This spot—commonly known as Fandango Pass—marks the convergence of two famous pioneer trails, the Applegate Trail and the Lassen Trail. The Applegate Trail was established by Levi Scott and the Applegate brothers in 1846 as a “less dangerous” route to the Oregon Territory. Spanning the present-day states of Idaho, Nevada, California and Oregon, this trail was used by many travelers to cross the great Warner Mountains. In 1848—when the California Gold Rush began—Peter Lassen established the Lassen Trail cutoff, which turned south at Goose Lake to guide pioneers towards Northern California’s gold mines and settlements. Fandango Pass was extensively traversed until about 1853 when the Cedar Pass wagon road was opened.
According to one story, Fandango Pass got its name because those who camped there got so cold that they had to dance—a lively Spanish dance called Fandango—to keep from freezing. In a more sinister and romantic story, it is said that one group of early travelers believed (incorrectly) that this ridge was part of the Sierra Nevada Range and that Goose Lake was the Pacific Ocean. Mistakenly elated to have reached the end of their long journey, the group rejoiced by dancing a Fandango. While deep in celebration, a band of Indians attacked and killed every member of their party, in what was later to become known as the Fandango Pass Massacre.
A more credible explanation of how this Pass got its name lies with the Wolverine Rangers—a company of California-bound gold seekers—who camped in the valley and disbanded there, burning some of their abandoned wagons for warmth. According to one member of the group, it was so cold that “the men had to dance to keep warm, and named their wild camping place 'Fandango Valley.'” Later, emigrants stumbled across a number of burned wagons and assumed that an Indian attack had occurred there.
Fandango Pass and its commemorative plaque are located 10.8 milles east of Highway 395 on Fandango Pass Road (9.2 miles west of Fort Bidwell).
See Applegate Emigrant Trail to learn more about the rich history of the Applegate Trail.
Through Modoc County, the northeastern corner of the Sierra Nevada mountains, thousands of early emigrants traveled in search of newly discovered gold during the Gold Rush of the mid 1800s. Prior to settlement, this region was inhabited only by Paiute, Pit River (“Achumawi”), and Modoc Native Americans. As settlers flocked to California, battles with the Modoc over territory and resources stained this area’s history in bloody conflict. The Modoc War (1872–1873), fought here, was the last of the Native American Wars to occur in California.