On the Trail — September 18, 1841

The night of September 17th, Bidwell’s two oxen, carrying packs, got lost.ox-team

Saturday, 18th. Morning found us on the east side of a mountain not far from its base but there were no signs of water; the lost oxen not having come up, I, in company with another young man, went in search of them while the company went on, promising to stop as soon as they found water. I went back about 10 miles, but found nothing of their trail–the sun was in a melting mood–the young man became discouraged and in spite of all my entreaties returned to the company.

The young man who went with John Bidwell to search for the oxen was “Cheyenne” Dawson. Under the hot summer sun he gave up, saying that there were plenty of cattle in California. Which was true, but Bidwell had to go on — without his oxen he had nothing.

Water in the company was in very short supply. Before they left on their search they were each given about a half cup (4 oz.) of water. This was all they had until the next day.

About an hour after [Dawson departed] I found the trail of the oxen which bore directly north. After pursuing it some distance, I discovered fresh moccasin tracks upon the trail, and there began to be high grass, which made me mistrust the Indians had got the oxen. But my horse was good and my rifle ready. . . . But what made me most anxious to find the oxen was the prospect of our wanting them for beef. We had already killed 4 oxen and there were but 13 remaining, including the lost ones, and the Co. was now killing an ox every two or three days.

After 10 miles of following their tracks, Bidwell found the oxen where they had stopped to lay down in the grass. He got them up and moving, hastening to rejoin the company. They had promised to stop and wait for him when they found water.

I traveled all night,and at early dawn came to where there was plenty of water and where the company had taken their dinner the day before, but they had failed to stop for me according to promise.

Bidwell was decidedly miffed at this. He figured that he had been abandoned by his companions. He searched in ever widening circles until he saw three men who were coming to find him.

It was a great relief. I felt indignant that the party had not stopped for me – not the less so when I learned that Captain Bartleson had said, when they started back to find me, that they “would be in better business to go ahead and look for a road.” He had not forgotten certain comments of mine of his qualities as a student of Indian character.

Obviously there was no love lost between those two. Bidwell, who considered himself a good judge of character and a man of “self-possession,” looked on Bartleson as a hot-headed ignoramus. Bartleson would do nothing in the future to change that assessment.

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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