September 19, 1841 — Lost in the Desert

Sunday, 19th. This morning I met 3 men who were coming to bring me water, etc. Arrived at camp; they journeyed yesterday about 17 miles, did not travel today.

This entry doesn’t tell much. The company is camped at a place called Warm Springs and John Bidwell recuperates there after his ordeal in the desert. He must have been exhausted. He was also quite angry with Captain Bartleson, who had kept the party moving forward after promising to wait for Bidwell. All that will come out in later tellings of the story.

For the rest of the story about finding the oxen and returning to the wagon train, we have to look at other accounts. This is from The First Emigrant Train to California (Echoes of the Past):

They [the Company] had promised to stop when they came to water and wait for me. I traveled all night,and at early dawn came to where there was plenty of water and where the company had taken their dinner the day before, but they had failed to stop for me according to promise.

I was much perplexed, because I had seen many fires in the night, which I took to be Indian fires, so I fastened my oxen to a scraggy willow and began to make circles around to see which way the company had gone. The ground was so hard that the animals had made no impression, which bewildered me. Finally, while making a circle of about three miles away off to the south, I saw two men coming on horseback. In the glare of the mirage, which distorted everything, I could not tell whether they were Indians or white men, but I supposed them to be Indians, feeling sure our party would go west and not south. In a mirage a man on horseback looks as tall as a tree and I could only tell by the motion that they were mounted.

I made a beeline to my oxen, to make breastworks of them. In doing so I came to a small stream resembling running water, into which I urged my horse, whereupon he went down into a quagmire, over head and ears, out of sight. My gun also went under the mire. I got hold of something on the bank, threw out my gun, which was full of mud and water, and holding to the rope attached to my horse, by dint of hard pulling, I succeeded in getting him out — a sorry sight, his ears and eyes full of mud, and his body covered with it. At last, just in time, I was able to move and get behind the oxen. My gun was in no condition to shoot. However, putting dry powder in the pan, I was determined to do my best in case the supposed Indians should come up; but lo! they were two of our party, coming to meet me, bringing water and provisions.

It was a great relief. I felt indignant that they party had not stopped for me–-not the less so when I learned that Captain Bartleson had said, when they started back to find me, that they “would be in better business to go ahead and look for a road.” He had not forgotten certain comments of mine of his qualities as a student of Indian character.

There was no love lost between John Bidwell and John Bartleson. Bidwell, who considered himself a good judge of character and a man of “self-possession,” considered Bartleson to be a hot-headed ignoramus. Bartleson had previously shown himself to be careless of the Company’s safety when approached by unknown Indians.. Moreover, Bartleson would do nothing in the future to distinguish himself.

The two men who came to the rescue were Robert H. Thomes (for whom Thomes Creek in Tehama County is named) and Grove C. Cook. If there was a third man (as he says in his journal entry) it was probably “Cheyenne” Dawson.

Water! by Frederic Remington

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.
This entry was posted in Bidwell-Bartleson Party, Robert Thomes, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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