This cutoff was opened
in 1844 by members of the Murphy-Townsend company who were being guided
by two old mountaineers, Caleb Greenwood and Isaac Hitchcock. Evidence
indicates that it was Hitchcock's suggestion that the wagon train go due
west from the Little Sandy River and cross the Green River Desert directly
to the Green River, thereby bypassing Fort Bridger and the Muddy Creek
divide route to the Bear River. From Big Sandy the cutoff crosses the
desert for a distance of about 45 miles to the Green River crossing. This
became the preferred route to Oregon and California for those emigrants
who saw no need to go either to Fort Bridger or Salt Lake City. Indeed,
it became the standard route for Oregon bound emigrants. In 1859 the opening
of the Lander Trail diverted what was by then a greatly diminished traffic
to that route north of the Sublette Cutoff. West of Green River the route
becomes mountainous and the trail crosses several high ridges where the
elevation is over 8,000 feet. The first of these high ridges is Slate
Creek Ridge just beyond which the main Sublette Cutoff is joined by a
later variant, the Slate Creek Cutoff.
After passing through Rocky Gap, the trail crosses Commissary Ridge into
the valley of Ham's Fork, then makes a very steep climb eventually reaching
the summit of Dempsey Ridge. After a steep descent the trail crosses Rock
Creek, then Rock Creek Ridge and then follows what is now called Sublette
Creek into the valley of Bear River and the junction with the route from
Fort Bridger. The year after it was opened Joel Palmer, heading for Oregon,
decided against using the route.
" July 20, 1845- At Little Sandy the road forks - one taking to the
right and striking Big Sandy in six miles,and thence forty miles to Green
River, striking the latter some thirty or forty miles above the lower
ford, and thence to Big Bear River, striking it fifteen miles below the
old road. By taking this trail two and a half days' travel may be saved;
but in the forty miles between Big Sandy and Green River there is no water,
and but little grass. Camps made be made within
reasonable distances between Green and Bear Rivers."
J. Goldsborough Bruff¹s description of 1849 is valuable. " Aug.
3 - The road forks, left branch to Fort Bridger, Salt Lake, &c. and
the right is the cut-off route. At the forks of the road, the emigrants
had a meeting, when all of them followed me on the Cut-off except 2 ox
wagons, who turned off to the left, on the other route bidding us all
adieu, as they rolled on. A great many wagons have already preceded us
on this route - broad and well beaten trail."
Bruff was aware of the Murphy-Townsend party of 1844 and on August 2 had
written: ...."I called a meeting at 10 a.m. explained its advantages
[the cutoff's], and it was unanimously resolved to take it. It is called
by the emigrants, very improperly, Soublette's Cut-Off but was discovered
by another mountaineer, - Greenwood; and should be called Greenwood's
Cut-Off. Soublette had discovered and traveled over a short cut higher
up, from near the base of Fremont's Peak to Fort Hall, which is only practicable
for mules, and now probably nearly obliterated.
The route became known as Sublette's Cutoff after the publication of Joseph
Ware's widely used trail guide of 1849 wherein he is quoted as saying,
" I take the liberty, of renaming the Greenwood Cutoff west of South
Pass the Sublette Cutoff. But Ware named it after Solomon Sublette, his
informant, not for William Sublette, as Bruff believed. The extensive
use of Ware's guide during the gold rush resulted in Sublette Cutoff becoming
the accepted name for the route. The pack trail used by William Sublette,
as described by Bruff, became the approximate route of the Lander Trail.