September 30, 1841 — What’s in Your Pack?

Thursday, 30th. Our course today was about due north, 18 miles.

It was more like northwest, but Bidwell’s entry betrays his anxiety. They want to go west, they were told the river ran west, why are they headed north?

They occasionally saw Indians, but had very little success finding game. This was a problem, since they were totally out of provisions. In his 1877 Dictation he recalled:

We descended the Humboldt River seeing more or less Indians who did not appear to be hostile, yet they did not approach us. The country was almost destitute of game. We saw scarcely any deer or antelope. The whole region had been recently burned over. Almost our only dependence for provisions therefore was on our oxen, which we were still driving to meet any emergency, although they had become so poor that they could carry no loads.

If his oxen couldn’t carry loads, then Bidwell was packing everything he still owned on his back. What did he have in his backpack? Probably a blanket, eating utensils, his journal and a pencil, and some ammunition.

And two books.

John Bidwell kept two items which he could not bear to part with: a small textbook on astronomy called The Geography of the Heavens, and the large illustrated Celestial Atlas that went with it. These were too precious to leave behind in the desert. He had purchased them in St. Louis, Missouri so he could teach himself astronomy, and he would carry them all the way to California. 

The star-gazing would have been good in Nevada. You can still see these books at the California State Library.

Isn’t that amazing?

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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