September 25, 1841 — South Fork

Saturday, 25th. The creek became perfectly dry and its banks rose to high perpendicular precipices, so that there was no other road than the dry bed of the stream. Having come about 15 miles, we encamped in a place affording a little grass and water, where we could see nothing but the sky. But the men who ascended the precipice to see what was in the prospect ahead said that in about a mile we would come to a valley–this was delightful news.

They are in one of the canyons formed by the South Fork of the Humboldt River. It is the end of the summer, so the riverbed is dry. A couple of the men climb to the top of the canyon and come back with good news: there is a valley up ahead.

Here is Bidwell, describing the journey along this stream bed in the 1877 Dictation.

We followed down the stream, but it soon ceased to have any water. This dry streambed we had to cross many times, but at last the banks became so steep that we were confined to the bed of the stream itself. Our animals became very footsore, so much so that they could scarcely stand, yet it was too rocky for them to lie down and the hills were too steep to attempt to get out of the canyon.

We all agreed that it would be impossible for the animals to retrace their steps, as they were much too worn down and jaded. Then came the discussion of the Fort Hall information that if we went too far north we would get into canyons that led into the Columbia River and that we would find it impossible to escape from them. As this canyon had led us in a northerly direction for nearly a day, many became greatly alarmed, believing we had gotten into one of those canyons and would perish there.

Can you imagine the talk going round and round, “Are we too far north? Are we too far south? What did they tell you at Fort Hall? Didn’t they say anything else? What are we going to do? Are we too far north?” and on and on, while they struggle along a rocky creek bed with their starved and miserable animals.

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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