The Hudspeth Cutoff

Day Four: July 3, 2019

Benoni (the name is Hebrew and means “son of my sorrow”) Morgan Hudspeth lived a short life.  Born in 1816 in Logan County, Kentucky into a large family of slaveholders, Benoni first went west with John C. Frémont on one of his mid-1840s expeditions.  Some accounts, improbably it seems to me, refer to him as “Ben.”  Not long after the discovery of gold, Benoni and four of his brothers —  Robert Nicholas, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and Silas Bourke – answered the lure and mounted a wagon train expedition out of Missouri.

According to a contemporary account, it was a big operation: over 200 people, mostly families, with some seventy wagons loaded down with whisky, brandy, wine, silken hankies, picks, spades, boots, ropes, coffee, cards, and blankets.  Arriving in the vicinity of where John and I drove yesterday, near Soda Springs, Idaho, Hudspeth and mountain man John Myers set out to find a shortcut to the headwaters of the Humboldt River.[1]  In mid-July, 1849, almost exactly 170 years ago, Hudspeth and Myers opted to shoot off from the main trail – which must have already been crowded with goldseekers – and forge their own trail directly west out of Soda Springs.

Their cutoff, all 130 miles of it, saved them about twenty-five miles, but it meant crossing four more mountain ranges to do it.  What they saved in distance, they likely lost in time.  The Hudspeth Cutoff rejoined the main trail at the beautifully named landmark known as the Silent City of Rocks, which is now City of Rocks National Reserve.  In the 1840s, the Silent City of Rocks marked the halfway point for emigrant trains coming out of Missouri bound for California.  Overlanders wrote their names on the granite, using the axle grease from their wagons to do so.


Benoni Hudspeth died in California in 1850 and is buried not far from Sutter’s Mill, where all the gold rush excitement had begun two years earlier.

We made Jackson in the early afternoon, coming through the Tincup Creek watershed and into the gorgeous Star Valley.  We had our obligatory dip in Tincup Creek – cold runoff water! – and John scavenged a new set of bleached bones for his collection.


Tincup Creek, Idaho


By dusk, he was patrolling the property at his grandmother’s house.


[1] The naming history of the Humboldt is an exercise in western history all by itself.  In addition to the names given it by the Numic speaking indigenous people of the region, the Humboldt has variously been known as the Unknown River, Mary’s River, Paul’s River, St. Mary’s River, Swampy River, Barren River, Ogden’s River, and, finally, the Humboldt.

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