Runaway Horses in 1851

I’ve been going through letters in the John Bidwell Papers in the California State Library. Bidwell was the kind of man who held on to all his correspondence, and kept it well organized. Most of the letters deal with mundane matters, but as such they are a glimpse into everyday life in Northern California.

Here is a letter from a man seeking some runaway horses:

                                                Monroe’s Ranch Colusi Co. California  July 20th, 1851

Dear Sir,

Some days since I bought of Capt. Sutter twenty mares, and in crossing these on the Sacramento River, about one mile below this place, three of the mares escaped from us. These mares may fall in with your wild bands – if so please keep them until I see you which will be most probably, with the next four weeks.

The following is a description of the mares, as near as I can recollect.

One cream colored “Gil. flirt” mare, rather old.

One dun, or brown, mare, with a black list down the back.

One light bay mare, with a ball face. All of these mares are branded with Capt. Sutter’s iron, and vented, the vent being placed upside down.

Your attention to this Sir, will confer an especial favor for which I shall be pleased to make a remuneration.

Very truly yours etc.

John T. Hughes

Here are a few things to can learn about this letter:

Monroe’s Ranch belonged to Uriah P. Monroe, who helped to organize Colusi County and conveniently placed the county seat on his ranch, at a town he named Monroeville. When it was organized in 1850, the county had 115 non-native residents. It encompassed present-day Colusa and Glenn Counties, and part of Tehama County.

Monroeville was located where Stony Creek joins the Sacramento River, about five miles south of Hamilton City. The town has disappeared, but there is a Monroeville Cemetery, where William B. Ide is buried. You can learn more about Monroeville here.

The horses: Wild horses roamed all over California in those days. There were probably quite a few on Rancho Chico.

I don’t know what a “Gil Flirt” mare looks like, but there was a mare named Gil Flirt in 1816 who shows up on breeding charts. I don’t know what a “black list” is, or a “ball face” either, unless he meant to write “bald face.”

To “vent” a brand is to cancel it. According to an article by Delbert Trew (and “It’s All Trew”), “A brand may be canceled or abandoned by branding a bar across the original brand. This is called venting or barring out a brand.”

I like how politely Mr. Hughes asks Bidwell to “confer an especial favor.” Courtesy counts!

Who was the writer? John T. Hughes shows up as a miner, living in a cabin with three other men, in Mariposa County in the 1850 census. In 1851 he was living in Colusi County, where on May 3rd he was elected county judge to replace J. S. Holland (who had died). By September 1851 another election had to be held, because he had left the county. (This information from The History of Colusa and Glenn Counties.) Where he went from there, or what happened to the mares, I don’t know.

And yet the letter is still filed away in the library, and we can read it today.

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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