The adventures of the Bidwell-Bartleson Party didn’t officially start until John Bidwell was elected secretary on May 18th and began keeping his journal. Up until that point we can’t put a date on the various events that led up to the journey. But Bidwell filled us in on his experiences in two other accounts.
In 1877 the historian and indefatigable collector Hubert Howe Bancroft sent S. S. Boynton to take down Bidwell’s dictation of his journey. Boynton at the time was principal of the Oroville schools, and later became editor of the Oroville Register. The dictation is titled “California 1841: An Immigrant’s Recollections of a Trip Across the Plains.” Anyone who wants to read it can find it in The Bidwell-Bartleson Party, edited by Doyce B. Nunis, or on microfilm at Meriam Library Special Collections (if you live here in Butte County).
Nunis’s book also contains Bidwell’s account, written in 1890 for the Century Magazine, titled “The First Emigrant Train to California.” Another place to find this is in Echoes of the Past, which collects all three articles on California life dictated by Bidwell for the Century. Bidwell’s journal account is also in Nunis’s book, as well as every other account, even if it is only a page or two, by a member of the group.
Can you see the original journal? No, unfortunately.
During his spare time in February and March of 1842 Bidwell copied out the journal and added his observations of California. Then he sent it back to Missouri to an unknown friend, and that friend had it printed up as a guidebook. How did he get the copy back to Missouri? He couldn’t just pop it in the mail. He probably sent it east with Joseph Chiles, another member of the Bidwell-Bartleson Party who returned to Missouri in 1842.
Sometime in 1843, ’44, or ’45 the journal was published as a pamphlet, by an unknown printer. This became the first overland guidebook to California. Only one copy is still in existence–-the copy carried by George McKinstry when he emigrated to California in 1846. It now resides in the Bancroft Library at UC Berkeley. It has been printed by the Bancroft in their keepsake series and that can be found (again) at Meriam Library Special Collections, or other rare book collections.
Bidwell’s own original journal — that’s long lost. Sigh.