Stockton – Los Angeles Road
Stockton – Los Angeles Road, also known as the Millerton Road, Stockton–Mariposa Road, Stockton–Fort Miller Road or the Stockton–Visalia Road, was established about 1853 following the discovery of gold on the Kern River in Old Tulare County. This route between Stockton and Los Angeles followed by the Stockton-Los Angeles Road (except that between Stockton and Davis's Ferry on the Tuolumne River) is described in ITINERARY XXI. From Fort Yuma to Benicia, California, in The Prairie Traveler: A Hand-book for Overland Expeditions by Randolph Barnes Marcy. The Itinerary was derived from the report of Lieutenant R. S. Williamson on his topographical survey party in 1853, that was in search of a railroad route through the interior of California.
Southern Route to the Goldfields
Transportation and commerce to the northern part of California from Southern California prior to 1849 was carried north along the coast via El Camino Real or later diverted to the north, from the San Fernando Mission inland via El Camino Viejo "the old road", a route over the mountains north of Los Angeles, along the west side of the San Joaquin Valley, turning west across the coast ranges to reach Oakland and San Francisco. During and after 1849, transportation and commerce to the gold mines of the Mother Lode from the south became a northern extension of the Southern Emigrant Trail up the east side of the San Joaquin Valley from the El Camino Viejo.
The 49er route from Los Angeles followed El Camino Viejo to San Fernando Mission then northward over the steep Fremont Pass, across the Santa Clarita Valley and up through the San Francisquito Canyon to San Francisquito Pass and north to Elizabeth Lake. From the lake the route was north through the foothills via Willow Springs Canyon, then northwest to Mud Spring where the road divided. From Mud Springs, El Camino Viejo turned west northwest to Cow Springs and west to Portezuela de Castac or Castac Pass (now Tejon Pass). Beyond Castac Pass, El Camino Viejo turned west up what became Cuddy Canyon and Cuddy Valley where it turned down the Arroyo San Emigdio to Rancho San Emidio one of the few settlements in the then trackless and unsettled southern San Joaquin Valley. Another route, not well known or used, diverted north from "the old road" at Castac Pass to follow La Cañada de las Uvas or Grapevine Canyon down into San Joaquin Valley.
The most direct wagon route was directly north from Mud Spring, across the Antelope Valley to Cottonwood Creek, following it up the east slope of the Tehachapi Mountains to cross them at the old Tejon Pass, then descending the west slope to the canyon of Tejon Creek, which the road followed down through Rancho El Tejon into the San Joaquin Valley. This road over the old Tejon Pass was later described it as "one of the worst roads he ever saw," by Lieutenant R. S. Williamson who made the survey of the pass for a railroad route through the Tehachapi Mountains. He found a better route further west at La Cañada de las Uvas, the Grapevine Canyon route, where he sent his own wagons . His recommendation would popularize the Grapevine route for later teamsters and emigrants. The old Tejon Pass route was abandoned in favor of the route through Grapevine Canyon and Fort Tejon Pass was shortened taking the name Tejon Pass.
Once in the San Joaquin Valley the route proceeded north following the eastern foothills of the Sierras, crossing the various creeks and rivers near these eastern foothills of the Sierra's to avoid the marshes in the valley, until they reached the goldfields of the Mother Lode.
Also in 1853, a Los Angeles businessman, Henry Clay Wiley installed a windlass atop the Fremont Pass to speed and ease the ascent and descent of the steep Santa Clara Divide, and built a tavern, hotel and stable nearby. In 1854, Wiley sold out to Sanford and Cyrus Lyon and it began to be called Lyon Station. At the same time Phineas Banning obtained the business of supplying Fort Tejon. The Castac Pass now became known as the Fort Tejon Pass.
In the next few years, settlements and miners camps gradually spread along this route along the Sierra foothills looking for new gold mines. Cattle and horses from Southern California, were driven north along the route and immigrants and teamsters continued to follow it. Ferries began to be established at the various crossing places.
Kern River Gold Rush
In 1853, D. B. James and Brigham James made the first discovery of gold at the Kern River in the huge but until then nearly unsettled Mariposa County. With unclaimed placer gold sites becoming more scarce in the Mother Lode region to the north, a stampede to the southern mines followed. Traffic to the south boomed. To make it practical to get the business of supplying the Kern River gold miners from San Pedro, Phineas Banning made a few adjustments to the old road, carving a small cut through the Santa Clara Divide then running eastward before descending down Elsmere Canyon to Lyon Station.
