John Marsh and John Bidwell

On Thursday, November 4th, 1875, John Bidwell wrote in his diary:

Thirty four (34) years ago today I arrive at the ranch of Dr. John Marsh near Mt. Diablo – party consisted of 32 men l woman and child.

John Bidwell didn’t often reminisce in his diary. But the events of 1841 were lastingly imprinted on his mind, and not without a touch of lingering rancor at the memory of Dr. Marsh’s character and actions.

The letters of Dr. John Marsh, widely printed in Missouri newspapers, were a prime factor in motivating John Bidwell and others to form the Western Emigration Society. Enticed by his (and fur trapper Antoine Robidoux’s) descriptions of the healthful climate and fertile soil of California, 500 people signed up to migrate to the new land. Even though many of those people dropped out, John Bidwell remained determined to head west. Along with him in the first wagon train to California were several men who had known Marsh when he lived in Missouri, including John Bartleson and Michael Nye.

Marsh had traveled to California in 1836 by way of the southern Santa Fe route. He knew of the explorations of Jedediah Smith and Bonneville, and he was able to give his readers some good information about traveling the Oregon Trail and finding Mary’s River. But he didn’t know anything about crossing the Sierra Nevada That didn’t stop him from confidently informing his Missouri readers that the mountains could easily be crossed in a day or so.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and after the group’s exhausting two-week struggle to surmount this massive barrier, they must have had a few choice words to say to Marsh about his travel suggestions.

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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