John App’s 1850 gold rush journey along the California-Oregon Trail

John App is a distant relative of mine. In 1833, when John was 12, he moved with his family from the homestead in Selinsgrove, Pensylvania to a farm in Pekin, Illinois (near Peoria). In 1848 gold was discovered in California and by 1849 the rush was on from all parts of the country (and other countries) to “strike it rich” along the Mother Lode, a 120 mile long stretch of gold-bearing earth.

In 1850, at age 29, John provisioned himself with all the necessary items for a trip west to the gold fields of California. He prided himself on preparedness and left Pekin on March 27, 1850 bound for St. Joseph, Missouri where travelers would cross the Missouri River and begin the trek along the California-Oregon Trail. He kept a small diary in which he wrote almost daily entries at the beginning of the trip. The entries would become less frequent as the trip progressed. He was detailed in his writing, particularly of how far he had travelled that day, and told of personal experiences which can easily be compared to those of others who had kept diaries along the trail.

When he arrived at California’s Sutter’s Fort (now Sacramento) miners would buy tools and other necessities for prospecting in the Sierra foothills. It was at Sutter’s Fort where he met, and married, Leanna Donner who was one of the surviving daughters of George and Tamsen Donner. George was the leader of the ill-fated Donner Party which was trapped in the Sierras, near Truckee, from October, 1846 until April, 1847.

In 2003 I began following his route westward as closely as possible beginning in Pekin, Illinois. I divided his route into five segments, and as of today I have completed four of the five (the last segment will be from Elko, Nevada to Sacramento, California). Along the way I have kept maps and recorded GPS waypoints so that, when it is finished, anyone could follow the route themselves and experience the same views, etc. that the travelers had.

Beginning on March 27, 2011 I will post John’s diary entries on the exact day he made them… except 161 years later. Also, I will try to post some still pictures and video clips I have taken along with some of the postings so you can get an idea of the landscape. You will be able to experience in real-time how long his journey took and the hardships and joys along the way.

Did he discover gold in California? Yes! It was called the “App Quartz Mine” (individual gold pockets within the Mother Load are gold-bearing quartz veins), and it was one of the largest producers of gold of the southern Mother Lode mines. No longer in production, it is located next to Jamestown, California just a short distance from Yosemite National Park. There will be some late 1800’s pictures from down inside the mine at the end.

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About storiesretoldblogger

I am an Elkhart, Indiana native and became interested in applying video to history when consumer video cameras were first introduced on the market in the late 1970’s. My production company, Stories Retold, specializes in preserving oral history, traditions, and values with video. Primarily interviewing individuals, I sometimes document families, and on occasion document an entire community. My niche is developing a personal relationship with clients which helps me to tell their story just the way they would like to have it told. Everyone has a story worth preserving, and I enjoy discovering interesting stories from people with whom I come into contact on a daily basis. In years to come, these videos will be priceless as they portray original stories complete with visual images and actual voices filled with all the primary material and emotion that was intended to be. I gain a strong sense of personal satisfaction with each completed project whether it involves an individual or an entire community.
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