October 31, 1841 — “Joyful Sight!”

Sunday, 31st. Bore off in a N.W. direction to the nearest timber; day was warm, plain dry and dusty, reached timber, which was white oak (very low & shrubby) and finally the river which we had left in the mts., joyful sight to us poor famished wretches!!! Hundreds of antelope in view! Elk tracks thousands! Killed two antelopes and some wild fowls; the valley of the river was very fertile and the young tender grass covered it like a field of wheat in May. Not a weed was to be seen, and the land was as mellow and free from weeds as land could be made by plowing it 20 times in the U.S. Distance today 20 miles.

Bidwell is looking at the valley land with the eye of a farmer. He wrote this on the evening of the 31st, but that morning and the night before was quite a different story.

Night found us scattered on a line four miles in length. Every one traveled as long as he could see and then lay down to sleep. There was absolutely nothing for the horses to eat. Fire had left the valley black and desolate. We had killed a second mule and the meat still held out. At night we would unsaddle our animals and turn them loose. There was nothing for them to eat and not even a bush to tie them to.

When morning came the foremost of the party waited for the others to come up. They had found water in a stagnant pond, but what was better, they had killed a fat coyote, and with us it was anything but mule meat. As for myself, I was unfortunate being among those in the rear and not aware of the fest in advance. I did not reach it in time to get any of the coyote except the lights [lungs] and the windpipe. Longing for fat meat and willing to eat anything but poor mule meat and seeing a little fat on the windpipe, I threw it on the coals to warm it and greedily devoured it. (1877 Dictation)

Coyote

That was his breakfast, but dinner in the valley was another thing altogether. Somewhere near the present day town of Oakdale they came out of the foothills and down into the valley along the Stanislaus River, which they had followed off and on all down the western slope. They feasted on antelope and sandhill crane, and “ripe and luscious wild grapes.” Their horses feasted on the new grass just springing up from the fire-burnt ground. What a difference from morning to evening!

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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