This Cajon Pass trail’s name is a puzzle for local historians
Two historic monuments in the Cajon Pass built in the early 1900s are steeped in folklore, and both carry a famous trail name that has become an interesting puzzle for some local historians.
The name in question is the “Santa Fe and Salt Lake Trail,” which according to available records, doesn’t exist anywhere but in articles about the monuments’ dedications, and on the monuments themselves.
The monuments are the Stoddard-Waite Monument, built in 1912, and the Santa Fe and Salt Lake Trail Monument, built in 1917. Both are large, white concrete spires, located in the central area of the Cajon Pass, just south of the junction of the 15 Freeway and Highway 138.
Much has been written about these monuments, but there has been little discussion of the trail name.
The puzzle starts with the famous Santa Fe Trail name, which history clearly states begins in Franklin, Missouri, and ends in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The historic trade route was heavily used from 1821 to 1880, and there are no documented or named extensions of the trail west of Santa Fe.
Both Cajon Pass monuments were built in historic locations to honor the pioneers who braved the treacherous wagon road from Salt Lake City to San Bernardino and Southern California.
The monument sites were also chosen because they were placed along the historic old wagon road that would soon become part of the nation’s first “Ocean to Ocean Highway” known as National Old Trails Road.
These monuments honored the pioneers of the time, but it’s important to note the routes had already been used by Native Americans for centuries, as trails for migration and trade between the Mojave Desert and the inland and coastal regions.
The 1912 Stoddard-Waite monument is located just southwest of the southbound 15 truck scales, along the famous Pacific Crest Trail. This weathered spire is hidden in a dense grove of cottonwood and willow trees, and it’s surrounded by a rusty pipe guardrail and a patch of beavertail cactus.
A granite plaque is cast into the monument with the words; “Santa Fe & Salt Lake Trail, erected by Pioneer Society of San Bernardino in 1912.” Two arrows pointing toward the Salt Lake route divide the granite text. A smaller plaque with the words, “SHELDON STODDARD, SYDNEY P. WAITE, CAME OVER THIS TRAIL 1849, HELPED ERECT THIS MONUMENT 1912” is cast into another side.
The San Bernardino Society of California Pioneers built the Stoddard-Waite Monument in December 1912, and it was formally dedicated May 18, 1913. Sheldon Stoddard and Sidney Waite were members of the pioneer society and after helping to construct the monument, they were honored at its dedication.
In 1849, both men traveled south from Salt Lake City on the rugged trail that would become known as the Southern Route (from Salt Lake to Los Angeles), which connected to the famous Old Spanish Trail, near Parowan, Utah. From Parowan, the Southern Route followed the same general southwesterly route as the Old Spanish Trail to Los Angeles, via the Cajon Pass.
For a modern reference, the 15 Freeway follows the general course of the Southern Route from Salt Lake City to Devore.
Just .2 miles northeast of the Stoddard-Waite Monument, you will find the more visible, and better-preserved Santa Fe and Salt Lake Trail Monument. It’s currently located in the Camp Cajon historic site, at the southern end of Wagon Train Road, next to the northbound 15 truck scales.
This monument was likely constructed because the new 1916 alignment of the National Old Trails Highway essentially bypassed the Stoddard-Waite Monument. It has been moved four times due to extensive realignment of roads in the area, and placed in its current location around 1969.
An elaborate dedication ceremony was held for this monument on Dec. 23, 1917, and the celebration was attended by several pioneers, including Stoddard and Waite.
The 1917 Santa Fe and Salt Lake Trail Monument has two arrows cast into the upper spire that pointed toward the Salt Lake route and San Bernardino. A granite plaque cast into the monument reads:
“SANTA FE AND SALT LAKE TRAIL 1849, ERECTED IN HONOR OF THE BRAVE PIONEERS OF CALIFORNIA IN 1917 BY PIONEERS SHELDON STODDARD, SIDNEY P. WAITE, JOHN BROWN JR., GEORGE MILLER, GEORGE M. COOLEY, SILAS C. COX, RICHARD WEIR, JASPER N. CORBETT”
According to Mormon historian Leo Lyman, author of “The Arduous Road, Salt Lake to Los Angeles, The Most Difficult Wagon Road in American History,” finding a definitive name for the road was challenging since it took on different names over the years. However, in the book Lyman states: “The Southern Route has proved to be the most often-mentioned appellation for this important all-weather roadway from northern Utah to [s]outhern California.”
Some other names for the route included the Mormon Road, the Wagon Road to Salt Lake, and the Salt Lake Trail. These names tended to be localized, and the maps showing the route were not definitive.
Even more curious, the name Santa Fe and Salt Lake Trail is not mentioned in print until 1912, when the Stoddard-Waite Monument was built.
After studying the trail names associated with the historic route between Salt Lake and Los Angeles, and the timing of the two monument’s construction, it appears the “Santa Fe and Salt Lake Trail” name may have been a branding effort by the Society of Pioneers and other groups to capitalize on the popularity of the Santa Fe Trail name.
In recent years, the National Park Service has partnered with private groups to formally name, map, and preserve historic trails across the U.S. Some of the western trails in this project include the Old Spanish Trail and the Santa Fe Trail. Learn more about these trails at: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/nationaltrailssystem/index.htm
The historic road that once passed by the monuments has almost been erased by the 15 Freeway, but they are still linked today by an easy walk on a .4-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail is reached from the end of Wagon Train Road, where it goes into Crowder Creek, and turns under the freeway. The trail crosses under the railroad tracks and runs through the willow grove to the monument site.
At the May 18, 1913, dedication ceremony for the Stoddard-Waite monument, master of ceremonies John Brown Jr. said: “Thousands will pass this spot and this monument will cause each to ask, ‘what is that for?’ It marks historic ground and is a most commendable thing.”
Mark Landis is a freelance writer. He can be reached at Historyinca@yahoo.com.