The Western Emigration Society falls apart

During the winter of 1840-41, some five hundred people in Platte County, Missouri joined the Western Emigration Society and signed a pledge to emigrate to California in the spring. This idea was met with great resistance by the local merchants. who went to work to defeat the movement.

“They used all possible means fair and unfair to accomplish that end. They argued against it, denounced it, and ridiculed it. Everything they heard unfavorable to California they reported against it and published their statements in all the nearest papers. . .

“During the winter I made two trips to Jackson Co. to see parties who had promised to join our company as well as to gather information respecting California and the route leading to it. But the skies began to be overcast. The exertions of our enemies began to have its effect. The first great excitement had somewhat cooled down.

“Just at this time [in March 1841], and it overthrew our project completely, was published the letters of Farnham in the New York papers and republished in all the papers of the frontier, at the instigation of the Weston merchants and others. Our company soon fell to pieces notwithstanding our pledge was as binding as language could make it. Well do I remember the concluding clause which was to the effect, if not in the exact language “That we pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.” (California 1841-48, p. 4-6)

Thomas J. Farnham, whose reports from California had this chilling effect on the members of the Western Emigration Society, really had very little experience in California. An explorer and adventurer, he arrived in Monterey in 1840 and became involved with Isaac Graham and other Americans who had been arrested by the Mexican authorities for their attempt to overthrow the government. Taking Graham’s side, Farnham wrote to the newspapers about the black-hearted cruelty of the Mexican authorities. He doesn’t seem to have seen anything of California beyond Monterey, and didn’t comment on the land or the climate. But his comments about the Mexicans certainly gave would-be emigrants second thoughts about the advisability of venturing to California. All of a sudden, everyone in Missouri got cold feet and backed out. Everyone except John Bidwell.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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