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A Guide to the Mother Lode Country (1948) by C. Frank Brockman


Map: Routes of the Argonauts (to California and the West)
[click to enlarge]
Routes of the Argonauts

HOW THE ARGONAUTS CAME TO CALIFORNIA

In the ’40s, although still under Mexican domination, California had already attracted a number of adventurous Americans. A thin stream of emigrants were annually braving the perils of the long overland journey, following the routes previously pioneered by that redoubtable group of trappers and frontiersmen known as “the mountain men.” Jedediah Smith, Joseph Walker, Sylvester Pattie, Benjamin Wilson, Peter Lassen, and Kit Carson were the most noted leaders of the small bands of adventurers who, for a period of about ten years, beginning in 1826, extended their explorations westward from the Rockies into California. Their coming shook the Mexican inhabitants from the complacent belief that they were amply protected through isolation behind that great mountain barrier—the Sierra Nevada—and the tremenduous expanse of desert country immediately to the east. But America was looking west and subsequent events, including the gradually increasing tide of emigration, the Bear Flag Revolt and the establishment of the short-lived but significant California Republic, and the Mexican War finally established American sover[e]ignty over this area just before Marshall’s discovery of gold in 1848.

Within a relatively short time after Marshall’s discovery the thin trickle of California-bound emigrants was transformed into a flood. They came in prodigious numbers by land and sea, but regardless of the route used their journey was long and arduous, and replete with hardship and danger.

Many of those who chose to come overland followed the famous Oregon Trail to Fort Hall (near the present town of Pocatello, Idaho), at which point the California “road” branched south to Salt Lake. From this point most of the emigrants pushed west along the Humboldt (across the present State of Nevada), eventually reaching the base of the Sierra Nevada on the east in plain view of its rugged, imposing crest. During the summer months a number of high mountain passes, such as Donner and Carson, enabled them to effect a crossing of this last formidable barrier. Some, however, chose to follow south along the east side of the Sierra through Owens Valley, crossing the mountains via Walker Pass east of the present city of Bakersfield. Others left the main route at Salt Lake and struck south to the Virgin and Sevier Rivers before turning west and eventually reaching San Bernardino. The most southerly overland route crossed Texas, then followed along the approximate southern border of the United States to the junction of the Colorado and Gila Rivers, from which point the emigrants reached the vicinity of Los Angeles via San Gorgonio Pass. A few came in from the north, working their way south by various routes from the western terminus of the Oregon Trail on the Columbia River.

The principal routes by sea were the long, tedious passage “round the horn” or via the Isthmus of Panama. In the latter case, after disembarking from the ship on the eastern side of the Isthmus, it was necessary to cross that fever-ridden, miasmatic land to the Pacific shore and there engage passage on a second vessel for California.

But Americans were not the only ones affected by the gold fever. Marshall’s discovery had literally inflamed the world. People from practically every corner of the earth set out for the California gold fields, giving the population of this area a unique, cosmopolitan character. From Europe came Englishmen, Frenchmen, Germans, Cornishmen, Welshmen, Italians, and many others. The original Mexican population of California was enhanced by great numbers of their countrymen who pushed northward across the border. South America contributed numbers from Chile, Peru, and Bolivia. From across the great expanse of the Pacific came men from Australia, as well as great numbers of Chinese. It is also interesting to note that many of the Americans from the southern states came with numbers of their slaves. Many of these negroes were freed voluntarily by their masters upon arrival. Others were permitted to purchase their freedom by means of their success in mining. Eventually all these people achieved their freedom for California, in 1850, was finally admitted into the Union as a free state.

Thus the “call of gold” appealed to all races and to all creeds throughout the world, resulting in a migration to this area which in many respects was without parallel in the annals of history.



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