The same day that John Bidwell and the rest of the company arrived at Marsh’s ranch, Jimmy John arrived at Sutter’s Fort. He had become separated from the rest of the party in the Sierras two weeks earlier. He and Bidwell had gone down a canyon looking for a passable route. Bidwell, being the cautious one, insisted that the men and horses could not get through, and went back. Jimmy, who was always more impetuous and daring, pressed on.
He expected the others to catch up with him, but they never did. He continued over extremely rough terrain, with very little to eat. Sometimes he found some wild grapes, and another time he ate the same rushes that his horse grazed on. Once he shot at a hawk carrying a squirrel. “Did not kill the hawk, but made it drop the squirrel. This gave me some relief being nearly all I had to eat since I left the Company.” (The First James John Diary, in The Bidwell-Bartleson Party, edited by Doyce B. Nunis, p. 178.)
He met friendly Indians, who gave him acorn soup to eat, but then angered them when he mistook one of their dogs for a wolf and killed it. He barely escaped with his life. Coming down into the valley he met another group of Indians who led him to Captain John Sutter’s settlement on the Sacramento River.
In his diary, Jimmy’s entry for November 4th reads:
“About sunset two Indians came on horses and took me and my baggage to Captain Suiter’s [Sutter’s] house, a distance of 6 miles. Capt. Suiter has a fort here made of dobies [adobes] and burned brick, mounted with a few old cannons and guarded by about 29 men, mostly runaway sailors and Canackers or Owihees [Hawaiians] besides a number of pet Indians which he employs for war parties and who built his fort and farm. He keeps also a harem of Canacker [Hawaiian] women. This place is called New Helvetia.”
Makes you wonder what life was like at Sutter’s Fort in the early days.
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