white farmers from middle-class backgrounds. They could not only afford to migrate and establish new farms, but they also had a family history of migrating. Not all migrants were farmers, a good many headed west during the California Gold Rush of 1849 and subsequent mineral rushes, which washed over sections of the Far West like flash floods. These migrants wanted to accumulate property--in the form of precious metals--rather than create a new home. Similarly, migration patterns tended to correlate with larger cycles of the American economy. Periods of rapid growth led to large increases in western settlement and the expansion of farming, while periods of depression led to declines in migration and the number of new farms. Still other Americans, such as the Mormons, migrated for reasons of religious freedom. A final and constant migration pattern or trait, one which applied to all emigrant groups, was mobility. Americans of all backgrounds were a restless lot, frequently on the move. These characteristics in turn influenced where people migrated, for they did not spread out evenly across the trans-Missouri West. In the mid-nineteenth century, for example, emigrants in search of farms flowed in streams from east to west flooding the agricultural lands bordering the Pacific Coast in Oregon and California and near the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Gold Rush migrants, on the other hand, headed to the mountains of California, and over the next several decades spread out through the mountains of Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, and South Dakota. Around the 1880s, land-hungry emigrants began inundating the Great Plains, taking up farms for the first time in what had once been considered the "Great American Desert." But even with this change of course, emigrants left vast portions of the Great Basin, an inhospitable desert, unsettled. Instead, with the advent of irrigation projects around the turn of the century, they favored the inland empire north of the Great Basin--eastern Oregon and Washington and southern Idaho. [2]

One of the most significant chapters in western migration was the overland migration to Oregon and California, the longest journey of its kind ventured by American settlers. The Oregon Trail (with its various alternates and cutoffs to California) extended for some four hundred miles across southern Idaho, and served as the primary route for emigrants traveling through this region. The trail took migrants along the rim of the Snake River and across the Snake River Plain, one of the most difficult stretches of the route. The route itself had been explored and traveled by fur traders, explorers, and missionaries beginning around 1810, preparing the way for the first Midwestern farmers and settlers heading west in 1840. New possibilities awaited them at their destinations in the fertile valleys of Oregon or the mineral-rich mountains of California. Thus, they avoided lingering for long on the plain, finding little enticement in the heat, sage and sand to change their plans. [3]

Emigration started slowly. The long route from Missouri offered few amenities at first. Among the earliest and most important to appear on the Snake River Plain were the fur trade posts of Fort Hall and Fort Boise. Built between 1834 and 1836, they were converted into emigrant supply centers once the beaver trade declined. Trail improvements encouraged travel as well. By 1843, travelers were able to drive wagons west of Fort Hall, and by 1860 more than 53,000 people had crossed the trail to Oregon and more than 200,000 to California. During the 1860s, the flow of emigrants slowed for a short time, then surged between 1862 and 1866, for a total of some 125,000 emigrants-- constituting the longest unbroken migration wave over the Oregon-California Trail. With the end of the Civil War and the arrival of the transcontinental railroad on the plains, overland travel steadily declined. [4]

During these later waves, emigrants rushed to find gold in western Montana and southern Idaho. The interest in Idaho mines was coupled with a fear of Indian conflicts, which led to the use of alternate routes across the Snake River Plain, an important one being Goodale's Cutoff. Although most overlanders viewed the remote lava landscape of the plain as a sterile and hostile environment, some settled in the new mining communities, such as the Boise Basin, in the 1860s. Over the next two decades, the emigrant road and its branches in southern Idaho were used for stock driving, freight and stage lines to mines and remote communities, as well as emigrant travel. By 1880, rail service replaced most of these routes, yet some still provided access to outlying mining and farming areas until the turn of the century. [5]

