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The Salt Lake Cutoff is one of the many shortcuts that branched from the California Trail and Oregon Trail in the United States. It led northwest out of Salt Lake City, Utahmarker back to the California and Oregon trails near the City of Rocksmarker Idaho and was used by tens of thousands of pioneers and miners going east and west on their way to or from the future states of Californiamarker, Oregonmarker, Utahmarker, Idahomarker, Montanamarker, Nevadamarker or Washingtonmarker.

See National Trail Map for route


Samuel J. Hensley, returning to California in the summer of 1848, led a pack train of ten men northwest out of Salt Lake City, Utahmarker on a quest to get back to the California Trail. The route he discovered from Salt Lake City back to the Oregon Trail or California Trail became known as the Salt Lake Cutoff. The cutoff passed north of the Great Salt Lakemarker and joined the California-Oregon Trail at the City of Rocksmarker Idahomarker about seven miles (11 km) north of today's Utahmarker-Idahomarker border. On the Humboldt River portion of the California Trail route, Hensley met and talked with a party of former Mormon Battalion personnel consisting of 45 men and one woman under Samuel Thompson driving wagons east on the California Trail to rejoin their families in Utah. On September 15, 1848 they found the junction of Hensley's trail near the rock formation called the Twin Sisters. Thompson's group with wagons followed Hensley's pack trail—converting it into a passable wagon road. Thompson's company traveled southeast into northern Utah, crossing Deep Creek near present-day Snowville, Utahmarker. They found plentiful water and grass on the route just as Hensley had told them. With some difficulty they crossed the Malad River and the Bear River still traveling south east. They then went to the tiny community of Ogden, Utahmarker where they crossed the Weber River before traveling on to Salt Lake City. Ebenezer Brown, leading a party from the 1846 Mormon ship Brooklyn, followed them three weeks later and helped to further define the trail. Word spread quickly that a good road with good grass and water was known out of Salt Lake City back to the California or Oregon Trail.

When the gold-crazy emigrants of 1849 heard of this new route to the California gold fields, many thousands detoured to Salt Lake City to get new supplies and livestock. Ferries charging a few dollars per wagon were established at the Weber, Bear River and the Malad River in 1849 and later. An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 California or Oregon-bound immigrants a year passed through Salt Lake City between 1849 and 1852. Thousands more followed every year before 1869 and the Transcontinental Railroad completion.

Further reading


  1. Salt Lake city to City of Rocks Map[1]Acceswsed 23 Feb 2009
  2. City of Rocks [2] retrieved 4 Jan. 2009
  3. City of Rocks Twin Sisters [3] retrieved 4 Jan. 2009
  4. "The Plains Across--The Overland Emigrants and the Trans-Missippi West 1840-1860"; John D. Unruh; University of Illinois Press; pp 318-9; ISBN-978-0252063602
  5. Salt Lake Cutoff

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