What I Saw in California
By Edwin Bryant

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Chapter XVIII.

  Route by land
  Outfit, etc., and advice to intending Emigrants.

The route via Independence or St. Joseph, Mo., to Fort Laramie, South Pass, Fort Hall, the Sink of Mary’s River, etc., etc., the old route. Let no emigrant, carrying his family with him, deviate from it, or imagine that he can find a better road. This road is the best that has yet been discovered, and to the Bay of San Francisco and the Gold Region it is much the shortest. The Indians, moreover, on this route, have, up to the present time, been so friendly as to commit no acts of hostility on the emigrants. The trail is plain and good where there are no physical obstructions, and the emigrant, by taking this route, will certainly reach his destination in good season and without disaster. From our information we would most earnestly advise all emigrants to take this trail, without deviation, if they would avoid the fatal calamities which almost invariably have attended those who have undertaken to explore new routes.

The lightest wagon that can be constructed, of sufficient strength to carry 2500 pounds’ weight, is the vehicle most desirable. No wagon should be loaded over this weight, or if it is, it will be certain to stall in the muddy sloughs and crossings on the prairie in the first part of the journey. This wagon can be hauled by three or four yokes of oxen or six mules. Oxen are usually employed by the emigrants for hauling their wagons. They travel about 15 miles per day, and, all things considered, are perhaps equal to mules for this service, although they cannot travel so fast. They are, however, less expensive, and there is not so much danger of their straying and of being stolen by the Indians.

Pack-mules can only be employed by parties of men. It would be very difficult to transport a party of women and children on pack-mules, with the provisions, clothing, and other baggage necessary to their comfort. A party of men, however, with pack-mules, can make the journey in less time by one month than it can be done in wagons–carrying with them, however, nothing more than their provisions, clothing, and ammunition.

For parties of men going out, it would be well to haul their wagons, provisions, etc., as far as Fort Laramie, or Fort Hall, by mules, carrying with them pack-saddles and alforjases, or large saddle-bags, adapted to the pack-saddle, with ropes for packing, etc., when, if they saw proper, they could dispose of their wagons for Indian ponies, and pack into California, gaining perhaps two or three weeks’ time.

The provisions actually necessary per man are as follows:–

  150 lbs. of flour.
  150  do.  bacon.
  25   do.  coffee.
  30   do.  sugar.

Added to these, the main items, there should be a small quantity of rice, 50 or 75 lbs. of crackers, dried peaches, etc., and a keg of lard, with salt, pepper, etc., and such other luxuries of light weight as the person outfitting chooses to purchase. He will think of them before he starts.

Every man should be provided with a good rifle, and, if convenient, with a pair of pistols, five pounds of powder, and ten pounds of lead. A revolving belt-pistol may be found useful.

With the wagon, there should be carried such carpenter’s tools as a hand-saw, auger, gimlet, chisel, shaving-knife, etc., an axe, hammer, and hatchet. This last weapon every man should have in his belt, with a hunter’s or a bowie-knife.

From Independence to the first settlement in California, which is near the gold region, it is about 2050 miles–to San Francisco, 2290 miles.

The accounts that have been received and published in regard to the wealth and productiveness of the gold mines, and other mines in California, are undoubtedly true. They are derived from the most authentic and reliable sources, and from individuals whose veracity may be undoubtingly believed.

When a young man arrives there, he must turn his attention to whatever seems to promise the largest recompense for his labour. It is impossible in the new state of things produced by the late discoveries, and the influx of population, to foresee what this might be. The country is rich in agricultural resources, as well as in the precious metals, and, with proper enterprise and industry, he could scarcely fail to do well.

Families, as well as parties going out, should carry with them good tents, to be used after their arrival as houses. The influx of population will probably be so great that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to obtain other shelter for some time after their arrival. The climate of the country, however, even in winter, is so mild that, with good tents, comfort is attainable. They should be careful, also, to carry as much subsistence into the country as they can; as what they purchase there, after their arrival, they will be compelled to pay a high price for.

The shortest route to California is unquestionably by the West India Mail Packets, which leave Southampton on the 17th of every month. The point to which they take passengers is Chagres. This voyage is usually accomplished in about 22 to 26 days. From thence passengers proceed across the Isthmus, a distance of about 52 miles (say three or four days’ journey) to Panama, and thence 3500 miles by sea in the Pacific to St. Francisco. From the vast number of eager emigrants that it is expected will assemble at Panama, it is very probable that great delay will be occasioned from there not being sufficient number of vessels to convey them to their destination. Unless such adventurers are abundantly supplied with money, they will not be able to live in the hot desolation of the tropics, where life is but little valued, and where death is even less regarded. The entire route by sea (round Cape Horn) cannot be less than 18,500 miles, and generally occupies from five to six months, yet this route is much cheaper, safer, and in the end (from the delay that will occur at Panama) quite as short. This route, particularly to parties from England, is universally allowed to be the best many, dangers and difficulties that attend the route across the Isthmus of Panama (not noticing the probable delay) will be avoided, and many a one will bitterly regret that he was ever induced to attempt (as he perceives ship after ship sailing gallantly on to these favoured regions) what he considered a shorter route, from the want of the means of transit, while he is himself compelled idly to waste his time, a prey to pestilence and to the “hope deferred that maketh the heart sick.”


Chapter I.  •  Chapter II.  •  Chapter III.  •  Chapter IV.  •  Chapter V.  •  Chapter VI.  •  Chapter VII.  •  Chapter VIII.  •  Chapter IX.  •  Chapter X.  •  Chapter XI.  •  Chapter XII.  •  Chapter XIII.  •  Chapter XIV.  •  Chapter XV.  •  Chapter XVI.  •  Chapter XVII.  •  Chapter XVIII.  •  Appendix.  •  Journey From Arkansas to California.

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What I Saw in California
By Edwin Bryant
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