Christmas in California, 1841

merry-christmas-vintage-textJohn Bidwell knew he was in California when he arrived at John Marsh’s rancho on November 4, 1841. Like most Americans who came to California in the 1840s, he went to John Sutter to find work.

By Christmas Day, Bidwell had been at Sutter’s settlement for about a month. Sutter had enthusiastically hired Bidwell and planned to send him off to the coast to oversee his recent acquisition of Fort Ross. Here is Bidwell describing Sutter’s “Fort” as he first saw it:

The settlement, if it could then be so designated, was in an embryo state. No crops had been raised; grain had been sown, but owing to an unprecedentedly dry season, it had failed to mature.

There was no such thing as bread, so we had to eat beef, and occasionally game, such as elk, deer, antelope, wild geese, and ducks. Our Christmas dinner that year was entirely of ducks. (Colusa County, p. 37)

Just ducks for Christmas dinner! But they wouldn’t go hungry, for there was no shortage of ducks and geese along the river that winter.

So safe at last in California, John Bidwell enjoyed a merry Christmas with John Sutter, his trail mates Jimmy John and Mike Nye, and Sutter’s motley household of Mexicans, Kanakas, and Indians.

I hope you have a very merry holiday season too, whether it’s ducks for dinner, or turkey, ham, or roast beef. Or even vegetarian (which wasn’t an option for Bidwell). Thanks for reading my blog. I’ll be back next year with more Northern California adventures.

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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