John Bidwell: The agricultural titan
Driving from St. Louis to San Francisco can be tedious. Even surrounded by plush leather seats, the miles clipping by at the rate of one a minute, listening to an audio system that delivers music with concert hall clarity, two or three days en route is too long. The air conditioning may keep the summer heat at bay and the GPS can bark out directions, but we prefer flying. In 1841, when John Bidwell joined the first immigrant train bound for California from the Midwest, there were no roads or trails. Pelted by hail and rain, suffocating from unendurable heat, covered by a coat of dust, Bidwell crossed deserts, mountains, and rivers without a map, often seated on a rough wooden wagon bench or a sway-backed mule. At times he walked long distances, uncertain if water supplies would last, or if he would even survive. Undoubtedly, Bidwell would have welcomed a speeding ticket.