By 1855, Phineas Banning's wagon trains were carrying supplies from Los Angeles via Fort Tejon to Fort Miller (in what is now Fresno County) and for the Kern River gold rush. Several thousand miners participated in the Kern River Gold Rush but most were disappointed. Over the following seven or eight years other discoveries were made nearby at White River, Keyesville, Owens River, in the Slate Range and in the Coso District that caused other mining booms. These kept the Stockton – Los Angeles Road active, connected with two trails cut across the Sierra Nevada mountains over which pack trains carrying supplies were sent to these new mines. A wagon road was also constructed from Visalia through Keyesville and Walker Pass to Owens Valley. By 1858 there were three stamp mills in the Kern River district, several other stamp mills were constructed a few years later to mill the ore of the Coso and Owens River districts and the freighting of supplies to these places became a major business in Los Angeles and Stockton.
In 1858, the southern portion of the road from Los Angeles to Visalia was taken as part of the route of the Butterfield Overland Mail, being used until 1861 when the American Civil War put an end to its use. Commercial use by long haul freight wagons, stagecoaches, and livestock continued until the mid 1870s when the railroad from northern California reached Los Angeles.
The Route of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road
The route began at Stockton leaving the city toward the southeast toward the foothills of the Sierras to avoid the marshes called "tules" and the often flooded lowlands or lakes along the course of the San Joaquin River and the lower reaches of its tributaries. Due to competing ferry crossings and bridges, or the condition of the roads, different roads roughly paralleling the route would be taken. The route from Stockton crossed San Joaquin County to Dry Creek (now Lone Tree Creek) about 2 miles north northeast of modern Escalon then on to the crossings of the Stanislaus River either at Heath & Emory's Ferry up river from modern Oakdale or at Taylor's Ferry Crossing in Oakdale or further down river at Islips Ferry.
The route then continued southeast to the Tuolumne River crossings at either Dickinson's Ferry, the principal ferry on the route, near modern Waterford, California or at Davis's Ferry, two miles down the river from Dickinson's Ferry.
From Dickensons Ferry there is mileage data from The Prairie Traveler Itinerary, the route reached the Merced River, upriver from Snelling, California after 18.87 miles. The three main crossings of the Merced River were located within 2 miles downstream from Merced Falls, a set of rapids on the Merced River 6 miles (9.7 km) east of Snelling. These ferries were Young's Ferry, Belt's Ferry, (later Murray's Ferry), and Phillips' Ferry. Phillips's Ferry was the place farthest east, upriver, where the Mariposa and Merced County boundary line crossed the Merced River; Murray's was only a short distance below Phillips's; but above Young's. Here the route had reached the edge of the eastern foothills and now it followed them southward, because such a route was nearer the mines and the river crossings were much easier than in the level plains below, that were more difficult to travel especially in wet weather and during the spring floods.
From Phillips Ferry the route ran 18.33 miles from the Merced River to Bear Creek. Then after 10.39 miles it came to the crossing of the Mariposa River, were John and "Paddy" Bennett, kept the Union post office. Another 10.39 miles and the road came to Newton's Crossing on the Chowchilla River or "Big Mariposa" was reached. This section of road from Phillips Ferry to Newton's Crossing became the boundary line between Merced and Mariposa Counties when Merced County was created from Mariposa County in 1855.
From Newtons Crossing it was 12.15 miles to Fresno Crossing on the Fresno River, about twelve miles east of what is now Madera, California. From "Fresno Crossing” the route continued 7.72 miles to the crossing at Cottonwood Creek and beyond in another 9.4 miles came to McCray's Ferry and Millerton on the south bank of the San Joaquin River with Fort Miller, midway on the route to Los Angeles.
From Fort Miller it was 25.73 miles to the Slough of King's River and 12.3 miles more to Campbells Crossing on the Upper Kings River, 3 miles above modern Reedley, California. William Campbell and John Poole operated Poole's Ferry at Campbells Crossing from 1851 to 1857. Smith's Ferry was established by James Smith and his wife, at what is now Reedley in 1855. Smith's was the only ferry boat on the Kings River that could be approached at high water and outlasted other Kings River ferries, being operated by the Smith family until 1874. Smith kept a two story, 11 room hotel nearby. In 1858, W. W. Hills established Hills Ferry upstream at Poole's Crossing on the King's River at what became Scotsburg.
From Campbells Crossing it was 28.13 miles to the crossing at St. John's Creek, the first and northernmost of the creeks of the "Four Creeks" which was crossed by the wagon-road. These streams were commonly known as the "Four Creeks" but were distributaries of the Kaweah River that divided itself after emerging from the Sierra's forming a delta before entering Tulare Lake to the west. From St. John's Creek it was only 0.89 miles to the Kaweah River, the second and principal one of the "Four Creeks." Between these two streams the town of Visalia grew up from its beginning in 1853, located west downstream from the original route of the road. From the Kaweah River River it was 3.3 miles to Cameron Creek, the third of the "Four Creeks." From Cameron Creek it was only 0.29 miles to Deep Creek, fourth and southernmost of the "Four Creeks".
