Going West

Join the Party!

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Painting by William Henry Jackson

The Bidwell-Bartleson Party, that is. It is May 1841 and John Bidwell is getting ready to set out for California.

The Party organized on May 18th and set out on the trail on May 19th. But before that there was much to prepare. John Bidwell had been planning this trip for nearly a year, ever since he lost his land claim in the Platte Purchase section of Missouri. But let’s let him tell the tale:

In the summer of 1840, the weather being excessively hot, and needing some books and other things that could only be obtained in St. Louis, I set out for the latter place expecting to be gone a week. I went on the steamer Shawnee down to St. Louis, but as the navigation was bad owing to low water and snags, I was gone four weeks instead of one. On my return I found a man had jumped my ranch.

The law at that time was such that I had to be twenty-one years of age or a man of family in order to hold the land. I was neither. The man who had my ranch was a sort of desperado, having killed at least one man, and I had no means of making him give up the land.

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Antoine Robidoux, dressed up for his portrait

About his same time a fur trapper and Indian trader named Antoine Robidoux came along, telling stories of California. Robidoux had traveled to California on the Santa Fe Trail.

He said it was a perfect paradise, a perpetual spring. He was a calm, considerate man and his stories had all the appearance of truth. He said the hospitality of the people was unbounded. Cattle and horses ranged there in the greatest abundance.

Not only all that, but he said California had none of the chills and fever of Missouri. A paradise, indeed! A public meeting was held, committees were organized, a pledge was signed. The Platte Purchase residents were eager to head out for California.

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The Platte Purchase is the northwest corner that sticks out from the straight north-south state line. #3 marks St. Joseph, where John Bidwell would have boarded the steamer for St. Louis, which is on the eastern edge of the state at #1. The Bidwell-Bartleson Party set out from Sapling Grove, just west of #2 Kansas City.

(Quotations are from Bancroft’s 1877 Bidwell Dictation, as published in The Bidwell-Bartleson Party, by Doyce B. Nunis.)

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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