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Nobles' Emigrant Trail: The Way West

Terms_and_vocabulary Card IconTerms and vocabulary

  • emigrant
  • machinist
  • grueling
  • abundant
  • divert
  • tedious
  • ascend
William H. Nobles did more to bring new emigrants to the Honey Lake Valley than almost any other pioneer, and he spent the least time here.

William was born in New York in 1816 to a minister's family.
map of North America
He trained as a machinist. When he was 25, he moved to St. Paul, Minnesota, married Miss Parker, and operated a blacksmith and wagon shop. In fact, he built the first wagon in that territory. Mr. Nobles came west as a gold seeker. In looking for the mythical Gold Lake, he stumbled on an easier route to California. This could make Nobles a wealthy man.

William Nobles went to the old town of Shasta and on April 17, 1852, he met with local businessmen. One of these men was Isaac Roop. Nobles described the trail as easy to ascend, water every eleven miles, with abundant grass. The new route would save 250 miles and could be traveled in eight days.
map of Shasta County
The businessmen paid Nobles $2000 to divert wagon trains to Old Shasta using his trail. He refused to take any money until men went with him to see the trail for themselves. Honey Lake Valley was described as several miles long with three creeks and many springs. The valley would serve as an excellent place to stop and recover strength after the long travel from Missouri.

In 1853, William Nobles returned to Minnesota to encourage people to come west over his route. He was elected to the Minnesota Territorial Legislature in 1856. He joined the army to fight in the Civil War as a Lieutenant Colonel. He lived the rest of his live in Minnesota without returning to the Honey Lake Valley or his famous trail.

The Nobles' Emigrant Trail branches off the Applegate-Lassen trail at Rabbithole Creek out in the Black Rock Desert. The trail contributed to the founding of Redding and Susanville. It is part of Highway 36 (traveling up Susanville's Pine Street) and Highway 44 (near Bogard). Susanville benefited from this trail more than Redding. The Honey Lake Valley was the first oasis after crossing the grueling Nevada desert.

There are roadside historical markers for the Nobles' Emigrant Trail. Here are two of them. One on Highway 395 near Standish and the other in Memorial Park in Susanville.
A plaque along a trail
Noble Emigrant Trail plaque
A park with trees
Noble Emigrant Trail plaque
Resource: Amesbury, Robert. Nobles' Trail.
Map of Emigrant Trail

Nobles'_Trail_Detailed_Description Card IconNobles' Trail Detailed Description

As this Pass is now attracting the deserved attention of the friends of the Pacific Rail Road, we take great pleasure in laying before the public a correct and full description of the route from the pen of Mr. John A. Dreibelbis. Mr. D. has been over this road four times, and therefore is probably better qualified than any other man to describe it. His notes were taken on his return from he Humboldt this fall. They will prove greatly useful to those emigrants who purpose coming in this way the next season, as well as deeply interesting to those parties who are now seeking to have all the advantages of Nobles' Trail spread before the friends of the Pacific Railroad:?

Humboldt to Cold Springs. Course west, road level, water sufficient for 150 head of stock at a time; good bunch grass on hill sides and heads of canons; distance 14 miles.

Rabbit Hole Springs. Course north of west; road ascending about two miles through a low gap of mountain range, then descending slightly 8 miles; the rest nearly level to Rabbit Hole; bunch grass south east and south west for 3 miles; on left hand in ravings, water for from one to two hundred animals; distance 18 miles.

Black Rock. Course north west; road first eight miles has a few gulches, the remainder is through an entire desert, perfectly level and hard; very little of anything growing on it; some good feed about the springs, but not extensive; water hot, but cools somewhat running off, and is healthy for animals; rye and salt grass in abundance 1½ miles north; distance 24 miles.

Granite Creek. Course south of south west; road excellent, over a perfect desert, as smooth as a planed floor, and nearly as hard, and not a vestige of vegetation on it for 22 miles. This stream comes out of a notch of the mountain range on the right hand, pretty well at the end, leave desert by turning into this gap ½ mile for camp; bunch grass on foot hills. It will be readily seen that between this point and Rabbit Hole a material cut off could be effected, so that 46 miles might be made in 30, with fully as good roads, but no water; the cut off, however, would be but 6 miles longer than from Black Rock to Rabbit Hole.

