Brother to Brother

John Bidwell 1850

John Bidwell in 1850

John Bidwell spent the summer and fall of 1850 in New York City and Washington, D.C., waiting for Congress to pass the bill that would make California a state of the Union. Once that was accomplished, he took the statehood papers and boarded a steamship to return to California. With him went his younger brother, Thomas. (Unfortunately, I don’t know of any photograph of Thomas.)

Thomas J. Bidwell was twenty-eight years old, two years younger than John. He had been teaching at a school for boys in Westchester, New York, but big brother John persuaded him to come to California. John Bidwell desperately needed a trustworthy man on his ranch, especially since he would be returning to the legislature in San Jose and would not be able to spend much time at Rancho Chico.

Several letters that Thomas sent to John in December 1850 give a good idea of the difficulties the young man was facing.

Dr. Brother

I have just hired a vaquero so that you need trouble yourself no more about it. I could not do without one. I have no one here now but Charley Haskell.

Yours in haste,  Thos. J. Bidwell

In the following letter Thomas mentions Amos Frye. Frye had crossed the plains in 1841 with the Bidwell-Bartleson Party, and John Bidwell ran into him again when he went back east. Maybe he talked him into coming back to California too. Potter owned land on the south side of Chico Creek that Bidwell would later acquire.

I don’t know who the Alfred family were, but they seem to be bad news.

Sacramento City, Dec. 25, 1850

Dearest Brother

You may be astonished to receive a letter from me dated Sac. etc. but having heard nothing from you since yours by Mr. Frye, I feared lest you might be very sick and in need of me. If ever you were needed at the ranch it is now. Brown has over 2000 head of stock on the ranch which gives us a great deal of trouble. Old Potter is playing the very devil. He has made several rodeos [?] of the wild cattle without notifying me at all and in separating his stock from ours, he has taken all the yearlings and branded them with his iron. I have forbidden him to meddle with the stock again without my knowledge & consent. I have sent away Fenston & the two Robinsons! and hired two first-rate young men. Stout has returned and gone up on the Feather River to mine. Mariano returned with him and staid with me a few days, but I have sent him away and if I had my way not one soul that Stout left would remain. And I believe you will soon have to send the Alfred family off unless you are resigned to let your house become a whore house.

I have bargained for 40 yoke of oxen and shall go after them in about 8 days do come home before that time of you can. We have sown about 20 acres of wheat, am now building a corral. Mr. Frye renders great service to the ranch.

I would come to see you but I hear that you are recovering from your illness. I have much to tell you only come and give me a chance. I can say nothing of our Friends here, for I have seen no one except Grant.

Come, come as soon as you can. I shall leave for home next Thursday.

If possible procure the necessary garden seeds, sweet potatoes, yams, etc. etc.

Yours affectionately,  Thomas J. Bidwell

P.S. McKinstry has sold his interest in the ranch to his brother Maj. Mc, who is now at the ranch. He wishes a division of the land & stock.

In 1850 Bidwell owned half of Rancho Chico and his former partner in business, George McKinstry, owned the other half. George sold his half to his brother Justus McKinstry, who would sell it to Bidwell in 1851.

In the following letter, “boys” refers to the Indian workers on the ranch.

Sac. City Dec. 26th 1850

Dear Brother

I am very sorry to return to the ranch without seeing you, but Mr. Crosby thought I could be of no material service to you even should I come to see you, so that I think it best to “vamos” back to the ranch before it rains again.

The boys are in want of pantaloons and I cannot find any small enough in Sac. City. I have borrowed one hundred dollars of Mr. Tarr & I hope it will neither break your heart nor your fortune. Try and bring home a few hundred dollars with you if you can.

I shall start at 9 o’clock for Nicolaus and hope to reach home in 3 days. I came in 2. – (not in two)  I hope your sickness is not what is called love sickness, if so I should fear much that you would never recover from so severe an attack. O shake it off and live an old bachelor.

My having locked horns with old man Potter may alarm you a little; fear nothing, it has restored something like order to the ranch. All our yearlings, 8 months & six months calves however are now marked & branded with P’s mark and brand. Your band of wild cattle has dwindled down to about 150! I have done nothing more than to put a stop to open theft.

Come & see—

Adieu until we meet again—

Your affectionate bro.,   Thos. J. Bidwell

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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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