Overland Travel near Craters of the Moon, 1852-1904

Emigrant travelers passed within the lava landscape of what is today Craters of the Moon National Monument in the latter half of the nineteenth century over a popular branch of the Oregon Trail known as Goodale's Cutoff. The cutoff departed the Oregon Trail at Fort Hall, turned north and crossed the Snake River Plain past Big Southern Butte to Big Lost River, and then turned west for Camas Prairie, skirting the flanks of the Pioneer Mountains and the northern edge of the lava flows within Craters of the Moon. From Camas Prairie, the cutoff approached the Boise Basin from the north and rejoined the Oregon Trail at Ditto Creek. It represented a well established travel route. Northern Shoshone and other tribal groups crossed above the lava beds on their seasonal migration to Camas Prairie. Fur traders later exploited the route; Donald McKenzie explored the section across Camas Prairie for the North West Company in 1820, and the Hudson's Bay Company's Snake brigades blazed the trail across the basalt desert between the Big Lost and the Snake rivers in the 1820s and 1830s. Fur traders, mountain men, and explorers crossed this general route as they traveled through the region. Some emigrants used the cutoff in the early 1850s, but it saw its heaviest travel in the 1860s, when gold discoveries and Indian conflicts spurred migrants to seek alternate routes from the main Oregon Trail. During the latter part of the nineteenth and the opening years of the twentieth centuries, Goodale's Cutoff functioned as a livestock trail, served freight and stage lines to the mines and farming communities in the Lost River and Wood River regions, and continued to be used as an emigrant route in the remote recesses of the upper Snake River Plain. [6]

As early as 1852, emigrant wagons crossed the eastern section of Goodale's Cutoff, traversing the region between Fort Hall and Camas Prairie. A manuscript map prepared in the Willamette Valley, May 4, 1853, identified this segment of Goodale's route as a "new road traveled by wagon first July 20th, 1852." Though the route was scarcely used, a decade later emigrants crossing the route found a trunk abandoned by travelers in 1853 and noticed names carved on rocks and trees in 1854. [7]

Emigrants who traveled the route were probably responding to the salesmanship of John J. Jeffrey. Jeffrey promoted this new cutoff between 1852 and 1854, hoping to profit from his ferry across the Snake near the mouth of the Blackfoot River. For a time the route even bore his name, but the venture failed. Most likely, the entrepreneur convinced few emigrants to travel this route because the cutoff passed through such an uninviting landscape. The volcanic desert offered emigrant parties limited amounts of water and grass and an abundance of sharp-edged lava. Typically, parties arrived on the Snake River Plain in July and August, the hottest and driest time of year, and having traveled almost thirteen hundred miles, emigrants were not easily persuaded to take the unfamiliar route. [8]

Those who chose this route commented about the difficulties of driving wagons and livestock through a desert of sage, sand, and lava beds. The volcanic country seemed to have few redeeming qualities. Emigrants found some solace in Big Southern and Twin buttes on the otherwise level plain, for they marked the route and possible locations of springs. But that was perhaps their sole source of comfort. As emigrants neared the Big Lost River, the landscape grew more volcanic and more austere. Reaching the river was usually a blessing since by this point some emigrants had traveled about forty miles without water. Yet as Harvey H. Jones noted in late July 1854, the experience was tempered by the fact that the country "has been all torn to pieces by volcanoes." [9] Turning west the trail grew dry and dusty once more, and for twenty-five miles led through a "very barren country" of sagebrush and volcanic landforms. For several days wagon parties traveled near the "vast sight of volcanic eruption." The distance between the lava beds and the base of the mountains narrowed before they camped at Champagne Creek, "a handsome valley," and proceeded to wind around the edge of the Craters of the Moon lava flows. [10]

Winfield Scott Ebey captured the experience in August 1854. As his party approached the lava fields, he described a territorial view, behind him lay the graceful curve of the Big Lost River, to the north the white-tipped Salmon River Mountains, to the west more mountains, and to the south "a wide plain" with the "Three Buttes" on its eastern fringe. On August 7 his group moved on from Champagne Creek, closed in on the base of the mountains and "at the same time came to and passed around the point of a vast field of lava," at the mouth of Little Cottonwood Creek. Here he encountered, as if by surprise, a "volcanic river which had been melted by some former eruption and cast out onto the plain some ten to fifteen feet deep, leaving a narrow strip of clear ground next to the mountain" where the road was located. Ebey's wagon train passed around the tongues of black lava within today's monument and camped a few miles west on Big Cottonwood Creek. As his company continued on, Ebey noted that "volcanic country" seemed infinite, his wagon party traveled for miles against the mountain range with "the same field of volcanic rock stretching away, in a dark rugged mass, as far as the eye can reach." [11]

The wagon parties of the early 1850s passed the Craters of the Moon country, having crossed one of the more difficult stretches of the Snake River Plain. Although the volcanic formations seem not to have offended or to have greatly impeded their travel, they spent as little time in the area as possible. Nor was their passage entirely easy or without risk, for while on their way to and through the lava fields, wagons broke down, and both draft animals and people died.

