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“Exploration of the Sierra Nevada” (1925)
by Francis P. Farquhar


Immigrant Parties

For the next few years no parties seem to have attempted the passage of the Sierra, but the tide of westward expansion was swelling, and increasing numbers of adventurous pioneers were penetrating the country west of the Missouri River. Oregon was already well known and California was beginning to attract attention.

In 1841 the first real immigrant party crossed the Sierra into California. This was under the nominal leadership of John Bartleson, although at times the party seems to have been rather independent of leaders. Accounts of this expedition have been given by John Bidwell and Josiah Belden, members of the party. 16 They came across the desert from Great Salt Lake and entered the valley of the Humboldt River, then known as Mary’s or Ogden’s River, which, through the explorations of Ogden, Walker and others, was now a well known route. Upon leaving the Humboldt sink, they struck across the Sierra from the head of the West Walker River, over what is now known as Sonora Pass, and descended the Stanislaus. In later years, Bidwell told of his adventures while prospecting for a route that led him to the discovery of the Big Trees of the Calaveras Grove; yet, while he was doubtless the first to see that grove, the Walker discovery must take precedence.

Two years later came another immigrant party, or rather two parties: the first, under Joseph B. Chiles, splitting off from the main party at Fort Hall and entering California by the Malheur and Pit rivers; the second, or larger portion of the joint party, comprising about forty men, women and children, descending the Humboldt and going south along the eastern flank of the Sierra past Owens Lake, crossing by Walker Pass, and arriving at Gilroy’s Ranch in January 1844. 17

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16 Bancroft: California, IV, pp, 20-272; Bidwell: First Emigrant Train to California, Century Magazine, November 1890.

17 Bancroft: California, IV, pp, 392-395.


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