ON THE FORT HALL ROAD
Friday, June 7, 1850
After leaving the Sublette Cutoff, and before starting on the Hudspeth Cutoff at Soda Springs, Idaho, John App and his traveling partner, Jake, passed many places of interest with names like Cokeville (known to emigrants as “Smith’s Fork on the Bear River”), Thomas Fork, Big Hill, and Pegleg Smith’s Trading Post. They traveled by all of these places on their way to Soda Springs, but John did not write about any of them.
The photos below include interpretive signs marking the places, with current photos showing some of the terrain as it appears today. The text of the signs is as follows:
Cokeville (“Smith’s Fork on the Bear River”)
“Cokeville is situated at the confluence of the Bear River and Smiths Fork valleys”
Between 1812 and 1868, these valleys were the domain of American Indians, fur trappers and traders. During the 1830s and 1840s they became a well-traveled pathway of emigrant trains traveling to Oregon and California. Known as “Smith’s Fork on the Bear River” to fur trappers and pioneers, Cokeville acquired its permanent name after the discovery of near-by coal deposits that produced coke, an intense burning, virtually smokeless product.
“A bad ford gave trouble to wagon trains crossing this stream on the trail to California and Oregon in 1849”
In that year, gold-seeking 49’ers developed a shortcut (practically US 30, west of here) which crossed this stream. By the early 1850s two bridges had been built and their enterprising owner was charging $1 a wagon toll – which not everyone could afford. Penniless emigrants struggling in the water cursed while richer companions comfortably clattered across the bridges.
“On their way west to Oregon and California, emigrant wagons often crossed high ridges in order to avoid gullies and canyons”
When he came here in 1843, Theodore Talbot noted that he “had to cross a very high hill, which is said to be the greatest impediment on the whole route from the United States (over 200 miles east of here) to Fort Hall (over 120 miles farther west). The ascent is very long and tedious, but the descent is still more abrupt and difficult.” Many wagons had to be let down by ropes tied to trees that have disappeared ling ago.
Pegleg Smith’s Trading Post
“In 1848, Pegleg Smith established a trading post on the Oregon Trail at Big Timber somewhere near here on the river”
Some travelers called it “Fort Smith”, though it was only four log cabins and some Indian lodges. Packing a plow and tools from Salt Lake City, Smith (a mountain man who had to amputate his own leg 20 years before) tried unsuccessfully to raise crops. But he did a big business when the California gold rush of 1849 brought thousands past here. 49’ers reported that he had many horses and cattle, and was making $100 a day.