Without some incentive, it seems, few emigrants traveled the route after the mid-1850s. Far to the west of the Craters country, Granville 0. Haller led an expedition across Camas Prairie to retaliate against Boise Indians for their participation in the Ward Massacre of 1854. Although Haller's force headed north to the upper Salmon, Nathan Olney, a special agent, continued traveling east over the cutoff leading a small detachment to Fort Hall to meet with the Indians there. Lightly traveled as this northerly route must have been until after 1860, G.K. Warren named the eastern section "Jeffers Road" on his 1857 great map of the West. And widely used for its time, Alonzo Leland's 1863 map of Idaho's mining country duplicated Warren's identification of Jeffers Road and labeled Goodale's route across Camas Prairie merely as the "New Emigrant Road." [12]

Impetus to travel over this northern route appeared in 1862. That year emigrants learned of the Salmon River gold rush and the Shoshone's mounting animosity toward emigrants along the Snake. Looking for a shorter, more direct, and safer route to the new mines, emigrants prevailed upon Tim Goodale to lead them over the route from Fort Hall. Goodale, an experienced trapper, trader, and guide of the Far West, knew the Snake country and nearly all of its Indian and fur trade trails of the mountain and valley country of the northern plain. In 1862 he guided an emigrant party over the Jeffers Road/Camas Prairie route. Grateful for his help, some emigrants, a number of whom became prominent Idaho residents, renamed the route for their guide, and the name Goodale's Cutoff stuck. [13]

Goodale's party departed Fort Hall on July 22, 1862 and traversed the plain north past Big Southern Butte to Big Lost River. Before setting out, Goodale had collected a large force to avoid troubles brewing with Northern Shoshone, angered over white settlers invading their homeland. The company, numbering 820 emigrants, 338 wagons, and about 1,400 head of livestock, cleared an unmistakable swath in the desert of ruts, dung, and discarded belongings. The party was so large in fact that it took "three hours," Oliver B. Slater recalled, "to get in camp or to get out." [14] As further insurance against Indian conflict, Goodale most likely brought along Jennie, his Shoshone wife, as a sign of his peaceful intentions while leading emigrants through tribal lands. [15]

Well-armed, the wagon train reached the Big Lost River after several hot, dry days crossing sage, sand, and basalt. As with the parties of the 1850s, the river was a welcome sight as was the plentiful bunch grass for the livestock. When the party neared Arco, it turned west over a "dim and rocky" road winding near the foot of the mountains. On July 28, Goodale stopped for the day at Champagne Creek on the outskirts of Craters of the Moon. While there he gathered up more wagons as protection against the Northern Shoshone, enraged that he was heading through Camas Prairie, a traditional and important source of camas bulbs. Having increased to almost 1,100 emigrants, 795 men and 300 women and children, the wagon train then proceeded through the lava flows of today's monument, making it the largest company to have ever crossed any portion of the overland trail. Because of its size and Goodale's leadership, the company safely reached the Boise vicinity unscathed on August 9. The same could not be said, however, for a group of emigrants who fought with Indians at what became known as Massacre Rocks, on the main route of the Oregon Trail, that same day. [16]

Similar to previous wagon trains, the members of Goodale's party were beset by some hardship. In addition to the ordeal of navigating the desert terrain and repairing broken wagons, emigrants also dealt with the death of family members and traveling companions, the toll of long months on the trail. At least two men died from illness between the Big Lost River and the lava fields of Craters of the Moon. One man, the father of Nellie and Oscar Slater, was buried near the Big Lost River. The other man, known only as "Cole" or "Colls," was in his early twenties when he passed away, and was probably buried on Lava Creek. According to less verifiable accounts, a young girl, nine years of age, died near Martin. Her grave lies beneath a grove of aspen alongside a small stream. [17 ]But overall, Oscar Slater remembered, there were "not many deaths from sickness during the trip." [18]

Emigrants chose Goodale's Cutoff because it offered a shorter and safer route from Fort Hall to Boise. The popularity of the route increased after improvements were made to its western section and after the gold rush to the Boise Basin commenced in late 1862. During the mid-1860s the majority of emigrants leaving Fort Hall opted for Goodale's route. Rough estimates suggest, for example, that of the twenty thousand emigrants who left Fort Hall in 1863 and the possibly forty thousand who left there in 1864, 70 percent took the cutoff. [19 ]Though they traveled through the lava landscape of the Craters region by choice, most perceived it as a place to avoid--a place along the way to somewhere else. Exposed to the seemingly desolate lava fields, emigrants endured the harshness and bleakness of the volcanic country and pressed on.

