In 1849, thousands of Americans emigrated to California in hopes of striking gold in San Francisco. The most common Forty-Niners route started at various points along the Missouri River and followed what came to be known as the California Trail. This route was put together from bits and pieces of trails already well established by earlier settlers and traders.
The Oregon Trail was initially charted by Lewis and Clark on the first American
expedition to cross what is now the western part of the United States. The route was refined a few years later by the founders of the American Fur Company, John Jacob Ascot and Robert Stuart, and by1813, the Oregon Trail was already a principal route followed by western settlers looking for land instead of gold.
The Hastings Route, was a short cut on the California Trail made famous by the Donner Party. Everyone has heard of them. The Donner party was caught in the Sierra Nevada in the winter of 1846-47. About half of them survived, some by resorting to cannibalism.
Brigham Young established The Mormon Trail in 1847 when he led 70,000 members of the LDS church from Nauvoo, Illinois to what is now Salt Lake City.
After the 1848 San Francisco gold strike western migration really picked up. Southerners were anxious to get to California before all the good claims were taken.
The federal government ordered Capt. Randolph B. Marcy to take 500 migrants along a well-established Canadian River route through Indian Territory and then move north to Santa Fe to connect with the California Trail. Marcy hired a famous Delaware scout, Black Beaver to guide them.
A major stop along the way was Red Rock Canyon, where there was a year round supply of fresh water and timber. The canyon was an excellent place for the Forty-Niners to rest and repair their wagons before Marcy and the Delaware scout took them on to Santa Fe.
Black Beaver was anxious to get back home after he delivered the would-be gold miners to their destination. Unencumbered by wagon trains and white emigrants, he risked a short cut across the staked plains of the Texas Panhandle. Water was difficult to find, and Kiowa and Comanche warriors hunted Buffalo—and the occasional settler—on the grasslands, but Black Beaver made it safely. His trail cut the length of the trip from two months to two weeks.
Thousands of future settlers followed the Delaware scout’s short cut on their way to the American West. The Black Beaver route became known as the California Road Trail.
Red Rock Canyon is now an Oklahoma State Park near Hinton, OK, not far from Interstate 40. The red sandstone cliffs are popular for rappelling and rock climbing. There are hiking trails, formal campsites, and paved roads, but the primitive atmosphere experienced by the Forty-Niners remains. The area looks much the same as it did when Black Beaver took the emigrants there one hundred sixty five years ago. Wagon wheel ruts from the 1849 mass emigration can still be seen in parts of the park.