The Pioneers: Edwin Bryant

Edwin Bryant, the author of What I Saw in California (published in 1848) was a Kentucky journalist who undertook the perilous overland journey in 1846 as a literary mission, intending to write a first-hand report on the advantages and disadvantages of life on the new frontier. “Westering fever” was already drawing thousands who were undeterred by the unsettled political situation in Mexican California, to the Pacific Coast.  At the time Bryant was a popular editor and social figure in Louisville. He had once studied medicine under the tutelage of his physician uncle, and he also knew how to identify geologic features and classify flora along the trail. His specific notes of time, place, and weather did, in fact, make his book a valuable emigrant guide, but not all was dry, statistical jottings. His warm humor shows in his descriptions of inexperienced travelers like himself coping with recalcitrant mules and armies of fleas.  He relates campfire conversations, describes landmarks, and speaks of eminent California pioneers he met. Accompanied by a small group of men on pack mules, Bryant arrived at Sutter’s Fort on 9/1/1846. Weeks later, Bryant fought in the Mexican-American War. Afterward he toured the state, and was the mayor of San Francisco for a brief time. Edwin Bryant sailed home in 1847, returned to California twice for short visits, and died in Louisville in 1869. Bryant Street in San Francisco is named for him.