Thomas Bidwell — The Rest of the Story

Thomas Bidwell kept up his correspondence with his brother, John Bidwell, from St. John’s College through 1854. Some of the letters were written in Spanish, as an exercise in improving his language skills. He wasn’t quite sure what to do with himself after college. St. John’s was a Catholic school, and he seems to have considered the priesthood; he mentions studying theology and some of his letters are signed “Thos. J. Bidwell S.J.” But he dropped the S.J. after a while — I don’t know why.

Thomas’s health was not strong — he may have suffered from tuberculosis. After graduating from St. John’s in 1855, he decided to return to California. There he could work again for his brother and the climate would be better for his health. At first he managed the Rancho Chico orchards.

In 1859 he married America Ray, known as Merrie. She was only fifteen when they married, but that wasn’t unusual at the time. They had one daughter, Lillie.


Bidwell’s Store on the corner of Broadway and 1st Street (now Tres Hombres)

When John Bidwell was elected to Congress in 1865 he turned his store over to Thomas, who bought him out. Here is the ad he ran in the Chico Courant — note how he spells out his name starting with “The place to buy Fancy and Staple Dry Goods”. He also served as the postmaster — the post office was inside the store.


Chico Courant

When John Bidwell returned from Congress in 1867 he hurried to see his brother. He wrote to Annie that “he was so emaciated and looked so feeble that I thought he could not live more than a few days at most.” He survived a few more months, but died on September 8, 1867.  He was buried in Chico Cemetery.



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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