The First Wagon Train to California

On this date one hundred and eighty years ago, the first emigrant wagon train to leave for California headed out on the Oregon Trail. Known today as the Bidwell-Bartleson Party, they teamed up with a group of Catholic missionaries and started from Sapling Grove, Kansas Territory. Here is John Bidwell’s journal entry for that day:

Wednesday, 19th. This morning the wagons started off in single file; first the 4 carts and 1 small wagon of the missionaries, next 8 wagons drawn by mules and horses, and lastly, 5 wagons drawn by 17 yoke of oxen. It was the calculation of the company to move on slowly till the wagon of Chiles overtook us. Our course was west, leaving the Kanzas no great distance to our left, we traveled in the valley of the river which was prairie excepting near the margin of the stream. The day was very warm and we stopped about noon, having traveled about 12 miles.

This afternoon we had a heavy shower of rain and hail. Several Kanzas Indians came to our camp; they were well armed with bows and arrows, and some had guns. They were daily expecting an attack by the Pawnees, whom they but a short time ago had made inroads on, and had massacred at one of their villages a large number of old men, women, and children, while the warriors were hunting buffalo.

Last year one of my pandemic projects was to post from John Bidwell’s travel journal every day. I don’t plan to do that again this year, but if you are interested in following the pioneers on the trail, you can start with this post.

The Oregon Trail, by William Henry Jackson

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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