Lander Cut-Off of the Oregon Trail
Beginning in 1843, emigrants traveled across the continent along what became known
as the Oregon Trail. Increased traffic during the 1850's resulted in the first government
road construction project in the west. The 345 mile Central Division of the
Pacific Wagon Road went from South Pass, Wyoming, to City of Rocks, Idaho, a
geologic formaition, which marked the Division's western boundary. Superintendent
Frederick W. Lander of Salem, Massachussetts, supervised construction for the U. S.
Department of the Interior. The 256 mile section of the road leading from South
Pass to Fort Hall, Idaho, is known as the Lander Cut-off. The cut-off traversed
this Salt River Valley for 21 miles and parallels Highway 89 through this area.
The new route afforded water, wood, and forage for emigrants and their stock.
Between 1858 and 1912, it provided travelers with a new, shorter route to Oregon
and California, saving wagon trains seven days. Lander, with a crew of 15 engineers,
surveyed the route in the summer of 1857. The following summer, 115 men,
many recruited from Salt Lake City's Mormon emigrants, constructed the road
in less that 90 days at a cost of $67,873. The invention of the automobile led
to its abandonment.
Travel along the Oregon Trail was not restricted to one direction. Between 1875
and 1890, drovers herded vast numbers of cattle, horses and sheep eastward from
Oregon to Wyoming. The animals were moved along the Lander Cut-off
and into the Green River and Big Horn Basins and the Wind River
drainage. There, they were used as the initial range stock for the large ranches
of cattle and sheep barons.