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Trail historian to speak at museum Saturday

Sun News Service

“Mrs. Murphy said here yesterday that she thought she would commence on Milt & eat him. I don’t that she has done so yet, it is distressing. The [Donners] told the California folks that they commence to eat the dead people 4 days ago, if they did not succeed that day or next in finding their cattle then under ten or twelve feet of snow & did not know the spot or near it, I suppose they have done so ere this time.”So wrote Patrick Breen in 1847 as he was camped near the site of present-day Truckee.A member of the Donner-Reed Party, Breen and more than 80 others were trapped in the Sierra Nevada. The Breen cabin was at the east end of Donner Lake. Breen and the other members of the Donner Party were headed for the fertile lands of northern California. Nearly half the members of the party, but none of the Breen family, were heading for their deaths in the mountain camps.Gregory M. Franzwa, one of America’s foremost trail journalists, will talk about the historic trail that crossed Donner and Carson Passes at 2 p.m. Saturday, September 9. Franzwa will present his slide show on the California Trail in the Visitor Center at Donner State Park, 12593 Donner Pass Road.He has just brought out “Maps of the California Trail,” a book detailing the exact routes taken by the gold rush pioneers as they left the jumping-off places along the Missouri River to travel in ox-drawn covered wagons to the California gold fields. He will be signing his book after the presentation.The Tucson, Ariz.-based author has prepared the 257 map panels with the help of the Long Distance Trails Office of the National Park Service, Salt Lake City.The main California Trail is depicted leaving the Omaha area for a point near Fallon, Nev., where it splits to vault the Sierra Nevada at Donner Pass. That trail ends at Johnson’s Rancho, near present Wheatland, which was the destination of the survivors of the Donner Party of 1846-47.A variant courses south of Lake Tahoe, over Carson Pass, to end at Sutter’s Fort in downtown Sacramento.Other trails include the Applegate Trail, which leaves the main wagon road along the Humboldt River near present Winnemucca, Nev., to head northward to northwest Oregon at Dallas. Many early Oregonians took this trail south from near the Oregon border to arrive at the California placers yet in 1848, thus beating the forty-niners, who had to proceed overland from the Missouri River in covered wagons the following year.The forty-niners split from the main trail in several other places. Some took the Applegate north to the California border, then cut to the southwest to pass by Lassen’s Rancho, near Vina, on the way to the gold-bearing placers. Others split from the Applegate to cut through the Sierra Nevada far to the north, following the Nobles Route to a point near Red Bluff.The infamous Hastings Cutoff is also depicted. This is the road taken by the Donner Party, which ultimately cost the lives of many of them in the Sierra. It is shown from Fort Bridger, in southwest Wyoming, to the mouth of the South Fork of the Humboldt, where it joins the main California Trail.Another variant shows the Hensley Cutoff heading straight north from Salt Lake City, to join the main trail at City of Rocks, in south central Idaho. Still another is the Hudspeth Cutoff, a short stretch which leaves the Oregon Trail south of Fort Hall, in southeastern Idaho, to cut over to the California Trail near City of Rocks.Then there is the Lander Road, which leaves the main trail east of the Continental Divide, to move northwest to a point near Fort Hall.Finally, the map book shows the route taken by the emigrants when they “jumped off” from St. Joseph, Mo., certainly part of the California Trail.The author has included quotes from emigrant diaries on portions of the map panels, written while the travelers were actually passing the areas depicted by the maps.The book includes a foreword by Will Bagley of Salt Lake City, one of the foremost historians of the American West.Franzwa, who has written three books on the Lincoln Highway, America’s first coast-to-coast road, included the route of the Lincoln wherever it is near the routes of the wagon roads. He also included the route of the Pony Express wherever possible.The founder of the Oregon-California Trails Association, as well as the Lincoln Highway Association, he is best known for his 1972 classic, “The Oregon Trail Revisited,” and his 1992 masterpiece, “Maps of the Oregon Trail,” which has a format similar to that of the new book. Some 40,000 copies of “The Oregon Trail Revisited” are now in print. That work, a driving guide to the Oregon Trail, is in its fifth edition and will also be available after the author’s presentation.”Maps of the California Trail” is available in paperback at $29.95; or in a spiral edition for $34.95.The new book is available by mail from the publisher, The Patrice Press, Box 85639, Tucson AZ 85754-5639. The firm’s e-mail address is book@patricepress.com.


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