Escape Trail Conference

Trona Chapter

Visitor # 8726 since 14.SEP.2003



On the descent and in the canyon are a number of elaborate signs erected over the years by the Trona Chapter of the Escape Trail Conference. Who or what is this Escape Trail Conference? Actually, it turns out to be quite a mystery on the surface. Even this Google search shows only my reference to the ET Conference and little else.

So, after a few years of leaving my ET info request on the web, and getting scores of folks saying they could "easily" find out more about the Conference (none did), I did start getting a trickle of information from none other than one of the original ET Conference members and relatives of the other member.

The Escape Trail Conference:

Instead of trying to put all the information gathered into my own words, I'll let the words of the folks who contacted me speak for themselfves:

From Bill Gossett (a.k.a. Wild Bill - a founding member):

Came across your web site and saw the bit about Fish Canyon and the Trona Chapter of the Escape Trail Conference. The group was started to preserve the history of the routes of the Death Valley 49ers. Leonard Collard and I were the founders of the group. We put up several markers along the trail but unfortunately, Leonard was killed in a motorcycle accident. Leonard was the real mover and shaker of the group. His passion for the history of the 49ers was what really lead to the formation of the Escape Trail Conference. There is far too much to cover everything in an email. I would be happy to tell you more about the group, Leonard or the area since I have lived here my whole life (which amounts to quite a few years).
I like to talk to people who are also interested in desert history. You might have discovered something in your travels that I've missed in my years of exploring. Also, I have some pictures taken during the erection of the ET signs if you are interested. The last sign put up, if my memory serves me right, is the one on Rogers Pass at the top of Pleasant Canyon during the middle of winter. Had all four tires chained up with ice-breaker chains on my old jeep and still had a heck of a time getting there. I've enjoyed looking at your web site. You might find this web site interesting too. Do you guys know each other by any chance? He's big on boondocking the desert too and he's also from the northern California area. Hope to get together sometime.
Wild Bill

From Elijah Collard (son of Rev. Leonard Collard, a founding member):

Hey dude.......nice site. An email friend who loves the desert sent me your link for the Fish Canyon run. Since my father was Leonard Collard, I found the pics great. I am Elijah Leon Collard and my brother is Aaron who lives in Bakersifield. My wife and I live just outside of Nashville TN. Dad and I hiked out of Death Valley to Trona about 10 years ago with a video crew (Documentary is still not finished). It is not like me to leave projects unfinished and I really need to get that one done. Dad died in a motorcycle accident in the Yukon Territory on his way to Alaska just 3 months after we climbed out of Death Valley. The Rogers pass marker (up from Ballaratt) was his last. If you notice the unique style you will also remember that the Ballaratt turn off sign on the highway is his work too. Quite a man. Thanks for the pics.
I am Elijah Collard and I live in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. A friend pointed me to your Death Valley pages, and in your Fish Canyon Trip you came upon the Death Valley Escape Trail Conference signs. The Conference was a dream of my father's (Leonard Collard) who thought the trail used by the Bennett and Arcane families to escape the then unnamed valley in 1849-50 should be marked for hiking and for historical value. He started in the 80's......the Fish Canyon markers were his first....the Rogers Pass marker up Pleasant Canyon from Ballerat was his last....and yes the Ballarat turn off sign was his as well. Circuit Rider did not only describe the touring judges, but preachers as well, and that is how he got the name.....he was a preacher and a pipefitter and a fine man. More reading on the Escape trail can be found in "Death Valley in '49" By William Lewis Manley or more recent work by Leroy Johnson, "Escape from Death Valley". Three months before dad died we hiked out of DV with a Video Crew.....yet sadly I have not finished the documentary.....still working on it....and still alive so maybe someday soon. By the way......all the markers have a fresh coat of paint due to recent 4x4 trips of me, my nephew Bill Ahrens and my Uncle Kenny Collard.
Elijah Collard

From Miranda Collard (grand-daughter of Rev. Collard):

Hello, I just wanted to tell you that I like the site you've put up... Rev. Leonard Collard was my grandfather, and the memorial marker for him was made by my Dad...both very excellent welders as you can see...I would like to know of any updates if there will be any.
Miranda Collard

The Signs:

Most of the markers are over the Slate range. There are two types of markers:

  1. Historical Marker, with letters cut with torch to give history of location.
  2. Trail markers, that are a 2"x6" welded to top of a 4 foot piece of re-bar, used to mark the trail used by the Bennett and Arcane family in winter of 1849-50. They read ET with an arrow cut for direction.

Type one Markers are located at:

  1. Ballarat turn off
  2. Rogers Pass
  3. Fish Canyon Marker, about one mile into Fish
  4. Silent Sepulcre (as far up Fish as you can go by vehicle)
  5. Brier Mess Marker (same location as #4)
  6. Leonard Collard Memorial Marker (crafted by Aaron Collard my brother at same location as #4)
  7. Mr. Fish Marker, climbing out of Fish Canyon up by the windrows of sand.

The #2 type are mostly over the Slate range and I am not sure how many there were, and since they probably make nice DV novelty items, some may have been lifted.


Ballarat Sign

3 MI"

Roger's Pass:

Erected 1992

Roger's Pass Sign

"Rogers Pass
El. 7160
Wm Manley & Jn Rogers crossed this pass on the way to get supplies for 49er's trapped in Death Valley.
Later, as they led the Bennett & Arcane families to safety, they came here to view the land ahead, looking back, one said "Goodbye, Death Valley!"
The date was Feb 14, 1850.
It is believed they crossed the Panamints via Butte Valley & Redlands Cy.
They crossed the Slate via Fish & Isham Cy's, then to Providence Spring at Great Falls in the Argus Range.
Up Wilson Cy & across the valley to Indian Wells Spring on the way to a spanish ranch near Newhall.
All this party survived.
<- Arrastre Spring 1 1/2 mi.
Larry Alexander Memorial & Manley Lookout el. 7478 1/2 mi. ->
Erected Jan '92 - ET Conf. Trona Chapter"

Fish Canyon:

Erected 1988

ET Sign #2

Fish Canyon,
The Escape Trail where Manly & Rogers led the Bennett & Arcane families to safety from Death Valley in Feb. 1850.
Erected 1988 by the Trona Chapter of the ET Conference
<- Brier's Silent Sepulchre Fish's gravesite, 1 mile."

Rev. Collard Marker:

ET Sing #3

"In honor of
Rev. Leonard Leon Collard
"Old Circuit Rider"
An adventurer in life!
As founder and President of the Escape Trail Conference from 1987 to 92 he lived by the words he chose for the membership card.
"Pledge - I will do what I can to preserve the Escape Trail and its history."
Trail markers over the Slates
Fish Canyon Marker - 1988
Fish death site marker - 1988
Silent Sepulchre marker - 1990
Rodgers Pass marker - 1992
He leaves behind men and women determined to promote the Escape Trail history.
"Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death." Isaiah 57:2 NIV
Erected Feb. 2, 1993 by the Trona Chapter of the Escape Trail Conference"

Silent Sepulchre:

Erected 1990

Brier Mess Marker:

Erected 199x

Fish Death Site:

Erected 1988


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[Created: 22.APR.2003]

[Last updated: 21.April.2019]