John Bidwell spent much of the 1840’s in California surveying land and mapping land grants for other men. It was during one of his surveying trips in 1847 that he met future Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman, he of Sherman’s March to the Sea and “war is hell” fame.
Sherman was at the time a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He arrived at Monterey in January 1847, just as the Mexican War in California ended. He was acutely disappointed to have missed the action.
In July he undertook a mission to go to Sonoma and arrest the mayor, who refused to step down, and replace him with a candidate designated by the military governor of California, Colonel Richard B. Mason. Accompanied by one soldier, Sherman proceeded north from Monterey to Yerba Buena (as San Francisco was then called). About four miles north of the Santa Clara Mission the two men stopped for the night. It was then that Lieutenant Sherman encountered John Bidwell, as he described in his Memoirs (1875):
“Just about dark I was lying on the ground near the well, and my soldier Barnes had watered our horses and picketed them to grass, when we heard a horse crushing his way through the high mustard-bushes which filled the plain, and soon a man came to us to inquire if we had seen a saddle-horse pass up the road. We explained to him what we had heard, and he went off in pursuit of his horse. Before dark he came back unsuccessful, and gave his name as Bidwell, the same gentleman who has since been a member of Congress, who is married to Miss Kennedy, of Washington City, and now lives in princely style at Chico, California.
“He explained that he was a surveyor, and had been in the lower country engaged in surveying land; that the horse had escaped him with his saddle-bags containing all his notes and papers, and some six hundred dollars in money, all the money he had earned. He spent the night with us on the ground, and the next morning we left him there to continue the search for his horse, and I afterward heard that he had found his saddle-bags all right, but never recovered the horse.”
Whether their paths ever crossed again in California I don’t know, but General Sherman was a guest at the wedding of John and Annie twenty years later.