On the Trail — September 22, 1841

Wednesday, 22nd.  This morning 80 or 90 Indians were seen coming full speed from the W. Many had horses–one was sent about a half a mile in advance from the rest–so we ought also to have done, but Capt. B. was perfectly ignorant of Indian customs, and the whole band of savages were suffered to come directly up to us, and almost surround our camp, when Mr. B. Kelsey showed by forcible gestures they would be allowed to proceed no farther. The Indians were well armed with guns and bows and arrows. The only words I recollect hearing Capt. Bartleson say were “let them gratify their curiosity!!”

This incident further sunk Bartleson’s reputation in John Bidwell’s eyes. The custom on the plains was for parties meeting for the first time to send out “ambassadors” to check each other out and find out what the other party’s intentions were. Did they want to trade? Did they need help? Or were they looking for trouble? Bartleson, by carelessly ignoring this custom, was endangering the entire company.

The Indians, as it turned out, were Shoshones, and friendly, although obviously capable of inflicting damage if they so chose. “Besides,” says Bidwell, “they were not a little acquainted with warfare, for they undoubtedly visited the Buffalo Country (having many robes) which requires much bravery to contend with the Blackfeet and Chiennes, who continually guard their buffalo in the region of the Rocky mountains.”

The Indians did want to trade, and offered a dressed buckskin for a handful of ammunition. They then rode on either side of the Bidwell-Bartleson Party for several hours, until they gradually dropped off and went their way.

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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