May 26, 1841

Wednesday, 26th. Two wagons were broke today; about a dozen Pawnees came to our camp, stopped to repair the wagons, having come about 15 miles. A deer was brought in by C. Hopper.

Charles Hopper was a native or North Carolina and an expert hunter. He later brought his family to California and settled in the Napa Valley.

A man by the name of Williams, a Methodist preacher, overtook the company this evening on his way to Oregon Territory. He had not arrived in time to start with the company from the settlements, and had traveled entirely alone, without any gun or other weapon of defense, depending wholly on Providence for protection and support.

The Reverend Mr. Joseph Williams was 64 years old in 1841 when he set out to visit the Protestant missionaries in Oregon. (You may recall that Marcus and Narcissa Whitman had gone to Oregon in 1836 to proselytize the Indians.) He was the oldest member of the Bidwell-Bartleson Party. He left a short record of his experiences on the trail entitled Narrative of a Tour from the State of Indiana to the Oregon Territory in the Years 1841-2.

Williams intended to go west with the members of the Western Emigration Society, but on arriving at Westport found that they had already departed. “With much pain of mind” he went to the Shawnee Mission to consult with his Methodist brethren. There he learned the the company was only four days ahead of him. “I said within myself, surely the Lord is opening my way to go on.”

The Shawnee Methodist Mission, photo c. 1870 Kansas Historical Society

His church brethren tried to dissuade him from going, saying, “It was almost presumptuous for so old a man as I to attempt such a hazardous journey,” but Williams felt the call of God and was determined to answer it. He set off to catch up with the company, traveling with another missionary and “two Indian chiefs of the Caw Tribe.”

On the 26th he rode across the prairie, “happy in my soul,” until about 4 o’clock, when he spotted the company a few miles ahead. He stopped to feed his horse, then traveled on and by evening he joined the company. They told him how narrowly he had missed being captured by Indians. Williams didn’t seem particularly surprised, for he was confident that God was watching over him.

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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