Mountain Prices

John Bidwell recorded some prices in his entry for July 25, 1841.

I will not omit to state the prices of several kinds of mountain goods. Powder which is sold by the cupful (pint) is worth $1 per cup. Lead 1.50 per lb., good Mackinaw blankets 8 to 15 dollars; sugar $1 per cupful; pepper $1 also; cotton and calico shirts from 3 to 5$; rifles from 30 to 60. In return, you will receive dressed deerskins at $3, pants made of deerskins $10, beaver skins $10, moccasins $1; flour sold in the Mts. at 50 cents per cupful, tobacco at $2 per lb., butcher knives from 1 to 3$. A good gun is worth as much as a horse; a cap lock is preferred, caps worth $1 per box.

These prices would have shocked the folks back home. For comparison, here are a few prices in Massachusetts in 1841, from Comparative Wages, Prices and Cost of Living (1885) which contains prices going back to the 1790s.

White sugar sold for 15 cents a pound (and there are several cups in a pound), flour sold for 4 cents a pound, or $7 a barrel, and pepper was 20 cents a pound. A blanket cost $5.50 but whether it was a “good Mackinaw blanket” I don’t know.

Pocket knives were 25 cents each; a butcher knife would have cost somewhat more, maybe 50 cents. Tobacco was 20 to 28 cents a pound, so you can see that the price had increased 8-fold in the mountains.

This must be where John Bidwell acquired the “buckskin suit” he mentions wearing when he and Jimmy John went to get some snow from the mountains.

Illustration by Steve Ferchaud

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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