October 5, 1841 — Tired Men and Slow Oxen

Tuesday, 5th. Today was very warm, and the oxen were not able to keep up with the horses. Traveled about 30 miles and stopped on the river about dark — grass plenty, willows — this going so fast was the fault of Capt. B., nothing kept him from going as fast as his mules could possibly travel. But his dependence was on the oxen for beef — for it was now all we had to live upon.

This area of good grass and willows is probably what later became known as Lassen Meadows, named for Peter Lassen. Today it is the Rye Patch State Recreation Area.

Captain John Bartleson and the men of his mess, with their horses and mules, are pressing forward, going as swiftly as they are able. The entire company is anxious to get to California before the year and their meat supply, run out. But the oxen cannot travel as fast as the mounts, and the men are dependent on those oxen for meat. This disparity is causing friction in the company and will lead to greater dissension in a few days.

In The First Emigrant Train to California (Echoes of the Past) Bidwell wrote:

We were getting tired, and some were in favor of leaving the oxen, of which we then had only about seven or eight, and rushing on into California. They said there was plenty of beef in California. But some of us said, “No, our oxen are now our only supply of food. We are doing well, making eighteen or twenty miles a day.”

One morning when it was my turn at driving the oxen, the captain traveled so fast that I could not keep up, and was left far behind. When night came I had to leave the trail and go over a rocky declivity for a mile and a half into a gloomy, damp bottom, and unpack the oxen and turn them out to eat, sleeping myself without blankets.

We’ll get the rest of this story tomorrow, when Bidwell gets to camp. Tramping after the oxen, doing all the work alone and without food, was not going to put him in a good mood.

LOOKING SW DOWN THE HUMBOLDT RIVER NEAR LASSEN MEADOWS, photo by Bob Black https://emigranttrailswest.org/virtual-tour/california-trail/

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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