John Bidwell, Jailbird

John Bidwell spent November 16-18, 1841, in jail.

He had gone to San Jose to get a passport, since John Marsh had neglected to get one for him.

At the order of Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, who wanted to know what the heck these Americans were doing in Mexico, John Marsh had gone to San Jose to explain the matter and soothe the general. He came back with passports for most of the men in the Bidwell-Bartleson Party—but not John Bidwell.  Bidwell suspected that Marsh hadn’t gotten him a passport because he wanted to keep him at his ranch as a useful employee, but Bidwell was having none of that.

On the 15th he set out for San Jose on his own to get a passport. Arriving at Mission San Jose on November 16th, he was promptly thrown in jail by Mexican soldiers until he could find someone to explain his presence to the authorities.

He spent three uncomfortable and flea-bitten days in jail until he was able to hail a passerby who understood English.

Monterey Jail

The adobe jail in Monterey, similar to the one that held Bidwell.

“He proved to be an American . . . and he kindly went to Vallejo, who was right across the way in the big Mission building, and procured for me the passport.” The passport was made out for Juan Bidwell, and can be seen at the California State Library.

Vallejo could have sent the whole party of Americans back where they had come from. But Alta California had need of skilled labor, and he decided to let them stay.

Bidwell returned to Marsh’s ranch on the 18th. But he had no intention of sticking around. Captain John Sutter was hiring, so to Sutter he would go. He set out for Sutter’s settlement  on November 21st.

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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