Joseph E. Ware’s Emigrants’ Guide

For the month of January I put together four Facebook posts for the California Trail Interpretive Center related to Joseph E. Ware. I thought I’d put them here in my blog for those who might be interested.

There were several guidebooks published in the late 1840s to provide advice to emigrants traveling to California. One of the popular ones was the 56-page Emigrants’ Guide to California by Joseph E. Ware, published in 1849. In it, Ware assured the reader of his utmost care in relaying as accurate information as was available at the time. He also indicated a plan to travel the route himself with the intent of making updates and corrections for a re-publication the following year. He began by giving advice on how to get to Independence or St. Joseph from the eastern States. He then estimates costs and needed provisions to make the journey. Additionally, readers learn how to set up camp, advice on remaining healthy, and get fairly detailed mileage and terrain descriptions. Also included in the appendices are methods for finding gold and silver and descriptions of alternate routes through the Isthmus of Panama and a route south through Mexico. Finally, Ware included a fold-out map of the entire route. This small guidebook makes for very interesting reading within a historical context. You can view or download Ware’s guide on the Internet Archive (

People heading to California obtained their information from whatever sources they could. This included early diaries published in newspapers, reports from traders and trappers, and guidebooks such as The Emigrants’ Guide to California by Joseph E. Ware. Diarists sometimes identified the source of their information, but oftentimes that must be inferred. In 1850 Margaret Frink said , “From our guide-books we learn that in a few days we shall reach the South Fork of the Platte, beyond which the face of the country changes.” Twin sisters Cecelia Adams and Parthenia Blank said “we brought wood with us as our Guide directed” and “Today we see the last timber for 200 miles. So our Guide says.” Sometimes the diarists directly identify Ware’s guide as their source. Wakeman Bryarly in 1849 said, “Two miles, we crossed a run of water, which I suppose is Ware’s ‘Rattle-Snake’ River.” Without directly identifying Ware, James Pritchard in 1849 said “Our corse his been up Goose Creek or as it is called by some Rattle Snake River.” He also identified several locations by longitude and latitude, including listing the (wrong) longitude for Soda Springs exactly as Ware had published it. Pritchard also stated, “We passed the large train of 50 wagons commanded by Capt. Sublett the Old Mountaineer and the discoverer of the Sublett or Greenwood cut off.” Ware said he had “taken the liberty to call [this cutoff] Sublette’s Cut Off”, thereby effectively renaming it for future travelers and diminishing credit from its original discoverer, Caleb Greenwood. While there were quite a number of guidebooks published, Joseph Ware’s remains one of renown and historical significance. The picture is of the foldout map included in Ware’s guide.

While Joseph Ware’s Emigrants’ Guide to California was quite popular, not all pioneers who used it gave it rave reviews. Some were rather mild in their criticisms. In 1849 William Johnston penned, “Guide books of the plains, while serviceable, are of little value in regard to water, grass and wood, and often as to distances. The conditions of one season vary from those of another, and, as in other economies, supply and demand must be considered. Other years are no criterion for the present, for never before has there been so large an emigration.” Elisha Douglass Perkins, also in 1849, wrote, “The guide books for Emigrants are all humbugs as anyone who has seen the Elephant will testify…. Hardly a company has left here [St. Joseph] yet but that had too heavy a load & every train before travelling 50 miles throw away quantities of provisions & articles not absolutely necessary…. If I had the property which has been sacrificed within 50 miles of here by those who followed the directions in the ‘Guides,’ I never would go on to Cal.” Some were more direct in their criticism of Ware, especially regarding the portion describing the Great Basin route. In a letter from Dr. C.E. Boyle to Dr. Smith in 1849, Boyle wrote, “When we cross the dividing ridge into the great basin, the traveler is much disappointed, having but little information on the subject, and Ware’s guide book being very erroneous.” George Keller in 1850 included quotes from Ware’s guide, adding rather sarcastic commentary to them. “A ‘guide’ we had with us contained the expression, ‘it seldom rains here….’ Cold rains nearly all day. ‘The great heat of the sun, and continued clouds of dust’ did not trouble us very much…. From some cause we did not find much of the ‘blue grass, herds grass, clover and other nutritious grasses’ with which the valley is said to be ‘beautifully clothed….’ [The] country a sterile waste, not ‘furnishing the requisite for the emigrants’ comfort in abundance.'” Finally, Bennett Clark (1849) said, “We all began to be greatly disappointed in our calculation of finding good grass on the Humboldt as Mr. Ware had prepared us to expect. Let no travellor hereafter be governed by Wares guide as it is perfectly worthless.” The whimsical sketches are from J. Goldsborough Bruff reflecting the optimism with which people set out on the journey to California as compared to the jaded effects of the difficult journey on them by the time they reached their destination.

A little known story about Joseph Ware (author of the popular 1849 Emigrants’ Guide to California) can be found in the 1849 diary of Alonzo Delano, who was traveling to California from Ohio. On August 1, 1849 Delano describes his company as having just spent their first night along the Humboldt River, probably in the vicinity of the current location of Deeth, NV. At noon that day an old acquaintance (Charles Fisher) from Ohio rode up, having left about a month after the Delano party, but was traveling faster alone and on horseback. Delano relates several pieces of news brought by Fisher, but one particularly sad, yet intriguing, bit concerns Joseph Ware. Here’s what Delano wrote: “But the most lamentable case was that of the abandonment by his companions, of Joseph E. Ware, formerly from Galena, but known in St. Louis as a writer, and if I recollect right, the publisher of a map and guide-book to California. He was taken sick east of Fort Laramie, and his company, instead of affording him that protection which they were now more than ever bound to do, by the ties of common humanity, barbarously laid him by the road side, without water, provisions, covering or medicines, to die! Suffering with thirst, he contrived to crawl off the road about a mile, to a pond, where he lay two days, exposed to a burning sun by day and cold winds by night, when Providence directed Fisher and his mess to the same pond, where they found him. With a humanity which did them honor, they took him to their tent and nursed him two days; but nature, over-powered by exposure as well as disease, gave way, and he sank under his sufferings. He told Fisher who he was, and related the story of his company’s heartlessness. He was a young man of decided talents. Fisher was confident that if he had had medicines and proper attendance he might have recovered. What misery has not California brought on individuals? — and this is but one of the many tales of suffering which might be told.” The photo is of the desert diorama in the California Trail Center.

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