A Tale of Two (or Three or Four) Journals

John Bidwell arrived at Sutter’s “Fort” (no fort yet) on November 28th, and found Jimmy John there before him. Jimmy, who was ten years older than John, had been his companion on several adventures on the trail, notably their trip to the snow, and their attempt to get down a canyon, when they became separated.

Jimmy was the only other man in the Bidwell-Bartleson Party who kept a journal on the trail. His journal exists in two versions, and sheds some light on the composition of Bidwell’s journal.

One journal now belongs to the Oregon Historical Society, and appears to be John’s original journal written on the trail. The handwriting was described by Doyce B. Nunis as “open and scrawly.” On the whole it is more detailed than the second journal, but it ends with the entry for August 20th. I haven’t seen the actual journal, so I don’t know if the booklet looks complete, or is missing leaves at the end.

The other journal, which resides in the Rosenbach Library in Philadelphia, may be a rewrite of the first journal. The handwriting at the beginning is small and neat, as if someone else were copying out the text, but halfway through it changes to the “scrawly” hand of Jimmy John. The entries take John all the way to his arrival at Sutter’s house on November 4th.

At the end of this second journal there is an “Extract from John Bidwell’s journal from the 20th of Oct. to the 4th of Nov.”  Jimmy John, wanting to have a complete account of the travels of the rest of the party, copied out these last entries from Bidwell’s journal. This is the only known surviving text of the original journal kept by Bidwell on the trail.

At the same time that Jimmy was rewriting his trail diary, Bidwell was doing the same to his. They both worked on rewriting their journals during the month of December, 1841, while they were residing with Sutter. This gave Jimmy the opportunity to complete his account with the extracts from Bidwell’s journal.

Next time: Comparing the two versions of Bidwell’s journal.

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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