On the Trail — October 25-26, 1841

Monday, 25th. Went about 6 miles and found it impossible to proceed. Went back about 2 miles and encamped — dug holes in the ground to deposit such things as we could dispense with. Did not do it, discovering the Indians were watching us, among them was the old, rascally pilot.

Tuesday, 26th. Went S. about 3 miles and camped in a deep ravine. It was urged by some that we should kill our horses and mules — dry what meat we could carry and start on foot to find the way out of the mountains.

Bidwell & Co. were making very slow progress, and it must have felt like no progress at all. They feared they might wander about in the canyons for weeks until the snows caught them and they perished.

While Bidwell was off on his his detour to the grove of sequoias, the rest of the company had hired an old Indian to pilot them out of the mountains. They were sure that he had led them “into the worst place he could find” and then absconded. They suspected the Indians of wanting their horses for food, and they did not trust them.

Before Bidwell caught up with his companions late on the 24th, they abandoned five of their horses and mules that could no longer travel. On his way back to join the group, Bidwell came upon the Indians cutting the beasts up for meat while they still stood on their feet.

Now they had to consider whether it was time to kill the rest of the animals and travel on foot as lightly as possible.  They decided, for the time being, to keep their animals alive. If nothing else, they were dinner on the hoof, and at a last resort could be eaten.

Game was amazingly scarce in the Sierra Nevada. They shot a wildcat and a few crows, but never any deer. They ate acorns, but the bitter tannin in the untreated acorns made them sick. Years later Bidwell could still vividly recall how he longed for good food, especially bread.

I was always so fond of bread that I could not imagine how any one could live without it. How the people in the Rocky Mountains [the trappers] had been able to live on meat alone was to me a mystery.

When our flour began to give out, the idea of doing without bread was painful to me, and by great economy my mess managed to eke out their flour a short time longer than the others. It was bad enough to have poor beef, but when brought to it we longed for fat beef and thought with it we might possibly live without bread. But when poor mule meat stared us in the face, we said if we could only have beef, no matter how poor, we could live. (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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