100 Years Ago

File this under “They Don’t Write Newspapers Like They Used To”—


Random photo of two Californians

100 years ago:


(Originally published in the Oroville Mercury and republished in the Chico Daily Enterprise Nov. 28)

There are some 85 wealthy widows in Chico, according to the sworn statement of the Enterprise, who are waiting for some handsome man to propose to them.

By a coincidence there are 30 handsome and husky bachelors in Wyandotte. The Enterprise has publicly stated it is ready to sacrifice the interests of Chico by marrying off any of these widows. The Mercury has a list of Wyandotte bachelors. Let the Enterprise send in a list of widows and the county clerk and Judge J.V. Parks will get busy.

“Exhibit A” is a fine, tall, 6-footer, who has a good disposition, is kind to animals and owns a ranch. He would not object to a widow, especially a wealthy one, providing she is a good cook. Short, stout blonde preferred.

“Exhibit B” short, plump and dark. Also owns a ranch. Plays the oboe but would discontinue his musical exercises if his future wife objects to music. Would like as a life partner a tall, dark, slim, widow.

“Exhibit C” tall, handsome and — but why throw all our cards on the board?

In fact, to give those Chico widows a chance we will even go so far as to print a list of some of the Wyandotte bachelors, kindly furnished us by Fred Cornehl, a public spirited citizen of Wyandotte.

— Chico Daily Enterprise, Nov. 28, 1916

I like “Exhibit A” but I am not a short blonde. I am a pretty good cook though.

Thanks to Sally Mau of the Chico Enterprise-Record, who writes this weekly feature.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Thanksgiving Day at Bidwell Mansion

From Annie Bidwell’s Diary:

Fri., Nov. 28 [1890]

Perfect day. Rev. Mr Murrish & wife, Rev & Mrs Reames, Rev & Mrs Green dined with us at one O’Clock today. Came at noon, left about 4 P.M. Had excellent dinner closing with ice-cream, plum-pudding, coffee, shelled Eng walnuts, & almonds: raisins, Japanese Persimmons, pears, apples, grapes, etc. Guests seemed happy & we enjoyed having them to “Thanksgiving Dinner” – if on Friday.

Thurs., November 26. [1903]

Thanksgiving Day. Places: Church, ll A.M. Union Services at Presbyterian Church. To dinner – Sister, brother Tom, Willie, Cora, Guy, Eva, Joseph, Dr. Gatchell & Cousin Ella Gatchell. Col. Royce, his mother & wife. Rev. & Mrs. White & babe.

Good dinner. Plum pudding, ice-cream with water ice layer in blocks – 3 blocks of it. Fruits -Jap. persimmons, pears, muscat & other grapes. Apples, oranges (Reuben’s grove),pomegranates, almonds, pecan-nuts, Eng. Walnuts, hazel nuts -all from Ranch Chico – our first new olives.

Young People’s Union Social at our house this evg. 300 said to be present. Much music, joy, etc.  Weather: Faultless!

Sounds yummy!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Who Was Neal Dow and Why Does Chico Have a Street Named for Him?

When we moved to Chico 25 years ago, our youngest daughter started Kindergarten at Neal Dow School. I wondered who Neal Dow was and why he had a school named after him. He must have been some prominent Chicoan. When I found out that he was a governor of Maine, I was definitely puzzled.

The answer lies with Annie Bidwell and the Prohibition movement. Annie greatly admired Governor Neal Dow of Maine and his uncompromising stance against alcohol. I don’t know when the subdivision containing Neal Dow Ave. was developed, but I assume it was during her lifetime. Only Annie would name a street after a prominent prohibitionist.

According to Wikipedia:neal_dow

Neal Dow (March 20, 1804 – October 2, 1897) was an American prohibition advocate and politician. Nicknamed the “Napoleon of Temperance” and the “Father of Prohibition”, Dow was born into a Quaker family in Portland, Maine, in 1804. From a young age, he was active in the cause of prohibition, which saw alcohol as the cause of many of society’s problems and sought to ban it. In 1850, Dow was elected president of the Maine Temperance Union, and the next year was elected mayor of Portland. Soon after, largely due to Dow’s efforts, the state legislature banned the sale and production of alcohol in what became known as the Maine Law. As mayor of Portland, Dow enforced the law with vigor and called for increasingly harsh penalties for violators. In 1855, his opponents rioted and he ordered the state militia to fire on the crowd. One man was killed and several wounded, and when public reaction to the violence turned against Dow, he chose not to face the voters for reelection.

Dow was later elected to two terms in the state legislature, but retired after a financial scandal. He joined the Union Army shortly after the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861, eventually attaining the rank of brigadier general. He was wounded at the siege of Port Hudson and later captured. After being exchanged for another officer in 1864, Dow resigned from the military and devoted himself once more to prohibition. He spoke across the United States, Canada, and Great Britain in support of the cause. In 1880, Dow headed the Prohibition Party ticket for President of the United States. He gained very few votes, but continued to write and speak on behalf of the prohibition movement for the rest of his life. Dow died in Portland in 1897 at the age of 93.

Neal Dow was an early advocate of temperance and a founding member of the Maine Temperance Society. As a Civil War brigadier general and Prohibition Party candidate for President, his life had certain parallels with that of John Bidwell. It’s no surprise that Annie Bidwell admired him.

