Cooke's Wagon Road

Cooke's Wagon Road or Cooke's Road was the first wagon road between the Rio Grande and the Colorado River to San Diego, through the Mexican provinces of Nuevo México, Chihuahua, Sonora and Alta California, established by Philip St. George Cooke and the Mormon Battalion, from October 19, 1846 to January 29, 1847 during the Mexican–American War. It became the first of the wagon routes between New Mexico and California that with subsequent modifications before and during the California Gold Rush eventually became known as the Southern Trail or Southern Emigrant Trail.

Route of Cooke's Wagon Road between the Rio Grande and Gila Rivers, 1846–1847
Distances between stops from Camp opposite San Diego, Nuevo Mexico.[1]:16 [2]:104-109
Date Location Distance
November 13, 1846 Fosters Hole, Nuevo Mexico [1]:16-17[2]:109, 125[3]:177-186 16 mi (26 km)
November 14–15, 1846 Mountain Streamlet, Nuevo Mexico[1]:17–18[2]:125-126 12 mi (19 km)
November 16, 1846 Cooke's Spring, Chihuahua[1]:18[2]:126 13 mi (21 km)
November 17, 1846 Fryingpan Canyon, Chihuahua[1]:18–19[2]:126–127 3 mi (4.8 km)
November 18, 1846 Mimbres River Crossing, Chihuahua[1]:19[2]:128 18 mi (29 km)
November 19–20, 1846 Ojo de Vaca, Chihuahua[1]:19–21[2]:128–129 18 mi (29 km)
November 21, 1846 Burro Cienega, Chihuahua[1]:21[2]:129–130 12 mi (19 km)
November 22, 1846 Waterless Camp, Sonora[1]:21–22[2]:131 15 mi (24 km)
November 23–24, 1846 Whitmire Spring, Chihuahua[1]:22–25[2]:131–132
on the west shore of Las Playas east of Whitmire Pass
25 mi (40 km)
November 25, 1846 Bull Creek, Sonora[1]:24–25[2]:134–135 17 mi (27 km)
November 26, 1846 Bercham Draw, Sonora [1]:25–26[2]:134–135 12 mi (19 km)
November 27, 1846 Cloverdale Creek, Sonora[1]:26[2]:134–135 12 mi (19 km)
November 28–29, 1846 Guadalupe Pass at Yanos Road, Sonora[1]:26–28[2]:134-135 5 mi (8.0 km)
November 30, 1846 Guadalupe Canyon, Sonora[1]:29–30[2]:136–137 7 mi (11 km)
December 1, 1846 Guadalupe Canyon, Sonora[1]:30–31[2]:138–139 7 mi (11 km)
December 2–3, 1846 San Bernardino Ranch, Sonora[1]:30–32[2]:139–141 9 mi (14 km)
December 4, 1846 Rocky Basin of water, Sonora[1]:32–33[2]:141[4] 8 mi (13 km)
December 5, 1846 Large Spring, Blackwater Creek, Sonora[1]:33[2]:142 14 mi (23 km)
December 6–7, 1846 Waterhole Grove, Sonora[1]:34-35[2]:142 12 mi (19 km)
December 8, 1846 Waterless Camp, Sonora[1]:35[2]:142–143 17 mi (27 km)
December 9, 1846 1st Camp, San Pedro River, Sonora[1]:35–37[2]:144–145 16 mi (26 km)
December 10, 1846 2nd Camp, San Pedro River, Sonora[1]:37[2]:143–144 15 mi (24 km)
December 11, 1846 3rd Camp, San Pedro River, Sonora[1]:37–38[2]:144–146
"Battle of the Bulls"
11 mi (18 km)
December 12, 1846 4th Camp, San Pedro River, Sonora[1]:38–39[2]:146–147 15 mi (24 km)
December 13, 1846 5th Camp, San Pedro River, Sonora[1]:39[2]:146–147 7 mi (11 km)
December 14, 1846 Mescal Still-house, Sonora[1]:39–40[2]:147–148 20 mi (32 km)
December 15, 1846 Waterless Camp, Sonora[1]:40–41[2]:148–149 12 mi (19 km)
December 16–17, 1846 Camp at Tucson, Sonora[1]:41–45[2]:149–153[5] 16 mi (26 km)
December 18, 1846 1st Camp beyond Tucson, Sonora[1]:45–46[2]:153–154[6] 24 mi (39 km)
December 19, 1846 2nd Camp beyond Tucson, Sonora[1]:46–47[2]:154–156[7] 30 mi (48 km)
December 20, 1846 3rd Camp beyond Tucson, Sonora[1]:47–48[2]:156–157[8] 10 mi (16 km)
December 21, 1846 Cooke's 1st Camp on the Gila River, Sonora[1]:49–50[2]:157–158[9]
Gila Trail
9 mi (14 km)

