Almost There — October 29, 1841

Friday, 29th. Last night, the Indians stole a couple of our horses. About noon we passed along by several huts, but they were deserted as soon as we came in sight, the Indians running in great consternation into the woods. At one place the bones of a horse were roasting in a fire; they were undoubtedly the bones of the horses we had lost. Travelled no less than 9 miles today; the night was very cool and had a heavy frost. Although our road was tolerably level today, yet we could see no termination to the mountains–and one much higher than the others terminated our view. Mr. Hopper, our best and most experienced hunter, observed that, “If California lies beyond those mountains we shall never be able to reach it.”

Most of the Company were on foot, in consequence of the horses giving out, and being stolen by Indians, but many were much fatigued and weak for the want of sufficient provision; others, however stood it very well. Some had appetites so craving that they eat the meat of most of the mule raw, as soon as it was killed; some eat it half roasted, dripping with blood.

Weary and worn to the bone, barely living on the meat of their own pack animals, struggling down rocky canyons, the Company was in a desperate situation. With no map and no guide, they had not a clue where they were, and they could see no end to their journey.

Nancy Kelsey, who had started up into the Sierras riding a horse, with Baby Ann on her lap, was now walking. In her own recollection, taken down by a friend in 1893, she says, “I walked barefoot until my feet were blistered.”

As Bidwell explained in Echoes of the Past, “we were now on the edge of the San Joaquin Valley, but we did not even know that we were in California. We could see a range of mountains lying to the west–the Coast Range, but we could see no valley.” They discussed and debated their situation. Many in the party were convinced that they were not yet within five hundred miles of the Pacific Ocean. The mountains stretched as far as the eye could see, and greatly discouraged, they feared that they would never reach California alive.

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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