At the California Trail Interpretive Center, we invite you to learn about some the of the trail’s most famous emigrants and pioneers, like Joseph Chiles. Although he was sometimes called the “Forgotten Pioneer,” Joseph Chiles played a pivotal role in establishing the California Trail.

Just A Simple Man From Missouri?

Joseph Ballinger Chiles was born on July 16, 1810, in Clark County, Kentucky. He married relatively young, in 1830 and had four children with his wife, Mary Ann Stevenson. It was only when Mary tragically died that the widowed Joseph made a choice that would dramatically alter his life.

Decisions That Shape Our Destinies

He decided he would move west and explore the untouched lands that would eventually become the state of California. He left his children behind with relatives and started on this new path.

Forging New Pathways

Joseph B. Chiles joined up with the Bidwell-Bartleson Party in 1841. This was the first wagon crossing group to make the overland journey to California from Missouri on what would become the California Trail.

But Chiles didn’t stop there. He was also forged new pathways just two years later by creating a trail from Fort Boise to California along three different rivers: the Malheur, Pit, and Sacramento.

He also worked to establish what is now known as the “Forty-Mile Desert.” This was a new cut-off from Humboldt to the Carson River. His impact on new overland routes was staggering.

In Good Company Along The Trail

Joseph Chiles, while remaining relatively unknown throughout history, was friends with many of the other more “famous” California Trail pioneers. He rubbed elbows with Joseph R. Walker, John C. Fremont, and William “Billy” Baldrige, among others.

Settling Once Again

Eventually, Chiles married again and moved his four children to California to live. He also had six more children with his new wife, Margaret Jane Garnhart. Other interesting facts about Joseph Chiles are:

  • He fought in the Seminole Wars.
  • He ran a ferry service across the Sacramento River.
  • He fought in the Mexican War.
  • He testified on behalf of John C. Fremont.
  • One of his children was born on the trail.

Explore The California Trail With Us

People like Joseph Chiles helped shaped the history of the west. Visit us at the California Trail Interpretive Center in Elko, NV and learn more about these fascinating people and events. We invite you to explore our many immersive exhibits and participate in activities that bring history to life.

Plan your group outing, family visit or field trip with us today.

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