Where Is/Was Bidwell Avenue?


A section of the map of the subdivisions of John Bidwell’s Rancho.

Take a look at the section labeled NUMBER 3. It’s at the top of the map. That’s where I live, on Bidwell Ave.

The Bidwell Ave. on this old map runs from Lindo Channel to the County Road (now Bell Road). Today there is another Bidwell Avenue in town which runs along Big Chico Creek west of Nord Ave. (Highway 32.) At one time there must have been two Bidwell Avenues in Chico.

I guess my street lost the coin toss, because it is not called Bidwell Avenue today. I wish it was. It is now Alamo Avenue, between Guynn Ave. on the west and Cussick on the east, although Cussick didn’t make it on to this map.

There are some other interesting things to notice on this section. Grant Ave., to the west of Guynn, is now Nord Ave. The Grange is located where Grant and Rodeo intersect.  But Nord Ave. is also Hwy. 32, which is confusing. Why they didn’t leave that section with the name Grant I have no idea.

On this old map Nord Ave. ends at Lindo Channel, and the road on the other side is Gray Street. When Nord was extended, Gray turned into Nord. East Avenue didn’t even exist.

I suspect that John Bidwell named Gray Street after his orchard manager, George Moses Gray, and Grant Avenue after General Ulysses S. Grant, whom he greatly admired. He probably wouldn’t have cared for the name changes.

I have always wondered if the big old black walnut trees along Alamo Ave. were planted by General Bidwell. I like to think they were, and the fact that this road existed in his day, and was named after him, makes me think they must have been.

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More about the Rancho Chico Map

This map has the name “B. Cussick, Agt” near the bottom. The name helps date the map. So who was B. Cussick?

Bernard Cussick, known as Barney, was born in New York state in 1848. In 1876 he came to California, and after a year in Eureka, he moved to Butte County as foreman with the Sierra Lumber Company. For almost twenty years he managed lumber mills in the mountains at Butte Meadows and at West Branch, becoming Sierra Lumber’s Chico division mountain manager in 1884. He was responsible for a number of innovations and improvements in mill operations and lumber transport. According to Andy Mark, in his book The West Branch Mill of the Sierra Lumber Company, Cussick was the first to use Dolbeer donkey engines and steam hoisting equipment in the region.

In 1895, due to poor health, he left the mountains and the lumber business and came to Chico to pursue a career in real estate.  He laid out and sold several tracts of John Bidwell’s Rancho Chico — the map was undoubtedly part of this promotion. Bidwell mentions meeting with him several times in his diary for 1898. He made for himself a successful second career in banking and real estate. Among his many deals, he was instrumental in promoting the sugar beet industry in Hamilton City.


Grave marker for Barney Cussick in Chico Cemetery.

Barney Cussick died in 1917. His obituary in the Chico Record called him “a man’s man” and noted that he was “a man of brawn and rugged form, and rugged views of life; a man who fought his way from humble beginnings to a place of wealth and a director of large affairs. With his brawn he had brains, and with both, a heart.”

Barney Cussick’s name lives on as a street name — Cussick Avenue is on the north side of Chico and links Holly Ave. with Bay.


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Rancho Chico Map

On my recent trip to the Bancroft Library I looked at this “Map Showing the Subdivisions of the John Bidwell Rancho,” which is in the Bidwell Family papers there.  I don’t think Meriam Library has a copy of this, or if they do, it hasn’t been digitized. They do have a negative image of one section, titled “Map of the Seventh Subdivision of the John Bidwell Rancho.”


Map of the Subdivisions of Rancho Chico

The map is not dated, although based on the name B. Cussick, I think it is from around 1898. If anyone knows more about this map and when it was made, I’d like to know. Here is a close-up of the title portion:



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Another Place to Buy the Books

My two books, John and Annie Bidwell: The Long and the Short of It and John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer, are now available at My Girlfriend’s Closet in Paradise. You can get other titles from local authors there as well. Check it out — My Girlfriend’s Closet is a lovely store filled with new and gently used clothing at great prices and unique gift items. John and Annie Bidwell: The Long and the Short of It would make a great gift for your favorite elementary school teacher.

Other outlets where you can buy my books are The General’s Store at Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park, Made in Chico, The Bookstore (on Main St. in Chico), and The Rusty Wagon in Orland. Stay tuned for more places to get the books!

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How Indians saved the life of Gen. Bidwell

I was looking through a carton of Annie Bidwell’s papers at the Bancroft Library and came across the following story. It is a typewritten sheet, not dated. I assume it was dictated by Annie, since she always referred to her husband as “the General,” although in this case he was not a general at the time the incident happened. I don’t know who George Burchard was — he doesn’t show up in either John or Annie’s diaries.

Anyway, it’s a good story. I like the image of John Bidwell scooting to safety between the legs of a row of Indians.

An incident in which the Indians saved the life of Gen. Bidwell

 A man by the name of George Burchard told the story. It seems the General had sent a number of Indians out gathering gold. A man named Lapal, an Indian, was leader of the Indian gang and also interpreter for the Indians. This man Lapal took one gang down to a certain place to gather gold and while they were working there a white man came up with a double barrel shot gun. It is told that this man was a good and just man and did not offer to shoot any of the Indians but wanted to know who told them to work there, — who gave them the privilege. Usually the white men shot them down if they were not doing what they thought they should, but this man did not do that.