By the time emigrant parties reached Craters of the Moon, they had spent days worried about water and grass in the heat of summer, and edgy about hostile Indians-- only to come within sight of an alien landscape, "mountains all torn up and...a very rough desert of a looking place." [20] The entire scene around the Lost River sinks--molten rocks, sand, and parched sage--"could only remind one of the black valley of death," wrote Mrs. W.A. Loughary, an emigrant traveling in July 1864. The transition from "one solitary desert" to "a vast bed of lava," Charles Teeter noted about the same time, was unsettling. In places over this expansive lava country, "old craters are to be found so dark and gloomy...even at midday, that it almost makes one shudder to gaze down into them." [21]

The approach to today's monument brought emigrants into closer contact with the lava flows and increased their apprehensions. The twenty-five mile road of rocks and crushed lava turned in a southwesterly direction as it neared Champagne and Lava creeks, common campsites just outside the boundaries of the present monument. The road led through a "place of barrenness," where horses lacerated their feet and wagons threatened to break, like those whose parts littered the trail. For some the passage through the monument's lava terrain, approximately two miles, proved to be the most difficult of the trip to this point. Emigrants walked to lighten their loads and to prevent their axles from breaking over the uneven and often steep ground. [22] As the road narrowed, it wound its "crooked way" within a barrier of black rock along the edge of the hills, offering no other options for crossing. In places, one emigrant recalled, the hills and lava came so close together "as scarcely to admit the passage of a wagon." Another emigrant likened it to following "a rough beach." At any moment driving over the exposed lava flows which had washed up against the steep hills, he said, "we would expect to see our wagons smashed." [23]

The traffic of thousands of wagons left a well-defined road of wheel ruts, scored deeply in places, across the plain. Natural features marked the migration as well. Big Southern and Twin buttes in particular served as important landmarks for guiding wagons parties across the desert between the Snake and Big Lost rivers. Occasionally, it seems, overlanders erected landmarks of their own, building rock cairns to define the route across the flat plain. Campsites, though important, tended to be more ephemeral since emigrants moved as swiftly as possibly through the region. Never staying more than a day or two in one camp, emigrants no doubt rested in campsites used by previous parties, identified perhaps by the impact wagons and livestock made on the land, as well as the presence of water and forage, two premiums in the desert country. Consider the following excerpts from emigrant journals:

Traversing the desert between the Snake and Big Lost rivers:

Mrs. W.A. Loughary, July 17, 1864. We move on where soon we came to a parched sandy waste where not a sign of animal or vegetable life is seen, only rocks and sand. Our eyes soon began to pain where [there] was nothing to rest upon but bleaching sand....We had been directed to go to a certain butte [Big Southern] which became visible in the afternoon--at its base was a large spring....On and on we slowly went but the butte seemed to get but little nearer--yet we must reach it or suffer. At twilight we got to the butte and [set out] to find the spring with thick darkness coming on.... [24]

Julius C. Merrill, August 30, 1864. This cone-shaped, bald-topped butte seemed to be placed here for some purpose...the precious fluid [water]...trickling clear and cool down some of its ravines...[However] It sinks almost as soon as out of the shade....There being no water for our stock, we resolved to push on to Lost River, the next watering place, fifteen miles distant. [25]

Approaching Craters of the Moon:

Nellie Slater, July 27, 1862. Came two miles to edge of a small desert; tis twenty-five miles across. Traveled all day, till five o'clock in the evening before we got across. At the edge we found a small stream and camped [probably Champagne or Lava creek]. [26]

Traveling Through Craters of the Moon:

Nellie Slater, July 29, 1862. Started this morning, traveled through rocks from one to five feet high and had to make our road through as best we could. [27]

Julius C. Merrill, September 1, 1864. Started early that we might reach water soon as possible. Reached water at half past ten A.M. Water came from springs up in the foot hills and formed a small stream [possibly Champagne or Lava creek]. Feed would have been plenty but for the carelessness of some who had set fire to it and burnt over a large amount of territory. Our stock much needed rest, but as wood was scarce we decided to drive on to a better place....We now travel along the edge of the valley and to avoid the rocks the road passes over some of the foothills. As far as the eye can reach, there is nothing but this black volcanic rock. [28]

