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John Mathias App (1821-1898) is a relative of mine. His father was Mathias John App (1795-1878), whose father was Matthias App (1761-1828, and from whom I am descended), and whose father was Michael App (c. 1727-1809) who came to this country in 1752 from Germany.

In 1833, when John was 12, the family moved from the family farm in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania to Pekin, Illinois. In 1848 gold was discovered in California and by 1849 the Gold Rush was on. Men from all parts of the country (and the world) left to “strike it rich” along the Mother Lode, a 120 mile (193 km) stretch of gold-bearing earth.

At age 29, John readied himself with all of the necessary items for the trip west to the gold fields of California. He prided himself on preparedness and left Pekin on March 27, 1850 bound for St. Joseph, Missouri where travelers would cross the Missouri River and begin the trek along the California-Oregon Trail. He kept a small diary in which he wrote entries almost daily at the beginning of the trip, but they would become less frequent as the trip progressed. He was detailed in his writing and told of personal experiences which can easily be compared to those of others who had kept diaries along the trail. The entries he made were probably copied and mailed back east to his family as letters during his journey.

When he arrived in California it was near Grass Valley and Nevada City where the process of quartz mining of gold was being developed and perfected. The Sacramento River allowed mining supplies to be transported from the Pacific coast to the miners in the Sierra Nevada foothills. It was in this general area where he met his future wife, Leanna Charity Donner, who was the second oldest surviving daughter of George and Tamsen Donner of the Donner Party. George was the leader of the group of 89 people who were trapped in the Sierras, near Truckee, California from October, 1846 until April, 1847.

In 2003 I began following John App’s diary route westward, as closely as possible, beginning in Pekin, Illinois. I divided the trip into five segments, and along the way I have kept maps and recorded GPS way points so that today anyone can follow his route to experience the same views  the travelers had. Much of the trail parallels Interstate 80 for those who are driving in the west.

There will be other blog posts on this site that explore John App’s life from the time he arrived in California until his death in 1898. His was an eventful life with many twists and turns, but always very methodical at the same time. Come along with him on this adventure as we follow his route along the California-Oregon Trail as recorded in his diary of 1850.

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