Haystack Butte, a relatively minor landmark on the Sublette Cutoff of the Oregon/California Trail just west of the Big Sandy River, lies on land managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. The distinctive butte may be seen or visited on the east side of U.S. Highway 191 about eight miles north of Farson, Wyo.
Haystack Butte was a minor landmark on the Sublette Cutoff of the Oregon Trail west of South Pass. Depending on where emigrants crossed the Big Sandy River, the butte was one to three trail miles farther west. Perhaps because many passed it before dawn or in the early evening when it was dark, the butte was not often mentioned in emigrant diaries. It was notable only because it stands out alone on the plain and is visible for miles. Viewed from a distance, the butte does look like a large haystack. Estimates of its height varied from 60 to 200 feet, with 60 feet probably the most accurate guess.
Different trail branches passed on each side of the butte. Some travelers they saw it on the on the right, others on the left. A trail branch coming up from Little Sandy Creek passed quite close to the butte and met the regular Sublette trace just beyond.
Hosea Horn described it in his Horn’s Overland Guide as being three miles distant from the Big Sandy and as a “Clay Mound, north of road: —Resembling a bee-hive; 200 feet high.”
Amasa Morgan noticed it not long after he crossed the Little Sandy more than five miles to the east. On July 16, 1849, he wrote, “I noticed a singular little mountain here in the shape of a hay stack. It looked in the distance just like a farmer’s hay stack. At night we camped on Big Sandy.”
P.C. Tiffany came by on June 25 and wrote, “A few miles brought us opposite a beautiful mound standing in the level plain to the right of the road. I had seen this mound before crossing the Big Sandy. When seen at different points it appears an exact resemblance to a large hay-stack. It covers probably half an acre of ground and is 60 or 70 feet high.”
Still in 1849, J. Goldsborough Bruff sketched the butte and briefly mentioned it in his diary on August 4: “On right of the trail today, and near it, passed a singular clay mount, of buff colored clay and soft sand-stone, which I found contain’d fossils: digging out, with the point of my bowie-knife, a fragment of a bone & piece of madrepore [that is, coral].
The last diary entries mentioning the butte come from 1850. William Parker was there on June 12, and wrote, “About four miles from the Sandy is a conical mound about sixty feet high and when viewed from the south or east sides, it resembles a huge haystack. This may serve to identify the road.”
Three days later J.F. Snyder noticed the landmark and was reminded of something other than a haystack: “At some distance to the left, I noticed an odd looking mound, the exact shape of a sugar-loaf, perhaps a hundred feet high, standing alone on the plain.”
In later years, alternate trail variants were established and far fewer emigrants used the original Sublette Cutoff. Haystack Butte is rarely mentioned.
- Bruff, J. Goldsborough. Gold Rush: The Journals, Drawings, and Other Papers of J. Goldsborough Bruff, Captain, Washington City and California Mining Association.April 2, 1849–July 20, 1851. Edited by Georgia Willis Read and Ruth Gaines. New York, N.Y.: Columbia University Press, 1949.
- Horn, Hosea B. Hosea B. Horn’sOverland Guide, from the U.S. Indian Sub-Agency, Council Bluffs, on the Missouri River, to the City of Sacramento, in California. New York, N.Y.: J.H. Colton, 1852.
- Morgan, Amasa. “Diary, 2 April to 28 July 1849.” Mss. 2001/111. Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley, Calif.
- Parker, William Tell. “Notes on the Way, 1850.” Typescript. Henry Huntington Library, San Marino, Calif.
- Snyder, John F. Diary. Ms. 180E. Typescript. Illinois State Library, Springfield, Ill.
- Tiffany, Palmer C. “Overland Journey from Mount Pleasant, Iowa to California, Experiences at the Mines, and the Voyage Home by the Isthmus by P. C. Tiffany, 1849—1851.”WA Ms. 474. Transcription by William Robertson. Beinecke Library, Yale University, New Haven, Conn.
- Forty-niner J. Goldsborough Bruff’s drawing of Haystack Butte is from an edition of his book of drawings and journals, Gold Rush, published in 1949. The photo is by the author. Used with permission and thanks.
At the so-called False Parting of the Ways about six miles southwest of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s South Pass overlook on Wyoming Highway 28, a 1956 state marker states incorrectly that it marks the spot where trails diverged and some emigrants headed to Oregon, others to Salt Lake City and California. A later marker from the Oregon-California Trails Association correctly states that the true Parting of the Ways lies 9.5 miles to the west.
To reach True Parting of the Ways, if the weather is good and dirt roads are likely to be hard and dry, continue southwest on Wyoming Highway 28 from False Parting for about 2.2 miles to a dirt road on the northwest side of the highway. Follow this about one mile to Plume Rocks, then turn southwest and follow the trail ruts for about seven miles to Parting of the Ways. The site is not easy to find as the old trail is not well marked in this area. Attempt the trip only in a high-clearance vehicle. There are also a number of auxiliary roads in the area that have been created by energy developers.
A marker at True Parting of the Ways, indicating the right fork for the Sublette Cutoff and the left fork for Fort Bridger, is not original.
The Fort Bridger Route—that is, the main route—of the Oregon Trail crossed the Big Sandy at present Farson, Wyo. Just west of the intersection of Highway 28 and U.S. Highway 191 in Farson are two historical markers. A few yards south of these markers, a modern bridge crosses the Big Sandy. This is where the main route forded the river. In later years, there was a stage and Pony Express station at the site.
From Farson, Wyo., at the intersection of Wyoming Highway 28 and U.S. 191, follow Highway 28 southwest about 18 miles until it crosses the Green River. Turn left just after crossing the river, following signs to interpretive panels about Lombard Ferry and a reconstructed ferry parked frther south along the riverbank.
From Interstate 80 Exit 83 west of Green River, Wyo., follow Wyoming Highway 372 north along the Green River for about 25 miles until it intersects with Wyoming Highway 28. Turn right on Highway 28, travel about three miles and look for signs to the interpretive panels just before crossing the bridge over the Green.
The Oregon, Mormon Pioneer and California trails all cross Wyoming in the central and most popular corridor of the transcontinental migration of the 1840s, ’50s and ’60s. As many as half a million people may have traveled this corridor in the 19th century. To many, the environments of the Great Plains, Rocky Mountains and Great Basin seemed like another planet, full of strange and alien landscapes.