In January 1842 Bidwell was living at Bodega Bay and supervising work at Fort Ross. But where was he and what was he doing a year earlier in 1841?
He had staked a claim in the Platte Purchase in Missouri the fall of 1939, but a year later his claim was jumped by a man he described as “a sort of desperado.” Being under 21 years of age, Bidwell had no legal claim to the title, and lost his land to the ruffian. He spent the winter teaching school and trying to figure out what to do next.
John Bidwell was different from the usual run of frontier schoolteachers. According to his biographer, Rockwell Hunt, his teaching methods became the wonderment of both his students and their parents. Frontier children were generally a rough and unruly lot, and they were kept in line with strict corporal punishment. Children who were rowdy or didn’t pay attention were beaten or whipped. Everyone expected a teacher to use this kind of punishment daily. So it came as a surprise that John Bidwell did not whip his students. Years later one of them described what school was like with Mr. Bidwell as the teacher:
“The first day passed on, the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth, and one week passed, and to the surprise of all but the teacher not a scholar was whipped. To the utter astonishment of all the neighborhood, children and parents alike, not one felt the rod; and so month after month passed, and it seemed that one of the wonders of the world had struck Northwestern Missouri, in the person of a schoolteacher who would conduct a school so successfully.” (Hunt, p. 28)