Peter Skene Ogden discovered the Humboldt River on November 9, 1828 during his fifth Snake Country expedition. Entering Nevada near present-day Denio, Ogden came southward along the Quinn River and the little Humboldt River. Emerging on the Humboldt main stem near this site, Ogden explored hundreds of square miles of the Humboldt’s course, left records of his trailblazing in his journal, and drafted the first map of the area.
Ogden gave the name “Unknown River” to the Humboldt at this time, as he was unsure where it went. After the death of his trapper Joseph Paul, Ogden renamed the stream Paul’s River, then Swampy River, and finally Mary’s River, after the Native American wife of one of his trappers. In 1833 the Bonneville-Walker fur party named it Barren River.
Ogden’s or Mary’s River were commonly used names for the Humboldt prior to the 1848 publication of a map of John C. Frémont.
The Humboldt was the only natural arterial across the Great Basin. It funneled thousands of emigrants along its valley enroute to the Pacific Coast during the period 1841-1870.