News from Rancho Chico 1850


Photo of a daguerreotype taken of Rafael in New York in 1850

John Bidwell returned from the East Coast on October 16, 1850, accompanied by his brother Thomas, his old trail mate Amos Frye, and the Maidu boy, Rafael.  He must have gone as soon as possible to Rancho Chico to see how it was doing. He left Thomas, Frye, and Rafael there to carry on, while he went back to San Francisco on business.

Here is a letter from Frye about matters at the ranch, along with a note from Thomas listing some items they need. I find these letters and lists so interesting — they give almost the only picture we have of the life they were leading and the everyday items they needed.

Note that in the following letter, Frye is writing from Nicolaus Altgeier’s ferry station on the Feather River. There Rafael, who acted frequently as a messenger, caught up with him with a note from Bidwell. I don’t know who Mr. Brown was.

Frye includes a note from brother Thomas listing some items they could use: candle molds, shoes for the “boys” (the Indian workers), and items to sell in the Rancho Chico store. Combs, pipes, leggings, and “machines.” In these letters, a “machine” is a gold-washing machine, i.e., a cradle or a sluice box.

Nicholas  Nov. 13th, 1850

John Bidwell, Esqr.

Sir yours pr Raffell [Rafael] was rec’d this morning and note the same as for the money it can’t be got of Mr. Blake for reasons Nicholas can’t pay him. I shall leave for the Rancho this eve with the boys your brother was not well when I left. Slite fever was all there was. Some four or five sick at the House.

I will be there soon to assist your brother the cattle I got up all safe and no loss.

Mr. Brown has come in jest above your House with abt (1000) one thousand head of cattle is a building a house [?] you will see by this they are agreeing to give you a trial for the [grain ?] Enclosed is a memorandum for some things your Brother sends for

Respectfully yours, Amos E. Frye


A gold-washing machine, or cradle

1 pr. candle moulds for ourselves, wicking

Shoes for the boys

To sell            good buckskin gloves,




a few fine combs

and if you can buy a pulley and rope cheap I wish you would do it, for when we butcher we have need of such a thing.

I send this fearing lest you should not receive the letter which I sent you, in which I mention the same things.

Though I am better at present my fever seems loath to leave me.

Yours ever, Thos. Bidwell

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.
This entry was posted in rafael, Thomas Bidwell, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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