Cooke and the Mormon Battalion establish the route

On February 22, 1847 Philip St. George Cooke submitted a report of his journey, printed by the U. S. Senate in 1849, as the Official Journal of Lieutenant Colonel Philip St. George Cooke from Santa Fe, in New Mexico, to San Diego, in Upper California]. This report recorded his experience in command of the Mormon Battalion and its expedition to establish the wagon route that soon became known to the Forty-niners and later travelers who followed that route as Cooke's Wagon Road or Cooke's Road.[1] Later in 1878 Cooke wrote a book "The Conquest of New Mexico and California" that covered the journey but in less detail than his original report.[2]:91–109, 125–196

Cooke's Road began from his last camp on the west bank the Rio Grande "across the river from San Diego", 258 miles southwest of Santa Fe, New Mexico and 29 miles down the river from the camp where Colonel Stephen W. Kearny's Expedition left the Rio Grande, for California, crossing the mountains to the headwaters of the Gila River, which he then followed downstream to its confluence with the Colorado River. Cooke was ordered to take the wagons Kearny could not take with him in the rugged terrain of the New Mexico mountains, and build a wagon road that they could traverse and link it up to his route farther west on the Gila River.

Cooke's road extended westward 433 miles, southwestward through Guadalupe Pass in the Guadalupe Mountains, westward to the San Pedro River, following it northward until turning westward near modern Benson, Arizona to Tucson. From Tucson it crossed the arid desert northwestward to the Gila River, 9 miles east of the Pima Villages, where his route rejoined the Gila Trail of Colonel Kearny.[10]

Subsequent Journey along Kearney's Route

From his first Camp on the Gila River, Cooke then followed Kearny's Gila Trail route continuing to build a wagon road along the Gila River to the Yuma Crossing of the Colorado River. Following the crossing were 89 miles across the Colorado Desert between the waterholes of Cooke's Wells, Alamo Mocho Well, and Indian Wells, to Carrizo Creek and to the oasis of Vallecito. After recovering from their crossing came the task of building a wagon road 47 miles up to the San Felipe Valley and over Warner Pass in the Laguna Mountains to Warner's Ranch, overcoming the difficult terrain encountered building their road around Box Canyon. From Warner's the battalion marched on existing roads 58 miles northwest through Aguanga and west to Temecula, then southwest to the San Luis Rey River, and west along the river, past Mission San Luis Rey to the Pacific Ocean. The last march was south to Mission San Diego on El Camino Real.[2]:158–196

See Also


  1. Report from the Secretary of War, Communicating a Copy of the Official Journal of Lieutenant Colonel Philip St. George Cooke, PUBLIC DOCUMENTS PRINTED BY ORDER OF THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES, DURING A SPECIAL SESSION BEGUN AND HELD AT THE CITY OF WASHINGTON, MARCH 5, 1849, Congressional Edition, Volume 547, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, 1849. pp.1-85
  2. Philip St. George Cooke, The Conquest of New Mexico and California, G. P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1878 pp.91-109, 125-196
  3. Utah Historical Quarterly Volume 57, Number 3, (Summer 1989).pdf Carmen Smith and Omer Smith, "The Lost Well of the Mormon Battalion Rediscovered," Utah Historical Quarterly 57. No.3 (Summer 1989): 177-186]
  4. 31°21′04″N 109°24′46″W
  5. Camp at Tucson was 1/2 mile north of town.
  6. Water on Santa Cruz River, 7 miles north of camp, 11 hour march to waterless camp.
  7. March from sunrise to 7 pm to camp with a small pool of water for men only, 6hrs rest then march again.
  8. March to water pools.
  9. Cooke's 1st Camp on Gila River was 9 miles east of the Pima Villages where Cooke's Road met Kerney's route. It was probably midway between Sacaton and Blackwater which is about 9 miles above the uppermost Pima Village at that time called Buen Llano.
  10. Distances from Sketch of part of the march & wagon road of Lt. Colonel Cooke, Map, ca. 1847; ( accessed January 19, 2016), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History,; crediting University of Texas at Arlington Library, Arlington, Texas.
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