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THE ROAD TO CALIFORNIA / E. P. Howell Introduction In May of 1849 a company of forty-niners travelers left Athens (now Albany), Missouri with seventeen ox-drawn wagons, headed for the gold mines of California. Among them were Elijah Preston HoweU, a circuit clerk of Gentry County who had resigned his position to make the trip, and HoweU's brother, John. Together with fifty-seven men and two women they joined the thousands following the Oregon Trail to California in that year. Estimates of the total number of emigrants vary, but approximately thirty thousand people embarked on the journey in 1849, the vast majority of them men. Not all companies left from the same jumping-off place. St. Joseph and Independence were the most popular but large numbers also joined the migration at Council Bluffs, Iowa and at Old Fort Kearney, Nebraska (present-day Nebraska City). As Athens was only seventy miles from the Nebraska border HoweU's group went north to Old Fort Kearney, and in his journal Howell begins calculating the group's mileage at that point. There are relatively few known accounts by diarists starting from the Nebraska jumping-off place. Howell's is one of ten written by travelers who departed from Fort Kearney in the year 1849, as compared to fiftyeight by emigrants who had started from St. Joseph. For the entire Gold Rush period of 1849-1852 there are only about fifty journals that describe the same route taken by Howell. A small party of friends and relatives accompanied the group for the first few days, parting with them at the Grand River. One who said goodbye there was a third Howell brother, James, the sheriff of Gentry County. The departure of the company must have been almost as exciting to those who stayed behind as it was to their neighbors and relatives who undertook the trip. Elijah Howell kept his journal for the benefit of James, and sent it home to his brother in periodic letters. From Fort Kearney HoweU's company followed the conventional trail across Nebraska and Wyoming until they reached a fork of the road in what is now southwest Wyoming and took what Howell calls Greenwood's Cut-off, better known as Sublette's Cut-off. From the Bear River to Goose Creek in southeast Idaho the group took another shortcut in preference to the much longer route through Fort Hall. Later known as Hudspeth's Cut-off, it had been opened only days before by Missouri wagon train captain, Benoni Hudspeth and his guide, John Myers. On August 23, now in north-central Nevada and hoping to spare themselves what was reputed to be the worst leg of the trip, the Humboldt The Missouri Review ยท 193 Desert, Howell and his companions decided to try their luck with a third 'shortcut.' This time the decision was a mistake. The new road, soon to be called Lassen's Cut-off, would take them safely across the Sierra Nevada, but it was actually longer than the southern route through the desert, and unfortunately no less arduous. In late September the company reached the Sacramento VaUey. They were not yet at their final destination of the Feather River Mines but they were in California and the hardships were over. They promptly turned their cattle out to graze and lay down to take a well-deserved nap, some of them dreaming, says Howell, that they were "transported back and again combatting the difficulties we had passed." Those difficulties are enumerated in the preceding pages of the journal. The overwhelming one, of course, was that of the sheer distance to be traversed (two thousand mUes from HoweU's point of departure in Athens) by the primitive means of ox-drawn wagons. As the trail grew more difficult and the travelers and their livestock more fatigued, water and grass grew scarce. HoweU's group was fortunate to be adequately supplied with food-many companies were not. Keeping the cattle from starving was another story, however. HoweU's company sometimes went for days without finding sufficient grass along the already over-grazed trail. Yet these were adversities they had expected to encounter. Two other dangers were...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9930
Print ISSN
0191-1961
Pages
pp. 193-219
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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