First to Scale the Sierra

Contra Costa Mt. DiabloThe first organized American pioneers to cross the Sierra Nevada into California was the Bartleson-Bidwell Party in 1841, but they did so after abandoning their wagons  near today’s  Utah/Nevada border.  Gold had not been discovered, so this group taking a courageous step into the unknown consisted of Catholic missionaries, settlers seeking better opportunities, and rough, resourceful adventurers. Their guide was an experienced frontiersman who was only going as far west as present-day Idaho.  If they had a map at all, it was scrabbled together from the bare-bones guidelines of previous expeditions by trappers and missionaries who had established a trail of sorts to Oregon toward the end of the 1830s.  Most had read the glowing reports about California written by John Marsh to friends in Missouri and his sketchy advice describing a route across the Sierras, which he had never traveled.  Their journey was hard and perilous. At Soda Springs (Idaho) the larger party split, with about half deciding to go to Oregon instead. Thirty-two men, one woman and her two year old daughter, traveled on to California. Half starved and desperate, they somehow missed the Truckee River Pass, and crossed near the Sonora Pass where they followed the Stanislaus River west to Dr. John Marsh’s ranch at the base of Mt. Diablo. Miraculously, all of them survived.

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