ON THE ST. JOSEPH ROAD
Thursday, April 25, 1850
John App and Jake have crossed the Missouri River and are on their way to the gold fields in California. Crossing the river is an important milestone for all of the emigrants traveling west.
It would be interesting for you now to meet John’s traveling partner, “Jake”. His formal name is Jacob C. Broadwell and he is about two years younger than John. They became friends in Pekin, Illinois but Jake’s family was from Sangamon County, Illinois – very close to Springfield. John and Jake left on this trip (that you are following) on March 27, 1850 just 6 days after Jake’s 24th birthday.
George Donner (of the famed Donner Party) and his family were living in Sangamon County when Jake’s family was living there, and the two families most likely were acquainted with each other. In 1845, just five years before John and Jake left for California, the Donners left on their ill-fated journey where they became desperately trapped in the Sierras during that terrible winter of 1845-46 on their way to California. All of America was aware of the plight of the Donners, including John and Jake. It is no wonder that, for several reasons, John wanted to make the journey along the California-Oregon Trail a fast one.
Upon arriving in California in late summer of 1850, John stayed in California as a miner and Jake moved on up the coast (a month or so later) to Oregon, became a farmer, and raised a large family. He died in 1911 (age 85) and is buried in Dundee, Oregon.
Now, let’s get back to our story to read John’s short diary entry for the day, and to see what things looked like for John and Jake on their first day after crossing the Missouri River at St. Joseph.
They crossed the Missouri River yesterday, camped, then began traveling this morning. Even though they will be traveling on the beginning part of the California-Oregon Trail, the portion of the trail they are on now is referred to as “The St. Joseph Road”. There are other similar feeder trails and one, for example, coming northwest from Independence, Missouri is referred to as “The Independence Trail.” It will soon join the St. Joseph Road at a point just west of Marysville, Kansas that marks the official eastern beginning of the California-Oregon Trail.
It is about 350 miles (563 km) from this river crossing to the next major stopping point at Fort Kearny, Nebraska (today it is pronounced “Karny”, but John pronounced it “Kerny”). From here it is very difficult to follow John’s actual trail closely in a vehicle. Today, most roads leading to the original trail are gravel and only wide enough for one car. Some of the trail currently passes through private property. A jeep might be a better vehicle, but horseback is probably the best possible way. Since I am in a car, I concentrated on several places along the road where their original trail actually crossed the road. Rather than to speculate where John and Jake might have camped (when he did not specifically say) I will try to present some sights along the way which the emigrants found interesting.
Stopping Point: Wolf River camp
Approximate Miles Traveled: 20
GPS Latitude: 39° 48.915′ N; Longitude: 95° 12.127′ W
Elevation: 882 ft
Left St Joseph April 24 Crossed the River and left, on the 25th in the moring at 8 oclock Travelled about 20 miles