Bakersfield in Kern County, California — The American West (Pacific Coastal)
Captain Elisha Stephens
— Stephens-Townsend-Murphy Party of 1844 —
This grouping of trains set out from Council Bluffs in late May of 1844 via a route which had them travel on the north side of the Platte River as far as Ft. Laramie. This route was to become known after 1847 as the Mormon Trail. Hired to serve as guide for the combined trains and traveling with two of his sons was famous mountain man, Caleb Greenwood. According to several accounts, Greenwood was hired to serve as guide only as far as what was vaguely termed ”the Rocky Mts.” [South Pass…Ft. Bridger…Ft. Hall?] since, as he told the emigrants, he had no first-hand knowledge of the route beyond that point. Another account states that Captain Stephens, himself, claimed no knowledge of the country beyond Ft. Laramie. Also traveling in his own wagon as part of the Stephens-Townsend-Murphy Part was another seasoned mountain man identified only as “Old Man Hitchcock” (Isaac Hitchcock). Ironically, it was Hitchcock-elected by the train to guide the wagons for only a few days out of the long journey-and not Greenwood who was responsible for the Party’s first great achievement:
By far the greatest historical accomplishment of the Stephens-Townsend-Murphy Party was to be the first wagon train from the States to succeed in bringing their wagon over the summit of the Sierra Nevada and eventually on into the settlements of Mexican Alta California. The route they pioneered went directly west from the Sink of the Humboldt River, through the Truckee River canyon to Donner Lake at the base of the Sierra Nevada, and then up and over the crest via Donner Pass. Only a few of the wagons were taken over the summit before a rapidly-deepening snowpack forced those wagons together with the women and children of the party to go into a winter-long encampment on the upper Yuba River while most of the men continued on foot to New Helvetia (Sutter’s Fort) in search of relief. However, as soon as the melting snow would permit in the spring of 1845, both the wagons and the women and children at the encampment-as well as those wagons that had been left east of the summit at Donner Lake under the care of seventeen-year-old Moses Schallenberger-were retrieved and brought into the settlements. No lives had been lost on the entire journey, and the emigrants
Stephens’ subsequent life as a Californian can be summarized as follows: Along with most of the other men of the Stephens-Townsend-Murphy Party, he was immediately conscripted by Captain Sutter to serve (briefly and without even seeing combat) on the losing side in the Micheltorena War. From 1846 until 1848, he served in the Bear Flag Revolt as an ordnance blacksmith in San Diego under the command of Commodore Stockton. In 1848, he bought land near San Jose [Stevens (sic) Creek is named after him] and began raising grapes, fruit trees, and blackberries as well as doing some trapping and continuing to add to his reputation as an eccentric. He named his farm Blackberry Farm. His obituary states that he had some small success in the Gold Rush. In 1864, declaring the San Jose area had become much too crowded for his liking, he sold his farm and moved down to the Kern River country where he purchased a small acreage on which he raised bees and chickens. Tom Baker, whose father, Col. Thomas Baker, was the founder of Bakersfield, relates that Stephens once told him that he had first passed through where Bakersfield now stands while on a trip to San Diego via Tejon Pass in 1844. At that time, the site was a dense forest of cottonwoods, willows, elders, and sycamores, and he was compelled to swim the Kern River. Upon reaching the pass, he was forced
Erected 2010 by The Oregon-California Trails Association, California/Nevada Chapter, and Kern County Historical Society.
Topics. This historical marker is listed in this topic list: Cemeteries & Burial Sites.
Location. 35° 21.815′ N, 118° 59.837′ W. Marker is in Bakersfield, California, in Kern County. Marker is on Potomac Avenue, on the right when traveling west. Marker and gravesite are located at the Union Cemetery. Touch for map. Marker is at or near this postal address: 730 Potomac Avenue, Bakersfield CA 93305, United States of America. Touch for directions.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within 2 miles of this marker, measured as the crow flies. Pablo Galtes - Union Cemetery (about 500 feet away, measured in a direct line); Eternal Flame (about 700 feet away); Don José Jesús (J. J.) Lopez Kern River Flour Mills (approx. one mile away); Site of Baker's Field (approx. 1.1 miles away); Last Home of Alexis Godey (approx. 1.2 miles away); First Baptist Church (approx. 1.3 miles away); Kern County Vietnam War Memorial (approx. 1.4 miles away). Touch for a list and map of all markers in Bakersfield.
Related markers. Click here for a list of markers that are related to this marker. To better understand the relationship, study each marker in the order shown.
Credits. This page was last revised on August 1, 2018. It was originally submitted on May 9, 2012, by Denise Boose of Tehachapi, California. This page has been viewed 881 times since then and 47 times this year. Photos: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6. submitted on May 9, 2012, by Denise Boose of Tehachapi, California. 7. submitted on May 13, 2012. 8. submitted on May 9, 2012, by Denise Boose of Tehachapi, California. • Syd Whittle was the editor who published this page.