September 15-17, 1841

I’m still playing catch-up with John Bidwell.  When last we saw our intrepid band of 32 men, 1 woman, and a baby, the Kelseys had abandoned their wagons and packed everything on horses. On the 15th, after “two or three fatiguing days,” the rest of the company decided to do the same.

“Thursday, 16th. All hands were busy making pack saddles and getting ready to pack.”

In “Echoes of the Past” Bidwell describes the process. “On Green River we had seen the style of packing saddles used by the trapping party, and had learned a little about how to use them. Packing is an art, and something only an experienced mountaineer can do well so as to save his animal and keep his pack from falling off. We were unaccustomed to it, and the difficulties we had at first were simply indescribable. It is much more difficult to fasten a pack on an ox than a mule or a horse.

The trouble began the very first day. But we started, most of us on foot, for nearly all the animals, including several of the oxen, had to carry packs. It was but a few minutes before the packs began to turn; horses became scared, mules kicked, oxen jumped and bellowed, and articles were scattered in all directions.”

It was a scene both comic and desperate. As they went along those who had their packs tied securely got ahead, while others lagged behind to pick up the items that fell by the wayside and repack their animals. On the 17th they traveled throughout the day and into the night. They crossed a dry plain, where the salt on the grass in the moonlight, and the cool evening nighttime temperature, gave the impression of a winter scene. During that night Bidwell’s two oxen went astray.

“Two of the oxen that were carrying packs got lost from the Company in the night, about 8 miles from where we encamped, but it was supposed they would follow on.” But they didn’t, and Bidwell had to go in search of them.

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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