From Deep Creek the Stockton-Los Angeles road ran 22 miles to the Tule River. From 1854 Peter Goodhue operated an emigrant trail stopping place on the bank of the Tule River until the river changed its course in 1862. It was also the site of the Tule River Stage Station for the Butterfield Overland Mail, from 1858 to 1861. R. Porter Putnam, who ran the place in 1860 later founded Porterville there in 1864.
From Tule River the Stockton-Los Angeles route ran 5.10 miles to More's Creek (now Deer Creek). Then the road then ran 11.1 miles southeast to Stickneys Ferry on White Creek, (now White River). About 5 miles southeast of More's Creek midway to White River, Fountain Springs was established before 1855, at the junction of the Stockton-Los Angeles Road and the road to the Kern River gold mines. From Stickneys Ferry it was 24.3 miles to the Depot Camp and the road crossing of Poso Creek. From the Depot Camp it was 10.8 miles to the Kern River crossing at Gordon's Ferry.
From Gordons Ferry it was 31 miles to the Depot Camp on Tejon Creek. From the Tejon Depot Camp it was 13.1 miles up the Grapevine Canyon, to Fort Tejon and on to the summit of the Fort Tejon Pass. From the summit of Fort Tejon Pass it was 24 miles to the summit of the road in the Coast Range in San Francisquito Pass. From the pass it was 15.8 miles down San Francisquito Canyon to the southeast fork of the Santa Clara River and the Rancho San Francisco. From there it was another 7.15 miles to the summit of the Lyons Station and Fremont Pass.
From the top of Freemont Pass it was 5.9 miles of a steep descent to the bottom of the pass, and on to Mission of San Fernando in the valley and another 10.7 miles to the Rancho Cahuenga at the crossing of a branch of the Los Angeles River. From the Cahuenga crossing it was another 10.2 miles through Cahuenga Pass to Los Angeles.
Decline of the Road
In the 1870s, construction of the railroad through the San Joaquin Valley and to Los Angeles, drew population from the Sierra foothills into the towns along the rail line and replaced long distance hauling of freight and passengers on the road. Diversion of water for irrigation dried up the lowlands of the San Joaquin Valley in the 1880s ending its role as the only passable road in bad weather, and the road fell further into disuse.
- Randoph Barnes Marcy, The Prairie Traveler: A Hand-book for Overland Expeditions, Published by Authority of the War Department, (1859)
- United States War Department, Joseph Henry, Spencer Fullerton Baird, United States Army, Corps of Engineers, Reports of explorations and surveys: to ascertain the most practicable and economical route for a railroad from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean, Volume 5, A.O.P. Nicholson, Printer, 1856
- Harrison Irving Scott, The Ridge Route: the Long Road to Preservation; California HISTORIAN, www.californiahistorian.com website, accessed November 14, 2011 Archived February 11, 2012, at the Wayback Machine., "The name Tejon formerly belonged to another pass 15 miles further east. Lieutenant Robert Stockton Williamson of the Pacific Railroad surveyed the area in 1853. His party crossed the Tehachapis by "one of the worst roads he ever saw." Hearing of a better road further west, he scouted it and found it would be far more practicable for wagons if the bulk of the traffic henceforth went that way. The name Tejon was transferred west to today's "Tejon Pass."
- "Tales of Elsmere Canyon" by Jerry Reynolds, accessed June 23, 2011
- Phineas Banning Biography, Historical Society of Southern California website, accessed June 23, 2011
- Phineas Banning & the Alexanders & Other Partnerships
- Eugene L. Menefee and Fred A. Dodge, History of Tulare and Kings Counties, California, Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, California, 1913.
- John Outcalt, History of Merced County, California: with a biographical sketch of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the present, Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, 1925, p.99
- Theodore Henry Hittell, The codes and statutes of the State of California, Volume 1, A. L. Bancroft, 1876, p.497
- Poole's Ferry, Smith's Ferry, THE HISTORICAL MARKER DATABASE, accessed September 12, 2011
- Paul E. Vandor, History of Fresno County, California, with biographical sketches of the leading men and women of the county who have been identified with its growth and development from the early days to the present, Historic Record Company, Los Angeles, 1919, p.98
- Kings River - Centerville, THE HISTORICAL MARKER DATABASE, accessed September 12, 2011
- UC Berkeley Bancroft Library: 1852 Map of the southern mines: [California] — by Charles Drayton Gibbes; (1852); routes of early roads to the southern mines with milage, including what became the Stockton - Fort Miller Road.
- Official 1854 map of the State of California — shows the early route of the Stockton – Los Angeles Road.
- Map of routes and crossings in the San Joaquin Valley including the Stockton-Mariposa Road, 1851-1852 — from Events after the Mariposa Indian War, from Sam Ward in the Gold Rush (1861, 1949) by Samuel Ward.