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In 1841, the Bartleson-Bidwell Party led by Captain John Bartleson and John Bidwell, became the first American emigrants to attempt a wagon crossing from Missourimarker to Californiamarker.

The trail to California had been established not by the government, but by members of the "Emigrant Societies" formed in the 1840s. The efforts of three parties had established a passable wagon road over the two main obstacles: the Great Salt Lake Desertmarker in Utahmarker, and the Sierra Nevada mountains in California. The result was a journey of 2,000 miles in a single summer and fall, by oxen or horses at 15 miles a day, which meant a voyage of about five months.

In May 1841, the party assembled at Sapling Grove, near Westport, Missourimarker under the organization of the twenty-one-year-old Bidwell. Numbering more than sixty, the group decided to travel together to John Marsh's Rancho Los Meganosmarker at the foot of Mount Diablomarker in present-day Contra Costa Countymarker. Moving west, the emigrants traveled over the Oregon Trail with Father Pierre-Jean De Smet and a Jesuit party guided by mountain man, Thomas "Broken Hand" Fitzpatrick.

At Fort Hallmarker, in present day Caribou County, Idahomarker, a 19th century military and trading outpost in the eastern Oregon Country, about half of the original party changed their plans and decided to take the easier road into Oregonmarker. The remainder of the Bartleson-Bidwell party split off from the trappers' trail to Oregon and headed west along the north shore of the Great Salt Lakemarker. Crossing the desert west of the lake, they were forced to abandon their wagons. Accompanied by their surviving animals, they eventually found the Mary's River (now the Humboldt) and followed it to its sink (near present Lovelock, Nevadamarker). Crossing the desert to the south, they reached the Walker River, which they ascended over the Sierra in the same region crossed by Jedediah Smith in 1828.

See also


  • Charles Hopper, "Narrative of Charles Hopper, A California Pioneer of 1841," Utah Historical Quarterly 3 (1930);
  • Charles Kelly, Salt Desert Trails (1930);
  • Roderick J. Korns, "West from Fort Bridger," Utah Historical Quarterly 19 (1951);
  • David E. Miller, First Wagon Train to Cross Utah, 1841," Utah Historical Quarterly 30 (1962);
  • Dale L. Morgan, The Great Salt Lake (1947) from Pioneers and Cowboys at

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