Reminiscences of JOHN MUIR Dictated by Mrs. Annie K. Bidwell San Francisco, January 29, 1917. My husband and I had planned for a camping trip on Mt. Shasta, and we were to leave Chico in about a week, sending out supplies by rail to Sisson and riding horses. We intended to camp on Shasta and cross the country to the Mt. Lassem region through McCloud river region. There were no roads in this vicinity at that time. I met in San Francisco dear friends of our family, Dr. and Mrs. Asa Gray whom I had known from the time I was a little child. When I told Dr. Gray of our plan, he expressed great excitement about it and said Mt. Shasta was just where he and Sir Joseph Hooker, John Muir, and Professor Heyden. I assured him that my husband could accommodate his entire part, the result being that all but Professor Heyden accompanied us. They joined us at Rancho Chico and we set out from there, sending out camping outfit by train to Sisson where we joined our supplies. We drove and rode up to Mt. Shasta to the timber-line where we camped, Dr. Gray, Sir Joseph Hooker, and Mr. Muir ascending very much higher up the mountain where they found some of the plants for which they were searching. We camped there several days, and at night Mr. Muir would make immense fires to display the beauties of the silver fir, which in the glow of the fire assumed the appearance of the enormous pagodas of filigree silver. Mr. Muir would shout to Dr. Gray and Sir Joseph, “To look at the glory, to look at the glory.” But they would joke him about it, until finally I said, “Why do you tease Mr. Muir? Don’t you think it is beautiful?” “Of course it is,” they would respond, “but Mr. Muir is so enthusiastic we like to tease him!” After a few days Dr. Gray and Sir Joseph Hooker having an engagement in the East were obliged to leave, but Mr. Muir continued with us the journey to Mt. Lassea, for we had promised to show him the cinder cone region which a trapper, Hank Landt, had shown to my husband and me two years before, and which up to that time had been seen by no white man, so far as known, except Hank Landt, and by him only in winter, when it was frozen and covered with snow. The first time he took us there it was in all in its wild glory -- loons were going up and down the stream and trees still green were standing in the lake, which proved it had been, as the trapper said, a new formation. On this first expedition we also took our first several guests who descended into the crater of Cinder Cone, but my husband and I rode up the side of the mountain and looked down into it. To reach this region we had to pass through cinders and ashes which were so deep that our party had to walk, the horses being unable to pull the load through. These ashes extended away up on the mountainside, making it very difficult to reach. My husband reported to Dr. Harkness, the scientist, what we had seen on this trip, and persuaded him later to go over and see it, which he did, and wrote an article about it. But Dr. Harkness took to himself the credit of discovering it. We wished Mr. Muir now to see the marvels of that region, and his enthusiasm exceeded our fondest expectations. As we were making the descent from our camp on Mt. Shasta we were overtaken by a wonderful storm. We saw before us a beautiful wedge-shaped sheet of snow -- and an immense curtain of silver which waved and rippled from side to side as the wind blew. Mr. Muir said he never had seen such a wonderful scene. The mountainside was covered with snow and it was bitterly cold, but through this wonderful undulating veil of storm we could see the Sacramento Valley 75 miles away where the sun was beaming brilliantly. We crossed without any roads through the Sierran to a place on Clear Creek on the Susanville Road where this trapper lived. Such a trip as we had! The last time I saw him Mr. Muir said, “I must write up that trip, - it was one of the finest trips I ever had.” My husband had a marvelous capacity for obtaining any point in which he wished to reach and was determined to find his own way to Hank Landt’s. We had to cut our way through fallen trees, and Mr. Muir after dark would tie a handkerchief around his head so that we could see him and follow him, the moonlight making shadows that looked like great logs in our way. One night, especially, while exploring we were much alarmed as we thought we saw a bear coming toward us, which proved to be a rock of which Mr. Muir made a sketch which I still possess. Finally one night at twelve o’clock, after having traveled from seven in the morning from the McCloud River region, we reached the trapper’s. My husband had never before visited that spot by the route we had taken, but he suddenly stopped, saying, “This is the place.” Then he called, “Hank” and in answer said the word, “Yes.” We had not halted at all during the whole day except to rest the horses and they were so tired that they wouldn’t even drink that night. The yellow jackets had taken possession of most of the wells in the country which we traveled on the way, so that the water was exhausted. In crossing a highway we would always enquire where there was a well and Mr. Muir would go and look down into it and shriek “Run, - yellow jackets,” and my husband would have to hurry the horses away without water. From Hank Landt’s we went over to Cinder Cone. It was 15 miles, much of the way without any road, but when we reached the spot, Mr. Muir said it exceeded by far in interest and beauty anything he had imagined, as there was not only the great cone but millions of smaller cones of most brilliant colors, and the wonderful lake, which had no visible inlet or outlet at that time period. Mr. Muir explored the walls of rock which surround this lake and found the bones of mountain sheep. He also found trees not yet dead crushed under this upheaval. We also saw trees on the border of the lake which had been torn some distance into the trunk by the great stones that had been thrown against them. Mr. Muir on this trip said he discovered the first glacial action on lava. He would cry out to