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FLINT Brothers

Trip to California

If the Flint brothers described their journey across the continent in any letters, I have not seen them. The closest is Pirney’s comment that Robert’s first cattle drive was “worse than crossing the plains”. I had long assumed that the brothers traveled to California together, but a closer reading of their letters hints otherwise. It would appear that during the winter of 1850 Robert visited his parents back in Canada, or at least planned to. Meanwhile Pirney was getting ready to travel to California.

29 Dec 1849—Robert to parents:

“you should have recd this some time since but I was Still wavering about going to California and I now think I may safely send this News without fear of contradictionating it. I at this time think of visiting you this winter and I antisipate so Much happiness in the visite if you are all well; I look for it with the eagerness of a schoole boy and if I can perswade Pirney to come with Me I will. he is gon on a trip to Perew1 in Illinois but he will soon be back and you May loock for us if he come about the Middle of Mext [sic] Month. . . . Pirney has returned but Think he cannot come home”2

4 Jan 1850—Pirney to parents:

“. . . I shall be back in a year or a year & a half. I have thougt about going a long time, and then I thought that I would come home. I did not like to go away and leave you; it greve me very much to think about leaving all of you. I thougt I would come back again and settle down for life; and then I thougt I should never be contented untill I had seen the gold region; and a great many of my friends are gone so there will be plenty of people that I know there . . . I settle up all my debts and then I am ready to Start with two of my friends. I shall then have one hundred and fifty Dollars in Cash When all my debts are paid, prehaps some more. . . .”

5 Jan 1850—continuation of same letter:

“. . . Iam going to town to settle up my buiseness. Robt was up here last night to see me about going. . . . I sold him my horse, harness and waggon for one hundred Dollars. the cost me $ 150,00 but when you want to sell and must you cannot get the Value of property. tell Farther that I shall be back to see him and all of you before you think of it after I have seen that great country and then we have a jolly time of it. . . .”3

Robert must have followed later. The actual dates or routes of their trips remain unknown. The route probably followed was the Oregon Trail through the South Pass, a broad low point in the Rocky Mountains in what is now southwestern Wyoming. Both Oregon and California trails turned northwest to the British Hudson's Bay Company's Fort Hall on the Snake River in present-day Idaho.

The distance from Missouri to California was about 2000 miles. From the trail junction at the fork of the Raft and Snake rivers, the California Trail followed the Raft River to near where the present-day states of Nevada, Idaho and Utah meet. From there the trail went into the present state of Utah and followed a series of small streams until it neared today’s Wells, Nevada, where it met the Humboldt River. By following the crooked, meandering Humboldt Valley west across the arid Great Basin, emigrants were able to get the water, grass, and wood they and their animals needed. The water became increasingly alkaline as they progressed down the Humboldt, until there were almost no trees so "firewood" usually consisted of broken brush and the grass was sparse and dried out—few liked the Humboldt River valley passage. California Trail

Western Portion of the California Trail
Based on a map at the Wikipedia article "California Trail"; redrawn by Jon K Shidler, 2013

“[The] Humboldt is not good for man nor beast . . . and there is not timber enough in three hundred miles of its desolate valley to make a snuff-box, or sufficient vegetation along its banks to shade a rabbit, while its waters contain the alkali to make soap for a nation.”4

After the end of the Humboldt River where it disappeared into the alkaline Humboldt Sink they had to cross the deadly Forty-Mile Desert. Once in western Nevada and eastern California, the pioneers worked out several paths over the rugged Carson Range and Sierra Nevada mountains into the gold fields, settlements and cities of northern California. The main route after about 1849 was the Carson Trail to the American River and the Placerville, California, gold digging region.5

A letter dated 20 Oct 1851 from his parents to Pirney reveals that both brothers were in California by that time—

“Mary [(Flint) Blinn] and her children were here last month and staid a week with us. I know you & Robt will be pleased with your little niece and nephew. They are smart children; they begin to talk about their uncles coming from California to see them. . . .”6

The first of Pirney’s letters written from California that I have is dated 22 May 1854; the first of Robert’s is from 20 Jan 1855. Their actual arrivals certainly preceded those dates by some time.

Notes

1 Peru is in north-central Illinois a little over 100 miles west of Valparaiso.

2 Continuation of Flint, R (1849).

3 Flint, P (1850).

4 Shaw (1896), p 135.

5 Wikipedia article "California Trail".

6 Flint, H (1851).

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