October 10, 1841 — Honeydew, Anyone?

[Sunday, 10th] Large numbers of Indians lived about this place, but few (50 or 60) visited our camp. Crossed Mary’s river — it was here running E. leading from the lake which we saw to the W. of us yesterday, into the swamp by which we staid last night. Our course today was S.W. Distance 15 miles — encamped upon the lake.

Fifty or sixty hardly sounds like few to me, but maybe it’s all relative.

On the 7th Bidwell wrote about the “dry cane grass which the Indians had cut in large heaps to procure honey from the honey dew with which it was covered.” The Indians in this region are Paiutes, although Bidwell usually refers to them as Shoshones. Here is a little more about honeydew from his 1877 Dictation.

In the edges of the water the tule was covered with honeydew to an extent that enabled the Indians to gather it in large quantities. They made it into balls about the size of one’s fist and we bought and ate considerable of it. When we afterwards saw them gathering it, we saw that the Indians collected the insects that covered the honeydew as well as the dew itself and formed the whole into a ball.

According to a report titled Native American Plant Resources in the Yucca Mountain Area, Nevada, this reed was Phragmites australis. “The stems of this plant were used to make arrow shafts and wickiup walls. The candy-like,”honey dew’ exudate was scraped off the leaves and eaten as a sugary food.” The honeydew was created by aphids, which were included in the sugary balls. It was undoubtedly a very nutritious food.

Paiute girls with water jugs

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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