On the Trail — August 22-24, 1841

On August 22 the men who had gone to Fort Hall returned. They had been unable to obtain a guide to take them across the desert. (Cue the ominous music.)

Fort Hall, 1849

Interior of Fort Hall in 1849

They reported on the emigrants who had opted for going to Oregon rather than California:

The families that went into Oregon had disposed of their oxen at the fort and were going to descend the Columbia river with pack horses — they in exchange received one horse for every ox. Their waggons they could not sell. They procured flour at 50 cents a pint, sugar at same price, and other things in proportion.

High prices on the Oregon Trail.

On the 23rd they passed by the Great Salt Lake. Water was scarce.

Tuesday, 24th.  Cattle strayed this morning to seek water–late start–day was warm–traveled about 10 miles in a W. direction, encamped where we found numerous springs, deep, clear, and somewhat impregnated with salt. The plains were snowy white with salt. Here we procured salt of the best quality. The grass that grew in small spots on the plains was laden with salt which had formed itself on the stalks and blades in lumps, from the size of a pea to that of a hen’s egg. This was the kind we procured, being very white, strong and pure.

Ten miles in a day was good progress under those conditions.  Oxen could pull a wagon at 2 or 3 miles per hour for about 5 hours a day, so 15 miles a day was pretty much the maximum. On a very good day they might make 18 to 20 miles. But these were not good days.

Day after day of 10-15 miles a day would wear a team down. They had to eat, they had to have water, and they had to have rest.

By the time Bidwell & Co. got to the Great Basin, they had been traveling for nearly four months. The last few weeks had been especially hard on the animals. They couldn’t keep up this pace — not on salty water and dry grass. Bidwell and his friends were finding that they had to rest the animals more and more often, and indeed on the 25th they would stay put, giving the oxen a chance to recuperate. But they couldn’t afford to delay either, so the next day they harnessed up the oxen and got on the trail again.

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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