June 11, 1841

“Friday, 11th. The oxen had wandered about a 1/2 mile from camp this morning, when a man was sent to bring them in; he soon came running back in great haste, crying “the Indians are driving the oxen off”!! In less than half an hour the oxen were at camp and not an Indian to be seen–all this is easily accounted for when we consider how timidity and fear will make every bush, or stone, or stump and Indian, and 40 Indians, thousands.”

Indian trouble was the foremost worry of the men in the Bidwell-Bartleson Company. They were wary of contact with the Indians and always on the defensive. Bidwell, a man who prided himself on his “self-possession” and calm rational mind, liked to poke fun at his companions’ skittishness. If he had fears of his own (and he surely did) he isn’t about to let his readers see them.

His comment about “timidity and fear” may well have been added when he wrote out a fair copy of his journal and sent it back to Missouri. Since we don’t have the original, we don’t know how much was added after the fact, but this is the kind of comment that sounds like it might be a later reflection.

He continues this entry: “Vast herds of buffalo continued to be seen on the opposite bank of the river.”

The buffalo of the Great Plains were an awesome sight. Just two days previous he had written “8 or 10 buffalo killed today, but not one-tenth of the meat was used; the rest was left to waste upon the prairie.” He deplored this destruction and predicted that “if they continue to decrease in the same ratio that they have for the past 15 or 20 years, they will ere long become totally extinct.” As we know, they nearly did. Bidwell, writing in 1841, can be considered an early conservationist. He agreed with the Indians, who, he said, “behold with indignation the shameful and outrageous prodigality of the whites.”

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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