Wagon West, sans Cat

Look what happened. A Historical Landmark.  Back in 1841, on this very date. The very first wagon train arrived in California. It was probably all rickety-wheeled by that point, and I am sure it smelled like holy-heck on the inside. But there it rolled, into that California land. Well. It got pretty close. Sort of.

The nation was still fairly young at that point. In 1840, the U. S. Census showed a population of 17,063,353. Just seventeen million. And that number was up 33% from the 1830 census.

Sidebar. That extra 33% of people came from somewhere. They may have been born on this soil, possibly to Immigrant parents, OR they came here from other countries, seeking a new life. In some cases, they were seeking asylum. If you want more information on this, check the United States Constitution on both of these things. Call Donald Trump and see if you can get him to read the Constitution too.

Anyway. Back then, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and Virginia each had a population greater than one million citizens. This is where all my people came in and settled. A bunch of German dirt farmers plopped down in the Ohio Valley.  (As you can see, some of us never left.)

Yet, it had been a tradition among these new Americans to want to “Head West.” New lands. A big raw nation with a kaleidoscope of frontiers. The fair share of America. Many of them didn’t speak English. Many of them simply wanted better lives. Food, jobs, health. (If any of this sounds familiar, see the recent headlines concerning a group of people from Central America, making their way to new lands.)

It was 1841. Someone had to get the ball rolling. And, there was a young guy, named John Bidwell, whose eyes were wide with determination. Well. I am guessing they were. Although, a lot of those types had squinty eyes, as to keep all the dust out. Anyway. He started out in New York. Only 21 years old. He, and another go-getter named Capt. John Bartleson, organized the Western Emigration Society.

They bought a new wagon. Again, I am speculating that it was new. I mean, who would want a used wagon for a trip like that? Which makes me think. I wonder if they had “Wagon Dealerships” in those olden days. Like “Big Bob’s Used Wagons and Canoes. No money down. No credit. No worries. Trade-ins welcome.”

Back to it. Bidwell and Bartleson led the first wagon train of pioneers across the Rocky Mountains. On May 1, 1841, they headed west out of Missouri. There were a total of 69 adults. Get this. Only five of them were women. And for good measure, they took a couple of children. None of the group had ever been to California.  To be clear, California wasn’t even a state yet. Not until 1850.

They only covered 12 to 15 miles a day in their wagons. Can you imagine? With their oxen, horses, and mules all tagging along. Probably dogs. I’ll bet $100 there weren’t any cats on the trip. Cats would have been like, “Oh. We are SO NOT GOING. Send us a postcard. And Catnip. Send Catnip.”

Okay. Back to the trip. They got to Soda Springs, Idaho and they decided they were going to break into two groups. Half wanted to travel to Williamette Valley, Oregon, the other half to California. Capt. Bartleson took the Oregon group and John Bidwell led the California group.

Bidwell’s group had a tough time of it. There were only 33 people and they all suffered desperate hardship. They had to abandon their wagons to cover the rough terrain on foot. Most of the time, they lacked clear water. And, food. They were very near starvation.

But they did it. They crossed the Sierra Nevada Mountains and then arrived in the area of Tuolumne County on November 4, 1841. It was estimated that only 100 white Americans even lived in California before they got there. Home Sweet Home, right along Sullivan Creek.  Bidwell sent his cat the postcard.

The California Raisins came much later.

And there you have it. A brief story from our good history. A look at both immigration and emigration in our country. As it should be. Our Land of Liberty.


“Remember, remember always, that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.”
― Franklin D. Roosevelt


“Recognize yourself in he and she who are not like you and me.”
― Carlos Fuentes


“The happy and powerful do not go into exile, and there are no surer guarantees of equality among men than poverty and misfortune.”
― Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America