Wednesday, 20th. Men went in different directions to see if there was any possibility of extracting ourselves from this place without going back. They returned and reported that it was utterly impossible to go down the creek. One young man was so confident that he could pass along the creek with his horse that he started alone, in spite of many persuasions to the contrary.
Capt. B. also being tired of waiting for the explorers to return, started down the stream, which so jaded his animals that he was obliged to wait all day to rest them before he was able to retrace his steps. In the meantime the rest of the Company, suffering for want of water, were obliged to travel. We proceeded directly N. up the mountains, about 4 miles, found a little grass and water — here we killed one of the 2 oxen.
Lost in the mountains — no way of knowing where they were or how to get out — only two oxen left for food. Not a good situation.
They are within the present-day Stanislaus National Forest. On the map below, they are near where Donell Reservoir is today. (At the end of the word “National.)
Among the “men who went in different directions” were John Bidwell and James John — cautious John and impulsive Jimmy. In his 1877 Dictation, and in Echoes of the Past, Bidwell tells the story of their attempt to find a way out of the canyon. The men all agreed that if any of them found a way which was passable, they were to fire a gun to alert the others.
When Jimmy and I got down about three-quarters of a mile I came to the conclusion that it was impossible to get through, and said to him, ‘Jimmy, we might as well go back; we can’t go here.’ “’Yes, we can,’ said he; and insisting that we could, he pulled out a pistol and fired. It was an old dragoon pistol, and reverberated like a cannon.
I hurried back to tell the company not to come down, but before I reached them, the captain and his party had started. I explained and warned them that they could not get down; but they went on as far as they could go, and then were obliged to stay all day and night to rest the animals. The men had to pick grass here and there where it grew among the rocks for their horses and mules. To get water, they went down to the stream and carried the water back up in cups and kettles, and even their boots, and then poured the water down the animals’ throats.
Meanwhile, Jimmy John continued down the stream on his own. His journal says:
I went on down the creek a few miles and waited for the company until night, but no one came here. I camped by the side of a frightful looking precipice. My gun fired accidentally as I lit from my horse this evening and the muzzle was so close to my head that the powder burned my ear and frightened the horse so that he jumped and knocked my gun into the creek, but I lost no time in getting it dry again.
When the others didn’t catch up with him, Jimmy continued on his own.
J. John was never more seen by any of us till we found him afterwards in California. His experience after he left us was of the severest character. He was repeatedly chased by Indians and was without anything to eat until he was nearly starved yet managed to get through to Sutter’s Fort and told S. of our being on the route. (1877 Bidwell Dictation)
They have followed Clark’s Fork to where it converges with the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus River and then followed the Middle Fork to its confluence with Dardanelles Creek. Here’s a little video of the Middle Fork of the Stanislaus.