“Hastening up the valley, we struck the trail of the Oregon company, on what is now known as Chico Creek, Rancho Chico, and to me one of the loveliest of places. The plains were covered with scattered groves of spreading oak, there were wild grasses and clover, three or four feet high, and most luxuriant. The fertility of the soil was beyond question, and the waters of Chico Creek were cold, clear, and sparkling; the mountains were lovely and flower-covered, a beautiful scene. I never was permanently located till I located here, which was early in March, 1843.”
So it was just about this time of year, after a good rainy winter, when John Bidwell first laid eyes on the land that would become his home. He had set out from Sutter’s Fort to recover a couple of stolen horses that he suspected had been taken by a bunch of fur trappers headed for Oregon. As he rode up the Sacramento Valley with Peter Lassen and an Indian guide, he was overwhelmed by the beauty of the landscape. How could he make this land his own?
It would take a couple years before he was able to acquire Rancho Chico, but eventually Bidwell would situate himself exactly where he wanted to be. In the process he would be instrumental in changing the landscape he loved so much. Continuing his account many years later he stated:
” It is not easy to conceive and understand the change in the condition of the country caused by the extensive pasturage of horses and cattle in these plains. We seldom or never were out of sight of game, deer, elk, antelope, and grizzly bear. The snow-capped mountains on each side of the valley seen through the clear atmosphere of spring, the plains brilliant with flowers, the luxuriant herbage, all truly combined to lend enchantment to the view.”
If only we could see the Sacramento Valley as Bidwell saw it: the air crystal-clear, the valley floor spread with wildflowers, the great herds of deer and antelope. The only way to see it now is to look at a painting like Albert Bierstadt’s California Spring.