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American Expeditions

The remaining variations of the southern route to California were established by Americans. American mountain men who came to northern Mexico after the new republic opened its borders in 1821 spread throughout New Mexico, trapping and becoming familiar with virtually every stream.

Most of their expeditions were round-trips from Santa Fe or Taos. In the fall of 1826, two parties from Santa Fe, including such notables as James Ohio Pattie, Ewing Young, George C. Yount, Michel Robidoux, Milton Sublette, and Thomas "Peg-leg" Smith, traveled to the Gila River by way of the Santa Rita copper mines in southwestern New Mexico. Eventually merging, the combined party worked down the Gila to its confluence with the Colorado to become the first Americans to do so. Then they turned north and eventually returned to Santa Fe.

Some expeditions traveled all the way to California. The first group of trappers to reach California from New Mexico was led by Richard Campbell in 1827. Unfortunately, the party's route is not known. The same year, another expedition reached the Gila River via the Santa Rita mines. The Americans trapped down the Gila. Upon reaching the Colorado, they split into two groups. One party, under George C. Yount, returned to New Mexico. The other, in- cluding James 0. Pattie and his father, Sylvester, eventually reached California in 1828 after a near-fatal walk through the desert of northern Baja California.

The next year, 1829, Ewing Young led a party of some forty trappers from Taos, bound for the Colorado. Kit Carson was a member of the group. At the headwaters of the Rio Verde in northern Arizona, Young divided his party. One group returned to Taos. The other, led by Young and including Carson, headed toward California. They traveled south of the Grand Canyon, crossed the Colorado, then probably followed the dry bed of the Mojave River and crossed the mountains at Cajon Pass to arrive at San Gabriel mission in early 1830. Later, Young returned to New Mexico via the Gila River and the Santa Rita mines, arriving there in early 1831.

Other California-bound expeditions were in the field during Young's journey. It seems that a party including Peg-leg Smith from the Great Basin arrived in Los Angeles early in 1830. The expeditions of Antonio Armijo and William Wolfskill, both of which were important in establishing the Old Spanish Trail, were also out at this time.

The partnership of David E. Jackson, David Waldo, and Ewing Young sent two expeditions to California in 1831. The first, a mule buying venture under Jackson and including J. J. Warner, traveled via the copper mines to the abandoned mission of San Xavier del Bac and the presidio of Tucson, thence to the Gila at the Pima villages, and down that stream to the Colorado.

Crossing the Colorado just below the mouth of the Gila, the party traversed the desert and passed San Luis Rey mission on the road to San Diego. If, as it seems, they passed through the San Jose Valley, Warner got his first glimpse of the valley where he would later build his ranch, a mountain oasis on the trail between the Colorado and the ocean.

Meanwhile, the partnership's second expedition got underway in October, 1831. Under Ewing Young, the party of around thirty-seven men included Moses Carson (Kit's brother), Benjamin Day, Isaac Williams of Rancho del Chino fame, Sidney Cooper, and Job F. Dye. Traveling a different route from that of the first group, Young led his party to Zuni, thence to the Salt River, the Gila, and the Colorado. There, for some unexplained reason, all of the expedition's members except thirteen under Young decided to return to New Mexico.

Young led the smaller group into Los Angeles in March, 1832. Later that year, Jackson returned to New Mexico with a herd of mules and horses while Young remained in California, eventually to settle in Oregon.

The last significant expedition traveling from New Mexico to California before the opening of the Mexican War left Santa Fe in 1841. A group of Americans, including Benjamin David Wilson, John Rowland, and William Workman, had decided that it was no longer safe for them to remain in New Mexico. Governor Armijo, it seems, was trying to implicate certain Americans residing in Santa Fe with the unsuccessful conquest of New Mexico by an expedition from Texas.

Little is known of the route taken by the Americans on their journey to California, only that they arrived in Los Angeles in November 1841. The party narrowly missed the distinction of being the first party of American emigrants to enter California by an overland route. Just days before, in October, the Bartleson-Bidwell party had arrived over the more northerly California Trail.


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These items are historical in scope and are intended for educational purposes only; they are not meant as an aid for travel planning.
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