News of the San Gabriel Valley since 1966.

‘Time Jockey’ To The West

Joe Castillo

To The West  ….  In 1849, the rush to find gold and riches in California brought a new spirit of men into the Golden State.  Men came West in search of a new start and prosperity. The allure of gold captured their imagination and dreams, while also drawing them into a new lifestyle of hard and tedious work. The trek west was fraught with many dangers including rough terrain, bad weather and hostile Indians, but the 49ers were determined and unwavering. The Henry W. Bigler Journal included the following entry of an unknown 49er, ‘On Saturday 10th, (November 1849), 12 men were sent back with water to look for the 4 men. Took a spade, should they find them dead’. This came after several hundred 49ers tried to take a short-cut through the Nevada dessert and Death Valley. A similar fate resulted with a large party being caught in a winter storm while trying to cross the high Sierras, and then turned to cannibalism while trying to survive the ordeal.  This was known as the tragedy of the Donner Party.  There were two primary routes into California, the Northern and Southern routes, with the Northern route going over the Sierra Nevada’s’ and into the foothills of Sacramento and onto San Francisco. The Southern route joined the Old Spanish Trail passing through Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico and eventually ending in Southern California.  Organized caravans were formed in the Mormon camp at Salt Lake City, and in one caravan, one-hundred and seven wagons were organized to travel over the Southern route. Jefferson Hunt, a Mormon guide, organized the wagon train and charged $10 per wagon to travel west from Salt Lake City to Rancho del Chino or Los Angeles. Hunt had traveled the Southern route twice in 1848 and led the first wagon train to cross the Mojave Desert. As wagon master, he organized the train into seven different groups and appointed a captain of each group. He created by-laws for each group and individual wagon to follow. Each day, a lead group was identified and they were the first group on the trail and were responsible for taking care of all the cattle and livestock. When a site was selected to make camp, the lead group established the camp and watered the animals. The next day, a new lead group was identified and performed the same responsibilities as the previous day’s leader, which then became the trailing group and brought up the rear of the wagon train. The wagon trains consisted of families and single men who were mostly laborers, storekeepers and farmers. As wagons and oxen were expensive, many men hired themselves out as animal herders and wagon train drivers. It was a rough journey for many of the 49ers, but their drive and perseverance drove them to what was hoped to be their dream life. A fresh start in a new country was their primary goal in migrating to California, and the courage of the early 49ers started a migration which still continues today.

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