The Raft River parting of the ways

News and wild rumors of Indian attacks through the 1850s and early ’60s flashed up and down the trail and appeared in newspapers throughout the country, fueling public demand for military protection. Meanwhile, many emigrants already on the road weighed the risks along the Oregon and California routes ahead. Some 15 miles west of Massacre Rocks, at the Raft River Parting of the Ways, travelers would get another chance to choose their destination. They anxiously collected accounts of sickness and other troubles on the various

routes“ They Wondered If their draft enimals could better stand up to the ox-killing desert desert crossing into California or the exhausting pull over the Blue Mountains toward Oregon City. They pondered whether they had enough food to get them directly to the California gold fields, or if they should take the northern route to Oregon in hopes of finding game or trade along the way. They fretted that splitting up their wagon train at the Parting of the Ways might make their smaller parties more vulnerable to attack, accident, or starvation. But some simply set worries aside, shrugged their shoulders, and let chance decide their fate.

We arose this morning with a full determination of going to Oregon, but when we reached the junction of the road, the team stopped. Part of us, after everything was taken into consideration, concluded to try our fortunes in California; the remainder gave in and we concluded to let the oxen decide our destiny. We started them and awaited the issue with great anxiety; they turned to the left, leaving the Oregon road to the right.




—Jacob S. Hayden, 1852 California emigration

And at last, for better or for worse, after crossing the narrow, gravel- bottomed Raft River they made their choice. The flow of traffic split, the left branch turning southwest to California and the right branch going west to Oregon, and the diverging wagon ruts they created still are plainly visible for several miles west of the river crossing. The primary route of the Oregon Trail continues down the south side of the Snake River past Rock Creek and the scenic Thousand Springs area to Three Island Crossing—another important point of decision.