Discover the Adventure
Overland by Covered Wagon

Hop Aboard the Overland Wagon Train to California

With basically two ways to get to the California goldfields - cross country by covered wagon or around The Horn by ship - where you started from had a lot to do with which route you chose.

If you started from the East Coast, you went around The Horn; if you started from the interior, you most likely went overland across country.

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The Journey Overland by Covered Wagon

Prairie Schooner; CC Magnus Manske; WikimediaPrairie Schooner; CC Magnus Manske; Wikimedia

In fact, nearly three-quarters of the Argonauts and 49ers came overland by covered wagon - usually because they lived in the interior states and territories.

And because many of them were farmers, they already had a lot of the equipment they would need.

So they packed all the supplies they could imagine they might possibly need into a canvas-covered wagon and headed out for California.

These prairie schooners - as they were called because of their resemblance to the sails of a sailing ship - were generally drawn by four to ten mules or oxen.

Because the roads were rough and the ride was rougher, most travelers would walk nearly the entire 2000 miles - to ride was to have your teeth, bones, and buttocks rattled and bruised beyond endurance!

Because the dangers and hardships were many along the trails, the adventurers would form companies to pool their money and their resources.

Many would embark from Independence or St. Joseph, Missouri, with the goal of leaving no later than May. To leave later than May might preclude getting across the the California or Oregon mountains before the Winter snows hit.

For these intrepid souls were starting out on a trip that would take four to six months and would traverse half the continent.

The first part of the trip must have seemed idyllic with its endless plains of tall grasses for feeding the livestock, and its ample water sources.

But there were swollen rivers to cross; arid deserts to endure; diseases such as cholera and scurvy to survive; and two monstrously challenging mountain ranges - the Rocky Mountains and, depending on the route they took, either the Sierra Nevada or the Cascades - before they could reach California's goldfields!

And, unlike those who set sail for California on the water, these 49ers had no experienced ships' captains to help them navigate the hazards, nor did they have reliable maps or even directions. Many paid the highest price and died along the way.

But once they finally reached California their troubles were not over. They had to find a way to restock their supplies, check on the latest goldfield news, and decide where to go next.

Check out our pictures of Old Sacramento during Gold Rush Days, and Sutter's Fort!

How did the rest of the argonauts and 49ers get to the California Goldfields? By sailing vessel:

  • Around the Horn
    The other way to get to the California goldfields was to sail around The Horn.

What happened once everyone got here? They made history! Find out how you can bring that history to life:

  • San Francisco Gold Rush
    Follow the self-guided walking tours called "The Barbary Coast Trail" and "The Gold Rush Trail".
  • Old Sacramento
    What did the 49ers find when they reached Sacramento City?

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