Why Did President Hayes Visit a “Backwater” Like Chico?

Larry commented on my previous post about bridges that “Someone asked me why these dignitaries came to a “backwater” place.” What was the president of the United States, the First Lady, Secretary of War Ramsey, General William Tecumseh Sherman, and the rest of their traveling party doing in a small out-of-the-way place like Chico? What could have attracted them to Chico?

President Rutherford B. Hayes made his tour of the western United States in September 1880. He was nearing the end of his term; he had vowed that he would not run for a second term, and the Republican Party had nominated James Garfield as its candidate the previous June. He was the first sitting president to visit the West Coast.

General Sherman made the travel arrangements for the presidential party. Bidwell notes in his diary for August 26 that he wrote to Sherman about the trip. The plan was for the president to travel by train from Chicago across the western states to San Francisco and Sacramento, and then northward until the end of the railroad line in Northern California. After that the party traveled by stage coach through Oregon to Portland and all the way to Seattle before turning back east in October.

General Bidwell had the finest home in all of California north of Sacramento. Bidwell Mansion was an ideal overnight stopping place for the presidential party. General Sherman knew he could count on John Bidwell to entertain the president in style and comfort.

President and Mrs. Hayes visit Yosemite, California. Image courtesy of Ohio Memory Collection.

President and Mrs. Hayes visit Yosemite, California. Image courtesy of Ohio Memory Collection.

Bidwell joined the presidential party on its train at Roseville on Sept. 8th. He accompanied the president in Sacramento and on to Oakland and San Francisco. Then while the president and Mrs. Hayes visited Yosemite, San Jose, and other sites, Bidwell returned to Chico on the 13th to finalize preparation for their visit. On the  19th he traveled back to Sacramento to visit the State Fair. The entries in his diary for the actual visit to Chico are annoyingly brief:

Tues., September 21. Sacramento -Davisville – Sacramento Events: Went to Davisville to meet Presidential party – Dined with them at Gov. Stanford’s – Introduced Mr. Rideout to Pres. Hayes. Weather: fine – warm – fine –

Wed., September 22. Sacramento. Pavilion.

Thurs., September 23. Sacramento> Chico with President Hayes & party: Gen. Sherman, Sec. Ramsey.

Fri., September 24. Chico, Cherokee, Chico  President & party went to Cherokee and returned – and left for Oregon.

It was just an overnight stay, with an excursion to see the mines at Cherokee. But no one could entertain the president in finer style or with greater cordiality than General John Bidwell.

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.
This entry was posted in Rutherford B. Hayes, Uncategorized, William Tecumseh Sherman. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Why Did President Hayes Visit a “Backwater” Like Chico?

  1. Brian Hendley says:

    my family legend has it that Hayes met Joe Hendley, a California pioneer, and visited him in his mining camp, sitting on a tree trunk

    • nancyleek says:

      What a great family story. That could be, especially if Joe Hendley was mining at Cherokee, which was a big mining center at the time.

      • Brian Hendley says:

        Evelyn Joslyn recorded that “On one occasion, President Hayes and his party of two visited him [Joe Hendley] in his cabin on their way to Cherokee diggings…. when they entered his cabin he pulled out soap boxes and said ‘Gentlemen, be seated. If these boxes are good enough for me, they are good enough for you.” (Joe told me this is the way he greeted them.) He described President Hayes with his high silk hat, swallow tail coat and carried a gold-headed cane.”

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