“If this is true . . . it is outrageous.”

Here is the second half of Bidwell’s September 30, 1848 letter to George McKinstry. He is outraged by a rumor that he has killed two Indians, a charge that he stoutly denies. It would certainly have been out of character for Bidwell. The story may have been motivated by Bidwell’s success in mining and in recruiting Indians to work for him.

He is particularly incensed that this report is being spread by Michael Nye, one of his companions on the overland journey in 1841.

I have been told by a great many persons that there is a report all through the country, that I have killed most barbarously two Indians who were at work for me – and that it come from Nye, and was told and repeated by him without any reserve all down this river the day he left our camp when I was absent – You recollect the time, he was here.

One Indian was said to be cruelly beaten by my vaquero and that he fell and dashed his brains out against a rock. – the other, it was said, I have stabbed with my knife in the act of stealing meat, and thrown him in the river. You will hear if this is believed below, from whom it came; if from Nye or anyone else. If any one has heard Nye say so, I wish you would be particular and receive it from him who heard it told direct by Nye. For if this is true that Nye has said so it is outrageous.

It must be on account of the sway which we hold over the Indians in these regions, which prevents his success on this river. However the Indians came constantly to work here from the plains but almost invariably complain of Nye’s Alcalde interfering with them. The Toto Indians came this morning with complains that Pumul (Nye’s Alcalde) was at their rancheria and had taken all their things from them. I sent one of the men to find out certain before I do farther.

DSCF0593   Tuesday after you left the other current machine was in operation, and all three have been going ever since except one day. I am extremely anxious to see you in camp, but do not expect you until next Saturday. I hope you will make all haste your presence is much wanted in camp – people are going above us in all directions etc. etc.

Yours truly,  J. Bidwell

rancho willy

Diseno of Rancho Willy, drawn by John Bidwell. Courtesy of the Bancroft Library.

Michael C. Nye was probably born in 1811, making him just a few years older than John Bidwell. He came to California with the Bidwell-Bartleson Party and was granted a rancho for his service in the Micheltorena War in 1844. His Rancho de Willy was on the Sacramento River, between Rancho del Arroyo Chico on the south and Lassen’s Rancho on the north.

He may not have done much to develop the ranch, since he spent most of his time in Marysville. Nye later moved to Oregon, where he died in 1906, the last surviving member of the Bidwell-Bartleson Party.

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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