Competing Routes to the West

William Lander, chief engineer on the Lander Cutoff from South Pass to Fort Hall, stationed “an old mountaineer, Charles H. Miller, at the South Pass [for the winter] to make weather observations and direct the earliest immigration to the new road in the spring of 1859. Miller was faithful in the performance of his assignment untilled killed in a gun fight in early March . . .

Lander reached South Pass at the close of June to discover that traders along the old routes to Soda Springs and Salt lake Valley were meeting emigrants and trying to divert them from his new road. Miller’s murder of the previous winter was indirectly attributed to these men, so Lander stationed a former soldier of his party at Gilbert’s Trading Post to inform travelers of the advantages of the federal wagon road and present them with a published guide. Fist fights became weekly occurrences in the bid for the emigrant’s favor, so Lander decided it would be necessary to leave a blacksmith at the pass during the winter to ply his trade and explain the merits of the road.”

[N.B. See also Unruh: “In his reports Landers complained about the ‘designing parties’ (in particular, Mormons and mountaineers) who energetically directed emigrants to travel on the established trail while casting aspersions on the new government route—which bypassed their trading posts and green River ferries.” John D. Unruh, Jr., The Plains Across, p. 300]