Readers of this blog might recall that last year I did a series on the first novel written and published in California: Entewa, the Mountain Bird, by J.R. Poynter M.D., published in Marysville in 1852.
I have one more little item about Dr. Poynter. Among the letters in the John Bidwell Collection at the California State Library is a letter from Poynter, written in September 1852.
Did they know each other? Did they discuss business or politics? Did Dr. Poynter offer John Bidwell a copy of his new novel?
Alas, no. It is a decidedly prosaic letter, concerning the loss of a mule. But that was an important matter, so here is the letter.
Sacramento River Sept. 16th 1852
The bearer of this, Mr. Shelley, is in search of a mule which was either taken or strayed from my encampment between the 5th and the 10th of last month. Should you know of any such animal amongst your stock I would be very much obliged to you to inform the bearer, that he may examine & see whether or not it is mine. The mule is a long-bodied mare mule, was shod before when she left here, is a sort of dark brown color with gray hairs dimly [?] intermixed and very much saddle marked. She is a mule that Nye brought from the states when he first came to California. She is a very long-backed mule, with hind legs rather more crooked than usual, walks very fast, & paces well.
Any information that you can give the bearer will be most kindly & fully appreciated by yours
Ever & truly
J. R. Poynter
P.S. The mule is full of brands and amongst the rest is the old brand of Sutter on the hip, with a vent of the same on the shoulder. The vent however was made by a different iron from that of the brand. J.R.P.
This letter shows you how important a good working animal was to men of the 1850s. What’s more, that mule would have been familiar to John Bidwell, even if she didn’t show up mixed in with his own animals. Michael Nye came to California along with Bidwell in 1841 and she must have been one tough mule to survive that trip and still be considered a valuable animal eleven years later.