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As It Was: Wagons Slide Down Steepest Applegate Trail Hillsides

A treacherous part of the Applegate Trail in the 1840s was sliding covered wagons down steep mountain slopes.

An old-timer once explained that driving covered wagons downhill on switchbacks put “too much strain on the downhill wheels, (and) would snap your axles in two.”  Instead, the pioneers would climb timber and rocky ridges for hours to a summit and then slide down the hillside.  One of those slides was at the Keene Creek Canyon between present-day Klamath Falls and Ashland, Ore.  

The wagon drivers unhitched their oxen, leaving only two animals attached to the front.  They cut small trees, hooking them to the rear axle to keep the wheels from turning.  Then they connected chains to the hind wheels and wrapped the chains around a thick tree.  The men played out the chain gradually, letting the oxen guide the sliding wagon down the canyon slope.

The Keene Creek Wagon Slide at the Green Springs Summit on Hwy 66 was one of the steepest wagons encountered.  Today, a sign on the left side of the highway at the Keene Creek Reservoir marks a slide area.


Sources:  "Keene Creek Wagon Slide." Waymarking.com, 3 May 2012, www.waymarking.com/./WMEBQC_KEENE_CREEK_WAGON_SLIDE_Jackson_Co.; Black, Bob. "A Photo Tour of the Applegate Trail." Applegate Trail, Emigrant Trails West, Inc., 2010, emigranttrailswest.org/virtual-tour/applegate-trail/; Miller, Bill. "Plunging into the darkness below." Mail Tribune, 17 Feb. 2013 [Medford, OR] , mailtribune.com/lifestyle/-plunging-into-the-darkness-below-; "Hiking through History with Dr.Jeff LaLande." cascadesiskiyou.org, edited by John Ward, cascadesiskiyou.org, 8 Nov. 2017, www.cascadesiskiyou.org/blog/2017/11/./hiking-through-history-with-dr-jeff-lalande..

Luana (Loffer) Corbin graduated from Southern Oregon College, majoring in Elementary Education.  The summer after graduation she was hired to teach at Ruch Elementary, where she taught for 32 years. After retiring, Corbin worked for Lifetouch School Photography and then returned to Ruch as an aide helping with reading instruction and at the library.  More recently, she has volunteered at South Medford High.