On the Trail — October 20, 1841

Wednesday, 20th. Men went in different directions to see if there was any possibility of extracting ourselves from this place without going back. They returned and reported that it was utterly impossible to go down the creek. One young man was so confident that he could pass along the creek with his horse that he started alone, in spite of many persuasions to the contrary.

Capt. B. also being tired of waiting for the explorers to return, started down the stream, which so jaded his animals that he was obliged to wait all day to rest them before he was able to retrace his steps. In the meantime the rest of the Company, suffering for want of water, were obliged to travel. We proceeded directly N. up the mountains, about 4 miles, found a little grass and water — here we killed one of the 2 oxen.

Lost in the mountains — no way of knowing where they were or how to get out — only two oxen left for food. Not a good situation.

Among the “men who went in different directions” were John Bidwell and James John — cautious John and impulsive Jimmy. In his 1877 Dictation, and in Echoes of the Past, Bidwell tells the story of their attempt to find a way out of the canyon. The men all agreed that if any of them found a way which was passable, they were  to fire a gun to alert the others.

When Jimmy and I got down about three-quarters of a mile I came to the conclusion that it was impossible to get through, and said to him, ‘Jimmy, we might as well go back; we can’t go here.’ “’Yes, we can,’ said he; and insisting that we could, he pulled out a pistol and fired. It was an old dragoon pistol, and reverberated like a cannon.

I hurried back to tell the company not to come down, but before I reached them, the captain and his party had started. I explained and warned them that they could not get down; but they went on as far as they could go, and then were obliged to stay all day and night to rest the animals. The men had to pick grass here and there where it grew among the rocks for their horses and mules. To get water, they went down to the stream and carried the water back up in cups and kettles, and even their boots, and then poured the water down the animals’ throats.

Meanwhile, Jimmy John continued down the stream on his own. He waited for the others to catch up with him, but they never managed to reconnect.

J. John was never more seen by any of us till we found him afterwards in California. His experience after he left us was of the severest character. He was repeatedly chased by Indians and was without anything to eat until he was nearly starved yet managed to get through to Sutter’s Fort and told S. of our being on the route. (1877 Dictation)

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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