Lansford Hastings has a notorious reputation in the history of western emigration in the United States and is associated with one of its main tragedies. You can learn more about his impact, as well as many other famous pioneers, at the California Trail Interpretive Center.
An Auspicious Beginning
Lansford Warren Hastings was born in Mount Vernon, Ohio, in 1819 to relative comfort. He was the son of Dr. Waitstill and Lucinda Hastings. He had access to a good education and attended law school, beginning his career at the age of 24. However, Lansford Hastings was an ambitious man and had dreams of building his empire.
The opportunities in the wide-open West were just what he needed to pursue wealth and opportunity.
Pursuing Lofty Ambitions
In 1842, Hastings decided to emigrate to Oregon, taking the famous overland route. He didn’t stay long, however, and soon traveled down to California in 1843. It was Mexican territory, and Hastings saw many possibilities if he could help make it part of the United States.
To encourage American citizens to settle in the area, he wrote his famous book, The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon and California. In it, he promoted a shortcut that he had never tested himself – a shortcut that would lead to tragedy.
The Hastings Cutoff
Hasting claimed his cutoff would save weary travelers 300 miles of back-breaking travel. In reality, the cutoff was slightly shorter but included rough mountain terrain and a stretch of desert with no water. The Donner Party was encouraged by Hastings to take his cutoff, which eventually lead to the most famous tragedy in California Trail history and 41 deaths.
America Will Never Forget
Lansford Hastings will never be forgotten for this role in the Donner Party and the tragedy that marked those families. While not everything that went wrong for the party was his fault, history is not always forgiving. Hastings was ambitious and accomplished many things throughout his lifetime.
- Lansford Hastings served as a lawyer off and on from the age of 24.
- He married a total of three times and had nine children.
- He served as a captain in the Mexican-American War.
- Hastings was a Confederate soldier in the Civil War.
- He tried to persuade Jefferson Davis to capture California, Arizona, and New Mexico away from President Lincoln and the Union.
- He helped establish colonies in Brazil for former confederates until his death in 1870.
Experience Trail History
Lansford Hastings may be well-known for his treacherous “short cut.” Still, he was also one of the first Americans to help settle California and played a significant role in Calfornia Trail history. His impact can still be seen today in the many landmarks that bear his name.
You can learn more about the history of the trail and the people who traveled it and helped shape its destiny when you visit the California Trail Interpretive Center. We’re located not far from the stunning Ruby Mountains in Elko, NV. Find out when we have our next special event, or contact us today for help planning your next visit or field trip.