John Bidwell in 1850

One reason I like to write about John Bidwell is that he makes such a good lens for looking at the history of California. He was involved with many aspects of early California (politics, mining, agriculture, education), he knew everyone, he saved his letters and kept a journal. Information about Bidwell’s life is abounding, while such information can be hard to find about many other men and women.

An article by myself has just been published in The Diggin’s, the quarterly journal of the Butte County Historical Society. The genesis of the article was a short piece I wrote commemorating Bidwell’s participation in California statehood. When Congress passed and President Fillmore signed the act making California the 31st state of the Union, Bidwell was the man who brought the news and the documents to California.

sc 17336 John Bidwell photograph ca 1850

The more I looked into Bidwell’s activities in 1850, the more there was to see. He had just bought Rancho Chico and was working to establish a ranch. At the same time he was winding up his survey of Sutterville, seeking to get his land title confirmed, serving in the state senate, escorting a block of gold-bearing quartz for the Washington Monument to D.C., promoting statehood in the halls of Congress, and visiting family and friends that he hadn’t seen for nearly a decade. He seems to have done a little unsuccessful courting along the way too.

Daily Alta California September 9, 1850

In New York he had his portrait taken at Mathew Brady’s photography studio. He also had a daguerreotype done of Raphael, the Maidu boy he had brought with him as his valet.


I have written before about the ladies he escorted back to California, Mrs. Maria Crosby and her daughter Mary Helen Crosby. For years afterward Helen Crosby Hensley loved to tell the tale of her blue silk umbrella and how it helped to safely bring the statehood papers to California. For my Diggin’s article, I was able to get a photo of the famous umbrella, which is in the Sutter’s Fort archives. It looks to be in fine condition for its age.

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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