What Ever Happened to Josiah Belden?

Josiah Belden

Josiah Belden

From time to time I’ve written about other members of the Bidwell-Bartleson Party and followed up on their subsequent adventures. Many of them returned to the States after a short time, and very few of them were successful in California. One man who made a name for himself, much like John Bidwell, was Josiah Belden.

Josiah Belden was born in Connecticut in 1815. As a young man he had a typical case of “itchy feet” and traveled to New York, throughout New England, over to Liverpool and back, down the Mississippi River to New Orleans and up the river to St. Louis. There he heard about California and joined the first emigrant group to attempt the overland journey to California.

Josiah dictated a statement of his experiences on the trail and in California in 1878. After arriving at Marsh’s ranch in November 1841 he headed first to San Jose to obtain a passport, and then to Monterey to seek employment.

About a dozen of us, after resting a day or so at Marsh’s Ranch, started out to go down to the Pueblo San Jose, with directions from Marsh how to find our way there. We came on to that place, crossing what is now Livermore’s Ranch, but there was no settlement there then. We proceeded, and stopped one night at Geary’s [Joaquin Higuera] ranch, two or three miles south of the mission of San Jose. We excited a good deal of interest as we passed by the mission of San Jose.

He went to work for Thomas O. Larkin, a merchant and later the American consul in Monterey.

[I] made arrangements with him to go over to Santa Cruz and take charge of a store there, which he wished to establish as a branch, and I went over to manage the business there for him–a store of general merchandise. We carried on the usual business there, selling goods and taking pay in hides and tallow, and buying lumber . . . mostly the redwood lumber.

In 1844, during the ruckus known as the Micheltorena War, Belden recruited some Americans to guard the governor’s home and family. In reward Governor Micheltorena granted Belden a 21,000 acre land grant on the upper Sacramento River.  Together with Robert Thomes he traveled to Rancho Barranca Colorado, at the present site of Red Bluff, but before long he hired William B. Ide to manage the ranch for him, while he went back to the mercantile business in Yerba Buena.

He tried his hand at mining in 1849, but soon realized he could make more money selling supplies to miners. His astute merchandizing deals and real estate investments made him a wealthy man. (It’s an advantage to be already on site when great events transpire.) He sold his interest in the Rancho Barranca Colorado to Ide, and settled in San Jose. He was elected the first mayor of San Jose in 1850, which must have given him a great deal of satisfaction, since he had spent six days in jail there when he first arrived.

He occasionally met his old traveling companion, John Bidwell. For instance, on June 19, 1871, Bidwell records in his diary: “Josiah Belden & son (George) arrd. fm Tehama.” They stayed overnight at the Mansion and left the following day.

Belden married and in 1855 built a fine home in San Jose. The family traveled extensively and lived the good life. In 1881 he moved to New York City and in 1892, nearly 77 years of age, he died there. He was a man to whom California had been very good indeed.

Home of Josiah Belden in San Jose (no longer in existence.)

Home of Josiah Belden in San Jose (no longer in existence.)

About nancyleek

Nancy is a retired librarian who lives in Chico, California. She is the author of John Bidwell: The Adventurous Life of a California Pioneer.
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2 Responses to What Ever Happened to Josiah Belden?

  1. I’m following up some of the Donner party people (part of my search for the first pianos that came to California). I’m having no luck tracing John Denton, the only Englishman in the Donner story, who just happens to have my surname!

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