Bushytails on the Barlow Trail
By Gary Lewis
We turned off the pavement and onto a gravel road and then turned left on another road that wound through stands of pine and oak. Tree roots stuck out into the dirt track and we bumped along, headed west toward Mount Hood shrouded in the clouds.
Before there was a Highway 26 that crossed the Cascades at Mount Hood, there was a trail called the old Barlow Road.
In 1846, Sam Barlow and Philip Foster carved a passage through the forest to allow covered wagons to cross the Cascades, bypassing the hazardous river route. The road was said to contribute more toward the prosperity of the Willamette Valley and Oregon than any other achievement prior to the railroads.
Here, in the prosperity of the 21st century, the Barlow Road is largely forgotten. Parts of it, of course, are paved, but the traveler seldom gets a chance to drive in the ruts carved by the wagons. The best way to get a feel for that time is with a muzzleloader in hand.
We parked and loaded our guns. An October rifle hunt it was, for the western gray squirrel. Leon Pantenburg, with his flintlock, headed one way, while Rod Adams with his handmade percussion rifle and I, with my Lyman .54 caliber trade rifle went another.
Pantenburg hunted south and east and spotted a gray squirrel, but was unable to get a clear shot before it escaped in the canopy. Adams and I sat under oak trees and waited and listened and heard far off squirrels cutting acorns in the still air.
On October 1, 1845, Sam Barlow took three men to scout the summit at what is now Barlow Pass, where they imagined they could see into the Willamette Valley.
A few weeks later, when the rest of the travelers coaxed their loads over the trail, young William Barlow stayed east of Mt. Hood with Albert P. Gaines, William Berry and others to help protect the goods the pioneers would come back for.
As the pioneers fought their way down Laurel Hill and through huckleberry bogs, on the east side of the Cascades, work on a storage building continued in earnest. They finished in December, when William Barlow and Gaines decided to head for the Valley.
"House as tight as a jug, all the cracks chinked up with moss, a good store of food and mountains of good dry wood. We had a few books, which would serve to while away the time. In fact, enough of everything to make any lazy man feel happy. Up to this time there had been no snow at all. Berry went up to the top of the summit with us. We had left him provisions enough for one month, and with a good gun there were plenty of fine squirrels that he could kill."
We found plenty of fine squirrels to hunt, but they were bushytailed ground squirrels. We hunted in the oaks at the edge of a large meadow and Leon spotted a bushytail running along the ground. Ten minutes later, we sat as close as we dared to a small colony, about 80 yards out. Leon set his elbows against his knees and sighted on a squirrel at the base of a boulder.
He eared back the hammer and stroked the trigger and when the smoke cleared there was no dead ground squirrel, but there was another one looking out of his den. We took turns loading and spotting until the squirrels grew bored of our sport and stayed in their holes.
The mixed pine and oak forest east of Mount Hood is still some of the best western gray squirrel habitat in the state, but the short season runs September 8 through October 14. If you find yourself along the trail earlier in the year, watch for the cottontails, rockchucks and ground squirrels, which were on the menu when canvas-topped wagons bounced along the bumpy track.
East of the Cascades, a hunter with a muzzleloader and a possibles bag can still hunt the way they hunted in 1845, when a few squirrels fed hungry pilgrims on the Barlow Road.