July 15, 1841 — Whiskey in the Wagon

Thursday, 15th. As many of the company had articles of traffic which they wished to dispose of at Green river, a subscription was raised to recompense any who would go and find the trappers. John Gray started in pursuit of them, while the company marched on slowly, waiting for his return. Travelled about 6 miles today.

Gray was gone for a week and suffered a great deal in his search for the trappers. It would have killed a weaker man. Stay tuned for more about his ordeal when he returns on July 22nd.

Bidwell doesn’t mention it in his journal, but elsewhere he reveals that the “articles of traffic” were bottles or kegs of liquor. In The First Emigrant Train to California (Echoes of the Past, p. 119) Bidwell says:

Approaching Green River in the Rocky Mountains, it was found that some of the wagons, including Captain Bartleson’s, had alcohol on board, and that the owners wanted to find trappers in the Rocky Mountains to whom they might sell it. This was a surprise to many of us, as there had been no drinking on the way.

No drinking—because Bartleson was saving it up to sell to thirsty trappers. Enterprising fellow. This was a bit of entrepreneurship that hadn’t occurred to young John Bidwell. Bidwell was not a teetotaler at this time in his life, but he was not a drinking man and he hadn’t thought about bringing items to sell of any kind.

Bartleson’s wagon might have been like this, only with a cover on it.

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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