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KENO — A man and a map.

Ed McCullough, 58, never used to consider himself a history buff. He does now. A map he found at a yard sale has given his life new focus.

About two years ago, McCullough bought an old desk at an estate sale. After doing some research, he learned about its history. “That was pretty cool, so later I went to a sale where I bought a box of great old newspapers.”

He gave most of that booty to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, but he kept one item, an old map. After doing more research, McCullough believes it was used during development of the Klamath Reclamation Project in 1906. The map, credited to the Denver federal center, is listed as Map No. 7833. Based on his investigations, it may be one of a kind.

Following the trail

McCullough owns property above the Klamath River, on the river’s east side, downstream from the Keno Dam and across the river from the Bill Scholtes Klamath Sportsman’s Park. An old road or trail that parallels the river runs through his and adjacent properties.

“It comes out of the river and goes up the hill … I know this is the Applegate Trail,” insists McCullough.

After meeting with Pacific Power staff and showing them the map, he’s convinced the trail also connects to the site of Needle Dam, a wooden dam that was replaced by the Keno Dam in 1967, and was the place where wagon trains traveling the Applegate Trail in the 1840s crossed the Klamath River.

“If you were going to cross the river, you would find the shallowest part of river to cross, just like the history books say. Then, later if you wanted to build a dam, you would build it at the shallow part of river where there was already a trail to the river, so I believe the Needle Dam was built on the Keno crossing of the Applegate Trail.

Trail preservation

McCullough believes his map opens the way for future discussions on preserving the trail. Part of his interest, and concern, stems from possible developments on his and neighboring properties.

“I’d like to build a house here,” he said while walking along the land he owns, which is just uphill from the rutted, narrow, riverside trail. “I don’t want to bulldoze the land and find out it’s part of the trail. The trail goes right through my property so if I build a house this,” he said, pointing at the trail, “would all go out, which I think is a mistake. If it is the trail, I just think it’d be best if it is left as it is.”

Research and theory

Through his ongoing research, McCullough has also become fascinated with theorizing where the Applegate Trail exploration party and, later, wagon trains, crossed the Klamath River. A 15-member expedition team left from Dallas, Ore., on June 20, 1846, to create a southern trail, an alternative to the earlier Oregon Trail. McCullough believes William Emerson’s book, “The Applegate Trail of 1846,” answers those questions. Emerson says the trailblazing exploration party, coming east from the Jenny Creek area, was frustrated trying to find a safe river crossing. According to Emerson, “They traveled a considerable distance without finding a possible route, so they turned and traveled south and again found nothing.”

Attitudes brightened when the group arrived at Spencer Creek, fittingly on July 4. After making camp, Levi Scott, 49, the oldest expedition party member, and four men “took off toward higher ridges to survey the area. Six or 8 miles from the camp, on the top of a high butte in Long Prairie, they saw (the) Klamath River and beyond,” according to Emerson. “They saw through the forests to an open country below. This gave them a good view of a possible route.”

‘Exciting moment’

“It was an exciting moment,” Lindsay Applegate, one of the Applegate brothers, wrote in his journal of locating a river crossing. “... after the many days spent in dense forests and among the mountains, and the whole party broke forth in cheer after cheer.”

“It was the Fourth of July,” says McCullough, who believes the Independence Day timing is remarkable. “What a great story.”

The story didn’t end at Keno. The exploration group eventually worked its way to Fort Hall, Idaho, where the new route met with the Oregon Trail. While there, Jesse Applegate recruited about 500 people and 100 wagons to travel their new trail.

On Oct. 3, Levi Scott led about 30 wagons across the Klamath River at the crossing near present-day Keno. A day later another 30 or so wagons followed. Several days later the rest of the strung-out group of travelers and wagons made the crossing.

Because of a map, McCullough has spent months culling through books, journals and whatever he can find to learn about the Applegate Trail, especially trying to determine where wagon trains crossed the Klamath River and, more importantly to him, where traces of the Applegate Trail remain in the Keno area.

“I don’t think you could write a better story,” McCullough says of the trail’s Keno connections. “It should be a movie.”