October 29, 1841 — “A Time of Great Discouragement”

Friday, 29th. Last night, the Indians stole a couple of our horses. About noon we passed along by several huts, but they were deserted as soon as we came in sight, the Indians running in great consternation into the woods. At one place the bones of a horse were roasting in a fire; they were undoubtedly the bones of the horses we had lost. Travelled no less than 9 miles today; the night was very cool and had a heavy frost. Although our road was tolerably level today, yet we could see no termination to the mountains–and one much higher than the others terminated our view. Mr. Hopper, our best and most experienced hunter, observed that, “If California lies beyond those mountains we shall never be able to reach it.”

Most of the Company were on foot, in consequence of the horses giving out, and being stolen by Indians, but many were much fatigued and weak for the want of sufficient provision; others, however stood it very well. Some had appetites so craving that they eat the meat of most of the mule raw, as soon as it was killed; some eat it half roasted, dripping with blood.

Weary and worn to the bone, barely living on the meat of their own pack animals, struggling down rocky canyons, the Company was in a desperate situation. With no map and no guide, they had not a clue where they were, and they could see no end to their journey.

Nancy Kelsey, who had started up into the Sierras riding a horse, with Baby Ann on her lap, was now walking. In her own recollection, taken down by a friend in 1893, she says, “I walked barefoot until my feet were blistered.”

Bidwell recalled in his 1877 Dictation:

As we approached the San Joaquin Valley, the Coast Range Mountains or that portion of which Mt. Diablo is the northern terminus, rose to view in the blue distance, but we had no knowledge of any intervening valley. Our traveling had been so circuitous, so irregular and indirect, that it was impossible for any one to say where we were or how far we had yet to travel.

It was the opinion of most if not all that we were not yet within five hundred miles of the Pacific Ocean. That the blue range bounding the western horizon was simply the beginning of other and perhaps great ranges beyond. Then came a time of great discouragement, some saying if California lay beyond other ranges of mountains, that we could never live to get there.

And yet they are almost there. Their location was not far from the present-day historic gold-rush town of Sonora, the “Queen of the Southern Mines.” They are in gold country, and soon they will be in the fruitful San Joaquin Valley.

View toward Mt. Diablo from Mission Peak (this is actually the wrong side of Mt. Diablo)

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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