Wagon Roads From Grand Ronde to the Coast

In the 1860’s, the Indians of the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation needed a route to get to the coast to gather fish. The Indian agents developed a fishery at the Salmon River and allowed the tribes to travel the mountain trials to the river to gather fish. The trail was originally small and barely able to pass a wagon in the summertime, and took about 2 hours on a good horse. The soils and weather would not allow easy travel in the winter. This route was well traveled and allow the Salmon river peoples, the Nechesne, to get to the reservation and buy supplies. In the 1880’s, the trail became a road and an incorporated company was brought in by the Indian Agents to develop and maintain the road better. The road became the Salmon River Wagon Road. When the road company could no longer maintain the road the Indians on the reservation took over the maintenance.

There were as well two addition roads built from the reservation to the coast. The Little Neztucca road and the Grand Ronde and Sand Lake Clay Wagon Road. The Little Neztucca Road followed the Little Nestucca River, while the Grand Ronde and Sand Lake Wagon road took travelers into the SandLake area of the coast. These roads were necessary to connect many of the distant  and remote settlements of the coast with the markets of the Willamette Valley. The routes had been traveled for many years by the tribes and agents of the reservation to visit the coast for fishing and hunting. Following the second reduction of the Coast reservation in 1875, all of the land on the coast above the Salmon river became open for settlement and there came a need for expanded and more dependable routes for transportation from the coast to the valley.

In addition, the beaches and coastline were already becoming  well known to valley residents. Indian agents reported that vacationers would travel in the summers between June and October to the coast to enjoys the sandy beaches south of the Salmon river. With this increased vacationing traffic came the need to widen, and maintain the roads.

Oregonian September 1920 , Vacationers to the Coast, traveled the Salmon River Road through Grand Ronde

The road to Lincoln City in the 20th century becomes the main vacationing route to the coast of Oregon and is known as part of the 20 Miracle miles. Along this route is developed hotels, cafes and entertainment venues for drinking, dancing, hunting and sport fishing. (see my other article on this topic.)

In the 1880s, incorporated road companies were formed to develop and maintain the routes to the coast from the Grand Ronde Indian reservation. These companies were requesting right of way rights in 1882 and 1883 from the Indian bureau, because the reservations were federal lands and not susceptible to state laws. The road companies sought the granting of a right of way through the reservation so they could build and maintain the roads. They planned to charge a nominal fee, of one dollar and fifty cents for a wagon to travel over the road to the coast. There were three companies, the Little Neztucca Toll Road Company, The Grand Ronde and Sand Lake Road Company, and the Salmon River Wagon Road company. The Salmon river company was not able to raise the funds to maintain the road they had developed so Agent Sinnott at Grand Ronde sought the right to maintain the road as a toll road by the Indians of the reservation.  

The Little Neztucca Toll Road Company was invested in by Louis Bayley, Lew Emmitt and G.H. Page. The Grand Ronde and Sand Lake Road Company investors were A. L. Litchfield, J. M. Knifong, John Veitch, J. H. Pickett, W. H. Kuykendall, and D.C. Dougherty. Kuykendall owned a parcel of land in the middle of the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation, he had refused to sell when the reservation had formed and the site of his Donation Land Claim is the site of the Spirit Mountain Casino today. Litchfield and Dougherty had worked for the Indian bureau, Litchfield had been a sub-Indian agent for a time. Many of these investors now owned property on the coast and had a personal interest in developing and maintaining the road.

Early development at Salmon River Estuary

Progress on building to roads was very slow and $1000 would only build about 3 miles of a road. By the late 1880, the roads were completed. The following General Land office maps show the path of the Salmon River Wagon Road from the Grand Ronde Indian reservation to the coast west of Devil’s Lake.

Devil’s Lake to the east


winding past the future Tillamook Forest Reserve


To the Forks of Mulligan’s Road


Inside the reservation and detail of Old Grand Ronde, See Frank Quinell’s house, Grand Ronde Hotel, Grand Ronde Commissary, Blacksmiths, Old Govt Dormitory Agency Creek, and the track of the road from Grand Ronde. This is significantly different from today.

In the 20th century these roads are taken over by the State of Oregon and maintained as county and state roads for public use. It is unclear if the tribes were ever compensated for the appropriation of the state right-of-way through the reservation. Salmon River highway was developed partially within a new footprint and became highway 18. The route to Tillamook and Highway 101 is now highway 22.


On the Salmon River Highway, as Hwy 18 is called, within the Van Duzer corridor is a marker commemorating the road.

The granite marker notes the the Old ElkTrail of Leno Hill, which was traveled (walked and rode on horseback and wagon) from 1837 to 1864, and John and Julia Boyer who operated the  the Salmon River Tollgate from 1908 to 1920. Note that the date 1908 corresponds to the date of the final sales of the Grand Ronde Reservation surplus lands, which for this section the Boyer Family apparently purchased. Presumably, the Toll road may have been in operation beforehand, operated by the tribal people at the reservation, and its likely that the State of Oregon acquired the highway as a public road in around 1920.

The 1851 Gibbs-Starling map denotes the Salmon River Wagon Road/ Old Elk Trail as the “Cattle Trail to the Coast 25 miles”.

In July of 1856 Joel Palmer notes the development of the Trail into the main route to the coast.

“left camp this morning by 7 am and crossed and recrossed the Nechesne River… then crossed the mountain over into Grand Ronde and crossed over an branch of the south fork of Yamhill River near Mr. B.D. Springer, by 5 pm. Our road today was very bad over the trail in some places being entirely blockaded by fallen timber, if the road was cut out it would be a very good one and a good wagon road could be easily made. One of our pack horses (one eyed Riley) mired and we were compelled to unpack him and carry  the pack up the hill, a short time after Col. W.T. Cross our cook was riding  old Kitchen {name of a horse} and in going up a steep hill he together with saddle and blanket slid off behind without doing much damage to either. One of the pack mules (Old Farmer) was drove loose today owing to his lameness. A.F. Powers (our bully hunter) walked and drive him, Genl Palmer and Lorenzo (Palmer’s son) started a head of the train this morning to look out the trail. We overtook them just before coming into Grand Ronde…. Our animals however are very tired as well as the men, to day has been the hardest day since we have made since leaving home, and have traveled some twenty five miles, Which make it some thirty seven miles fro the Grand Ronde to the coast however a road can be made much shorter than this trail is, the Nechesse is called by many persons the Salmon River. (July 13th 1856, University of Oregon Special collections, Palmer collection).

The 1856 Hazen Map of the the Grand Ronde Indian Reservation further denotes the trail as the “Coast Trail” which links up with the main trail to the Willamette Valley. A portion of this trail as it passes the Fort Yamhill State Park is still engraved in on the edge of the park. Note as well, the trial does not leave the valley in the same footprint as today’s Salmon River Highway, but instead follows the South Yamhill and crosses the river closer to the Hebo Highway, Hwy 22, and then continues upwards. This would make sense as Elk like the uplands and would  travel the ridges of the Coast Range to get to the coastal plain.

Coast trail, highlighted in red, links with trail to the Willamette valley.


LIDAR map image of wets valley with possible Salmon River Trail roadcut


See the SWORP collections files for the Tolls Roads in Series 2, box 13, file 1

also see GLO maps online.

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