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The Bidwell-Bartleson Party 1841
Historical Background

Prior to the year 1841, only a few emigrants had made the westward journey overland to Oregon and California. The formation of the Western Emigration Society in 1841, however, permanently changed this situation. Organized in western Missouri to help overland emigrants prepare for the journey westward, the Western Emigration Society influenced the large migration that followed in the 1840s.

John Bidwell had migrated to western Missouri from New York in search of adventure, and his ambitions coincided with the aims of the Western Emigration Society. After a meeting with mountain man Antoine Robidoux, who painted an attractive picture of California, Bidwell was determined to head westward to California. The party that he traveled with was the first planned overland company to emigrate to California.

The emigrant company was organized on 18 May 1841 with John Bartleson elected as captain. Bartleson would not go with the company unless he was made captain. They were almost completely ignorant of the route west to California, but, fortunately, they were able to travel to the Rocky Mountains with a party of Jesuit missionaries guided by Thomas F. "Broken Hand" Fitzpatrick. From Soda Springs, Idaho, to their destination in California, they were left to their own resources. Having been advised by Fitzpatrick to travel south of the Snake River drainage and north of Great Salt Lake, they entered present-day Utah and became the first emigrants with wagons to travel across northern Utah.

They abandoned their wagons in eastern Nevada and continued on to California. With a little better reconnoitering to the west of Lucin, Utah, a trail could have been blazed to the head of the Humboldt River near Wells, Nevada, along the present alignment of the Southern Pacific Railroad. The route traveled by the Bidwell-Bartleson party across Utah could have become the California Trail instead of the trail later established through the City of Rocks, Granite Pass, and Goose Creek, north of Wells, Nevada.

Five years later, the Bryant-Russell party encountered evidence of the PaBidwell-Bartleson party ten miles southwest of Donner Spring. No other reference is made to the trail, even though the Harlan-Young, Hoppe-Lienhard, and Donner-Reed parties traveled this portion of the trail into Nevada in 1846. In later years, wagon trains traveled across Park Valley, following close to the railroad after it was built in 1869. These wagon trains probably traveled some sections of the Bidwell-Bartleson trail.

This chapter covers that portion of the Bidwell-Bartleson trail from Soda Springs, Idaho, south along the Bear River to Great Salt Lake, west and south past Donner Spring, south around Pilot Peak, and west through Silver Zone Pass into Nevada. Because of the length of the trail, the tour is divided into two parts: Soda Springs to Corinne and Corinne to Pilot Peak.

The tour includes excerpts from Bidwell's diary and from the diary of James John, another party member. Following his arrival in California, Bidwell's diary was carried to the eastern states and published in 1842. It was read and carried by westward travelers, becoming the first overland emigrant "guide." The diary of James John was not discovered until the twentieth century, and was published first in 1991 in Doyce Nunis's book The Bidwell-Bartleson Party: 1841 California Emigrant Adventure, along with the Bidwell diary and other documents relating to the emigrant party. The two diaries complement each other.

Bidwell Trial Guide August 10, 1841

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