Historic Quilts at Bidwell Mansion


A beautiful quilt show is coming to Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park on September 7th, 8th, and 9th. Annie’s Star Quilt Guild will be sharing historic quilts and reproduction quilts from the 19th and 20th centuries. Quilts will be displayed inside the mansion and in the visitor’s center.

According the the press release from State Parks:

The Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park will provide special quilt tours on September 7th, 8th, and 9th at 10:00 AM only. Quilt tours will cost $6 per guest and are an hour long. Those interested in the quilts exclusively are advised to attend the special quilt tour time to be able to fully experience the remarkable techniques and patterns. Space is limited; please call Bidwell Mansion at 530-895-6144 for reservations. The quilts will be on display during regular tour hours; however, the time to view quilts will be limited.

The quilts in the visitor’s center will be free to see anytime that BMSHP is open. The quilts in the Mansion can be seen on any hourly tour, but the 10 a.m. tours will focus on the quilts, with a guide from Annie’s Star Quilt Guild.

Bee's QuiltOne special crazy quilt made in 1894 by Bee Patrick of Patrick Ranch features a Bidwell Mill flour sack as backing, a real bit of local history.

If you want to use Bidwell Mansion flour sacks as your quilt backing, The General’s Store in the the Visitor’s center has reproductions for sale. They also make great dish towels or pillow covers.

Another one of my favorite quilts is not as old, but is very special to our family.

My husband’s grandmother, Bertha Yeager, favored the “flower garden” quilt pattern that is pieced using little hexagons. I inherited this quilt top, and my daughter Jean finished it by hand-quilting around each little hexagon. You can see how carefully she selected her fabrics. It’s a family treasure.


See you at the Quilt Show!

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“His First Dollar”

See what your teenager thinks of this–

John Bidwell received a letter from S.S. Boynton, editor and publisher of the Oroville Register in 1884, asking him “how he earned his first dollar by work when a boy.” Boynton was writing to a number of prominent local men with this question, intending to publish the answers.

John Bidwell wrote:

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John Bidwell Collection, California State Library

My first, by chopping hard beech four feet wood at 37 1/2 cents per cord in Ashtabula Co. Ohio. My next, in my 13th year, by hauling wood and charcoal @ $6 per month.

cordSo, for chopping hard beech wood into four foot lengths he received 75 cents for two cords. A cord of wood, in case you haven’t bought one in a while, is a stack 4′ by 4′ by 8′. A hefty amount for a twelve year old boy. I don’t know how long it would have taken him to cut that amount of wood by hand, but it certainly would have built muscle.

How much would his six dollars a month be worth today? To get an idea of how much Bidwell’s 1832 money would buy in 2018, you can go to Measuring Worth, or the Consumer Price Index. The first gives a value of $182, and the other $175. At $10 a hour, that would be 17 or 18 hours of work, and if you have been to the grocery store lately, you can get an idea of how much that would buy. It would certainly be a significant addition to the Bidwell family’s income.

I haven’t found online access to the Oroville Register for 1884, but it’s possible it exists on microfilm. I’ll check Meriam Library next time I am there. I would be interested to know what other replies editor Boynton received and if he published a series of the answers.

And next time your young man is looking for some money to spend, send him out to chop wood. By hand. It builds character.

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Bidwell Meets Grant


General Ulysses S. Grant.

Even more than President Lincoln, John Bidwell wanted to meet General Ulysses S. Grant. It took some wrangling to get a pass from Edwin Stanton, the Secretary of War, but Bidwell got it, and then he hurried off to meet Grant where he was engaged in one of the bloodiest battles of the war, the Battle of Cold Harbor.

I started on the 11th of June for the Army of the Potomac. Embarking in the Government Mail Steamer at Washington, we descended the Potomac to Chesapeake Bay; thence to the month of, and up York River to the Pamunky; and up the Pamunky to the While House, which was at that time the base of supplies for the army. Fifteen miles over a dusty and uneven road perfectly lined with transportation wagons and troops, took me to Lieut. Gen. Grant’s headquarters, near Cold Harbor, which is about nine miles from Richmond. . . .

