The Death of General Bidwell

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Account of General’s attack of heart trouble in Vallombrosa, April 4, 1900

The following account was written for Annie Bidwell by one of her maids, Florence, who had gone with General Bidwell on the morning of April 4, 1900. I don’t know Florence’s last name. The account can be found in the John Bidwell Collection in the California State Library.

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Chico April 4, 1900

On Wednesday morning at eight o’clock, General drove up the creek with William Conway, taking me with him to open the gate (when he came back) as he said he was only going to be gone about one hour. We drove up the South side, then crossed a little below the Dam, onto the North side. We kept close to the creek for a ways as the General said I am just going this way to mark out a new road. I will tell you what to do William and then I will leave you to your self as I am not going to stop today.

Mechoopda Band

The Mechoopda Band. William Conway is at the center of the front row, holding a trumpet. Photo courtesy of Special Collections, Meriam Library, CSU Chico.

When we got down to where Harry was working the General told William to put on his rubbers and help him out of the wagon. I got into the front seat and held the horses when the General got to the ground he gave a little stamp and said there, I am as spry as a young boy. Now William our Log has burned pretty well but we will take the chain and pull it over a little way. Now Harry get your horses. They pulled it over and then the general took the crow bar and showed William how to knock the fire out of the root without putting out the fire. He then had William take the big ax and chop off a big knot from the stump they were burning. He then called Harry and had him pull the logs that were on the ground a little uphill to the spot where they were when he was take sick. He and Harry sawed a little while and then quit.

The General then went back to see how William was getting along then went and done a little more sawing, then quit and walked around a little while. Then he turned to me and said are you cold Florence, for I was sitting right in the shade with the North wind blowing hard. I told him I was and he had Harry drive the horses to the South side of the log in the sun and I was only there a few minutes watching the General as he poked around the fire and started a little blaze as the chips fell down from William’s ax.

It seems strange but I never took my eye off the General that morning. I followed every movement just with the thought the ground is so uneven and so many little rock and limbs lying around from the tree they were burning so as to warn him if he should happen to go near anything he would stumble over. While watching him he laid the crowbar down and stood for a moment with his hand on the stump as if thinking. Then he called to Harry and said, Harry you take the horses, and Florence you come here. Of course I waited for Harry to get to the horses before I let go of the reins as they were very restless.

William looked up and said I think there is something the matter. The General was then walking to the log with his head held down as if he had the neuralgia. I said Jump Billy and I jumped at the same time leaving the horses alone for Harry had not yet got into the wagon. We both got to the General at the same time. I said he has got neuralgia Billy hold him up. He was then sitting like he does when he had that pain. He had hold of him only a few seconds when he dropped his head back and gasped for breath like as if he were having a fainting fit. I said to William he has fainted and started Harry to town in all haste.

I ran to the creek and got some water and loosened his clothes around his neck and rubbed him as best we could. When we fixed up a place as best we could and laid him on the ground he seemed better in a few minutes and wanted to know what was the matter and what were we all doing. We said keep quiet General you will be all right in a little while and as he commenced to rally he wanted to be propped up and complained of too much weight on his chest though there was nothing there. As he got a little better he asked for some water then he complained of being cold and to cover him up. When you got to the spot and you now what. . .

Bidwell1890The account breaks off there, although there must have been a little more to it. The General was taken home in the wagon and died later that day. His heart attack came as he was doing one of the jobs he loved best — road-building.

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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