            The Indian told this white man that General Bidwell sent them there and then he wanted to know where the General was and was told that he was down to camp. He said he was going down to see him. He made his threat that he would kill him. Lapal said he guessed they were going to have trouble and so they started to the camp and called to the General. As he understood their language he understood that the man was going to kill him. These Indians all stood in single file and told the General to run between their legs and in that way he got to the canon. This white man who had come with the gun said he knew the Indians did not come there of their own account and told them not to go there again, — said he did not want to shoot them but wanted to see who they were working for, so they never went back anymore as there had evidently been some mistake about the place and who had the privilege to work there. It was near Bidwell’s Bar.

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Kanakas in California

When John Sutter came to California it could hardly have been by a more roundabout route. Born in Switzerland, he migrated to America in 1834, leaving behind his considerable debts (thousands of francs) and his considerable family (wife and five children). After spending a few years on the Missouri frontier, he once again escaped his troubles by heading west, this time with a fur-trading company. Arriving at Fort Vancouver in the Oregon Territory in 1838, he planned to immediately travel down to California where he hoped to carve out his own little barony, but bad winter weather and Indians made him reconsider.


Map from The Sacramento Bee.

Sutter wasn’t a man to wait around all winter for the weather to clear up. Instead he took ship for Hawaii, figuring that from there he could get another ship bound for California. But months went by and no ship left for California. Sutter put the time to good use. He made useful contacts among the Americans and Europeans and told exaggerated tales of his military experience in Europe. He gathered a considerable amount of trade goods on credit (he was always good at that.) He met King Kamehameha III and other high-ranking Hawaiians and impressed everyone with his genial charm and fine clothes.

After several months of waiting he finally left on a ship bound for  . . . Sitka, Alaska. With him he took ten Kanakas. At this time it was typical for an Hawaiian Alii (a chief) to contract out commoners (Kanakas) who were under him. Sutter was supposed to pay them ten dollars a month and return them to Hawaii in three years. He did neither.

The Kanakas, eight men and two women, were invaluable to Sutter in establishing himself in California, once he got there. He set sail for Sitka on April 20, 1839, spent a month there, and arrived at San Francisco Bay in July. By August, with the permission of the Mexicans, he was sailing through the delta and up the Sacramento River to found his colony.

Arriving at the confluence of the Sacramento and American Rivers, the Kanaka men went to work building grass huts as shelters. They trained Indian workers in farming and herding. “I could not have settled the country without the aid of these Kanakas,” Sutter declared in his memoirs. The two women were “very useful in teaching the Indian girls to wash, sew, etc.” At least one of them also became Sutter’s substitute wife.

The Kanakas stayed with Sutter. Their physical resemblance to the local natives helped them make friendly contact with the Indians. The men intermarried with native Californian women, and there are today Miwok tribal members who can trace an Hawaiian strain in their ancestry. With the Gold Rush came more Hawaiians, and “Kanaka” became a name on the map, including a Kanaka Bar on the Feather River.

A diverse place indeed — California!



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Diversity at New Helvetia

The colony that John Sutter gathered around him in California was nothing if not diverse. When John Bidwell made his way to John Sutter’s settlement in November 1841, he found Sutter living amongst a motley crew gathered from the far corners of the world. Sutter needed all kinds of workers, and got them wherever he could find them.


John A. Sutter in 1850, the earliest photograph.

His clerk, Octave Custot, was a Frenchman. Two of his fur trappers were men he had picked up on his way to California: Nicolaus Allgeier from Germany and Sabastian Keyser from Austria. There were the Scotsman John Sinclair, a former merchant in Hawaii, and the Irishman John Chamberlain, a blacksmith who had deserted from a whaling ship. In the summer of 1841 Sutter had hired several workmen in Monterey, including “a Negro . . . a good cooper — the first darkey in the valley.”

When the French attaché Count Eugene Duflot de Mofras visited in September 1841 he reported “30 white men, including Germans, Swiss, Canadian, Americans, Frenchmen and Englishmen” all working away at “cutting wood, operating forges, or in carpentry.” New Helvetia was a bustling place. The men were all living with Indian or Californian women, and quite a number of mixed-race children were running around.

The largest number of Sutter’s workforce were the Miwok and Nisenen Indians that he had attracted to work for him as vaqueros and field laborers. They worked for the desirable trade goods that could only be bought at Sutter’s store, and Sutter kept a good stock of clothing, metal goods, beads and blankets with which to pay the Indians. Sutter was also not above using violence against the Indians if that would keep them in line.

Perhaps the most surprising members of this international cast of characters were the Kanakas, or Hawaiians, that lived with Sutter. How did Sutter come to have Hawaiians living at New Helvetia? Stay tuned and I’ll tell you about the Kanakas next time.

(Information in this post is from John Sutter: A Life on the North American Frontier, by Albert L. Hurtado.)



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