May 18, 1841

It’s May 18th, so time to start following John Bidwell’s journal of the adventures of the Bidwell-Bartleson Party:

May, Tuesday 18th 1841. Having waited at this place (2 miles W. of Kanzas river) 2 days, and all the Company being arrived, except those heretofore mentioned, the Company was convened for the purpose of electing a Captain and adopting rules of government of the Company; when T. H. Green was chosen President – and J. Bidwell, Secretary.

After the rules were read and adopted, J. Bartleson was elected Captain; it will be understood that Fitzpatrick was Capt. of the Missionary Company and pilot of the whole. Orders were given for the company to start in the morning, and the meeting was broken up.

John Bidwell, the young schoolteacher, was chosen to be secretary, and he took that responsibility seriously. That’s the reason we have such a good account of this trailblazing group of pioneers.

Talbot H. Green, the man elected as president of the company, had made a good impression on the other men. Nicholas “Cheyenne” Dawson recalled him as “a young man of evident culture and very pleasing address.” When the company gathered to organize and elect officers, Green was elected president. This was not a position with much responsibility. The Company had a captain, John Bartleson, and a trail guide, Thomas Fitzpatrick, who was the true leader, at least until the California-bound company parted from the larger group. But Green’s election was testimony to his instant likability.

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Tombstone of John Bartleson, from findagrave.com

John Bartleson was born in October 1786, making him 54 years old when they set out from Missouri. He was part of the “Chiles Mess,” made up of Joseph B. Chiles, Michael Nye, and some German immigrants. When they joined the company he insisted on being made captain, probably feeling that as an older and more experienced man, he was more qualified to lead the group. Bidwell wrote of him:

He was not the best man for the position, but we were given to understand that if he was not elected captain, he would not go; and he had seven or eight men with him, and we did not want the party diminished.

He proved to be a poor leader, as we will see, and returned to Missouri the year after they arrived in California, dying there in 1848.

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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