June 13, 1841 — Death on the Prairie

Sunday, 13th. A mournful accident occurred in the camp this morning–a young man by the name of Shotwell while in the act of taking a gun out of the wagon, drew it with the muzzle towards him in such a manner that it went off and shot him near the heart. He lived about an hour and died in the full possession of his senses.

This was the only death during the entire dangerous trip. George Shotwell was “buried in the most decent manner our circumstances would admit of, after which a funeral sermon was preached by Mr. Williams.”

James John vividly describes the same incident:

I was out of camp seeking oxen from the river. I heard the report of a gun and heard a Scream. I went to the camp and saw a man bleeding on the ground. He was taking his gun out of the wagon with the muzzle towards him and it discharged and shot him thru the left side. He lived about an hour and died. We buried him the the sand about a mile from the Camp.

Poor George Shotwell! It was a lesson in gun safety: never grab a gun, loaded or unloaded, by the muzzle. At Fort Laramie “the things of Mr. Shotwell were sold at auction,” and a letter was taken to his family by a returning traveler.

In spite of all their perils and hardships, this was the only death suffered by the Bidwell-Bartleson Party.

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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