I’ve got to hand it to Google, and Google Books– they certainly make research easy. A little digging online, and I learned quite a bit about one of the most interesting members of the 1841 band of trekkers.
“Cheyenne” Dawson, in his 1894 recollection of his 1841 overland trip, says that their group was a “very mixed crowd.” “There were heads of families . . . and many adventurous youths like myself and John Bidwell, who wanted nothing but to see and experience. There were gentlemen seeking health, and an English lord, Lord Romain, going out with a half-breed hunter, John Grey, to shoot buffalo.” (More about John Grey in another post.)
I expect that a well-to-do young English gentleman with a cultured accent would have been called “Lord” by an American frontiersman whether he was one or not, much as Westerners called any man “Professor” who had more than an 8th grade education. In fact, William Govett Romaine was not an aristocrat. Born in 1815, he was the second son of a clergyman, Robert Govett Romaine, vicar of Staines, Middlesex. He graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge, went on to study law, and was called to the bar in 1839.
Evidently in 1841 he took a vacation from his legal practice and set out to spend the summer seeing America. He hired an experience mountain man, John Gray, as his guide. The Dictionary of National Biography describes Romaine as “adventurous, fond of travel, a keen observer, high-spirited, and zealous in all he undertook,” a description that certainly fits of the young Englishman who traveled with the first emigrant party to set out for California.
When the combined Bidwell and DeSmet parties reached the Green River, Romaine and five other members of the company turned back to the United States. They had gone as far as they planned to go. Romaine had set out to see the Great Plains, shoot buffalo, and see the mighty Rocky Mountains. For him it was an extended summer camping trip, an extreme adventure, but now it was time to go home.
Back in England he returned to the practice of law. In 1854 he was appointed deputy judge advocate in the Crimea (during the Crimean War) and in 1857, in recognition of his services he was made a companion of the Bath. Later that year he was called to be the Second Secretary of the Admiralty, where he served until 1869, when he was made judge-advocate-general in India. He retired from a distinguished career in 1879 and died in 1893.
I don’t know if Romaine wrote letters home about his experience, or left any other kind of recollection. If he did, I wish I could see them. I’d like to know what the young Englishman thought of the wild West and the rough and ready frontiersmen he met.
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