September 28-29, 1841

“Tuesday, 28th. Traveled about 70 miles. Several Indians came to our camp this evening–no timber excepting willows, grass plenty.”

70 miles?  How did they do that? Most days they made 18 or 20 miles, which was a good rate of travel for weary men and beasts.  Either the 70 is a typo in the printed version of the journal, or in Nunis’s The Bidwell-Bartleson Party , or else they made rafts out of those willows and traveled on the river. Bidwell doesn’t mention making any kind of watercraft.

“Wednesday, 29th. Traveled about 20 miles, course of the stream was W.N.W. According to the map Mary’s river ran W.S.W. Strong doubts were entertained about this being Mary’s river. The men who got directions at Fort Hall were cautioned that if we got too far south, we would get into the Great Sandy Desert–if too far north, we would wander and starve to death on the waters of the Columbia, there being no possibility of getting through that way. We had now been 6 days on this stream, and our course had averaged considerably north of west.”

Between Elko and Battle Mountain the Humboldt River runs west, and then at Battle Mountain it takes a turn north and runs northwest for some 50 miles. This is where Bidwell & Co. got very worried. If they kept going north they were going to end up in those bewildering canyons they had been warned about.

I didn’t think that the group had a compass with them, but Bidwell frequently indicates their direction. Someone may have had a compass after all, or maybe he was simply estimating the direction by the sun. He mentions a map, but they definitely did not have a map. There was not an accurate map to be had. Possibly the men who went to Fort Hall had seen a map.

Bidwell had been shown a map of the West before he left Missouri. It showed two mighty rivers flowing out of the Great Basin all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Possibly that was the map he had in mind.  That map, which he had seen at the home of Elam Brown, where he boarded during the winter of 1840-41, showed both rivers traveling southwest to the sea. No wonder he was worried.

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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