The Western Emigration Society

John Bidwell promoted the California plan throughout the winter of 1840-41covered-wagons-1. Missouri folks interested in going to California formed the Western Emigration Society and signed a pledge “binding each one to dispose of his property, purchase a suitable outfit, and rendezvous at Sapling Grove in Kansas Territory on the ninth day of the following May, ready for crossing the plains.”

Five hundred names were subscribed, five hundred men and women eager to pack their wagons and go. It seemed as if the entire population couldn’t wait to hit the trail. But then . . .

The merchants of Weston, (the principal town in Platte County), fearing a loss of business, united to quash the enthusiasm for migrating. Any news unfavorable to California was published in the newspapers.

Just at this time, and it overthrew our project completely, was published the letters of Farnham in the New York papers and republished in all the papers of the frontier, at the instigation of the Weston merchants and others. Our company soon fell to pieces notwithstanding our pledge was as binding as language could make it.

Thomas J. Farnham, a pioneer on the Oregon Trail in 1839, had been in California in 1840 and had been instrumental in the release from Mexican custody of a number of Americans involved in the Graham Affair. His discouraging account had a disillusioning effect on the members of the Western Emigration Society. Nearly all of them gave up and dropped out.

sc 17336
John Bidwell
photograph
ca 1840But not John Bidwell. With his first farm gone, he was determined to go to California and try again. He was twenty-one years old.

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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