November 4 – First Wagon Train to California

During the 1800s, many people were tired of the crowded Eastern states and wished to explore the vast uncharted lands of the West.  Oregon was a popular destination, but soon California would become another popular destination.  On May 1, 1841, one such pioneer, William Bidwell, set out with a wagon train.  The wagon train had approximately 70 individuals in it, with most of the individuals being male.  Bidwell was accompanied by Captain Bartleson, who was bound for Oregon.  The group started out from Independence, Missouri and headed towards the vast unknown.

bidwellport

The pioneers traveled the over a thousand miles, quickly leaving behind civilization for the wild plains of the West.  While often the journey of these pioneers is skipped over in favor of telling about the struggles they faced upon establishing themselves in their new land, the reality was that they were lucky to make it to their final destination.  It was hard work to travel all of those miles.  Since their wagons were often laden with as much as they could carry and were quite uncomfortable, most of the pioneers walked along side the wagon train.  For these pioneers, the trip must have been emotionally challenging as well as physically tolling.  They had plenty of time to consider the many miles that they were putting between themselves and everything they knew.  Especially in the early years, it was uncommon for someone to cross the vast plains more than once in a lifetime.  Thus, these pioneers were leaving everything behind them most likely forever.  The physical toll was also incredibly large.  Even though progress was usually made on foot, pioneers walked between 10 and 15 miles each day.  Considering that it took them months to get to their destination, they endured the extremes of the elements each day as they continued to walk.  At night, they did not fare much better.  Most pioneers would sleep out in the open or under their wagons, neither of which provided much shelter from the elements.  Elements were not the only thing that the pioneers had to battle as they made their way west.  Disease ran rampant through the wagon trains.  Smallpox, cholera, tuberculosis, diphtheria, typhoid, mountain fever, and scurvy were common in wagon trains.  Due to the lack of medical attention or supplies on the trail, most of these ailments resulted in death.  Those who made it far in the journey, then had to deal with the mountains.  When the Bidwell-Bartleson wagon train reached Idaho, the group split in two.   Only 33 people followed Bidwell towards California.  The rest of the group kept on the Oregon trail.  The 33 people who followed Bidwell had even more hardships to face.  Soon the group was forced to abandon their wagons and proceed with very few supplies.  The group braved lack of clear water, near starvation, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains to eventually reach Tuolumne County in California.  They reached this area on November 4, 1841, just over 6 months after they left Independence.  New challenges would face them in the new land of California, but their journey led the way for many others to make the same journey.  Due to the careful journal records of John Bidwell, other pioneers were able to make the same dangerous journey to California.

Sources:

http://www.familytree.com/blog/first-wagon-train-to-california-in-1841/

November 4, 1841 – The First Wagon Train Arrives

http://www.pbs.org/wnet/frontierhouse/frontierlife/essay3_2.html

Map: http://friendsofcalarchives.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/bidwellport.gif

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