Wednesday, 29th. Traveled about 20 miles, course of the stream was W.N.W. According to the map Mary’s river ran W.S.W. Strong doubts were entertained about this being Mary’s river. The men who got directions at Fort Hall were cautioned that if we got too far south, we would get into the Great Sandy Desert-–if too far north, we would wander and starve to death on the waters of the Columbia, there being no possibility of getting through that way. We had now been 6 days on this stream, and our course had averaged considerably north of west.
Between Elko and Battle Mountain the Humboldt River runs west, and then at Battle Mountain it takes a turn north and runs northwest for some 50 miles to Winnemucca. (Of course, none of these towns existed then.) This is where Bidwell & Co. got very worried. If they kept going north they were going to end up in those bewildering canyons they had been warned about.
I don’t know whether John Bidwell or anyone else had a compass with them, but Bidwell frequently indicates their direction. He may have just been estimating the direction by the sun. He mentions a map, but they definitely did not have a map. There was not an accurate map to be had.
Bidwell had been shown a map of the West before he left Missouri. It showed two mighty rivers flowing out of the Great Basin all the way to the Pacific Ocean. Possibly that was the map he had in mind. That map, which he had seen at the home of Elam Brown, where he boarded during the winter of 1840-41, showed both rivers traveling southwest to the sea. No wonder he was worried.