October 25, 1841 — Mule Meat

Monday, 25th. Went about 6 miles and found it impossible to proceed. Went back about 2 miles and encamped — dug holes in the ground to deposit such things as we could dispense with. Did not do it, discovering the Indians were watching us, among them was the old, rascally pilot.

As they came down in elevation, they encountered more and more Indians. The natives were wary of these interlopers — some of them had experience of the missions and had escaped to return to the mountains.

Although most of the men did not cache their belongings, one man did. “Cheyenne” Dawson recalled:

Green, whose pack of lead which he clung to most solicitously, had been growing heavier for his weakened animal, took Grove Cook with him, and going off into some gulch secreted or cached it.

Talbot H. Green had with him a heavy bundle of “lead,” which in spite of its weight he refused to abandon until they were in the Sierras. Later he and Cook, with an Indian guide, would go back to find it. Green and his lead were not what they seemed, and you can read all about it in The Sensational Saga of Talbot H. Green.

The Company was on short rations. They had killed their last ox three days before. Game was amazingly scarce in the mountains. They shot a wildcat and a few squirrels, but never any deer. They tried eating acorns, but the bitter tannin in the untreated acorns made them sick.

Years later Bidwell could still vividly recall how he longed for good food, especially bread.

Some of the meat of one of the mules had been saved in case of an emergency for it was evident the meat of the last ox would soon be consumed. When it was gone, most if not all of us refused to touch the mule meat for some time. I was always so fond of bread that I could not imagine how any one could live without it. How the people in the Rocky Mountains [the trappers] had been able to live on meat alone was to me a mystery.

When our flour began to give out, the idea of doing without bread was painful to me, and by great economy my mess managed to eke out their flour a short time longer than the others. It was bad enough to have poor beef, but when brought to it we longed for fat beef and thought with it we might possibly live without bread. But when poor mule meat stared us in the face, we said if we could only have beef, no matter how poor, we could live. (1877 Dictation)

The Lone Prospector, by Alburtus Del Orient Browere, 1853. Courtesy of the Oakland Museum

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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