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: the opening of much-used cut-off between the Big Sandy River (Wyoming) and the Bear River (Idaho). By rights, the cut-off should have borne Hitchcock’s name, but through a series of unfavorable
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 arrived with two additional babies born along the trail. The floodgates of overland emigration to California has been opened!
Stephens’ subsequent life as a Californian can be
Erected 2010 by The Oregon-California Trails Association, California/Nevada Chapter, and Kern County Historical Society.
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. Touch for map. Marker and gravesite are located at the Union Cemetery. Marker is at or near this postal address: 730 Potomac Avenue, Bakersfield CA 93305, United States of America.
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); Enternal Flame (about 700 feet away); Don José Jesús (J. J.) Lopez (approx. 0.2 miles away); Kern River Flour Mills (approx. one mile away); Last Home of Alexis Godey First Baptist Church (approx. 1.3 miles away); Kern County Vietnam War Memorial (approx. 1.4 miles away); Colonel Thomas Baker (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.
Also see . . . The Search for Elisha Stephens. The Bakersfield Californian article by Timothy Lemucchi detailing the placement of the headstone and marker at the Union Cemetery along with a detailed account of the trip across the Sierra Nevada Mountains. (Submitted on May 13, 2012.)
Categories. • Cemeteries & Burial Sites •
Credits. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016. This page originally submitted on May 9, 2012, by Denise Boose of Tehachapi, California. This page has been viewed 748 times since then and 29 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.