What did John Bidwell carry in his pack?

John Bidwell started out with a wagon full of provisions and equipment. We don’t know exactly what he was hauling other than food and a flintlock rifle, but presumably he had some things in the way of personal effects and cooking utensils.

Crossing Utah Bidwell & Co. abandoned their wagons. They had eaten all their provisions and were living off whatever berries and game they could find, plus the meat of their oxen that they butchered one by one as needed. There wasn’t much left for the wagons to carry, so they put everything left in packs and loaded them on their animals.

By the time they reached the Sierra Nevada mountains Bidwell was on foot and they were down to their last two oxen. He was probably carrying anything he had left in a knapsack.

So what did he have left to carry? He had his journal and something to write with–a pen or more likely, a pencil. He must have had some ammunition, a knife and a canteen. A change of clothes, maybe. Not much else.

But John Bidwell also kept two items which he could not bear to part with: a small textbook on astronomy called The Geography of the Heavens, and the large illustrated Celestial Atlas that went with it. These were too precious to leave behind in the desert. He had purchased them in St. Louis, Missouri so he could teach himself astronomy, and he would carry them all the way to California.  It’s doubtful that anyone else in the company was carrying books. It just goes to show how much John Bidwell valued knowledge and education. He kept these two books all his life. Today they can be seen in the California State Library.

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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