The Chiles-Walker Company were among the first settlers to arrive in California in 1843, but not without some difficulties along the way. You can learn more about these extraordinary pioneers and what life was like as a traveler on the trail at the California Trail Interpretive Center.

Joseph Chiles: An Early Trailblazer

Joseph B. Chiles was born in Kentucky with an adventurer’s spirit, like so many men of his time. He was among the travelers in the Bidwell-Bartleson party, the first group to attempt to emigrate to California by wagon and over the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Although during that trip, the wagons were abandoned, Chiles seemed eager to try the journey again. His next attempt successfully brought his wagons and supplies to the end of the trail.

Return To California

Chiles was newly widowed during his first overland trip to California and made the journey alone while his children stayed with family. Later, he went back to Missouri to gather his children, supplies, and more travelers to make the journey again.

He soon realized that he would not be able to lead the group alone, especially as it swelled with eager travelers and looming logistical problems. He would need help from a seasoned mountain man.

The Walker-Chiles Party

Chiles met Joseph R. Walker at Fort Hall and convinced him to lead half of the party. Walker was well-known to those who traveled the California trail as a guide and mountain man. He agreed to lead half of the party, taking the wagons, livestock, women, and children.

Chiles would take the other half of the group – all men – on pack animals. They were supposed to meet at the Humboldt Sink, but Chiles never showed up, and Walker pressed on with his group.

Reaching Sutters Fort

Chiles and his group of men reached Sutter’s Fort starving and low on provisions. Walker’s group eventually had to abandon their wagons and leave the dying livestock in Owen’s Valley to finish the route on foot. They were bone-weary but managed to make it to Sutter’s Fort alive. The trip was a huge financial loss, but thankfully, no one died on the way.

While the Walker-Chiles party did not make it with their wagons, they are still an important part of California Trail history.

  • Chiles hoped to open a grist mill after arriving in California.
  • Supplies at Fort Hall were scarce, leading to a split in the party.
  • Walker lead his group south along Mary’s River.
  • The machinery and heavy chains for the mill were buried to (hopefully) be retrieved later.
  • All party members arrived safely in Calfornia, but the equipment was not recovered.

Visit Us In Elko

Joseph Chiles and Joseph Walker led the Chiles-Walker Company safely into California, even if it was not in the way they originally envisioned. Both would go on to direct many more travelers into California’s golden lands and have other adventures.

You can learn more about the people and the paths they traveled along the California Trail when you plan a visit to the California Trail Interpretive Center located in Elko, NV. We welcome students on field trips, history buffs, and families to enjoy our facility and interactive exhibits.

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