Today we call them
Kansas City, Missouri, and Council Bluffs, Iowa. In the spring of 1849,
they were Westport Landing and Kanesville, and at every likely spot
along the Missouri River for some two hundred miles between them camped
the restless men and women who were off to California by the northern
night, in their tents and wagons they talked, formed "companies," chose
officers, visited about, sang psalms and "Oh Susannah." By day they
waited for the grass to grow, and snapped up every bit of gossip about
what lay before them. Did you have cholera aboard your boat? We lost
ten people. How much did you pay for your outfit? Captain Fremont says.
. . .
of the emigrants had bought their food and their wagons, teams and
yokes of cattle, back in St. Louis; others made the best bargains they
could with the outfitters at Kansas and St. Joe and Kanesville. You
took what was offered you; for speed was essential. The man who bought
his trail equipment while you were shopping or making up your mind
could very well best you in the race for fortune—the great, sporting
lottery in which the prizes would go to the canny and the strong.
were young men and women, those first rushers after the gold, but some
middle-aged folk were among them still following the trail of the
rainbow. They were educated folk, church-going and law-abiding as a
rule, anxious that law and order should mark the great adventure. Their
household goods were with them—stoves and harps and four-poster
beds—despite all the warnings against heavy wagons and surplus
Deprived of her steamboat landing by one of the Missouri River's many whims, the town of Independence (below) had
lost her primacy as a jumping-off place to the West. But dance halls
and saloons and gambling tables operated there. Some emigrants saw no
more of "the Elephant" than Independence, where money for oxen was lost
on the turn of a card, and the liquor was strong.