The gold-seeking emigrants who went by the overland trail to the diggings of California seldom traveled alone. The few who did were usually men too poor to purchase a share of a wagon or, for one reason or another, unable or unwilling to work their way across the continent as hired hands. Most, however, traveled to the Pacific as part of an organization: either shareholders of joint stock companies, partners in a mess, clients of passenger lines, or members of traveling groups. In addition, there was another legal technique overland emigrants utilized when binding themselves in mutual associations-they made contracts. Most organizing contracts were made east of the Missouri River, frequently before the emigrants left home. An interesting example was negotiated during January, 1849. Called a "compact," it was signed by 29 persons agreeing to form an organization that eventually took the name of the Sacramento Company.
John Phillip Reid, Tied to the Elephant: Organization and Obligation on the Overland Trail, 1 SEATTLE U. L. REV. 139 (1977).