By Judy Rickard, author, Torn Apart: United by Love, Divided by Law, Findhorn Press, 2011
As Karin and I moved along the Oregon Trail route, we could see the differences in terrain and weather that would have been good news to the folks on the Oregon Trail in the mid-1800’s. It was greener and cooler. There was more opportunity for water. There were more trees. The Barlow Road was first blazed in 1845 by Samuel K. Barlow and Captain Joel Palmer – the man who lead the wagon train my Everest ancestors were on. The following year Barlow and Philip Foster improved the road, which was where one of my Everest ancestors worked after he reached the end of the Oregon Trail. The Barlow Road was the option favored by 3 of 4 travelers, history points out, because as rough as the road would be, it was not as potentially treacherous as the ferry trip down the might Columbia River. This overland final segment of the long journey west allowed the covered wagons to cross the Cascade Range and reach the Willamette Valley, where families could get Donation Land Claims and develop the open territory that the American government wanted developed. This last 100 miles was the most harrowing of the trip – and that’s saying something!
Earlier, the only option besides the river had been to drive livestock over Lolo Pass on the north side of Mount Hood, but wagons could not navigate that pass. So the wagons and supplies had to take Barlow Road if they didn’t want to ride the Columbia River. The Dalles is the beginning of The Barlow Road. From there, it heads south to Tygh Valley. Some consider Tygh Valley to be the beginning, but I am not going to get into an argument about it. Then the route goes west, roughly paralleling the White River on the north. Then to the west again, it crosses the south shoulder of Mount Hood at Barlow Pass, follows Camp Creek and the Sandy River for a distance and ends at Oregon City. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves for today. This glimpse of the journey my ancestors and so many took concerns us with the eastern gate – eastern side – of The Barlow Road. That is from The Dalles to Dufur, 15 Mile Creek and Tygh Valley as I see it.
Karin and I followed the Oregon Trail map we had and went through range land, farm land and to the small settlement of Dufur. Turns out that I would later learn that my birth mother’s family has roots in Dufur, but I didn’t know that in 2009 when we were there. We saw 15 Mile Creek. We saw the museum there. We talked to the lady in the museum. We told her what we were doing and she was mightily impressed. We saw the sign about The Barlow Road East End and saw our first view of Mount Hood. Very impressive!
When the travelers on the Oregon Trail came through this area, they found that the camping was good and water was very available. It might have been hard for some to keep moving, I would think. But further east was the big prize, so we got back in our wagon and kept going. We went up the grade and into the forested land. We followed the river and came to the place where the paved road was no longer our route – too modern. We went left, or west, onto the powdery dirt road we would follow for miles – on the same route as my ancestors. Next stop, Laurel Hill Chute! This was a vivid reminder of how hard The Barlow Road was – and it was the easier route west…
Here’s some of what we found out about The Barlow Road:
The Barlow Road was the first place on the 2,100 mile Oregon Trail where tolls were charged. When the road opened in 1846, tolls were $5.00 per wagon and 10 cents for every head of livestock. Five dollars was about one week’s wages, but consider the alternative — floating down the Columbia River in boats or rafts cost nearly $50.00! By 1863, tolls had changed to $2.50 per wagon and team, 75 cents for horse and rider, and 10 cents for other livestock. — [U.S. National Park Service website, 2009]
Reuban Gant is recorded to have driven the first wagon across the new road in 1846. Barlow reported to the Oregon Spectator — the first newspaper published west of the Rockies — that 145 wagons and nearly 1,600 head of livestock made it over the Road that first year. — [Oregon-California Trails Association website, 2011, “Final Leg of the Oregon Trail”]
The orignal toll gate at the Strickland Place on Gate Creek near Wamic on the eastern side was replaced by one at Francis Revenue’s farm on the Sandy River in 1853. It was moved to the Summit House at Summit Meadows in 1866. It was then moved to Meeting Rock at Two-Mile Camp in 1871. In 1883 it was moved again, two miles down to the site just east of Rhododendron where a replica of that last toll gate is found today. Toll was collected until 1918. — [Jim Tompkins, 1996, 2002, Discovering Laurel Hill and the Barlow Road]
Five tollgates were established along the route of the Barlow Road between 1846 and 1918. Tolls ended when the estate of the final owner deeded the road to the State of Oregon in 1919.
To find out more about The Barlow Road, go to:
To find out about your ancestors on the Oregon Trail, check out the names database site at:
For an interactive map of the Oregon Trail route, go to:
For information on The Oregon National Historic Trail, go to:
For information on finding people or documents related to The Oregon Trail, try the new Emigrant Name Search site at:
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