California Trail slide show tonight at Nevada State Museum

One hundred fifty years ago the masses poured through Carson City on the way to the California Gold Rush.

Carson City wasn't here yet, but the California Trail was.

The California Trail brought some 250,000 people to the Golden State from about 1849 until the railroad opened in 1869. The trail had started earlier in the 1840s venturing through what is today Reno and over Donner Pass.

The main trail shifted to the south, through Carson City and Genoa, in the years following the Donner Party tragedy in 1846.

"No question, many more people came this way (through Carson)," said Gregory Franzwa, who precisely mapped the entire trail in the newly released "Maps of the California Trail."

"It was much easier. You didn't have to cross the Truckee River many times. It became the main drag until the railroad came through in 1869," he said.

Franzwa will present a narrated slide show about the California Trail at 7 p.m. tonight at the Nevada State Museum.

The California Trail ran through Lyon County near the route of Highway 50 and swung south near the intersection of Arrowhead Drive and Highway 50. Migrants skirted the east side of Carson City near today's Edmonds Drive.

The trail passed through what a few decades later became the Stewart Indian School before joining up with today's Jacks Valley Road and Foothill Road, which took the California Trail into Alpine County and over Carson Pass on the way to Sacramento.

The trail started in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and crossed Iowa, Nebraska, Wyoming, Idaho and Nevada on the way to the Sierra Gold Rush.

"Although they didn't consider themselves heroes, I do," Franzwa said. "They went out with a sense of greed. They almost always ended up disillusioned and disappointed. The contribution they made, without knowing it, cemented California to the union and Oregon, too, of course."

Franzwa adds Oregon to his thought because he's been studying the Oregon Trail for many more years. He only turned to seriously mapping the California Trail two years ago, but he has lived with the Oregon Trail since 1967.

Franzwa authored "The Oregon Trail Revisited" in 1972 and "Maps of the Oregon Trail" in 1992. He also is founder of the Oregon-California Trails Association and the Lincoln Highway Association.

Before "Maps of the California Trail" was published, there was no single source precisely detailing the trail, Franzwa said.

While delivering books to a bookstore in St. Louis in 1967, Franzwa became intrigued by a book on the Oregon Trail. He bought it and checked nine books out from the library on the trail.

"That book hooked me. It changed my life," he said.

Franzwa lives in Tucson but dismisses the southwest trails as "dull as dishwater." He has read many memoirs about the California Trail along with exhaustively studying historic maps.

"The Santa Fe Trail is a story of freighting," Franzwa said. "The California Trail is just so much more poignant to me because of the humanity. Little kids were walking by mom and dad all the way out here. It's a human story."

What: "Covered Wagon Trail to California" narrated slide show

Who: Gregory Franzwa, author of "Maps of the California Trail"

When: 7 p.m. tonight

Where: Nevada State Museum, 800 N. Carson Street, north entrance

Cost: Free


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