Julius C. Merrill, September 2, 1864. Splendid feed last night but no water. Springs one mile in advance and feed all burnt off near them. Road very rough. In going over one hill which was very steep we came near upsetting the wagon and were obliged to unload the larger part of it. Road all rocks in several places. Some so large as to scarcely pass under the wagon....[At one point] Had we gone a foot to the right or to the left the wagon would have rolled over. [29]

Mrs. W.A Loughary, July 20, 1864. This proved to be far the hardest part of our travel, and yet we must go on or perish by the road side. Every man, woman and child must walk in order to lessen the weight of our axle trees to prevent breaking. We finally reach water, grass, rest and sleep [possibly Big Cottonwood Creek] [30]

Although their contact with the country was brief, emigrants in general expressed some trepidation that the volcanic terrain would impede their progress, and regarded their encounter with the region in primarily negative terms. On September 4, 1864, Julius Caesar Merrill summed up this perspective best when he wrote what it was like putting lava fields behind him:

It was a relief to see the distance widening between us and those volcanic strata. It was a desolate, dismal scenery. Up or down the valley as far as the eye could reach or across to the mountains in the dim distance the same unvarying mass of black rock. Not a shrub, bird, nor insect seemed to live near it. Great must have been the relief of the volcano, powerful the emetic, that poured forth such a mass of black vomit. [31]

Not all views of the lava country were entirely negative. Later in 1864, for instance, George Forman, a miner, headed for the Boise Basin mines over Goodale's Cutoff, picking up the well-traveled "Main Oregon Road" from Fort Hall near Big Lost River. Crossing the desert from the east, Forman observed that the three buttes rose from the level plain "like Pyramids." He and his fellow miners then traveled the "very tortuous" road as they approached the monument's lava flows. But more so than others, Forman seemed interested in the lava formations themselves, describing how the once molten surface showed "the ripples of wind as fresh as if made yesterday." It was a veritable ocean of lava flowing into the mountains. Waves that curled ten feet high, he thought, were produced by an immense storm of "molten Lava or Iron Ore," and were strewn randomly in all directions. There were "large masses of Rock or honeycombed ore" which were hollow-sounding in places and piled with cinders. Having visited other sections of the Snake River Plain, he believed the plain to be the "largest crater or Lava Bed in the world." [32]

Forman, who referred to the route as the "main Oregon Road coming from Fort Hall and now well traveled," numbered among the many emigrants and miners who made Goodale's Cutoff a popular route in subsequent years. Various modifications by Utah interests and the Idaho territorial government, among others, transformed the trail into a more accessible road. Emigrants from the mid-1860s on took advantage of a new ferry crossing on the Snake River, a way station at Big Southern Butte, and a toll road near the south Boise mines. Emigration tapered off following the Civil War and the completion of the transcontinental railroad. But the cutoff continued to be heavily used until the turn of the century. It served soldiers in the 1860s and 1870s when Indian conflicts erupted in southern Idaho. And beginning in the late 1870s and early 1880s, stage lines started to operate along the cutoff. After the Utah Northern Railroad reached Blackfoot in 1878, Alexander Toponce started a stage line on Goodale's route from Blackfoot to Salmon and the Custer mines the following year, passing through the old townsite of Arco. He expanded his line to the serve the Wood River mines in 1880; the line ran over Goodale's road from Blackfoot to Wood River, connecting again through the old Arco junction. Toponce sold his line in 1881, after the mail contract for the route was awarded to Gilmer and Salisbury, and various owners continued to operate the line for the next twenty years. [33]

After ferrying travelers to and from the mining districts of southcentral Idaho, and points east and west, the cutoff evolved into a freight route, supplying newly established towns and mines in the region in the 1880s. During this time it also served as the northern trail for herding livestock across the Snake River Plain to distant markets. Some of the Snake River Plain's earliest sightseers traversed the stage line as well. As Carrie Strahorn described, the experience of crossing the route from Blackfoot to the Arco stage stop was marked by forty miles without water and "insufferable" dust. Adding to the discomfort the junction offered only the most primitive accommodations. Traversing the stretch of road through the lava beds of the Craters country exceeded all other sections of road in "roughness and ruts." However uncomfortable for some, Goodale's Cutoff was an important means of access to the upper reaches of the Snake River Plain not serviced by the railroad, in particular for farm families settling in the region. [34]

The experience of traversing the region near Craters of the Moon changed slightly in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Emigrants still faced environmental extremes, but now could rest at way stations, buy water and food from early settlers in the Lost River country, and travel through a landscape dotted with homesteads and herds of sheep, cattle, and horses. [35] The arrival of the Oregon Short Line in Arco in 1901 ended the operation of the stage line from Blackfoot to Salmon and altered trail travel altogether. The new line, though, merely restricted rather than eliminated use of the trail to the more remote districts between the Lost River and Wood River country.

