Sonora Pass Emigrants &
Tuolumne County Pioneers

1841 - 1900

Sonora Pass Emigrants

An Overview

The first emigrants to cross the Sierra Nevada into Tuolumne County were the members of the Bidwell-Bartleson Party of 1841. They followed a convoluted route from the headwaters of the Walker River, across a remote mountain pass, down to the Clark Fork of the Stanislaus River, and eventually to the San Joaquin Valley. The tales of their hardships in the mountains convinced others that the Bidwell-Bartleson route was better avoided.

In 1852 the Clark-Skidmore Party, led by a group sent out from Columbia, established a new route through the mountains which would become known as the Walker River Trail. Columbia residents, eager to attract more settlers to their region, down-played the difficulties of the new trail and advertised it as the fastest and easiest route to the gold fields. The following year more than two thousand emigrants used the new trail to the Southern Mines.

By 1854, however, word of the difficulties along the trail had spread and only a trickle of emigrants chose the route. Soon afterward, the trail was abandoned.

For the complete story of the early pioneers who crossed Sonora Pass, see Sonora Pass Pioneers: California Bound Emigrants and Explorers, 1841-1864, available from the Tuolumne County Historical Society and from Amazon.

For the best overall book about the Gold Rush read J. S. Holiday's The World Rushed In.

Early Tuolumne County Pioneers

Settlers Who Lived or Worked in the Mountains East of Sonora

The Tuolumne County pioneers listed at this site are individuals who settled or worked in the mountains east of Sonora between the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River and the North Fork of the Tuolumne River during the 19th century. This includes communities such as Soulsbyville, Tuolumne, Phoenix Lake, Twain Harte, Confidence, Sugar Pine, Mi-Wuk Village, Pinecrest, Strawberry, Dardanelle, and Kennedy Meadow.

The earliest pioneers in this region settled along Sullivan Creek, just east of Sonora. Soon afterward as water companies, hunters, and explorers pushed deeper into the mountains, settlers moved farther into the mountains, settling around Sugar Pine and eventually as far east as Strawberry. When the Sonora and Mono Wagon Road was constructed in the 1860s, settlers moved even farther east to places such as Dardanelle and Kennedy Meadow.

Genealogy of the Emigrants

For those interested in the genealogy of the emigrants and the early pioneers who settled in the region there are a number of great resources available. The Tuolumne County Historical Society in Sonora has an excellent museum. Coupled with them at the museum is the Tuolumne County Genealogical Society. Their members are always happy to help individuals working on the genealogy of their families. The county also maintains an archive near the public library. The archive contains many primary sources of great interest to historians and genealogists. The recent book, Sonora Pass Pioneers, (mentioned above) contains copious footnotes and genealogical information.

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Sites worth visiting:

Find complete information about camping, lodging, historic sites, and recreation at Sonora Pass Vacations.

Dave's Sierra Fishing provides information about some of the best fishing destinations in the Sierra, including the Sonora Pass region.

Send queries about Sonora Pass emigrants or Tuolumne County pioneers to Sonora Pioneer.

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