November 4, 1841 — Hurrah for California!

Thursday, 4th. Left the river in good season and departing gradually from its timber came into large marshes of bulrushes. We saw large herds of elk and wild horses grazing upon the plain. The earth was in many places strongly impregnated with salt — came into hills. Here were a few scattering oaks — land appeared various, in some places black, some light clay color, and in other mulatto (between black and white) sometimes inclining to a red soil, but all parched with heat.

Finally we arrived at Marsh’s house, which is built of unburnt bricks, small and has no fireplace — wanting a floor and covered with bulrushes. In fact it was not what I expected to find; a hog was killed for the company. We had nothing else but beef; the latter was used as bread, the former as meat. Therefore I will say we had bread and meat for dinner. Several of our company were old acquaintances of Marsh in Missouri, and therefore much time was passed in talking about old times, the incidents of our late Journey, and our future prospects.

All encamped about the house — tolerably well pleased with the appearance of Dr. Marsh, but much disappointed with regard to his situation, for among all his shrubby white oaks, there was not one tall enough to make a rail-cut. No other timber in sight, excepting a few cottonwoods and willows.

After the skimpy rations of the past few months, the men hungered for fat meat, and the pork was welcome, even if it came in a beef and pork “sandwich.” Bidwell might have been hoping for bread too. But he had no complaints about the food Marsh gave them that first night.

You can tell from this entry that Bidwell is very interested in the potential of the land for farming — the quality of the soil, the lack of rain, the availability of timber.

Considering the glowing reports of California that Marsh had sent back east, Bidwell was surprised at the primitive conditions he was living in. A small adobe house with a dirt floor and no fireplace -– hardly what Bidwell had envisioned. He was accustomed to cooking over a fireplace indoors, but in California the cooking was generally done outside in the courtyard.

Marsh’s adobe might have looked like this, without the chimney. Reading Adobe, courtesy of Special Collections, CSU Chico.

“Cheyenne” Dawson contributed a vivid account:

So we had reached California — the first truly distinctive American emigrant train to do so. . . . We had expected to find civilization — with big fields, fine houses, churches, schools, etc. Instead, we found houses resembling unburnt brick kilns, with no floors, no chimneys, and with the openings for doors and windows closed by shutters, instead of glass. There were no fields or fencing in sight — only a strong lot made of logs, called a corral. Cattle and horses were grazing everywhere, but we soon found that there was nothing to eat but poor beef.

Marsh was very kind and asked us what we craved most. We told him something fat. He had a fat hog. This he killed for us, and divided it among the messes. He also had a small quantity of seed wheat that he was saving to plant. A part of this he had made into tortillas for us.

He told us that if we wished we could sleep in the house. This novel experience some of us tried, but we were much disturbed by fleas, and sick-stomached men crawling over us to get out. They had eaten too much pork.

Below is a map of John Marsh’s Rancho. The adobe is at the bottom, by the creek. Take out the big house in the center, the barns, and the garden to get an idea of what Marsh’s home looked like in 1841.

Map courtesy of the John Marsh Historic Trust

The journey was over, but the adventure would continue. John Bidwell was now embarking on a new life, the life of a Californian. He would spend the next 59 years in his new home state.

Two more brief entries will conclude the journal.

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.
This entry was posted in Bidwell-Bartleson Party, John Marsh, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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