June 2, 1841

This morning the company was convened for the purpose of taking a vote upon the question whether the companies should continue to travel together; that some were complaining that the missionaries went too fast; but the thought of leaving Mr. Fitzpatrick who was so well acquainted with the Indians, &c. &c. met, as it ought to have done, the disapprobation of all. We now proceeded directly up the river, making this day about twelve miles.

They have now reached the Platte River. They are making good time, and some think they are being pushed too hard, but it was necessary to make haste if they were going to make it to California within their window of time.

The Platte is a wide, shallow, slow-moving, silt-laden river. For the pioneers, it was the highway across the plains.

Encampment Along The Platte by Worthington Whittredge

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June 1, 1841 — Hailstorm and Wedding

On the trail with John Bidwell:

June. Tuesday, 1st. This morning we hastened to leave our miserable encampment and proceeded directly north, we reached Big Platte river about 12 o’clock. The heat was uncommonly oppressive.  I here discovered the ground was in many places hoary with Glauber Salts, or at least I was unable to distinguish them by taste. This afternoon we had a soaking shower, which was succeeded by a heavy hailstorm.

Glauber Salts are sodium sulfate, an inorganic chemical which today is used in the manufacture of detergents and in paper pulping. In Bidwell’s day it was used as a laxative.

About the hailstorm, the Rev. Williams wrote:

At 2 o’clock commenced a most tremendous bad storm, with wind, which blew down most of the tents, accompanied with rain and lightning and thunder almost all night. I slept but little, the ground being all covered with water. That night dreadful oaths were heard all over the camp ground. O the wickedness of the wicked!

Poor Rev. Williams found it very trying to travel “in the midst of an ignorant and hard-hearted people.” (“Narrative of a Tour from the State of Indiana to the Oregon Territory” in The Bidwell-Bartleson Party, edited by Doyce B Nunis.)

The Impending Storm, by Albert Bierstadt

Bidwell continues his journal entry:

Wonderful! This evening a new family was created! Isaac Kelsey was married to Miss Williams, daughter of R. Williams. The marriage ceremony was performed by the Rev. Pr. Williams, so we now have five families, if we include a widow and child.

Miss Winifred Williams was the daughter of Richard Williams and his wife, whose name is not recorded. Isaac Kelsey, who was also known as Zedidiah, was one of the four Kelsey brothers on the trip. He and Samuel and their families went to Oregon, and Benjamin and Andrew went to California. Isaac was born in 1818, making him one year older than John Bidwell, and 22 or 23 years old when he married on the trail. Very little else is known about the young couple and their further adventures.

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May 31, 1841 — Meeting Mountain Men

Monday, 31st. This morning about 10 o’clock we met six wagons with 18 men, with fur and robes on their way from Ft. Larimie [sic] to St. Louis. Ft. Larimie is situated on Larimie’s fork near its junction with the N. fork of Platte, and is about 800 miles from Independence. The wagons were drawn by oxen and mules–the former looked as though they received a thousand lashes every day of their existence! The rusty mountaineers looked as though they never had seen razor, water, soap, or brush. It was very warm, and we travelled till dark before we were able to reach water, and then it was not fit to drink, and then we could not procure any wood, grass scarce.

This illustration by Frederic Remington shows two mountaineers as Bidwell saw them, without “razor, water, soap, or brush.”

The company had left the Kansas River and traveled up the Little Blue, and at this date were situated just beyond the source of the Little Blue and not yet at the Platte River, which they would follow until they reached Ft. Laramie.

The “rusty mountaineers” that Bidwell’s group met were working for one of the fur-trading companies that flourished in the western territories during the first half of the 19th century. St. Louis was the marketplace and supply point for the fur traders and mountain men, and from that point the buffalo robes and beaver pelts were shipped to the East Coast and Europe.

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May 30, 1841

Sunday, 30th. Nothing of importance occurred — distance about 15 miles — grass mingled with rushes afforded our animals plenty of food of the best quality. Game appeared to increase, though but one deer and one antelope were brought in.

Another ho-hum entry. I promise it will get more interesting soon. At this point these greenhorns must have thought that traveling to California was easy-peasy.

The Big Blue River in flood, May 2005. You can tell it is the Big Blue because it has a sign.
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May 29, 1841

Saturday, 29th. We again started about sunrise and travelled not less than 2 miles. One antelope was killed — saw several elk.

They haven’t yet come across herds of buffalo, but other game is plentiful and augments their diet of bacon, beans, and biscuit.

Pronghorn antelope
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May 28, 1841

Friday, 28th: Started about sunrise, travelled about 5 miles and stopped to take breakfast. The heat was oppressive and we were compelled to go 20 miles farther before we came to either wood or water. The stream on which we camped is a fork of the Kanzas and is well known to all the mountaineers, by the name of the Big Blue; an antelope was killed.

They are in the northeast corner of Kansas, traveling toward Nebraska. (All of this was Indian Territory at the time.) It still sounds like a typical camping trip: the weather is hot and they have to go farther than they expected to find good accommodations.

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May 27, 1841

Thursday, 27th: Started late, being detained at repairing the waggons. The day was warm, but the evening mild and pleasant. Encamped in a commodious valley, well-watered by a beautiful little stream which glided smoothly through the scattering grove, come about 15 miles.

Sounds like a typical camping trip: a little delay with the vehicles, but altogether a pleasant day and a lovely camping spot. The next few days will be like this — rather mundane. More exciting events are yet to come.

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