On the Trail — August 28-29, 1841

From John Bidwell’s journal:

Saturday, 28th. Company remained here. A Shoshonee Indian came to our camp; from him we learned that there were more Indians not far off who had horses. Several men and myself went in search of them. Having gone about 5 miles, up hills and down hills covered with thick groves of cedar (red), we unexpectedly came to an Indian, who was in the act of taking care of some meat — venison — which he had just killed; about half of which we readily purchased for 12 cartridges of powder & ball. With him as a pilot we went in pursuit of other Indians; he led us far up in the mountains by a difficult path, where we found two or three families, hid as it were from all the world, by the roughness of nature. The only provision which they seemed to have was a few elderberries and a few seeds; under a temporary covert of bushes, I observed the aged Patriarch, whose head looked as though it had been whitened by the frosts of at least 90 winters. The scars on his arms and legs were almost countless — a higher forehead I never saw upon a man’s head. But here in the solitude of the mountains and with the  utmost contentment,  he was willing to spend the last days of his life among the hoary rocks and craggy cliffs, where perhaps he, in his youthful gayety, used to sport along crystal streams which run purling from the mountains.  Not succeeding in finding horses, we returned to camp.

The Shoshone Indians inhabited present-day northern Utah and southern Idaho, living in small bands of a few hundred at most. Bidwell, as usual, is curious about the Indians, but not disparaging about their way of life.

Sunday 29th. Capt. Bartleson with C. Hopper started to explore the route to the head of Mary’s river, expecting to be absent 8 or 9 days — the Company to await here his return.

All that the Bidwell-Bartleson Party knew about this region was that they had to find Mary’s River (as it was then called). The Humboldt River was the only way to cross what is now the state of Nevada. If the whole group were to go wandering around looking for it, the exploration might be fatal, so they sent off two men on a scouting trip, and the rest stayed where they had water and grass for their animals. For the next several days Bidwell’s journal is terse:

(30th) Nothing of importance occurred — (31st) No success in hunting — (1st) An ox killed for beef — (2nd) Idle in camp.

They were running low on provisions. Bidwell doesn’t say whether they had anything left in the way of flour or beans or coffee, but if they were not completely out, they were getting close. They had not been able to get anything from Fort Hall. Meat was scarce, and they began slaughtering oxen for beef.

Tough times ahead.

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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