TO TABLE: DESCRIPTION OF TRAINS IN ORDER OF DEPARTURE.
Jim Bridger piloted the first train
from the cutoff west of Red Buttes on May 20, 1864. His party
included Reverend Learner B. Stateler, whose written account of
this trip is the only one known to exist. The train consisted
of 62 wagons and approximately 300 men, "organized under
the guidance of Major Bridger . . . and traveled in military order.
Mounted men went before and followed behind. . . . they would
make one move . . . each day, traveling until about three or four
o'clock in the afternoon."
A small train departed along the
Bridger Cutoff a few days behind Bridger's first party. This party,
known as the Independents in the diary entries, consisted of 10
men in this train were experienced traders and needed no guide,
especially if they were only a few days behind the trace being
made by Bridger's large train. John Richard Jr., Baptiste Pourier,
interpreter Amede Bessette, and Jose Miraval were the prominent
members of the party. Richard was the half-Sioux son of John Baptiste
Richard Sr., who constructed the lower Platte Bridge on the Oregon
Trail, 6 miles east of old Fort Caspar, in time to serve the heavy
emigrant traffic in 1853. Richard Sr. was an early prominent trader
on the North Platte River. In addition to running the bridge,
he operated a trading establishment that included a grocery and
dry goods store and a blacksmith shop until 1865.
John Jacobs led the second large
train over the Bridger Trail, departing the cutoff on May 30,
1864. Jacobs had been with John Bozeman on their first exploration
of the Bozeman route early in 1863. Later that same year, he accompanied
Bozeman when they guided the first train of emigrants up the Bozeman
Trail until the Sioux forced them to return south to the main
Oregon Trail route. Howard Stanfield, a young traveler from Indiana,
accompanied Jacobs' train. He and other members of the train referred
to Bridger's route as the "Yellowstone Cutoff."
The third large train took the Bridger
Cutoff on June 4, under the leadership of Captain Allensworth.
Cornelius Hedges, one of the members of the train, provides the
principal source of information regarding the day-to-day events
experienced by this party of travelers along the Bridger Trail.
For a trail pioneer, Hedges was very well-educated. He had earned
a degree from Yale, studied law at Harvard, then became both a
lawyer and newspaper publisher in his home state of Iowa. He was
destined to become a prominent figure during Montana's territorial
period and early statehood. "Cattle train started out at
4--we didn't start till 7, more teams came in today Our train
is over 100 now."
By June 10th another large train
was assembled for departure on the Bridger Trail under the leadership
of Joseph Knight. Knight had been on the North Platte River since
at least 1854, when he was employed to work on Richard's bridge,
and he remained in the region as a trader. James Roberts and Robert
Vaughn were members of this train. Roberts' diary is one of the
principal sources outlining the details of this train.
William Alderson and his brother
John emigrated from Illinois and were members of one of the smaller
trains that took the Bridger Cutoff on June 15. The train consisted
of 46 wagons: 12 horse-drawn wagons, 16 ox-drawn wagons, and 18
mule-drawn wagons. The members of the train chose Joe Todd as
One week later, two school teachers
were members of a train consisting of approximately 100 wagons
that departed the Bridger Cutoff on June 22. Charles Baker and
William Atchison emigrated from two small communities in northern
Illinois and may have known each other prior to the formation
of their train near the cutoff. Both men kept detailed diaries
describing their trip along the trail to Virginia City. Ethel
Maynard and Reverend Jonathon Blanchard, president of Wheaton
College in Illinois and a prominent Presbyterian and Congregationalist
minister, were also members of this train. Trader Bob McMinn,
known as Rocky Mountain Bob to the diarists, was their guide.
William Haskell's train, under the
leadership of a Mr. Rollins, departed the Bridger Cutoff two days
after Baker's train. On June 24, Haskell's party "[d]rove
seven miles and then laid by [near Red Buttes] for wagons to come
up to make a sufficient Company to go through the Bighorn Mountains
safely; tonight we have over sixty wagons and about two hundred
men. Elected Mr. Rollins, Captain of the train; we leave the old
road after four miles and take Bridger's cut-off." Haskell's
party probably crossed the North Platte River at Richard's bridge
instead of the upper Platte Bridge, because he drove 14 miles
to reach the point where they laid over to await additional wagons;
the upper and lower bridges were about 6 miles apart. They "paid
five dollars each for the wagons and fifty cents each for loose
stock." Not all the people in Haskell's train were comfortable
remaining on the Bridger Trail. On June 27, Haskell wrote, "Thirty
wagons turned back to take old road."
Frank Kirkaldie was a member of yet
another train that departed Red Buttes on July 13, for the Bridger
Trail. Kirkaldie had been a marble cutter in Vermont, and later,
unsuccessfully tried farming in Illinois and Iowa before coming
west to seek his fortune. Kirkaldie could not afford an outfit
of his own, so he hired out as a teamster for a party organized
by a Colonel Munger and he headed west, leaving his wife and children
behind in Des Moines, Iowa. Kirkaldie's letters to his wife provide
yet another account of travel on the Bridger Trail in 1864.
The final trip along the Bridger
Trail was documented by the veteran trader and Indian Agent, Major
John Owen in September and October 1864. This train was also guided
by Jim Bridger. He had returned to Fort Laramie from Virginia
City, and by August 3 he was reinstated as scout on the government
payroll. Owen's much publicized diary describes the trip in detail.
However, his narrative stops suddenly after November 1, just prior
to the train's arrival at the Shoshone River in the northern portion
of the Bighorn Basin. On his second trip, Bridger concentrated
on road construction to improve the trail, while making minor
changes in the route as well. Therefore, this train took considerably
more time to complete the trip than earlier trains. Owen's first
diary entries list approximately 25 men who made the trip, however,
some of the names are scratched out, and Jim Bridger's name does
not appear at all. Regrettably, Owen failed to supply any figures
for the number of wagons in the party: it may have been between
10 and 20.