A Hockett Trail Guide: 1. The Kaweah Delta

Accounts vary as to the starting point of the Hockett Trail. Most reports have it that the trail started at Visalia, and some specify the Union Army fort in that town. Other sources report that it began at Hale Tharp’s ranch on Horse Creek, now under the high water line of Lake Kaweah. The likely explanation for these variations is that the trail did indeed begin in Visalia, particularly in light of the fact that the Union Army participated in its development, but that in 1862 no actual development work was needed below Horse Creek, thanks at least to Tharp himself, to say nothing of Valley traffic on the Jordan Trail, the Dennison Trail, and Butterfield’s Overland Stage route between Saint Louis and San Francisco.

The Butterfield Overland Stage
The Overland Stage

As far as segmenting the trail is concerned, Horse Creek is probably not the best natural terminus for the first leg of the Hockett Trail. The best spot for an end to this initial segment is probably the gap between Limekiln Hill and Lemon Hill that forms a gateway between the Kaweah Delta and the Sierra.

There is some question as to what route the Hockett Trail took between Visalia and the Sierra, but it is most likely that the trail followed a route similar to the present-day path of Sierra Drive (State Route 198), given knowledge of the locations of area settlements and other trails in the early 1860s. The Jordan Trail, for instance, is known to have started near Rocky Hill, just south of Sierra Drive. One of the earliest settlements in Tulare County was probably a bit north of Sierra Drive, on one of the branches of the Kaweah River:

“The southern portion of Mariposa county so cut off, shall be called Tulare county. The seat of justice shall be at the log cabin on the south side of Kaweah creek, near the bridge built by Dr. Thomas Payne, and shall be called Woodsville …” — Act of the California Legislature, 1852

Woodsville, first settled in 1850, was in the neighborhood of the present-day Kaweah Oaks Preserve, seven or eight miles east of what would later become Visalia. This was the site of a historic massacre of white settlers by local “Kaweah” Indians in December 1850. From 1858, the stage road between Stockton and Los Angeles went through Woodsville. It seems it would have been silly for the Hockett Trail to miss Woodsville, though the Overland Stage was moved north to Placerville a year before construction on the Hockett Trail began. Knowing this, it seems quite likely that the Hockett Trail approached the Sierra south of the Kaweah River.

The best route to take today is therefore along Sierra Drive (SR 198). This takes us from downtown Visalia, directly past Kaweah Oaks Preserve and the site of Woodsville, and also directly past the Jordan Trail historic landmark at Yokohl. After passing over the easternmost branches of the delta, the route approaches the portion of the Sierra that appears to be sinking into the Valley, allegedly due to a convection cell in the mantle beneath Visalia. As one travels toward the hills, there are hills buried beneath ones feet.

Sierra Drive’s hillside approach continues to be the likely route of the old trail as it turns northeast toward Lindcove, Goodale, Citro, and Lemon Cove, inasmuch as keeping closer to the river would have meant encountering floods in Winter and Spring.

As the route leaves Lemon Cove, it’s likely that Sierra Drive strays from the original route by climbing the slope south of Lemon Hill, but we can’t exactly travel through the dam, so we stick to Sierra Drive.

See Exploring the Southern Sierra: West Side by Jenkins & Jenkins: Highway 198 Car Tour (T84).