The Clark-Skidmore Party was organized of people from Ohio and Indiana. By the time they reached the California/Nevada border they were near where John App was working, and drew his interest when they announced that they were headed to the Sonora area. There was not a proven route to that area from the north although the Bidwell-Bartleson Party made it though in 1841 under very difficult circumstances. The route that was decided upon was the Walker River Route, an untested trail, rather than the Carson River Trail. This party of 75 people and 13 four-mule wagons was the first wagon train to cross the Sierra Nevada via the Walker River-Sonora route and it took the party 35 days to blaze a trail of 60 miles over the rugged pass.
In 1852 concerns about economic slumps and social conflict prompted the businessmen of Columbia, California to dispatch a delegation of men across the Sierra Nevada Mountains to convince emigrants to come to the Southern Mines by a new trail. The small party sent into the mountains located what they hoped would be a feasible route and then encamped on the Carson River, talking to emigrants and telling them of the wonderful new trail that had just opened up to Tuolumne County. Leading the Columbia delegation was Joseph Morehead, a man of questionable credentials.
While most emigrants were suspicious of Morehead’s claims of a shorter and easier trail to the mines, the fifty men of the Clark-Skidmore Party decided to risk the new route. Guided by Morehead, they turned south with their thirteen wagons to follow the Walker River. The early section of the route was much the same as that of the Bidwell Party in 1841, but once they turned into the mountains they were on their own.
After about a week they reached Leavitt Meadow at the foot of Sonora Pass on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada. The emigrants realized they would not make it to Sonora without help, so Morehead and several others set out on horseback to obtain supplies. While they were gone, the other emigrants struggled to bring the wagons as far into the mountains as they could, following a route several miles south of today’s Sonora Pass highway. What the emigrants didn’t know was that Morehead and his party had become lost. When the relief supplies didn’t appear, some of the emigrants began to strike out on foot for the mines. Finally the last group was forced to abandon the wagons and follow the example of their colleagues.
When they reached a valley on the headwaters of the Stanislaus River many were sick and all were hungry. They camped along a small stream at the foot of a peak today known as East Flange Rock. It was there that Morehead and the relief train met them, thus giving the location the name of Relief Camp. Morehead’s group had eventually found their way to Sonora and Columbia, gathered a pack train of supplies, and had returned up the trail.
With the fresh provisions many of the remaining emigrants went back for the wagons and brought them over the mountains without mishap, following a route that became known as the Walker River Trail. The trail crossed the Sierra six miles south of the modern Sonora Pass and then followed the ridges down to today’s Dodge Ridge, Pinecrest and Twain Harte. The weary emigrants were eventually greeted in Columbia with a party in their honor.
Although the press and even the members of the Clark-Skidmore Party praised the new trail, the route would prove to be among the most difficult of the emigrant trails across the Sierra Nevada.