Last week we took a trip to Wheatland to see the site of Johnson's Ranch, the fabled end of the Overland Emigrant Trail. The emigrants headed to California in those days mentioned Johnson's as their goal. Once there you either settled the area or headed out to start your life somewhere else anew. I knew of a state historical marker in the town square that tells of Johnson's Ranch. Here we see Monica checking it out. We assumed this was the site of the adobe and other buildings that made up this outpost.
A few miles from Wheatland is Camp Far West Reservoir, a favorite place in summer for recreation, but in fall just about deserted. We had come here to see a "T" marker showing the old route. We had seen this before and were trying to understand the trail's direction better. Following Spenceville Road towards Camp Far West reservoir, we passed this sign, a few miles east of Wheatland. It reads, "Approximately one and 1/4 miles east of this spot is the historic Johnson's Crossing..." Now we had just driven east 3 miles from Wheatland. How could Johnsons' Crossing be east of here when we read the sign in the town square that indicated it was there? If the sign is correct, Johnson's crossing was east of the Bear River. So which sign was correct? We were also a bit confused by the sign in town which mentions "Johnson's Ranch" and this latest marker that mentions "Johnson's crossing." What was Johnson's crossing?
Once at the reservoir, we spotted the "T" Marker, which indicates the direction of travel for the emigrants. The trail came down the hill and then crossed what is now an arm of water from the reservoir. We assumed the trail made a bee-line west towards Wheatland. If that's the case why did the sign on Spenceville Road indicate the "crossing" was east, somewhere below the "T" Marker? We were confused but enjoying the day of exploration. We would have to do some more research to figure out just where this Johnson's Ranch was.
At our local used bookstore, I just happened on a small book titled "The Donner Rescue Party Rescue Site, Johnson’s Ranch on Bear River," by Jack and Richard Steed. The author and his son, amateur historians like us, had also been perplexed by the actual site of Johnson's Ranch adobe. Johnson's Ranch was the place that the survivors of the Donner/ Reed Party of stranded emigrants was brought too after their rescue in The High Sierra. The book is quite fascinating and the only one we could find on Johnson's Ranch. According to the authors, the site of the adobe was lost to time until their research which placed it along the north side of the Bear River, just 1.5 miles from the town square with the historical marker. We now know that the sign in the square is merely relating that the spot it's placed was part of the 22,000-acre ranch. Not necessarily the site of the adobe home.
We will be heading back to the Wheatland area to continue our search for these historical places. We have found that sometimes the "official" version of events and locations can be incorrect. It's not often these are wrong, but enough that additional research is needed. It's after this research that the pieces sometimes come into better view. That's when we know we have found something exciting, and worth checking out again. Wheatland is one such place. The fabled "end of the trail."