Gen. Grant is a man of medium, or a little less than medium stature, possessing regular but by no means imposing features, whiskers inclined to be sandy, blue eyes, hair light brown, and artless and modest in his deportment. Nothing of pretension or ostentation about him. I was informed by members of his staff, who all seemed ardently attached to him. that he would not tolerate anybody about him who put on airs. Everything went to show that he is a plain, practical man. One so wholly unassuming could never rise except by real merit.

The composure and coolness of the man were truly indescribable. It seemed as if nothing could ruffle him or throw him off his balance. To see a man quiet and undisturbed in a country village or at his own fireside would be nothing remarkable. But to see him most perfectly so under the responsibilities of a vast army, in the presence of a powerful and desperate foe. and just on the eve a grand movement. an entire change of base, is indicative of more than common powers. His very looks inspired me with hope and confidence.


General Grant, painting by Samuel Bell Waugh

I was anxious to know if the Army of the Potomac was properly sustained by the government. and in answer to my inquiry, if he was supplied with everything he needed. Gen. Grant said he had “plenty.” I then asked “have you plenty of men?” He answered “plenty.”

“There is then,” said I, “no doubt about the result of this campaign. I hope?” Said he, “I can whip Lee with one hand tied.” The same confidence and spirit seemed to pervade the whole army, and my faith in the military ability of Gen. Grant, and the courage and endurance of his army, is such, that I can say to you, fellow citizens, in all confidence, that Richmond will be taken.  

(Weekly Butte Record, 20 August 1864)

Richmond was taken, but not until April 2, 1865.

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Lincoln through Bidwell’s Eyes


Lincoln photographed by Mathew Brady in 1864

John Bidwell believed fervently in the Union cause. In 1864 he was one of the California delegates to the Republican National Convention in Baltimore on June 7-8, where Lincoln was renominated for president.

Upon his return home, he spoke to the Butte County “Lincoln and Johnson Club” on August 10th, 1864, about his experiences. He was pleased to have met with President Lincoln and gave this description, as reported in the Weekly Butte Record:

While at the Capitol. I had the pleasure of several interviews with the President. I found him to be a man possessed of that great and most precious of all natural gifts, plain common sense. Still he was not exactly the man I had expected to see. I had been told that he was continually inclined to jest, and that he did not appear to appreciate the magnitude of our national troubles. Suffice it to say that much injustice has been done Mr. Lincoln in reference to his personal traits. What are called jokes should in most instances be styled apt illustrations. He is calm, reflective, quite fluent in speech, and evidently feels the weight of the responsibility resting upon him. The more I saw of him the better I was pleased, and the more he looked like a President.

(Weekly Butte Record, 20 August 1864)

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Happy Birthday, John Bidwell!

Bidwell1866-w-hatAugust 5th marks 200 years since the birth of John Bidwell, California pioneer and founder of Chico.  So wish him a “Happy Birthday!” (wherever he is), and maybe pay a visit to his home, Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park sometime soon.

Looks pretty good for 200, doesn’t he? Evidently, he was the type that ages well. According to Annie Bidwell’s diary entry for August 5, 1893:

General’s birthday. 74 –
Scarce a gray hair in his rich brown hair, and not a bald place! Dressed in white today he is the picture of freshness, roses on his cheeks & happiness in his eyes, and fun & wisdom in his conversation.

That “rich brown hair” with “not a bald place” is certainly better than most men in their 70s can claim. It must have been all the casaba melons he ate.


The Bidwell Mansion Association had a party for General Bidwell on Sunday, August 4th. Here are a few photos from the event:

bidwell-200- (75)Nick Anderson is the man himself.

Nick has portrayed John Bidwell since 2013. He delights in being the General and is always ready and willing to play the part. The BMA is happy and grateful to have him on board.






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Robyn Engel is our current Annie Bidwell. It’s not easy to find a woman who can measure up to Annie in height, so we are very glad to have Robyn on the crew.

Robyn and Nick also played John and Annie in the Pioneer Day Parade.









Free ice cream and cake were served, and Inday’s provided Filipino food for those who wanted to purchase it. There were games on the lawn, photo opportunities with John and Annie, and music by the Chico Community Band.

Inside Bidwell Mansion visitors viewed three historical authentic vignettes.

General Bidwell (Nick Anderson) discussed cannery workers and chewing gum with his cannery foreman, Mr. Field (Mike Swann).


Annie’s friend Belle Royce (Lisa Saldano) asked Annie (Robyn Engel), “Why are you such a fraud?” (Was she?)

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Ruby Daily, Annie’s secretary (Marquita Goodman), got the better of Florence Proud, the cook (Nancy Leek), in the kitchen.

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The Bidwell Mansion Association owes a big Thank You to everyone who helped out, participated, and enjoyed the birthday party.

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Left to right: Lisa, Marquita, Robyn, Nick, Nancy, Mike, and Adrienne Glatz, president of the BMA.







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Two-Gun Nan Rides Again

Thanks to a couple of comments on my blog series about Two-Gun Nan,  I was inspired to try again to find the Death Valley Days episode about her record-setting cross-country journey.

The TV show appeared in 1958 as episode 16 of season 6. At the time I was writing about “Two-Gun” Nan Aspinwall, the episode wasn’t available online without paying for it, but it is now on YouTube for all to see. Go and enjoy!

The TV version sticks pretty closely to Nan’s actual daring journey. The main difference is that she and her husband Frank Gable came up with the idea in 1910, a year or two after they left Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show. In the Death Valley Days episode, Buffalo Bill is part of the plan and encourages Nan to take the challenge. You can hardly blame the screenwriter for wanting to keep Buffalo Bill in the picture.

Nan herself, elderly but cheerful and spry, consulted on the show. At the time of filming, she would have been 78 years old. She hadn’t lost any of her spunk. And here she is:



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How Louise Clappe Became Shirley


Marysville Daily Herald, 17 April 1851

Shirley is a common enough feminine name — we all know at least one Shirley. But before 1849 the name was rare as a masculine name, and unknown as a feminine one. It was originally a rather uncommon English surname, probably from “shire” and “ley” (clearing, meadow, enclosure.)

So where did Louise Clappe get the name?


Charlotte Brontë

I feel confident that she took the name from Charlotte Brontë’s novel Shirley, published in 1849. Jane Eyre, Brontë’s first novel, had been immensely popular. Shirley wasn’t quite the success that Jane Eyre was, but it was widely read and I can’t imagine that a well-educated woman with literary leanings, like Louise Clappe, would not have read the novel as soon as it was published in the United States.

The heroine of novel was given this unusual name by her parents, who were hoping for a boy.

. . . she had no Christian name but Shirley; her parents, who had wished to have a son, finding that, after eight years of marriage, Providence had granted them only a daughter, bestowed on her the same masculine family cognomen they would have bestowed on a boy, if with a boy they had been blessed…” Shirley , Chapter XI

And so the name Shirley came into the world.

Women writing for newspapers, and often men as well, chose a pseudonym to hide their identity or pique the reader’s interest. In the case of women, the fancier the better was the fashion of the day. Why be Mary or Sarah when you could be “Madeleine” or “Aurora Esmeralda”?

When Louise Clappe began writing for the Marysville Daily Herald in 1851 is it any surprise that the name Shirley popped into her head? Maybe she had read the book on the voyage from New York to San Francisco. And so Shirley she became, or Dame Shirley, as she sometimes referred to herself in the letters.

By the way, the name Shirley, although used occasionally for girls in the 19th and early 20th centuries,  did not become popular until Shirley Temple came along. Then it rocketed to the Top Ten of baby girl names in the 1930s. For a fun look at the waxing and waning popularity of names, take a look at the Name Voyager at Baby Name Wizard. So fun to play with!

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