Digital-Desert : Mojave Desert
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Opening the Mojave River Trail

Other Movements through the Mojave

These flurries of trapping activities spurred other movements through the Mojave Desert. Some expeditions have been verified by the records, while other mentioned or rumored trips remain suspect or doubtful. The trapper, Richard Campbell, supposedly followed on the heels of Yount and Smith; for it is reported that he passed the Zuni Way, pueblos, but which route he took to San Diego is not certain. Alice Maloney gave good circumstantial evidence that Richard Campbell led a party which trapped in California in 1827. Campbell, himself, related to an Army explorer that he had led a party of 35 trappers with pack animals from Zuni to Rio Colorado at El vado de los Padres (The Ford of the Fathers). He might have been the first to follow Escalante's route, leaving it to travel along the Mojave River trail, probably sneaking into the San Joaquin Valley by way of Walker, Tehachapi, or Tejon Pass. He did not check into a Mexican settlement or a mission, but Govenor Echeandia heard of the interlopers and wanted Smith to write to them, even though Smith assured the governor that there were no trappers in California at the time. A party of 17 men, supposedly from New Orleans, sold 500 skins to a Russian vessel in California in October, 1827. Maloney asserted that these must have been Campbell's men; but it seems more likely that these might have been some of Smith's trappers seeking desperately needed supplies. Smith definitely came to the city of San Jose on September 23, 1827, to obtain supplies. Although he was arrested and released, he had contacts with American sea captains, and could have easily visited the Russian ship. Corroboration of the fact that these mystery man with Smith's-not Campbell's- came also from the fact that the Russian authority at Bodega instructed its agent, Ross, to provide Smith with whatever he wanted. From these facts it can be assumed that some of the 1568 pounds of beaver that Smith sold went to the Russians. Campbell's trip, then, unfortunately remains a mystery.

Another dubious trip, recorded by Bancroft but lacking corroborating evidence, routed Thomas "Peg leg" Smith from Southern Utah to Los Angeles to dispose of furs in 1829. Supposedly he was expelled from California and took 300 or more horses with him. Peg leg Smith might have been just a member of Young's hunters in 1831-32, who bought 600 mules and 100 horses and drove them to Louisiana. He might have been an employee or free trapper under William Wolfskill and George Yount, who after talking to Jedediah Smith and Arthur Black about California, led a group of Americans, Canadians, and Mexicans--11 employees and nine free trappers-to California. This group left Taos in 1830, became mixed up in southern Utah, suffering from cold, snow, and poor morale. They headed southwest, visiting the Mohave. The "Mahauvies," according to Yount, "again [were] in their old character- a small brass swivel [gun] upon pack sample on a mule deterred them." They followed the Mojave River trail to the Cajon Pass in San Bernardino, entering Los Angeles in February, 1831.

After trappers open the Mojave River trail the New Mexicans were quick to follow through and take advantage of the route. One can surmise how the traders and proprietors in Santa Fe visualize the profits derived from this new trading route. They could be the middleman in the United States-Mexico-California trade. They could obtain some of the costly oriental goods that hitherto had come from the merchants in faraway Mexico. They saw the big husky California mules sell for $50 or more after being purchased in California for only $10. They saw a chance of selling their surplus woolen products. They followed through with the types of trade they were used to- annual real caravans such as those that had for two centuries plotted the trail between Mexico City and New Mexico.

Since the trappers had open several routes that led to California, it is problematical why the New Mexicans chose the circuitous us route which became misnamed the Old Spanish Trail, being neither old nor Spanish. The direct route from Santa Fe to Los Angeles went through Zuni, Central Arizona, Mojave villages on the Colorado and Mojave River trail, but it was infested with Apache, Navajo, Hopi, and the Mohave Indians. The southern route along the Gila River to the Yuma villages had also been open by the trappers but the Apache and other Indians were still a problem, especially to the Mexicans. The Spanish trail, on the other hand, had several advantages. The Utes in southern Utah, although warlike and generally hostile to the Mexicans, were not as formidable as an obstacle as other Indians were. Trade had been carried on between the New Mexicans in Utes for at least half a century, and the region of southern Colorado and Utah was fairly known by the New Mexicans. The crossing of the Colorado River at the Ford of the Fathers had been known since Escalante's trip in 1776, but had not been used. The main difficulty, then, was to cross from the Virgin and Muddy rivers to the water in the Mojave River, or to find some unknown river or body of water that would permit a route across the desert.

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ecology: wildlife - plants - geography: places - MAPS - roads & trails: route 66 - old west - communities - weather - glossary
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