August 24, 1841

“Tuesday, 24th.  Cattle strayed this morning to seek water–late start–day was warm–traveled about 10 miles in a W. direction, encamped where we found numerous springs, deep, clear, and somewhat impregnated with salt. The plains were snowy white with salt. Here we procured salt of the best quality. The grass that grew in small spots on the plains was laden with salt which had formed itself on the stalks and blades in lumps, from the size of a pea to that of a hen’s egg. This was the kind we procured, being very white, strong and pure.”

10 miles in a day was good progress under the conditions.  Oxen could pull a wagon at 2 or 3 miles per hour for about 5 hours a day, so 15 miles a day was pretty much the maximum. But day after day of 10-15 miles a day would wear a team down. They had to eat, they had to have water, and they had to have rest.

By the time Bidwell & Co. got to the Great Basin, they had been traveling for nearly four months. The last few weeks had been especially hard on the animals. They couldn’t keep up this pace–not on salty water and dry grass. Bidwell and his friends were finding that they had to rest the animals more and more often, and indeed on the 25th they would stay put, giving the oxen a chance to recuperate. But they couldn’t afford to delay either, so the next day they would harness up the oxen and be on the trail again.

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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