Johnson’s Ranch is mentioned in many pioneer diaries. Situated in present-day Wheatland, the ranch was the first outpost of civilization the overland immigrants encountered after they descended the Sierra Nevada through the Donner Pass. William Johnson came west from Boston aboard the ship Alciope circa Continue reading Reaching Civilization
It was the obstacle that the California-bound pioneers feared the most: crossing the formidable Sierra Nevada. Stretching from just below Lassen Peak in the north to Tehachapi Pass in the south, the Sierra is a single mountain range about 400 miles long, varying in width from 40 to 80 miles. Except for the angle of Continue reading Crossing the Sierra
During the great western migration to California in the late 1840s and 1850s, neither excited gold-seekers, nor families simply wanting to settle, could depart overland for the Pacific Coast at just any time they wished. Theirs was a limited window of travel time, framed by potential hazards at both ends of the route. Since their sole means of transportation was draft animals, they had to wait for spring grasses to sprout on the prairies, as fodder for their wagon-hauling oxen and other livestock. Normally, this was the month of April or early May. Their destination deadline was to safely cross the formidable Sierra Nevada before the winter snowfall, which might begin at the end of October. They had, in effect, six months or less to cross 2,000 miles from the Missouri River to the Sacramento Valley. It was imperative that their wagon trains moved along at a brisk pace, at least six days a week from sunrise to sunset (with a mandatory stop at lunch to rest and feed the animals), to allow for intentional layovers and the inevitable slowing at river crossings. Average travel distance on flat plains was 14-20 miles a day, reduced to 3 or 4 miles (or less) per day through difficult terrain. Once the going got rough, only very small children and the desperately sick rode inside the covered wagons. Adults and youngsters walked the trails to spare their animals from the burden of unnecessary weight.
The pioneers of the 1840s didn’t use matches to light their campfires. Yes, these were available in the Eastern States, but considered untrustworthy and sometimes dangerous. Instead the pioneers carried pieces of sharp flint, a striker made of steel, and charred cloth to “catch” the spark. Charred cloth was made by Continue reading Pioneer Campfires
Because wool breathed and afforded better protection against the sun than cottons or linens, pioneer women who traveled west in wagon trains were advised to wear wool-fabric dresses with the hems raised 2-3 inches above the norm for easier maneuvering, and to sew lead shot into the hems to keep the full skirts from Continue reading California Trail Wardrobes