us, “Hurry, run, and see this wonderful thing.” I replied, “I can’t hurry any more than I can -- I am spitting blood right now.” (For I mistook the red dust which I had inhaled for blood.) And he called back, “It is worth dying to see this.” And then he showed us glacial marking on the lava and explained to us in which direction the glacier had passed over the lava. In fact Mr. Muir thought the whole of the Lassen region down to Big Meadows (where the Western Power Co. now has its great dam) was full of marvelous beauty. We also wished to show Mr. Muir the wonderful geysers of the region. Major P.B. Redding had told us about them, and my husband and I had organized a camping party and seen these wonderful geysers, which at that time were not known to the public. So we wished to show this Bumpus Hell, as it was called, to Mr. Muir, taking another route to them. But we found only a few of these smaller geysers, not the wonderful ones we had previously seen. So we decided to ascend to the top of Lassen. Mr. Muir pointed out a little cloud, seemingly about as big as a man’s hand, on top of this mountain, and said it would not be safe to climb to the top as a storm was coming up. But we were ignorant and persistent, and he led us up the mountain. But we were soon overwhelmed by a terrific rainstorm which changed into a peculiar combination of snow and ice in conical stones which beat on us furiously. We were obliged to abandon the ascent and seek a camping place in these high Sierras for the night where the horses could find some grass. We were soaked through and through and my husband and Mr. Muir made a big fire. Mr. Muir was so merry and so funny, we laughed and laughed, for the storm had now passed on leaving us behind. We lay down under some wonderful trees, the Williamsonii, in a bed of stones with a log for our heads and our saddles across the log for pillows. But Mr. Muir would not go to sleep. He said it was wicked to sleep in the presence of such glorious scenery and such splendid trees. The stars had come out after the storm and were shining with an intense brilliancy which was startling and the moonlight illuminated the gorgeous canyons that fell thousands of feet right down at our side. Every now and then as Mr. Muir would stir the fire the sparks would fall upon our wrapping as Mr. Muir afterward described the scene, “General Bidwell would rise, exclaiming--, ‘Upon my word, ’shake off the fire, and down he would drop. Miss Kennedy would rise, like a great beetle, shake off the sparks from her quilt and immediately fall asleep again. When Mrs. Bidwell got on fire she would brush the sparks from her blankets and fall down again on her saddle pillow among the rocks.” He said we slept that night on beds of stone as he never had seen anyone sleep: and indeed he was very much shocked that anyone would sleep in such a night. In the morning the hair ornaments on the saddles were covered with icicles from our breath, and although it had been a very cold night, none of us took any cold. We had taken provisions for only two days, but in exploring Mount Lassen we were gone four days. Each one carried his own provisions in his horse’s nosebag, along with a little grain for the horse, and the bedding was rolled up and tied on the back of the saddle. The animal which Mr. Muir was riding was very stubborn, and my husband would often say, “Why don;t you go ahead and pull the horse?” and Mr. Muir would answer, “This isn't a horse, this is a fool.” We finally made our way down the mountain to Rancho Chico. We had been telling Mr. Muir of the beautiful Chico Creek which ran through our ranch in the valley and at which we had laughed, saying he had never seen any valley stream that could compare with a mountain stream. But when he saw that stream rushing down through the canyon and past our home in all its sparkling beauty, he said he never had seen a more lovely stream than that creek. In all the pleasant days we had spent with Mr. Muir it was a revelation to us -- wherever we stepped he had something wonderful to show us. He would point what would seem to us grass or little inconspicuous vegetation and show us tiny trees with the fruit or blossom upon them, and our beds were often of the ceanothus prostratus, which we considered a great luxury. Mr. Muir made us quite a visit, exploring the canyon and studying the rocks, some of which he said was the foundation rocks of this universe -- that when the Bible said, “He hath builded the rocks,” God did use the rocks in creating the earth. He called attention to the difference in rock structure, saying that there were many kinds of rocks, and illustrating this point by Yosemite Half Dome which is built like an onion (for it peels off.) The rocks of Rancho Chico were broken all up in the shape of prisms, and while he was not willing without further investigation to make any definite assertion, he thought that the canyon had been made by glacial action, but that many of the rocks there were the foundation rocks as God had made them. The vesicular lava he believed had been thrown from the Lassen region, but this he would not assert without further study. While visiting us he expressed to my husband the desire to start from Rancho Chico and float in a skiff down the Sacramento River to Stockton so my husband and his carpenter build a skiff which was loaded with bedding and provisions -- more than Mr. Muir wished, his usual provision being a bag of bread. He would never kill any game and he said that bread kept better, was easier to carry, and that he could live better on it. The skiff was adorned with an American flag at bow and stern. We stood on the stream bank and watched the little skiff as he pushed it out into the river with flags flying, sending us back cheery goodbyes. His letter of what happened on that trip will speak for itself. In the “Snag Jumper” as he called it, he reached his destination in safety.
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Bidwell, Annie K., "Reminiscence of John Muir by Bidwell, Annie K." (1917). Reminiscences about John Muir. 4.