October 16, 1841 — The Return of Captain Bartleson

Saturday, 16th. This morning 4 or 5 men started to ascend several of the high peaks to ascertain if it was possible to pass the mountains. Just as they were going to start Capt. B. came up. He was in rather a hungry condition, and had been traveling several days without provision, excepting a few nuts which they had purchased from the Indians and which they had eaten on a very small allowance.

We killed yesterday the best ox we had. This we shared freely with them. There were now but 3 oxen left and they were very poor. But there was no time to lose. The explorers returned & reported that they thought it almost an impracticality to scale the mountains, which continued to increase in height as far as they could see.

This evening the Company was convened for the purpose of deciding by vote whether we should go back to the lake and take a path which we saw leading to the N.W., or undertake to climb the mountains. We had no more provisions than would last us to the lake — nearly all were unanimous against turning back. I should have mentioned that our Indian pilots last night absconded. This stream I shall call Balm river, there being many balm Gilead trees upon it. (It is not laid down on any map.)

So John Bartleson and his companions return, dragging their sorry tails behind them. “They had the commissary with them,” as Dawson relates, meaning the oxen, dinner on the hoof, so they had to catch up and rejoin the company. The renegades told how they had subsisted on pine nuts and fish traded from the Indians. The fish gave them “something akin to cholera morbus”, as Bidwell later said. A bad case of the runs, in other words.

We were glad to see them although they had deserted us. We ran out to meet them and shook hands, and put our frying-pans on and gave them the best supper we could. Captain Bartleson, who when we started from Missouri was a portly man, was reduced to half his former girth. He said, “Boys! If I ever get back to Missouri, I will never leave that country. I would gladly eat out of the troughs with my dogs.” He seemed to be heartily sick of his late experience, but that did not prevent him from leaving us twice after that.

Up into the mountains, or back into the desert? What a dilemma! But they didn’t want to face the desert again, so they chose they mountains, where they hoped to find game. I am not sure which lake he is talking about — he might mean Carson Lake. But then what? They don’t have the knowledge or resources to survive in this harsh landscape like the Paiute. So they chose to press forward.

Time for a nice fall hike in the Eastern Sierra Nevada

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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