What were the essentials for a journey to a new country, a journey that might take up to six months far away from towns, stores, or farms?
First of all, a man needed information, and there was no public library to provide it. So John Bidwell did the next best thing. He asked questions and took advice from anyone who had experience on the trail. In the months before departure he made several trips around Kansas and Missouri “to see men who were talking of going to California, and to get information.” (Echoes of the Past, p. 112)
Getting ready to go was going to take all the means Bidwell could muster. He needed a wagon and animals to pull it. The usual draft animals were mules, horses, or oxen. He had money to buy a wagon, a gun, and provisions, but not enough for the animals. His partner, who was going to supply horses, had backed out. Luckily another man came along who was interested in going to California to improve his health.
“At the last moment before the time to start for the rendezvous at Sapling Grove—it seemed almost providential—along came a man named George Henshaw, an invalid, from Illinois, I think. He was pretty well dressed, was riding a fine black horse, and had ten or fifteen dollars. [A man of means, indeed!] I persuaded him to let me take his horse and trade him for a yoke of steers to pull the wagon and a sorry one-eyed mule for him to ride.” (Echoes, p. 113)
There was no horse or mule for John. He would walk all the way. A wagon drawn by oxen was different than one drawn by horses or mules. With the latter the driver would ride on the wagon seat, holding the reins that guided the animals. Oxen couldn’t be driven with reins, instead the driver would walk along beside them with a stick to tap or poke them this way or that.
Next time: What kind of gun was best?