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The Central Overland Route (also known as the "Central Overland Trail", "Central Route", "Simpson's Route", or the "Egan Trail") was a transportation route through the mountains of central Nevadamarker, the heart of the Basin and Range Province. For a decade after 1859 it served a vital role in the transport of mail, freight, and passengers between Californiamarker and the established states east of the Mississippi River.

The route was initially scouted in 1855 by Howard Egan, and used to drive livestock between Salt Lake Citymarker and California. The trail Egan used was counterintuitive - it led straight thorough the high mountain ranges that earlier explorers had worked so hard to avoid. Egan realized that a series of mountain passes were aligned to allow an almost direct path through the region. The Schell Creek Rangemarker could be crossed at Schellbourne Pass, the Cherry Creek Rangemarker at Egan Canyon, the Ruby Mountains at Overland Pass, the Diamond Mountainsmarker at another Overland Pass, the Toiyabe Rangemarker at Emigrant Pass, and the Desatoya Mountainsmarker at Basque Summit (all of these place names came later). Although many smaller ranges and two large deserts also had to be traversed, the reduction in length by hundreds of miles made this the fastest way to get to (or from) California.

The Central Route in Utah

In 1858, hearing of Egan's Trail, the U.S. Army sent an expedition led by James H. Simpson to survey it for a military road. The Army then improved the trail for use by wagons and stagecoaches in 1859 and 1860. George Chorpenning immediately realized the value of this more direct route, and shifted his existing mail and passenger line from the "Northern Route" along the Humboldt River. In 1860 the Pony Express used this route for their fast mail delivery, and the next year the Transcontinental Telegraph laid its lines alongside the road. In 1861 John Butterfield, who since 1858 had been using the "Southern Route" through the deserts of the American Southwest, also switched to the Central Route to avoid hostilities during the American Civil War. The Army established Fort Ruby at the southern end of Ruby Valleymarker to protect travelers along the road. After the war, Wells Fargo & Co. ran stage coaches and freight wagons along the route, and developed the first agriculture in Ruby Valley to help provision their livestock.

Several accounts of travel along the Central Route have been published. In July 1859 Horace Greeley made the trip, at a time when Chorpenning was using only the eastern segment (they reconnected with the Humboldt River trail near present-day Beowawemarker). Greeley published his detailed observations in his 1860 book "An Overland Journey from New York to San Francisco". In October of 1860 the English explorer Richard Burton traveled the entire route at a time when the Pony Express was operating. He gave detailed descriptions of each of the way stations in his 1861 book "The City of the Saints, Across the Rocky Mountains to California". In the summer of 1861 Samuel Clemens (who only later used the pen name Mark Twain) traveled the route with his brother Orion on their way to Nevada's new territorial capital in Carson Citymarker, but provided only sparse descriptions of the road in his 1872 book "Roughing It".

The Central Route in Nevada

In 1869 the Transcontinental Railroad was completed using the more level route along the Humboldt River to the north - the original California Trail. Since an advanced telegraph was also constructed alongside the railroad, the Central Route was now obsolete. The stage and telegraph relay stations were abandoned, and the soldiers at Fort Ruby were transferred north to Fort Halleck to protect the railroad.


  • "Nevada's Northeast Frontier", by Eda Patterson, Louise Ulph, and Victor Goodwin, published 1969, ISBN 0-87417-171-7

Further reading

  • "An Overland Journey from New York to San Francisco", by Horace Greeley (1860). Chapter XXV available at [388906]
  • "The City of the Saints, Across the Rocky Mountains to California" by Richard Burton (1861). Available at [388907]
  • "Roughing It" (Chapter 20), by Mark Twain (1872). Chapter XX available at [388908]
  • "The Overland Mail", by Leroy R. Hafen (1929). A detailed account of the various mail lines.

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