The lava fields of Craters of the Moon remained the most imposing section of this outlying country. Settlers looking for fertile land generally continued to treat it as a place to avoid even at the turn of the century, moving on to places more lush and well watered. In September 1904, for example, one of the later wagon parties crossing Goodale's Cutoff camped at Martin before entering today's monument the next day. One member, Annie Foster, noted it was a "beautiful morning to travel" as her party prepared to depart from Martin. Reaching "Cotton Wood Creek," most likely Big Cottonwood, Foster wrote that we "have come over the crookedest road this morning any one ever traveled since the Flood. We have come along a mountain all day. On the other side was a big lavy [lava] bed. All the valley was lavy rock so black it looked like where a straw stack had been burned." After observing the black, honeycombed lava, the grassy hills, and red and sandy appearing soil, she concluded that this section of the trail was "not a very pretty place," for it lay hundreds of miles from nowhere, was hemmed in by lava and mountains on either side, and had no good supply of water. [36]

This was the latest known journal entry of a family traversing Goodale's Cutoff, though in 1910 the last reported wagon passed through Boise over the route. Eventually the cutoff evolved into an automobile road and finally into section of a modern highway by the 1920s. It was this transformation and the automobile age that replaced wagon travel. [37]

Summary of Context Theme

Overland migration to Oregon and California constituted one of the most important events in the settlement of the American West. It was the longest journey of its kind undertaken by American settlers, and the Oregon Trail served as its primary route across southern Idaho, which also was considered one of the most inhospitable sections of the trail. Between 1840 and 1860, overlanders passing through the region for Oregon and California reached an apogee of a quarter of a million people. Slowing for a short time, the flow of migrants surged during the Civil War years, when some 125,000 emigrants crossed the trail by 1866, forming the longest unbroken migration wave over the Oregon-California Trail. After the Civil War ended and the transcontinental railroad crossed the continent, overland trail travel declined.

Although the majority of emigrants traveled the main trail along the Snake River during the antebellum migration, some overlanders opted for alternate routes, a main route being Goodale's Cutoff, which traversed the lava fields on the northern edge of today's Craters of the Moon National Monument. Some emigrants experimented with this route between 1852 and 1854, but travel along it afterwards was light and except for some military use, it was hardly used until emigrants of the Civil War era moved westward. They looked for shorter and faster routes to reach the newly discovered gold fields in western Montana and southern Idaho, as well as routes that would avoid Indian conflicts erupting with greater frequency along the main overland route. Drawn to the Boise Basin gold rush in 1862, a wagon party, led by Tim Goodale, crossed the route and passed through Craters with some eleven hundred emigrants, making it the largest company to have ever crossed any portion of the overland trail.

Overland travel likely continued throughout the 1860s but tapered off afterwards as a result of railroad construction. Still during the 1860s and 1870s, soldiers used the route to control Indian groups, and in 1878 Alexander Toponce established a stage line along Goodale's route, which accessed the mining boom towns of the upper Snake River country in the 1880s. During this time as well, ranchers herded livestock across the trail to reach eastern markets. Improvements to the route made it more attractive for travelers, yet the country it crossed won few admirers. After railroad service arrived in Arco in 1901, travel on the trail was restricted to the remote sections of the country near Craters of the Moon. Whether traveling in the early 1850s or early 1900s, when the last known settlers crossed the trail near the monument, attitudes about the Craters landscape remain fairly consistent. The arid, lava country elicited mostly negative responses from observers and enticed few, if any, to settle near it. In the minds of emigrants as well as in actual experience, the Craters of the Moon country appeared alien, impeded travel, and posed a threat to human life. Yet by all accounts, overland travel was the first known contact Anglo Americans had with today's monument, however brief or difficult.

