The Missouri in the Civil War Message Board

The story of the "Jayhawkers of '49"

In the late 1800s the “Jayhawkers of ‘49” documented their 1849-50 trek to California pretty thoroughly. These guys seemed to have been a bit of a sensation in their days, and it is strange that they dropped off into obscurity (and off of historians' radar screens).

The Jayhawkers of '49 took the Platte River route, which would seem to account for the nebulous references of the pre-war use of the Jayhawkers term along the Platte. The Jayhawkers departed Galesburg, Ill., on April 5, 1849. After following the Platte, they angled off and passed through Salt Lake City, and then crossed Death Valley in a very harrowing leg of the journey. The remnants of their party arrived at the Pacific near Santa Barbara on February 4, 1850 (veterans of the trek would go on to hold reunions on Feb. 4 in later years).

Several veterans of the party wrote of their experiences--the most detailed accounts of the Jayhawkers can be found at Chapter XIII (pp. 320-366) in a book by William Lewis Manly, “Death Valley in ‘49” San Jose, Calif.: The Pacific Tree and Vine Co., 1894; and in Lorenzo Dow Stephens's book, “Life Sketches of a Jayhawker of ‘49,” Nolta Brothers, 1916;

Another veteran’s account includes that of Rev. John Wells Brier, “The Death Valley Party of 1849,” on page 326 of Out West Magazine, volume 18, January-June 1903.

In a chapter entitled “The Jayhawkers of ‘49” in his book “Seventy Years on the Frontier,” prominent Missouri businessman and freighter Alexander Majors (partner in Russell, Majors and Waddell--Pony Express, Overland Stage Company, etc.) wrote a fairly detailed account of the Jayhawkers. His version can be found on pp. 150-156 of his book, which was published in 1893 in Denver by Western Miner and Financiers, Publisher. Majors’ interest in the Jayhawkers in unclear to me--interestingly, he was a resident of Kansas City during the Border War, and was a staunch Unionist (he required the “thousands” of employees in his vast business empire to swear an oath of allegiance to the Union).

With Ed Doty elected “King Bird of the Jayhawkers” prior to their departure from Illinois, the names of the original 1849-50 party (with their post-trek residences) as of 1893 were as follows (I publish this list thinking that maybe some of the experts on the Border War might recognize a name or two that could help explain the "Jayhawkers" term afterward being applied to Kansans):
John B. Colton, Kansas City, Mo.
Alonzo C. Clay, Galesburg, Ill.
Capt. Asa Haines, Delong, Knox County, I11., died March 29, 1889.
Luther A. Richards, Beaver City, Neb.
Charles B. Mecum, Perry, Greene County, Iowa.
John W. Plummer, Toulon, Ill., died June 22, 1892.
Sidney P. Edgerton, Blair, Neb., died January 31, 1880.
Edward F. Bartholomew, Pueblo, Colo., died February 13, 1891.
Urban (or Uriah) P. Davidson, Derby P. O., Fremont County, Wyo.
John Groscup, Cahto, Mendocino County, Cal.
Thomas McGrew, died in 1866, in Willamette Valley, Ore.
John Cole, died in Sonora, Cal., in 1852. John L. West, Coloma, Cal., since died.
William B. Rude, drowned in the Colorado River, New Mexico, in 1862.
L. Dow Stevens, San Jose, Cal.
William Robinson, Maquon, Ill., died in the desert.
—— Harrison, unknown.
Alexander Palmer, Knoxville, Ill., died at Slate Creek, Sierra County, Cal., in 1853.
Aaron Larkin, Knoxville, Ill., died at Humboldt, Cal., in 18S3
Marshall G. Edgerton, Galesburg, Ill., died in Montana Territory in 1855.
William Isham, Rochester, N. Y., died in the desert.
Fish, Oscaloosa, Iowa, died in the desert.
Carter, Wisconsin, unknown.
Harrison Frans, Baker City, Baker County, Ore.
Capt. Edwin Doty, Naples, Santa Barbara County, Cal., died June 14, 1891.
Bruin Byram, Knoxville, Ill., died in 1863.
Thomas Shannon, Los Gatos, Santa Clara County, Cal.
Rev. J. W. Brier, wife, and three small children, Lodi City, San Joaquin County, Cal.
George Allen, Chico, Cal., died in 1876.
Leander Woolsey, Oakland, Cal., died in 1884.
Man from Oscaloosa, Iowa, name not remembered, died in California.
Charles Clark, Henderson, Ill., died in 1863.
Gretzinger, Oscaloosa, Iowa, unknown.
A Frenchman, name unknown, became insane from starvation, wandered from camp near the Sierra Nevada Mountains, captured by the Digger Indians, and was rescued by a United States surveying party fifteen years after.

The following were in 1893 the sole remaining survivors of the Jayhawk party of 1849:

John B. Colton, Kansas City, Mo. Alonzo G. Clay, Galesburg, Ill.

Luther A. Richards, Beaver City, Neb. Charles B. Mecum, Perry, Iowa.

Urban P. Davidson, Derby, Wyo. John Groscup, Cahto, Cal. L. Dow Stevens, San Jose, Cal.

Rev. J. W. Brier and Mrs. J. W. Brier, Lodi City, Cal. Harrison Frans, Baker City, Ore.

Thomas Shannon, Los Gatos, Cal.

Messages In This Thread

Article on Origin of "Jayhakwer" Term
Re: Article on Origin of "Jayhakwer" Term
Re: Article on Origin of "Jayhakwer" Term
Re: Article on Origin of "Jayhakwer" Term
The 1868 Article
Clarification - Evolution of Term
Embracing the Insult
The story of the "Jayhawkers of '49"
Re: The story of the "Jayhawkers of '49"
Re: The story of the "Jayhawkers of '49"
Connelly on the Origin
Re: The story of the "Jayhawkers of '49"
Re: Article on Origin of "Jayhakwer" Term
Re: Article on Origin of "Jayhakwer" Term
Re: Article on Origin of "Jayhakwer" Term
Re: Steamboats