Tomorrow I shall land in the “diggings”

Here is John Bidwell, about to go searching for gold on the Feather River, in this letter to George McKinstry. Lots of interesting tidbits here — see notes further down.

Hock June 19th 1848

Dear Sir,

I have been up to my Ranch, moved camp down to the bend of Feather river with a quantity of meat and coarse flour, and have come down to take up the things that were sent up in the canoe. Tomorrow I shall land in the “diggings”. I wish you would get me a summer coat like yours. – What do you call it “blows” or “blouse” made by Mrs. Zins if she can do it from that piece of calico if you have not sold it.

I have been able to get a shovel for one of the Picks, and a Packsaddle for a blanket which I was very glad to do under present circumstances.

I see the necessity of procuring horses for our service – we cannot do without them, and I would suggest the propriety of getting Iron made while old Hookenburger is in a working mood.

Thomes, Toomes, Dye and some others are on their way down to Feather River to work at the mines – they have about 50 Indians with them.

I hope you will be able to come up soon; as there is no one with me but Mr. Dickey. The men who were on my farm go down to see their people before they get off for the salt lake – but have promised to return.

Yours truly,  J. Bidwell

Bidwell is writing from Sutter’s Hock Farm on the Feather River just south of Yuba City. This and Cordua’s Ranch at Marysville are the only places he could have received shipments or sent letters.

“Up to my Ranch” means to his ranch or farm at Butte Creek, where he first settled on a portion of the Farwell Grant (as he thought; actually he was on the Hensley Grant.)

In 1877, describing his gold discovery he said, “On reaching Chico an expedition was organized but it took some time to get everything ready. We had to send twice up to Peter Lassen’s mill to obtain flour, meat had to be dried, and we had to send to Sacramento for tools.”


A calico sack coat, c. 1850.

Mrs. Zins was Dorothea, wife of George Zins, and a survivor of the Donner Party. He was a brickmaker at Sutterville. Seamstresses were scarce in early California and I expect her skills were in demand.

I think Bidwell is asking for a light cotton coat. It was called a “blouse” because it was loose, not fitted. Calico was a medium-weight cotton cloth, heavier than muslin and lighter than denim. Today we think of calico as cotton printed with a design of flowers or other figures, but at this time it would have been just a light-colored cloth, not printed.

Hookenburger may have been the blacksmith at Sutter’s Fort, but I can’t find anything about him. Probably he didn’t spell his name like that, whatever it was.

Thomes, Toomes, and Dye were Tehama County settlers: Robert Hasty Thomes (Rancho Saucos), Albert G. Toomes (Rancho Rio de los Molinos) and Job F. Dye (Rancho Primer Cañon o Rio de Los Berrendos). Robert Thomes was well known to John Bidwell as one of his companions in the Bidwell-Bartleson Party of 1841.

William Dickey, who at the time was the owner of Rancho Chico, was Bidwell’s partner in mining at Bidwell’s Bar.

“The men who were on my farm” were his two employees, Thomas Frazier and Edward Wade. They were members of the Mormon Battalion who had ended up at Sutter’s Fort. They worked for John Bidwell at his farm on Butte Creek for a while, but in the summer of 1848 they left to go east and join the Mormons who were settling near the Great Salt Lake. Although they may have intended to return to Bidwell’s employ, they never did.

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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