I went to the Bancroft Library on Monday. on the way home from Livermore (where I have a brand-new grand-daughter) to Chico. I love to visit the Bancroft—the reading room is so quiet, so academic, so civilized. It feels like a real library.
I wanted to see two things—Bidwell’s journal of his trip to California in 1841, and the manuscript of his 1877 dictation for Hubert Howe Bancroft.
The journal is not the original one that he kept on the trail to California—that one is long gone. This is the only extant copy of the first printed version. Bidwell rewrote his journal while supervising the work at Fort Ross, and sent it back to friends in Missouri to tell them about the trip, and about conditions in California. Since this little book is missing its title page, we don’t know just who printed it, or where or when, but it probably came out sometime between 1843 and 1845. The thin paper it is printed on is fragile, but has held up well over the years.
The copy in the Bancroft was used as a guidebook by George McKinstry, who came to California in 1846. He made a couple notes in the margins. Next to Bidwell’s entry for July 3rd he notes, “We camped at this spring Monday July 6th 1846.” Under the entry for September 16th, in which Bidwell tells about how they abandoned their wagons and packed all their gear on their animals, he writes, “We cooked our supper & breakfast with fires made from the remains of these wagons.”
If you want to read this journal for yourself, you can find it in the library. It was reprinted in 1937 with the title A journey to California, with observations about the country, the climate, and the route to the country by John Bidwell. It can also be found in The Bidwell-Bartleson Party, by Doyce B. Nunis. Nunis collected all the documents and memoirs from the first overland trek to California, and John Bidwell’s accounts form the most extensive part of his book.