September 23, 1841

“Thursday, 23rd.  We could see no termination of the valley, nor any signs of Mary’s river. We therefore concluded that we were too far south, and passed over the mountains to the north, where we struck a small stream running toward the NW. On this we encamped and found plenty of grass, a few fish were caught, some of which were trout, which led us to the conclusion that this was a branch of Mary’s river. Distance 18 miles.”

Back on September 9th Captain Bartleson and another man had returned from a scouting trip with the news that the head of Mary’s River (the Humboldt River) was only 5 days travel away.  Two weeks later the company still hasn’t reached the river, and Bidwell makes no mention of Bartleson’s exploration. Were they following the trail forged by Bartleson? It doesn’t seem so. Instead, the men were questioning the four who had gone to Fort Hall for instructions.  What was the advice?

“If you go too far south you will get into a desert country and your animals will perish; there will be no water or grass.” Well, they had seen some of that, which is why they turned northward. But it wouldn’t be long before they would be quizzing the men again, because the other half of the instructions said:

“You must not go too far north; if you do you will get into difficult canyons that lead towards the Columbia River, where you may become bewildered and wander about and perish.” A difficult canyon was exactly what they soon found themselves in.

What a dilemma! North, south, desert, canyon, was there no end to the search for Mary’s River?

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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