First Route Over the Cascades from the McKenzie Valley to Central Oregon

Felix Scott Jr courtesy

Scott Trail

By Steve Lent, Crook County Historian

In 1852 the Oregon Territorial Legislature authorized commissioners Felix Scott, Jr., Jonathan Keeney and Solomon Tetherow to view the practicality of a road from the Willamette Valley at some point between the South Fork of the Santiam Road and McKenzie Fork of the Willamette River across the Cascade Range. It is not certain they ever viewed the road. In the late summer of 1862 the Scott brothers moved a large herd of cattle and horses over the mountains with the intent of taking them to the gold fields of Idaho.

In the late summer of 1862 the Felix Scott and his brother Marion moved a large herd of cattle and horses over the mountains with the intent of taking them to the gold fields of Idaho. They had a crew of between 50 to 60 road builders with them and left Eugene City with eight wagons. The route became known as the Scott Trail.

The Scott Trail followed ancient Indian trails up the McKenzie past Salt Springs (now Belknap Springs) to the mouth of Scott Creek. It followed Scott Creek east about two miles leaving the creek to proceed up a very steep ridge to Scott Lake and skirted the lava fields then turned east reaching the Cascade summit near Yapoah Crater. The trail then went east past Yapoah Lake to Trout Creek. It was a difficult route. Scott had to overcome tremendous obstacles and at times was forced to use as many as 21 yoke of oxen on a single wagon to summit the grade. It took them most of the summer to build a primitive road up the McKenzie River and over the mountains. It was a much higher pass than was later used for wagon travel. They arrived late into Central Oregon and decided to winter on Hay Creek in present Jefferson County. Their party was the first Euro-Americans to spend a winter in the region.

Scott attempted to develop the road and form a company. Articles were filed December 20, 1862 for the McKenzie Fork Wagon Road Company to construct the road from the eastern terminus of the county road near John Latta’s place 16 miles east of Eugene City. It was not constructed. All but the upper portion of the Scott Trail became the McKenzie Salt Springs Wagon Road and later the McKenzie Highway. There is now a hiking trail known as Scott Trail that heads near Scott Lake and heads southeast toward Four-in One Crater. Traces of the old Scott Wagon Trail are still very visible along the trail as one hikes along the trail.