Routes to the Pacific Coast

“From 1849 through 1860 approximately two-thirds of travelers bound for the Pacific Coast chose some other route than that through South Pass. Some 9,000 forty-niners and lesser numbers in subsequent years traveled over the co-called southwestern trails to California, a term incorporating such routes as the Santa Fe, Gila, and Spanish Trails. Farther south were several gold rush routes across Mexico. Approximately 15,000 argonauts toiled across these trails in 1849 and again in 1850; by then the hardships of the route had been sufficiently publicized so that relatively few followed in later years.

Still farther south were the well-traveled isthmian crossings of Nicaragua and Panama. In the mid-1850s, the Nicaraguan route almost superseded the Panamanian route in popularity, but entrepreneurial competitions and William Walker’s ill-advised filibustering expedition closed the route in 1857 after 56,811 westbound travelers had crossed since its 1851 opening. A mere 335 travelers inaugurated the Panama crossing in 1848, but by 1860, 195,639 had traveled to san Francisco via panama, only a few thousand less than had traveled over the California Trail during the same period.

The other major route option—in 1849 the most popular choice next to the South Pass overland trail—was the long sea voyage around Cape Horn. Nearly 16,000 gold seekers reached San Francisco by this route in 1849, almost 12,000 in 1850, and declining numbers in subsequent years.”