The Early Hockett Trail

The trans-Sierra supply route of the Civil War period commonly known as the Hockett Trail was completed in 1862-63 for two functions:

  1. moving miners and supplies to and from mines in the Coso Range east of the Sierra.
  2. moving soldiers and their supplies to and from Fort Independence (AKA Camp Independence). This was primarily to defend and promote the interests of white settlers against local Indians.

The first function, the commercial reason for the trail, is the reason why the trail was named after the Visalia businessman John Hockett. For this same reason, the Hockett Trail may also rightly share the name “Coso Trail” with the Dennison and Jordan Trails.

The second, military function is the reason why it was also called the “Trail to Fort Independence”. Hockett and the Union Army worked together in developing the trail.

The Hockett Trail found other uses before it was even completed. It served as a route for discovering and accessing new Sierra peaks and valleys. Mineral King was discovered by a hunter on the Hockett Trail crew in 1862 (Hale Tharp later claimed to have visited Mineral King earlier, but even if he did his visit had no historical impact). Ranchers appear to have used the trail to move their livestock to the Hockett Plateau during the drought of 1863.

Though the Hockett Trail was the primary trail across the southern Sierra throughout the late 19th Century, it probably did not serve the Cerro Gordo mines, as they were not generally known until after the Hockett Trail lost much of its purpose as a supply route with the completion of the McFarlane toll road over Greenhorn Mountain in 1864, the opening of a stage service on that road in 1865, and the end of the Owens Valley Indian War in 1865.

The city of Los Angeles gained dominated trade with Cerro Gordo by 1868, and her geographic advantage over Visalia became clear. By 1905, as work on the Los Angeles Aqueduct began, Owens Valley was in practical terms within LA’s city limits.

The completion of Mineral King Road in 1879 diverted traffic away from the westernmost segment of the Hockett Trail, but it may have made the rest of the trail even more popular. The original Hockett Trail, often labeled the Trail to Fort Independence, can be seen skirting around the end of the Great Western Divide on area maps throughout Sequoia National Park’s first decade (the 1890s).

“The Hockett trail was made in early days, and to-day it remains a plain, well-blazed track from Lone Pine through to Visalia.” — Hubert Dyer, Sierra Club Bulletin, 1893

Mountaineering, golden trout, and the establishment of Sequoia National Park kept the trail popular into the 20th Century. The first people to climb Mount Whitney, America’s highest peak until 1959, were fisherman who used the Hockett Trail to get to the Kern River, and the Hockett route continues to give sport fisherman access to some of the most striking freshwater fish in the world.