On the Trail — Oct. 1-2, 1841

We are back on the trail with the Bidwell-Bartleson Party. They spent the last week of September traveling along a stream that they hoped would turn into Mary’s River (the Humboldt). It had been six weeks since the original party had split in two, with half the members going on to Oregon, rather than risk the unknown in the Great Basin. Six weeks of sand, sun, salt plains, and the endless search for grass and water. Bidwell wrote:

October 1st. The stream had already attained the size of which we supposed Mary’s river to be, and yet its course was due N.W. Distance 20 miles.

Saturday, 2nd.  Having traveled about 5 miles, we all beheld with delight the course of the river change to S. W.  Here was excellent grass–it was 3 or 4 feet high, and stood thick like a meadow, it was a kind of bluegrass. The whole valley seemed to be swarming with Indians, but they were very timid.  Their sable heads were seen in groups of 15 or 20, just above the tops of the grass to catch a view of us passing by.

The Humboldt River takes a turn southward where it meets present day Highway 789, about 25 miles east of Winnemucca, Nevada. Then it meanders westward until just north of Winnemucca, where it takes a definite turn to the southwest. Seeing the river turn in the expected direction was a great relief to Bidwell & Co. They were pretty sure that they were on the right track, their animals had sufficient feed, and they had access to water.

They were tired though. In Echoes of the Past Bidwell writes:

From the time we left our wagons many had to walk, and more and more as we advanced. Going down the Humboldt at least half were on foot [including Bidwell]. Provisions had given out, . . . we saw no game except antelope, and they were scarce and hard to kill; and walking was very fatiguing.

So they pressed on, wondering “How much farther to California?”

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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