“In five days after my arrival we were ready to start, but no one knew where to go, not even the captain. Finally a man came up, one of the last to arrive, and announced that a company of Catholic missionaries were on their way from St. Louis to the Flathead nation of Indians with an old Rocky Mountaineer for a guide, and that if we would wait another day they would be up with us. At first we were independent, and thought we could not afford to wait for a slow missionary party. But when we found that no one knew which way to go, we sobered down and waited for them to come up.” (Echoes of the Past, p. 133)
It was very fortunate, even life-saving, for the Bidwell-Bartleson Party to have joined up with the missionary party, since they had hired as their guide Thomas Fitzpatrick, an experienced mountain man and trail guide.
Fitzpatrick was born in County Cavan, Ireland, in 1799. By the time he was 17 years old he had come to the United States, where he joined a fur trading expedition up the Missouri River. He had spent many years trapping, trading, and traveling in the Rocky Mountains, and was familiar with the Oregon Trail route across the plains and through the South Pass.
He had met and dealt frequently with Native Americans, who called him “Broken-Hand.” He had injured his left hand in an accident with a gun at some time during his long career. Meeting up with this experienced guide was a stroke of luck for the California-bound emigrants, since he was able to teach them how to survive in the wilderness, how to get along with the Indians, and was able to point them in the right direction when the time came for them to part ways.