A Personal Account: William Johnston


William G. Johnston was a young man who had never traveled far from home when he left for California. He kept a journal while making his journey to California with the first wagon train in 1849, which he later published in 1892. Originally intended for a small circle of friends, Johnston's account of his experiences on the overland trail and as a prospector in California provides a rare glimpse into the daily life of a Forty-Niner. His account is dedicated "To my Messmates of the Plains and Mountains, and of the North fork, Living and Dead: To those of them who yet with me pursue life's journey, their steps bent towards a land having a City, the Streets of which are paved with Gold; and To the memory of those who, 'Life's fitful fever over,' Sleep peacefully under the clods of the valley: In affectionate remembrance of their friendship, and of their many manly virtues, This Volume is Dedicated." This selection from is from an entry in Johnston's diary just as he entered into California with his wagon party.

Tuesday July 24th. A short way from camp we realized that we no longer had mountains to climb; our route lying over the foot hills at the western base of the Sierra, and through valleys lying between. In point of fact we had reached California... Our stalwart leader, Stewart, whose work in bringing us to what may be properly considered the end of our journey, has been so thoroughly accomplished. His superior judgment and never tiring energy, has stood us well in the numberless difficulties encountered... yet he never suffered this or any other disappointment to abate his perseverance, and now as the fruit of these untiring efforts, we to-day realize the greatness of our achievement, in being in the lead of the overland emigration of this memorable year, - OURS BEING THE FIRST TRAIN WITH WAGONS TO ENTER CALIFORNIA! And thus while it is contemplated by our mess and by others to move on until we reach Sutter's Fort, or some point on the Sacramento River where we can dispose of our mules and wagons, we account that the journey begun by us has practically reached its consummation, having been accomplished in eighty-eight days. Distance, sixteen miles. Total, one thousand nine hundred and seventy-four.


William G. Johnston, Experiences of a Forty-Niner. New York: Arno Press, 1973.