The Bidwell-Bartleson Party
In 1841, John Bidwell and John Bartleson became the first Americans emigrants to undertake a wagon crossing from Missouri to California.
Although Oregon was the primary destination of early westward-bound pioneers, new and enticing stories of California's warm weather and an absence of blizzards and tornadoes were attracting attention.
A party divided
Near Sheep Rock, Idaho, the party divided. One-half of the group of 69 men, women, and children decided to continue on the more-traveled Oregon Trail route. The remaining intrepid members of the Bidwell-Bartleson Party turned south to Utah and the Great Salt Lake, continued west to Nevada, finally arriving in California.
Bound for California without a map
"Our ignorance of the route was complete" admitted John Bidwell years later in his trip memoir.
Fortunately, a group of Jesuit missionaries also traveling west and guided by mountain man Thomas Fitzpatrick (1799-1854) agreed to join with the Bidwell-Bartleson Party. It was a fateful decision.
Bidwell recalled, "At first we were independent and fought we could not afford to wait for a slow missionary party. But when we found that no one knew which way to go, we sobered down and waited for them to come up; and it was well we did, for otherwise
probably not one of us would ever have reached California because of our inexperience.