Did he ever visit Chico on a speaking tour? I can’t find any evidence that he did in the newspapers or the diaries of John and Annie. Annie may well have met him and heard him speak while she was in the East. She certainly would not have missed a chance to meet the “Napoleon of Temperance.”


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Who Was Frances Willard and Why Does Chico Have a Street Named for Her?

Between Bidwell Mansion and Chico High School is a street named Frances Willard Avenue. It’s a short residential street in the area known as Mansion Park, and runs two blocks west of The Esplanade and one block east.

Frances Willard was an educator, reformer, and prominent member of the women’s rights movement of the 19th century. She was nationally known and respected as founder and long-time president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. Annie Bidwell considered her both a dear friend and a visionary leader.frances_willard

Frances Willard was born in 1839, the same year as Annie Bidwell. She was the first dean of women at Northwestern University. After leaving her post at the university she devoted herself to the cause of temperance and women’s suffrage. Elected president of the WCTU in 1879, she continued in as its leader until her death in 1898.

Her slogan was “Do Everything” and she carried it out in a tireless program of promotion, publication, lectures, lobbying, and education. Although prohibition of alcohol was her main focus, she and the W.T.C.U. also stood for labor reform (the 8-hour day), prison reform, and Christian socialism.

I cannot find any indication that she ever visited Chico, even though she made a lecture tour to California in 1883. Annie certainly would have met with her in San Francisco or Sacramento while she lectured in those cities, but the newspapers that I’ve checked don’t report any visit or lecture in Chico.

In his diary entry for May 17, 1892 John Bidwell noted “Wife was in Chicago today and took tea with Miss Willard.”

Miss Willard (she never married) died of influenza in 1898. Annually after her death the Chico branch of the W.T.C.U. held a memorial service in her honor in Bidwell Mansion. The Chico newspaper for February 22, 1907 reported that:

Memorial Exercises in honor of the memory of Frances E. Willard were held at the Bidwell mansion yesterday afternoon, under the auspices of the W.C.T.U. After a period of devotional exercise a program appropriate to the occasion was rendered.

So it is not surprising that when Mansion Park was developed as a residential district, Annie named its primary street after the woman she so admired. There may be other Willard Avenues in the U.S., but as far as I know there is only one with the full name of Frances Willard.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

The End of the Trail — November 4, 1841

On this date 175 years ago, John Bidwell and most of the rest of the Bidwell-Bartleson Party reached the home of John Marsh near Mount Diablo.  They were at last in California and they knew it. The long journey was finished and a new chapter of adventure would begin.

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. . . . 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.

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. He liked bread and missed it. But he had no complaints about the food Marsh gave them that first night.


Map courtesy of the John Marsh Historic trust

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.

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

Dr. Marsh welcomed the company. “He seemed delighted to see us and was very communicative and even enthusiastic.” He had known a few of the men in the company back in Missouri. Now, their journey ended, they sat around telling their stories and exchanging news.

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.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In California — November 2, 1841

Tuesday, 2nd.  Capt. B. with his 7 remained to take care of the meat he had killed — while the rest of the Company went on. We passed some beautiful grapes, sweet and pleasant.  . .  Behold! This morning Jones, who left the camp to hunt on the 23rd ult. came to the camp. They (he and Kelsey) had arrived in the plains several days before us, and found an Indian, who conducted them to Marsh’s house, but he brought bad news; he said there had been no rain in California for 18 months, and the the consequence was, there was little breadstuff in the country. Beef, however, was abundant and of the best quality.

Thomas Jones and Andrew Kelsey (younger brother of Benjamin Kelsey) had gone on ahead to search for settlements, and came back with the exciting news that they had been lead by an Indian to the ranch of Dr. John Marsh. This was good news indeed, for Marsh was the man who had set the movement in motion. His letters to Missouri, read by Bidwell and many others, had painted a glowing picture of the healthful climate and fertile soil of California. It was Marsh who had enticed them across half a continent to  this new land. Now they were about to meet the man himself.


John Marsh in 1852

Bidwell might have been worried though, by that mention of drought. As a farmer, he was looking for a place to raise wheat, livestock, and produce. Without reliable rainfall, how could that happen?

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

In California — November 1, 1841

November. Monday, 1st. The Company tarried to kill game; an abundance of wild fowl and 13 deer and antelopes were brought in. My breakfast, this morning, formed a striking contrast with that of yesterday which was the lights of a wolf.

“Lights of a wolf” being the lung of a coyote.

Bidwell tells it this way in his 1877 Dictation:

The eve of the next day found us surrounded by abundance. . . . It was about the first of November, and there was no time to delay if we were going to reach California that fall. Most of the party were ready and anxious to press forward. Captain Bartleson and his men thought otherwise. They said we hadn’t yet reached California, we probably still had a long distance to travel, that such a place as we were in could not be found everywhere and they were going to stop and lay in meat for the balance of the journey.

Leaving them in camp and crossing the Stanislaus River, we proceeded down the north side of the same and camped. Early the next day the news came that the Indians in the night had attacked them and stolen all their horse. We remained till they came up, carrying on their backs such things as they were able.

John Bidwell never did get on with Captain Bartleson, and I think there is a note of satisfaction here that once again, Bartleson was wrong and got what he deserved.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment