The Lincoln Assassination Incarceration

I have to thank the Orland Historical and Cultural Society for bringing this story to my attention on their Facebook page. And a great bit of history it is!

On April 20, 1865, Captain Augustus Washington Starr was sent from Sacramento to the town of Colusa to follow up on reports of Southern sympathizers who were “guilty of making exulting expressions over the assassination of President Lincoln.” So reported the Marysville Appeal of April 22nd. Southerners in the town, and there were many, planned to celebrate by “firing the anvil” at the blacksmith’s shop. Firing the anvil was a popular way to cause a ruckus in the 19th century.

Colusa was known as a hotbed of Southern sympathizers, and the men arrested by Captain Starr were among the most prominent men of the county. District Attorney A.D. Shepardson, Deputy Assessor C. Price, Justice of the Peace J. Scroggins and rancher John Campbell were all apprehended.

The next day four more men were arrested: the blacksmith, the keeper of the “Copperhead Saloon,” another rancher named O’Neil, and Will S. Green, the editor of the Colusa Sun. Green, a Kentuckian, was a strong supporter of state’s rights. The men were taken to Camp Union in Sacramento and then sent to Alcatraz, where they spent two months on the Rock.

Will Green went on to many prominent position in county and state government, including County Superintendent of Schools, Mayor of Colusa, State Assemblyman, State Treasurer, and Trustee of the California State Library.


colusa plaqueIn 2016 the Sam Brannan chapter of E Clampus Vitus placed a plaque commemorating the event at the Colusa County Courthouse.

You can read more about this event in this article from the San Jose Mercury News.


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Coming Soon!

I have a new book in the works — a picture book biography of another pioneering Californian — and I want to show you some of the great illustrations that Steve Ferchaud has done for it.


The cover without the title

What was it like to be a pioneer on the California Trail? Nancy Kelsey Comes Over the Mountain: The True Story of the First American Woman in California will tell you the story.


Nancy Kelsey was just seventeen years old when she set out with her husband to travel to far-away California. The Kelseys joined the first wagon train of Americans to seek a new life in the West. Thirty-two men crossed the desert and the mountains, and she was the only woman in the company. Tornadoes, swollen rivers, herds of buffalo, burning deserts and snow-capped mountains — she faced every obstacle and every peril that the men did, and she did it carrying her little daughter in her arms.

Can you imagine it? Together Steve Ferchaud and I will show you what it was like to be the first woman to come over the Sierra Nevada mountains into Alta California.


Packing up to hit the trail to California

This book will have the same format as my other picture book biography,  John and Annie Bidwell: The Long and the Short of It.

With two books in the series, I think I need a series title. I’m thinking of calling the series “Golden State Pioneers” but I am open to suggestions for a good series title.

Not only was Nancy Kelsey a pioneer on the California Trail, she also lived history when she got here, from the Bear Flag Revolt to the Gold Rush and beyond. It’s an amazing story, and I am excited to bring this pioneer heroine to life.



Two double-page spreads from the book



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A Visit to the Mary Aaron Museum

This fall I am (for the first time) a peer leader for an OLLI class. (OLLI is basically retirees teaching other retirees anything they are interested in.) We are touring historic houses in northern California. Sounds like a fun idea, right?

Our first class was today and we drove to Marysville to visit the Mary Aaron Museum in the Warren P. Miller House, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is one of the earliest structures still standing in Marysville, and a striking example of Gothic Revival architecture.

During the California Gold Rush, Marysville was one of the largest cities in the state with a booming economy, fueled by gold from the northern mines. Warren P. Miller arrived in Marysville from New York in 1850, and made his living designing buildings for the prosperous citizens of Marysville. This house is the one he built for his own family in 1855.


The Warren P. Miller House

Our guide told us that Mr. Miller modeled the design for his house on Strawberry Hill, the home outside London of eccentric 18th century author Horace Walpole. Looking at the exterior of the house, it’s not hard to see it as a mini-Strawberry Hill. Check out that roof line.


Strawberry Hill House, a Gothic Revival extravaganza

Warren Miller was not only an architect and builder, but also an inventor. At the California State Fair held in Marysville in 1858 he displayed a self-regulating windmill, the first practical working model of a tractor/crawler to be built in the United States, and an excavator/grader to be pulled by the tractor. Later he would patent an improved gun turret and replaceable teeth for industrial saw blades. The latter invention brought him a fortune and in 1869 he moved his family to New York, where he died in 1888.


The staircase is impressively curved and dangerously steep

The Aaron family bought Miller’s Marysville house in the 1870s. It remained in the family until 1955, when the only son of Mary Bobo Aaron donated it to the City of Marysville to be maintained as a museum in honor of his mother. In 1998 the house was added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The house/museum has Victorian furniture and knickknacks, period artifacts and documents, a nice selection of dresses from the 19th century, and a never-touched wedding cake from 1875 in a wooden box (!).




A lovely old-fashioned parlor

It’s worth a visit, so put it on your list of North State places to see.

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Feuding in the Kitchen

If you have attended an event at Bidwell Mansion in the last few years, you may have been lucky enough to see some dramatic vignettes performed inside the Mansion.

These short dramas are all based on actual historical accounts — letters, diaries, interviews. I have written most of them, and even performed in them, usually as Florence the cook, who had an ongoing feud with a young woman named Ruby English, Annie Bidwell’s maid in the last years of Annie’s life.


Florence faces off with Ruby (played by Adrienne Glatz)

Our little drama is based on the “Recollections of Ruby English as Mrs. Annie E. K. Bidwell’s Maid, 1914-1918,” an oral history interview done in 1964, five years before Mrs. English’s death. I was introduced to this story a few years ago by Susie Zimmer, who knew that it contained some good stories that we could use for our vignettes at Bidwell Mansion.

Soon you will be able to read Ruby English’s account yourself, because it will be published this fall in a compilation of oral histories by the Association for Northern California Historical Research.* These interviews are fascinating accounts of bygone days by people from all walks of life. The upcoming publication will have six or seven accounts on a variety of topics. There is bound to be one that will catch your fancy!

In preparing this oral history for publication, I realized an important aspect that goes entirely unmentioned in the account itself.

Ruby Daily English was African-American. It never comes up in the interview, simply because it was obvious. At the time the interview was done, she was well-known in the community; now 53 years later, few people know who she was. Susie and I certainly didn’t. It was only by looking at census records for more information on her that I figured out her race.

I wish I had a photograph of her, but I can’t find one. I did find a photo of her brother Cliff Devinger, who was also popular and well-known in Chico. More about him some other time.

Knowing that Ruby was black casts a new light on her troubles with the cook. Florence didn’t want to serve her cream with her coffee, or give her a piece of the special cakes she baked. She resented the fact that Ruby and her husband were now occupying the upstairs servants’ rooms that had once been hers. She finally left Bidwell Mansion rather than come to terms with the maid, whom she considered an upstart and a usurper.

I hope you will want to read ANCHR’s anthology of oral histories when it becomes available later this year. If you are interested in the African-American experience in Chico, look for another publication by ANCHR: Michele Shover’s Blacks in Chico, 1860-1935: Climbing the Slippery Slope.

*ANCHR is a non-profit organization which was originally founded to rescue and provide access to historical records in Butte County. Its purpose currently is to promote the publication of historical accounts pertaining to northern California. ANCHR assists authors, edits publications, and makes them available to the community.





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“I do not want to “fail” in this job”

gold-miner-washing-with-panThis is John Bidwell’s last letter to George McKinstry for the year 1848. He is still at the ranch of Charles Roether, which was on the Feather River at Honcut Creek, where he has been buying cattle to drive to the mountains. He has also been checking over the stores sent up the river from Sacramento — he can’t find the pepper, the raisins, or the drawers (underwear) and shirts.

Charles Roether’s  Sat 4th Nov. 1848

Dear Mac,

Yours of yesterday was rec’d. I am at a loss to know where the drawers & shirts could have gone, which you say are missing. I have not time this morning to overhaul all of the boxes & bales to see whether or not they are here. I have opened all the boxes & have seen nothing of the pepper, nor the half box of raisins. I rec’d from McDougal the number of packages & boxes mention by you on the memorandum.

Before I received your note yesterday by Rolfe I had concluded the arrangement for beef and I send Rolfe, that we may not discharge the Indians, or at least to have them return on Tuesday, Rolfe will have to be here on Sunday evening; Monday night we sleep on the plains & Tuesday I come with cattle. I went up on Yuba and saw Covillo. I shall bring 40 or 50 head at [?] dollars per head you will not of course disclose this to any one till I see you. (If inquiries from the other side, say (M.T.)

The cattle for beef is important because that was one way they paid their Indian workers. No beef and the Indians would leave Bidwell Bar and go home. So the sooner they can get the beef to the mountains the better.

I will have to look at the letter again (I have only a typescript with me at the moment) to see if I can figure out how much he paid for the catte. He was hoping for something under $40 a head. He must have got a good price or he would not have cautioned McKinstry to not disclose the price. I assume that “say (M.T.)” means say nothing.

Bringing this number will not in any manner interfere with other plans. I hope you will have everything as ready as possible, grind the knives on the grind stone of Old John, etc. etc. etc.

I think Hensian [?] had better put another hide in the water to mend any places where the coyotes may eat the hide of the corral, and fasten on to all of those sticks where the Indians lashed the stocks with hide, I do not want to “fail” in this job.

Yours, J. Bidwell

It’s going to be butchering time when Bidwell gets there with the cattle, hence the notes about sharpening the knives, and mending the corral with hides.

P.S. I forgot to say in my letter the other day that Reading had passed two days ago down to Fort and getting along very well, Peter Lassen has got in with all his party & wagons, also the Columbia party & wagons, some on Feather River already – this news from Swift.

Here we have some names well-known to students of northern Califoria history. Pierson 330px-Peter_Lassen-portraitB. Reading, a good friend of Bidwell’s, owned Rancho Buena Ventura at the present site of Redding. He mined extensively in Shasta County.  Peter Lassen had a ranch in Tehama County where Vina is today. In his effort to promote his ranch, he had returned to Missouri in 1847 where he recruited a party of settlers and brought them to his ranch by way of the Lassen Trail. He only learned of the gold discovery of January 1848 when he found his ranch virtually deserted.

Granville Swift was another California pioneer who was a Bear Flagger and a prosperous cattle rancher in Colusi County (later split up into Clusa, Glenn and Tehama counties) before he made a fortune at gold mining. The remains of his adobe home can be seen in Orland.

All three of these men deserve blog posts of their own, and someday they will get them.


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1848 Shipping List — Part 2

Here is the rest of Bidwell’s letter to McKinstry on November 1, 1848. It is chiefly concerned with that most important trade item — cattle. Demand was going up, and so were prices.

I learn here that Cordua has raised the price of Cattle to from 40 to 50 dollars on Feather River and that Yates has a letter from Covillo to this effect which he showed here yesterday. I shall go down to Cordua’s today – I think Rolfe had better come down tomorrow, & bring all the pack animals, with him. By him I want to hear from you, with your opinion how much you are willing to give for cattle – I mean to highest price; I will get them, of course, as low as I can, but I will not close a bargain to give over $30 before I hear from you. I met old Goda the Frenchman, here this morning, & exchanged a pick with him, & and then sold the other dull Pick to another Frenchman for $8. I let Goda have the bolt of Stripe drilling which you will see on Norris’ Bill at $32. I borrowed $10 & paid him which just squared his bill. I have charged all the things on this bill in my memo here. Send by Rolfe $10 & repay this sum.

I think it is doubtful if we get any cattle this week – but I shall use all possible means to get up this week. I wish Baptish and his Vaquero would get their horses from the other side & hold themselves in readiness to help drive the cattle in the corral – say on Saturday – I may possibly be in camp before I come with the cattle.

It may be that I can make a King “Jumping” bargain with Yates about the cattle which will come somewhere near the mark etc.

Yours etc.  J. Bidwell

John Yates was an English sailor who came to California in 1842. For a time he worked for Sutter as the master of his launch, and in 1845 he, along with William Dickey, was located on Rancho del Arroyo Chico. Later he owned Yates Ranch, a few miles south of Oroville. He must have been a restless man, for in 1851 he left California for Hawaii. Bidwell referred to him as a “tough old sailor.”


Charles Covillaud in later years

“Covillo” was Charles Covillaud, a Frenchman who was in partnership with Theodor Cordua. Cordua was struggling to keep his ranch going as all his vaqueros and other employees headed for the goldfields. Covillaud had a trading post where he sold beef and other goods to miners and Indians. In 1848 he married Mary Murphy, a survivor of the Donner Party, and named the town that grew up on Cordua’s ranch Marysville, after her.

I don’t know who “Goda the Frenchman” was. Wish I did.

I also can’t identify “Baptish,” unless he is Jean-Baptiste Trudeau, who was often called Baptiste.  He was a surviving member of the Donner Party of 1846. Bancroft lists him as Jean Baptiste (without the Trudeau), and says he was one of the earliest miners, but also notes that “there are several of this name not to be identified.”

And what is a “King “Jumping” bargain””? I have no idea.

I always welcome your comments, especially if you can solve any of these mysteries!


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A Shipping List from 1848

Here is Bidwell, in November 1848, with a list of items that he is shipping to George McKinstry for sale at their trading post at Bidwell Bar. At least that’s where I think all this stuff is going. I’m not sure where McKinstry was, but Bidwell is writing from Roether’s Ranch on the Feather River at Honcut Creek.

I have never heard of “Rolfe” before, but he is probably Tallman H. Rolfe, who came to California in 1847. After working with Bidwell, he established his own store in Yuba City in 1849. According to The History of Yuba And Sutter Counties:

The first store in Yuba City was opened in August, 1849, by Tallman H. Rolfe and Henry Cheever. Two advertisements by these enterprising men appeared in the Sacramento Placer Times on August 25, 1849. They read as follows: “Rolfe & Cheever, wholesale and retail dealers, Yuba City, corner of Water and B Streets.”  “Notice to Miners. Rolfe & Cheever, having established a store at Yuba City, will keep constantly on hand a large and general assortment of dry goods, groceries, provisions, etc., which will be sold low for cash or gold dust.”

Here is Bidwell’s list of goods shipped, with explanatory notes in brackets [ ].

                                               Charles Roether’s 1st Nov. 1848

Dear Sir

I send by Rolfe

4 Ps Blue Drill  [pieces of fabric — drill is a heavy-weight, durable cotton twill]

6 Copper Pans  [for panning gold or for cooking? Gold pans were usually iron]

6 Doz. Cot. Hedkfs  [cotton handkerchiefs, plenty of them. They would be the size of bandanas]   pepperboxjpg

1 Pepper Box [probably a pepper grinder, not the kind of revolver called a pepperbox]

1 Tin Funnel

3 Blk Hdld Butcher Knives  [black handled]

9 Barlow Knives  [common pocket knife of the day — Tom Sawyer had one]

barlwo knife

Antique Barlow knife

2 Hats (for me and Rolfe)

2 Ps Cold Manta  [manta was a cotton cloth made in Mexico, but I don’t know what was cold about it]

6 Ps Blue Prints

1 Ps Stripe Drilling  [more fabric]

1 Gimblet & 1 Looking glass


A Gimblet, for boring holes

1 Paper      [don’t know what kind of paper]

Needles & 1 Paper Buttons  [a paper card of buttons]

1 Pad Lock

1 Lb. Epsom Salts

1 Drawing knife       [a woodworking tool]


a drawing knife, or draw knife


6 Ps Calico (which I got at McKee’s) [plain, not printed, cotton cloth]

9 Picks

4 Prs Shoes (Nos 6 among them)  [better not be picky about the size]

1 Coffee Mill

11 Butcher Knives

87 lbs Sugar

40 lbs  Flour

Of Hosier’s things  [I don’t know who Hosier was]

1 Handsaw      Pants & Coat

1 Jointer   [a kind of carpenter’s plane]


a jointer plane

2 Shirts,          etc.

1 Pr Boots       2 Pipes, Tobacco

1 Ps Shaving Soap etc.

½ Quire Paper & 2 Spoons

The pepper was not in the large Box, as marked on your memorandum, and I did not search farther. The Epsom Salts are those which I bought from McK. Yours I did not find in the big box.

Epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) is still used today, primarily for soaking sore and tired feet. In the 19th century it was a common remedy, used as a laxative or purgative. It might not be the first choice for that today.

I had fun looking up some of these items and finding out what a gimblet and a jointer were.

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