Hot Spring Point. South of south west, road level, distance 3 miles; grass all along on the left; boiling springs scattered all through, which makes it dangerous to let stock on.

Deep Springs. North west; road level; here you double the extreme south end of mountain range; grass and water in abundance of the very best quality; this is a good place to lie over a day or two; distance 7 miles.

Buffalo Spring. Course west, distance sixteen miles, road level; directly after leaving deep spring, you enter a desert; after passing 8 miles over an arm of it, then 8 miles through sage, you come to the bed of a large dry creek, its banks covered with rye grass for some distance; some water in holes which does no injury to stock; one half mile beyond this, and about two hundred paces on the right hand are the springs.

Smoke Creek Meadows. Course west, distance 13 miles, six miles level ground, then 4 miles over low hills to creek; then up creek through cañon 3 miles to camp; here this creek forms an extensive valley from three hundred yards to two miles wide; its length is not ascertained; this valley produces clover, bunch grass, &c., of the most luxuriant growth.

Mud Springs. Course west, distance 9 miles; you travel up Smoke Creek meadow two miles, then over the point of a low ridge into Rush Valley. This valley is 2 miles long by ½ miles wide; excellent grass and water; the road here is on a table land, up to 75 feet above the level of the plane or desert, and is perfectly level.

Susan River. Course west 9 miles; 6 miles south west, and three miles west to camp; emigrants should start early from Mud Springs, as the road is covered with cobble stones, which makes it slow and tedious. It is nearly level, until you descend slightly to the valley of the stream. This is a delightful valley, its soil of the most productive kind, and is from 5 to 7 miles wide, and covered with clover, blue joint, red top, and bunch grass in great abundance; the stream abounds in mountain trout, which are easily taken with hook and line.

Head of the Valley. West 14 miles; you cross Willow Creek 2 miles after leaving camp on Susan River. This stream rises in the west, runs east out of the Sierra Nevada into the valley, and about 20 or 25 miles down it, and then sinks and evaporates like the Humboldt and all the streams on the east of these mountains.

Summit Springs. Immediately after leaving the valley, you enter open but heavy pine woods, (not unwelcome to the sun scorched emigrant,) and commence ascending the Sierra Nevada gradually; water 4 miles on right, and some grass and again 5 miles on the left, but no grass, somewhat stony at places. The ascent is so gradual that on slight observation it seems as much down as up; in fact, a great part is level, and enough timber on one mile on each side of the road from the valley to the summit, to build a double railway track to the Missouri River course west, distance 18 miles; grass and water.

Pine Creek. North west to avoid a cluster of buttes, distance 8 miles, road level; grass and water.

Black Butte Creek. North west 4 miles, then turning west to south west; grass and water, road level, distance 12 miles. The country here and for twenty miles back, must be considered the summit, as it is impossible to ascertain the precise place, owing to the flatness of the country. The small streams that rise on the Buttes around and run down their sides, all sink or form small lakes and marshes, there being not slope sufficient to run off their waters.

Black Butte. Course south west, distance six miles; road heavy sand.

Pine Meadows. West, distance 4 miles; road level and good; water and grass.

Hat Creek. North west, distance 4 miles; road gradually sloping, only about 100 feet that a wagon wheel need be locked.

Lost Creek. West, distance 2 miles, road nearly level.

John Hill's Ranch or Deer Flat. West, distance 14 miles, the two first miles slightly up hill, fifty or sixty feet only of which is steep; after a distance of 40 miles, embracing the entire western slope of the Sierra Nevada, it is almost a perfect grade to the Sacramento River.

McCumber's Mills. Eight miles; Shingle Town, 3 miles; Chorley's Ranch, 4 miles; Payne & Smith's, 6 miles; Dr. Baker's, on Bear Creek, 7 miles; Fort Reading, on Cow Creek, 4 miles; Sacramento River, 3 miles. Here emigrants can take whichever way they choose if this part of the valley does not suit them, or if they prefer the mines to cultivating the soil, they are in the centre of various mining localities Olney Creek, Clear Creek, Shasta, Churn Creek, and Pitt River Diggings all within five to twenty-five miles of the Emigrant Ferry on Sacramento River.

Information presented on this page was researched and contributed by:

Holly Azevado
Marilyn Chapman
Heather Cluck