Step Back into the 19th Century...
The Rock Springs Field Office manages hundreds of miles of the best traces of 19th Century emigration trails including the Oregon, Mormon, Pioneer, Cherokee, California, Pony Express, and Overland trail systems. These trails represent the main overland routes of people, property, and information available during the Nation's westward expansion. Hundreds of thousands would take the trip west and tens of thousands would use these same trails to return east. Roughly one out of ten travelers would die before reaching their destinations. Cholera, "camp fever", "bilious fever", accidents, drownings, and the occasional murder cut short many lives.
Going West was not for the faint of heart or the poor. It required stamina and money to take the journey. It was quickly discovered that oxen faired best for hauling heavy wagons. However, oxen were rarely able to travel more than 12 to 15 miles a day as the emigrants walked alongside the oxen... seeing the country literally one step at a time. For those in a hurry, mules and horses often were used but meant carrying fewer supplies and baggage. A compromise of sorts was used by the Mormons starting in 1856. Handcarts were used by several Mormon companies with great success when early snows were not an issue. Early snows in 1856 resulted in the deaths of scores of "handcart pioneers" in the Willie and Martin companies. Many were buried in what is now the Rock Springs Field Office area.
Emigration is a story of all races, nations, ages, and genders. Thousands of diaries and letters survive to document life along the trail. To most emigrants traveling within the great western desert, it seemed like another planet. The almost featureless plains seemed like an enormous punch bowl no matter how far one walked in a day, they seemed little closer to their destination. The horizon seemed to retreat with every step. Plants, animals, and weather were all unfamiliar, and the many graves caused much concern.
The Rock Springs Field Office manages many places important to Trail history. You can walk or drive in the actual ruts carved by those same emigrants over a hundred years ago. BLM, along with many volunteers, has marked trail segments. Many important landmarks and historical places along the trail have interpretive sites for you to visit including South Pass, Parting of the Ways, Plume Rocks, Lombard Ferry Crossing to name a few.
For more information about the Trail segments managed by the BLM, you can call us at 307-352-0256 or email us at Rock_Springs_WYMail@blm.gov. As always, BLM asks that you respect these important historical areas.