June 24, 1841

Thursday, 24th. Left the Fort this morning and soon began to wind among the Black Hills. Two of our men stopped at the Fort (Simpson and Mast), but two other men with an Indian and his family joined us to travel to Green river.

Encamped having made about seventeen miles — hills here sandy — many wild pears, likewise an abundance of peas, wild — though the bush was dissimilar to to ours, yet the the pods bore an exact similarity, taste, the same.

These Black Hills are not the Black Hills of South Dakota, but the lesser known Black Hills of Wyoming, that rise west of the North Platte River (which the Bidwell-Bartleson Party is still following). Here’s a picture, with “Glauber Salts” in the foreground.

This entry raises the question “What could pioneers find to eat along the trail?” Bidwell mentions two wild plants here — wild pears and wild peas. James John, in his diary covering the same period, writes of “a kind of mountain turnip.”

What he called mountain turnip was prairie turnip, or timpsila, as the Lakota Sioux call it. It’s an edible tuber, Psoralea esculenta, that can be dried and stored. It was a staple food of the Plains Indian peoples.

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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