Bidwell and the Big Trees

In 1896 John Bidwell wrote a letter to his friend John Muir, and gave him a statement about his discovery of the giant sequoias of the Sierra Nevada. Here is an excerpt:

“Near night I was hastening north to intersect the trail of the party going west. It was almost too dark to see a trail, when I came to an enormous fallen tree. I tried to go around the top but it was too brushy. As I passed by the butt, which seemed to tower some twenty or more feet above my head, I was obliged to hasten on and find a secluded place to spend the night, for Indian fires were seen and tracks fresh and plentiful.

I had come to the conclusion that the party had gone north (and not west), so at daylight I struck out east with all haste, but found no trail. Then I bore south till I found the camping ground where I left the party the day before. But the party had changed direction, followed an Indian path down into the deep canon, and scaled the canon wall on the south side of the Stanislaus. As I climbed along their rugged trail I found several horses and mules had given out (too weak to go farther) and been left to the mercy of the Indians who were cutting them to pieces even when standing and alive unable to run or kick. My rifle I carried cocked in my hand; but, though alone and several hours after the party had passed, the Indians made no attempt to molest me.

But to return to the big tree which I had seen. The conditions under which I saw it. The darkness that was coming on – the haste to leave as soon as I could see in the morning &c. must be my excuse for the meagre report I am able to give.

This tree was, beyond a doubt, that huge wonder of the Calaveras grove of Sequoias known as the Father of the Forest. Though I entered the grove and found a hiding place for the night near the east side I saw no standing Sequoias. . .  Besides, tho to me every thing was new and wonderful, there was at the moment no time to consider. And yet the impression that tree made upon my mind could not be forgotten.”

Annie Bidwell added a note of her own: She writes (she always referred to her husband as “the General,” here “Genl”):

” Dear Mr Muir, When Genl & my sister & I visited Calaveras grove Genl recognized many features of the locality, saying, “Yes, I was here,” and when we reached the hotel he so described the Father of the Forest to the guide that the latter replied “You have been here.” Tears filled my husband’s eyes he turned away, but in a few moments said to me, “Let us slip off alone to that tree” & without any wavering he led us to it. We were all much moved: he as the memories surging in upon him; we in sympathy with those memories. Sincerely yours A.K.B.

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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3 Responses to Bidwell and the Big Trees

  1. Lorna Robin aka goldenbill says:

    I can’t begin to tell you how delightful it is to wake up each morning to follow “Gen.” Bidwell and his group in their traversal of the American wilderness. Thank you so much for your concerned effort in presenting this bit of history for all to enjoy.

    Lorna Robin aka goldenbill

  2. Pingback: On the Trail — October 23, 1841 | goldfields

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