Christmas in California, 1841

John Bidwell spent his first Christmas in California at Sutter’s settlement. Sutter himself hadn’t been there very long, and was only just getting started with his plans for fields and a fort.

“The settlement, if it could then be so designated, was in an embryo state. No crops had been raised; grain had been sown, but owing to an unprecedentedly dry season, it had failed to mature.” (Then, as now, the weather was unpredictable, and marginal for growing wheat without irrigation.)

“There was no such thing as bread, so we had to eat beef, and occasionally game, such as elk, deer, antelope, wild geese, and ducks. Our Christmas dinner that year was entirely of ducks.” (Colusa County, p. 37)

No mashed potatoes, no rolls, no jello salad, no Christmas cookies, or cheesecake, or pecan pie. Just ducks for Christmas dinner. But they wouldn’t go hungry, for there was no shortage of ducks and geese along the river. And John Sutter surely had a cask of brandy tucked away for special occasions. A merry California Christmas!

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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