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The Trinity River was rediscovered by Maj. Pierson B. Redding in 1845, while he was trapping in that area. He called it the Trinity because he believed it discharged into Trinidad Bay. Three years later, after California had been ceded to the United States by Mexico, gold was found on the headwaters of the Trinity by Major Redding. As a result of two days' prospecting, Redding and his party found the river bars to be "rich in gold." These bars were worked with the aid of Indian labor. It was not long before news of the strike on the Trinity began to divert to this region, the "emigrants" who were flooding into California over the northern trails. By 1849 the population of the Trinity River district had "passed all bounds, with the result that when the rains caused the suspension of operations in the river beds, it seemed probable that the supply of provisions would prove inadequate to carry the men through the winter." It became imperative that somewhere on the north coast a harbor be found which could serve as a base of supplies for the district. [23]

Dr. Josiah Gregg (scientist, traveler, and author) was one of those drawn to the Trinity diggings by the discovery of gold. He was a man somewhat above the level of the average gold seeker. He was ready to do scientific work if there were an opportunity. Men were attracted to him, and he became involved in organizing a party to reconnoiter the region west of the Trinity.

In the first week of November 1849, Gregg with seven men rode out with the goal of exploring the Coast Range to the west, and thereby opening a trail to the Pacific. As the Indians said it was only an eight-day journey, ten days' rations were carried. The Gregg party was doomed to disappointment, as it was four weeks before they heard the roar of the surf. The average number of miles logged daily, as the party felt its way through the Coast Range, was a meager seven miles.

After entering the redwoods, they were barely able to make two miles per day. The slowness of the travel in the redwoods was due to fallen trees and thickets of huckleberry, salmonberry, and salal brush, intermingled with ferns. After crossing Elk Prairie the party continued northward through the redwood. Dr. Gregg, on shooting the sun, now determined that they were north of their goal—the Bay of Trinidad. Descending off the Bald Hills, the explorers forded Redwood Creek (perhaps via the trail crossing at The Tall Trees), and ascended the ridge separating the watersheds of Bridge and Devils Creeks. Beating their way southwestward, they rounded the ridge at the head of Maple Creek and turned to the west.

The redwoods had become more dense and difficult to penetrate. Dr. Gregg frequently expressed a desire to measure the circumference of some of these giants. He occasionally called on some of the men to help him. "Not being in the most amiable state of mind and feeling at this time and having neither ambition to gratify him nor desire to enlighten the curious world," one of the men recalled, "we not infrequently answered his calls with shameful abuse." Gregg's obstinacy paid off, however, on several occasions. One redwood was measured whose diameter was 22 feet, while it was not unusual to find trees reaching a height of 300 feet. [24]

The account of the wanderings of the Gregg party are not as detailed as those found in the Smith and Rogers journals. We must therefore make certain assumptions as to the route. After leaving the Klamath, Gregg would have scaled the Bald Hills. As there are a number of almost continuous prairies on the crest of these hills, the Gregg party would have ridden toward the northwest, to take advantage of the easier traveling and to avoid the redwoods. The most northerly of these prairies is at Elk Camp. This prairie is also well to the north of the latitude of Trinidad Head, and here Gregg probably took his bearings, because if he continued up the Bald Hills his party would have to fight its way through the giant trees and underbrush.

Gregg and his companions would have then turned to the south and crossed Redwood Creek. We know that in the summer of 1850 a trail had been opened from Trinidad to the gold diggings, and that it crossed Redwood Creek at The Tall Trees. We may assume that the whites, when they opened this trail, took advantage of a trail used by the Chilula. Gregg and his people would certainly have done likewise. After fording Redwood Creek, the explorers would have fought their way up the range separating the watersheds of Bridge and Redwood creeks, skirted the headwaters of Maple Creek, and reached the Pacific via the Maple Creek-Little River Divide.

On December 13, 1849, Gregg's party descended the ridge separating the watersheds of Little River and Maple Creek. Here they found plenty of grass for their starving animals. From their camp at the mouth of Little River, the explorers pushed northward about 11 miles, "when a small lake (Big Lagoon) arrested" their progress. Learning that the only way they could pass the lagoon was to reenter the redwoods, the party turned southward, resolving to follow the coast to San Francisco, if such a course was possible. Traveling south about eight miles, they climbed Trinidad Head, which they called Gregg's Point. [25]

Riding down the coast, Gregg and his companions on the evening of December 20 camped on Humboldt Bay. They then proceeded on to the Sonoma County settlements. Dr. Gregg, however, failed to reach civilization, as he died in the vicinity of Clear Lake, where, to borrow his own expression, he was "buried according to the custom of the prairies." [26]

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Last Updated: 15-Jan-2004