Adventures in Research

Last month I went to the California State Library to look at the Sutter’s Fort Pioneer Collection, which contains a file of John Bidwell material. In it was one letter from E. Nelson Blake, a Massachusetts man who had worked for Bidwell in 1851-52 and then returned east. I had seen (so I thought) all of the letters between Blake and Bidwell (they were lifelong friends), but here was one last lone letter.

Nelson Blake was always asking for news of Rancho Chico, and this letter of April 8th 1856, is no exception. (“I would give almost anything to hear a full report of “Chico” news,” he says.) One paragraph stood out to me. Blake writes

I saw last week in a paper printed in Boston called the “Waverley Magazine” a sketch written by a correspondent of a visit to Bidwell’s. I was pleased to read it but was surprised to learn from that, that you had a brother there with you from Vermont with his family. When you spoke of your brother being with you, I thought you meant Thomas. I was also surprised to read there that your miller died of Delirium Tremens when you told me that he died from wounds received in an Indian skirmish. I don’t understand it and await an explanation from you.

Blake was, as you can see, very fond of underlining his words.

I had never heard of this Waverley Magazine and its article on a visit to Bidwell’s ranch. Accounts of Rancho Chico in the 1850s are scarce, and I figured it would be well worth tracking this item down.

It wasn’t just sitting there online (except for a single later issue). It hadn’t been digitized by Google Books. It wasn’t the sort of thing you would find in just any library, even a large research library.

But I did find that the American Antiquarian Society (in where else? Massachusetts) had copies of the magazine. A phone call to their Reference Desk put me in touch with Kim Toney, reference librarian. She did some magic, and a few minutes later a pdf of the April 1856 issue of Waverley Magazine plopped into my In Box.  Hooray!

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So . . . Who was this brother mentioned? Who was the miller, and what did he die of? What other revelations about Rancho Chico are set forth in the article?

Stay tuned for the next episode of Adventures in Research!


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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