After the emigrants who had detoured south to Fort Bridger had made their repairs and stocked their supplies, it was time to travel on and the next stop on the Oregon Trail for most would be Fort Hall, in what is now southeastern Idaho.
There, they would also be near to the Snake River, which would be their water source for most of the following segment of the journey westward.
In order to get to Fort Hall, the bands of wagons and hand carts pushed northward to regain the Oregon Trail and continue their arduous journey.
The main Oregon and California trail went almost due north from Fort Bridger to the Little Muddy Creek where it passed over the Bear River Mountains to the Bear River Valley, which it followed northwest into the Thomas Fork area, where the trail crossed over the present day Wyoming line into Idaho.
In the Eastern Sheep Creek Hills in the Thomas Fork valley the emigrants encountered Big Hill. Big Hill was a detour caused by a then-impassable cut the Bear River made through the mountains and had a tough ascent often requiring doubling up of teams and a very steep and dangerous descent. Much later, US-30, using modern explosives and equipment, was built through this cut.
In 1852 Eliza Ann McAuley found and with help developed the McAuley Cutoff which bypassed much of the difficult climb and descent of Big Hill. About 5 miles (8.0km) on they passed present-day Montpelier, Idaho, which is now the site of the National Oregon-California Trail Center.
The trail follows the Bear River northwest to present-day Soda Springs. The springs here were a favorite attraction of the pioneers who marveled at the hot carbonated water and chugging “steamboat” springs. Many stopped and did their laundry in the hot water as there was usually plenty of good grass and fresh water available.
Just west of Soda Springs the Bear River turns southwest as it heads for the Great Salt Lake, and the main trail turns northwest to follow the Portneuf River valley to Fort Hall, Idaho. Fort Hall was an old fur trading post located on the Snake River. It was established in 1832 by Nathaniel Jarvis Wyeth and company and later sold in 1837 to the Hudson’s Bay Company.
At Fort Hall nearly all travelers were given some aid and supplies if they were available and needed. Mosquitoes were constant pests, and travelers often mention that their animals were covered with blood from the bites. The route from Fort Bridger to Fort Hall is about 210 miles (340 km), taking nine to 12 days.
At Soda Springs was one branch of Lander Road (established and built with government contractors in 1858), which had gone west from near South Pass, over the Salt River Mountains and down Star Valley before turning west near present-day Auburn, Wyoming, and entering Idaho. From there it proceeded northwest into Idaho up Stump Creek canyon for about 10 miles (16 km). One branch turned almost 90 degrees and proceeded southwest to Soda Springs. Another branch headed almost due west past Gray’s Lake to rejoin the main trail about 10 miles (16 km) west of Fort Hall.
On the main trail about 5 miles (8.0 km) west of Soda Springs Hudspeth’s Cutoff (established 1849 and used mostly by California trail users) took off from the main trail heading almost due west, bypassing Fort Hall. It rejoined the California Trail at Cassia Creek near the City of Rocks. Hudspeth’s Cutoff had five mountain ranges to cross and took about the same amount of time as the main route to Fort Hall, but many took it thinking it was shorter. Its main advantage was that it helped spread out the traffic during peak periods, making more grass available.
West of Fort Hall the main trail traveled about 40 miles (64 km) on the south side of the Snake River southwest past American Falls, Massacre Rocks, Register Rock, and Coldwater Hill near present-day Pocatello. Near the junction of the Raft River and Snake River the California Trail diverged from the Oregon Trail at another Parting of the Ways junction. Travelers left the Snake River and followed Raft River about 65 miles (105 km) southwest past present day Almo. This trail then passed through the City of Rocks and over Granite Pass where it went southwest along Goose Creek, Little Goose Creek, and Rock Spring Creek. It went about 95 miles (153 km) through Thousand Springs Valley, West Brush Creek, and Willow Creek, before arriving at the Humboldt River in northeastern Nevada near present-day Wells. The California Trail proceeded west down the Humboldt before reaching and crossing the Sierra Nevada.
In the 1830s explorers Nathaniel Wyeth and Benjamin Bonneville traversed the South Pass through the Rocky Mountains into the Oregon Country. Wyeth established Fort Hall in 1834 at what is now southeastern Idaho. Also in 1834, Thomas McKay established Fort Boise in the southwest of Idaho. By the 1840s, the route between the two forts had become a well traveled part of the Oregon Trail. Although he may not have visited the region, geographer Samuel Augustus Mitchell wrote of the landscape, “The region lying between the Rocky and Blue mountains is rocky, barren and broken; stupendous mountain spurs traverse it in all directions, affording little level ground, and on its elevated portions snow lies nearly all the year. It rarely rains here, and no dew falls.”
There is no doubt that the Oregon Trail west was rough terrain and would take the hardiest of the travelers to their very limits which makes the Fort Hall area so much more valuable as a stopping area for those travelers.
It afforded them a resting area, a place to trade with the trading posts and get ready for the treacherous route between Fort Hall and Fort Boise, some 270 miles away.
There would be several river crossings of the Snake River involved, though most travelers preferred to stay on the northern side of the Snake as it offered better grazing for the animals and a bit easier travel for the emigrants. It also offered more treacherous river crossings that they would have to endure
Many of the travelers drowned while crossing the Snake River and that was just an additional hazard that they had to endure.
With the outbreak of the American Civil War, emigrant traffic declined and the Army abandoned Fort Hall. It was briefly occupied by the volunteer soldiers of the Union Army. Flood waters of the Snake River washed away the Old Fort Hall in 1863. Fort Hall was rebuilt in 1864, on Spring Creek just north of the original Fort Hall. The old fort was taken apart to construct the new fortified stage station. The following year, the site was abandoned. The Volunteer troops moved to Camp Lander until 1866. It was located 3 miles (4.8 km) southeast of the original Fort Hall, at the junction of the Salt Lake and Boise roads.
In 1867 the United States established the Fort Hall Indian Reservation for displaced Boise and Bruneau Shoshone, with local Shoshone and Bannock included under an 1868 treaty. They had suffered years of encroachment on their territory by European-American settlers. The town of Fort Hall developed about 11 miles (18 km) east of the old trading post and fort; both are within the reservation. In 1961, the site of the original Fort Hall, which is marked by a memorial, was declared a National Historic Landmark.
A replica of the original Fort Hall was constructed in the 1960s in Pocatello, about 30 miles (48 km) away. It is operated as a public museum.
On May 27, 1870, the U.S. Army built another military Fort Hall on Lincoln Creek, 12 miles (19 km) east of the Snake River and about 25 miles (40 km) northeast of the old Fort Hall. Captain James Edward Putnam and a company of U.S. Army soldiers built the new facility. Army soldiers were garrisoned to protect stagecoach travelers, the U.S. mail, and workers going to mining areas in the Northwest. The Army abandoned the fort on June 11, 1883.
The federal government transferred the land and barracks to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), which adapted the buildings as an Indian boarding school. This was part of a late-nineteenth century movement to establish residential schools for immersion education of Native American children to learn the English language and European-American culture. The buildings were eventually relocated to Ross Fork Creek within the reservation.
None of the original buildings remains at either site. The 1870 site is also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Next: The Oregon Trail continues westward as the emigrants and travelers head on to Fort Boise in the Treasure Valley of Idaho.