November 21, 1841

John Bidwell had heard that a man by the name of John Sutter was starting a colony about a hundred miles to the north of Marsh’s ranch in the Sacramento Valley. The Mexicans had colonized the land along the coast, and along the Mission Trail, but they had not ventured inland very far. Sutter was able to persuade them to allow him to develop a vast tract of land along the Sacramento River. On November 21, John Bidwell set out for Sutter’s colony of New Helvetia.

“Dr. Marsh said we could make the journey in two days, but it took us eight. Winter had come in earnest, and winter in California then, as now, meant rain. I had three companions. It was wet when we started, and much of the time we traveled through a pouring rain. Streams were out of their banks; gulches were swimming; plains were inundated; indeed, most of the country was overflowed. There were no roads, merely paths, trodden only by Indians and wild game. We were compelled to follow the paths, even when they were under water, for the moment our animals stepped to one side down they went into the mire.”

How they could see the path in the pouring rain is hard to imagine. They must have gone into the mire time and again. As I sit in my nice dry home, with the November rains beating on the roof, I can imagine John Bidwell trying to make his way through exactly the same cold and wet weather then as we are having now.

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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