top of page

Josiah Gregg's Gold Road on a German Map

Updated: Sep 8, 2023

A Saxon map shows the way to California gold (Barry Ruderman).

Josiah Gregg's trading path became the "Gold Road" for German immigrants.

This map, published in Annaberg (Saxony), explained the relative location of Texas and the roads and trails that led to the California Gold Rush region. Germans seeking to increase their fortunes by claiming a stake along the American River in California would most likely set sail in Hamburg, then disembark at New Orleans. Immigrants who wanted to farm in Texas most likely entered at Galveston. In 1851, they could have also come to Indianola aka Karlshaven or Indian Point, which became a port near Victoria, Texas until two hurricanes wiped it out for good in the late 1800s. However, Indianola is not identified on this map.

There was only one shipping route to California from the Atlantic by 1851: it followed the South American coastline around Cape Horn. This was the most expensive journey. In 1853, a newly opened route took ships through the rivers and lakes in Nicaragua. Passengers had to take up to three ships/boats to get through the terrain there. It was quite the ordeal, and also very expensive. Gold rushers also took ships to Veracruz, Mexico, and hiked to Mexico City, then over the mountains to Monterey and then to Chihuahua and then to El Paso etc. But this was a real ordeal, too, due to the terrain.

Germans who wanted to get to California in 1851 and had little money to spend had to take the overland trail. These trails had been marked by the U.S. army in the late 1840s under Randolph B. Marcy's travels. To take these roads that were semi-guarded and relatively safe, the gold rushers had to find their way into Indian Territory. From New Orleans, they could have walked or taken a steamship to the Red River port at Fort Towson (today's Choctaw County, Oklahoma), where they could follow the Chihuahua Trail into Mexico. However, this portion of the Chihuahua Trail went through some very marshy areas and often left travelers stranded. So, gold rushers at Fort Towson could go up to Van Buren, Arkansas, and start their journey to the gold Rush along "Gregg's Weg."

Josiah Gregg blazed a trading route from Van Buren to Chihuahua in 1839, which subsequently was used by Marcy to mark the gold road westward. His Chihuahua trail is separate from the trail that cut through Texas, which was blazed by Henry Connelly in 1839. Why was 1839 such an important year for Chihuahua, a decade before the gold rush? It was because Americans in Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois and elsewhere wanted to keep trading with Mexico even though the Republic of Texas now stood between the two trading partners. Josiah Gregg's trail was a better road because it also led to Santa Fe, while Connelly's road, once it left the Cross Timbers, just went through the miles and miles of steppe with few water sources in an area claimed by the Comanches.

Once in Santa Fe, the gold rushers did not climb over the mountains that surround this great city to the north and west. They instead, walked to the Paso del Norte - El Paso - and commenced their trek the desert. You'd think that going through this circuitous route would be nuts... why didn't they just go straight west below Santa Fe? There were two reasons: the Rocky Mountains to the north, and the Apaches to the west.

An interesting side note: the Chihuahua Trail through Texas wasn't successful, but it was actually a pretty good route, relatively speaking. It was along its trajectory that the first trans-continental railroad in the U.S. was proposed, in 1856. This southern route was already in preparation due to the Gadsen Purchase of 1854, which bought land from Mexico in today's southern New Mexico and Arizona. This scheme was sidelined because of the Civil War and a transcontinental route through the southwest would not be completed until the 1880s.

All of this to say: if you gotta walk from Louisiana to California, you seek out the flattest land through the least hostile environment. The more you know!

This map is in the Barry Ruderman collection and can be appreciated in all its detail by following this link.

68 views0 comments


bottom of page