Associated Property Types

Name of Property Type: Resources Related to Overland Travel


Properties associated with overland travel include trails, vistas, campsites, and cairns. The most notable property associated with overland travel is a trail, and can be identified by at least two distinct physical elements: trail remnants (or the trail corridor) and environmental setting. The only known historic trail in Craters of the Moon is Goodale's Cutoff, an important alternate route of the Oregon Trail, which crossed approximately two miles of today's national monument. The trail is located in Township 2 North, Range 24 East, Sections 26, 27, and 34. It is approximately two miles in length and its width encompasses a strip of 660 feet centered on the old road. Continuous trail remnants, or ruts, score the ground; they are now used as an unimproved road. The remnants run in a tortuous, southwesterly direction through the monument. They enter near the northern midpoint of Section 26, wind through Section 27, and drop down to Section 34, departing through its western midpoint. Though not the "original" tread, these trail remnants preserve the trail's route through the monument.

Since the monument preserves the landscape within its boundaries, little has changed about the trail's immediate environmental setting. Coincidentally, its larger environmental setting has changed little as well. The views today from the monument are the same as those from the middle nineteenth century, with the exception of some distant ranches or farms. These vistas encompass the vast sea of lava and take in the famous trail landmark of Big Southern Butte. Thus, historic vistas form an important element of the trail's environmental setting within and outside of the monument.

Other properties or features associated with overland travel are related to trails and include campsites and cairns, none of which seems to exist inside the monument. Emigrants travel over Goodale's Cutoff did not mention camping near the lava flows in the Little Cottonwood Creek drainage, which is within the boundaries of today's monument. They pushed through here as quickly as possible, and tended to camp at Lava Creek, Champagne Creek on the approach to the monument and Big Cottonwood Creek or streams within the general vicinity. These could be any number of unnamed springs or small streams draining the mountains--where a notch in the mountains provided grass, wood, and water for a wagon party. Emigrants also did not mention constructing cairns within the monument. The landscape dictated the route of travel through the present monument--a narrow path between the lava flows and the base of the mountains--making the chances that emigrants built cairns remote. More likely, they built cairns out on the plain itself. As recorded by the Bureau of Land Management, a cairn would probably be about three to four feet high and constructed of large lava rocks. [38]

Some other resources associated with overland travel, though mentioned only a few times in emigrant journals, are even less likely to be found in Craters of the Moon than campsites or cairns, for they are far more ephemeral. These include debris and garbage cast aside during travel, such as discarded belongings and wagon parts. They also include graffiti and graves. Emigrants in the 1860s, for example, noted finding a chest lodged in the lava flows and names carved in trees from the early 1850s, and they also mentioned burying friends, loved ones, and traveling companions near the monument (perhaps between the Big Lost River and Craters of the Moon). Details about these properties are sketchy; any description of them would be purely speculative.


These properties are significant under National Register Criterion A for their association with westward expansion, settlement, and the Oregon Trail, important themes in the monument's history and the broader patterns of American history. Goodale's Cutoff is significant under National Register Criterion A. The approximately two-mile segment in Craters of the Moon National Monument was listed in the National Register on May 1, 1974.

Registration Requirements:

The property eligible for listing under this category, Goodale's Cutoff, is already listed in the National Register. In order for other properties or features to be eligible, they must be associated with Goodale's Cutoff and date from at least 1852 to 1904. It must be possible to document their association with the trail, and they must have integrity. The National Register recognizes seven aspects of integrity: location, setting, design, workmanship, materials, feeling, and association. Some of these are more relevant than others for a historic trail, such as the original location of the trail's route and tread, its environmental setting, and its feeling and association with the historic period, activity, and place, most of which is conveyed through the environmental setting and vistas.


A new or updated National Register nomination should be written. It should incorporate the new historical studies and documentary materials that have come to light since the first nomination was drafted. It should also state the importance of the unaltered environmental setting of the trail segment. Both of these aspects are taken up by a recent study. In 1993, the Bureau of Land Management and the Idaho State Historical Society published Emigrant Trails of Southern Idaho. Goodale's Cutoff is given significant treatment within the larger context of emigrant trails in Idaho. Besides documenting the route, this study emphasizes the importance of the trail's environmental setting. Viewed from Craters of the Moon, the historic vista is still intact; it is something that will possibly outlast the physical remnants of the trail and buttress any argument for the historical significance of Goodale's Cutoff. Evaluating Big Southern Butte as a historic landmark should also be undertaken, considering the role it played in overland travel--not just for emigrants, but for fur trappers, explorers, and settlers. It is already a National Natural Landmark. The trail segment within Craters of the Moon could serve as a vista point.

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Last Updated: 27-Aug-1999