Independence was built on the Missouri River in 1827. It became an important centre of trade with Mexico and was used as a starting point for the Santa Fe Trail. In the 1840s emigrants to the West used it as an outfitting town on their way to Oregon and California. It has been estimated that in 1846 around 250 wagons and 1,500 people assembled at Independence to journey to California and Oregon.

Primary Sources

(1) Tamsen Donner, wrote from Independence to her sister Eliza Poor (1th May, 1846)

It is supposed there be 7,000 waggons start from this place, this season We go to California, to the bay of Francisco. It is a four months trip. We have three waggons furnished with food & clothing, etc. drawn by three yoke of oxen each. We take cows along & milk them & have some butter though not as much as we would like. I am willing to go & have no doubt it will be an advantage to our children & to us.

(2) Charles T. Stanton, wrote from Independence to his brother Sidney Stanton (12th May, 1846)

Well what may surprise you perhaps is that I am going to start for California tomorrow I met with a good opportunity and, thinking it doubtful whether I should find anything to do in this country I concluded to go .... If you have never read Hastings' (book) Oregon & California get it and read it. You will see some of the inducements which led me to this step I am in hopes to get through safe which I think there is little danger as we go in such large crowds that we shall be law unto ourselves and a protection unto each other.

(3) William H. Russell, leter to the Independence Western Expositor (19th May, 1846)

Our numbers can not even yet be accurately ascertained, in consequence of the irregular manner in which they come in, but they are numerous, and cannot fall short of one hundred wagons.