August 11, 1841 — The Parting of the Ways

Wednesday, 11th. Having traveled about 6 miles this morning the Company came to a halt — The Oregon company was now going to leave Bear river for Ft. Hall, which is situated on Lewis river, a branch of the Columbia. Many who purposed in setting out to go immediately through to California, here concluded to go into Oregon so that the California company now consisted of only 32 men and one woman and child, there being but one family.

Fort Hall is on the Snake River, which is indeed a tributary of the Columbia, but I think Bidwell thought they were closer to Oregon and California than they really were.

Monument along HW 28 designating the location of the “parting of the ways’ for those emigrants who chose to take the Seminole Cutoff. This monument, however is now believed to be a substantial distance from the true ‘Parting of the Ways. Along HW 28 Wyoming.

The two companies, after bidding each other a parting farewell, started and were soon out of sight. Several of our Company, however, went to Ft. Hall to procure provision, and to hire if possible a pilot to conduct us to the Gap in the California mountains, or at least to the head of Mary’s river. We were therefore to move slowly ’till their return. Encamped on Bear river, having come about 12 miles.

The Gap in the California mountains! If only there were, how much easier the journey would be for them and all the later pioneers. In a later writing, The First Emigrant Train to California, Bidwell writes:

Thirty-two of our party, becoming discouraged, decided not to venture without path or guide into the unknown and trackless region towards California, but concluded to go with the missionary party to Fort Hall and thence to find their way down Snake and Columbia rivers into Oregon. The rest of us — also thirty-two in number, including Benjamin Kelsey, his wife and little daughter — remained firm, refusing to be diverted from our original purpose of going direct to California. After getting all the information we could from Captain Fitzpatrick, we regretfully bade good-by to our fellow emigrants and to Father De Smet and his party.

And so they ventured into the unknown, and into the very worst part of the journey. But first, John Bidwell and his friend James John are going to have an adventure.

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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