Merchants of Sacramento

When John Bidwell or his partner George McKinstry went shopping for goods to supply their store at Bidwell’s Bar, Sam Brannan & Co. wasn’t the only business they patronized. There were a number to choose from, and they went to whichever one had the goods they needed. And they needed plenty.

Placer Times 28 April 1849

Sam Brannan advertised heavily and usually led the way. Then there were Samuel Hensley and P.B. Reading, both good friends of John Bidwell, and Priest, Lee & Co., prominent Sacramento merchants. I haven’t seen any receipts from Murray & Lappeus. But note Peter Slater, where you could combine grocery shopping with bowling.

These were businesses that first had their premises at Sutter’s Fort, and later moved to the Embarcadero on the Sacramento River, where Old Town Sacramento is now.

Other merchants they dealt with were W.H. McKee (later McKee & Dring) where they bought sailcloth, calico, and thread, and Magnant & Kearny, who sold tools and groceries. Oliver Magnant was a French Canadian who came to California with the overland Stevens Party in 1844. Here’s a receipt:

California State Library

This receipt is faint, but it reads as follows:

Feather River Mining Co. Bot of Magnant and Kearny   Aug. 2nd 1848

Salt                                          $1.00

2 Bags                                       1.50

1 Shovel                                    6.00

1 Crow Bar                               6.00

1 Pick                                        6.00

4 Tin Pans                               12.00

2 Stew [?] Pans                         6.00

2 Butcher Knives                      2.00

4 Jack         ditto                         2.00

As you can see, they bought tin pans for $3.00 each. Pans were sold for anything from $10 to $16. A butcher knife cost $1.00 in Sacramento, and they sold them for $2.00.

One item that puzzles me is the pick. Here one pick costs $6.00, and in 1849 another receipt shows 8 picks bought for $48.00 — still $6.00. In the ledger the only two picks sold were $5 and $6. It ought to have been more. And maybe it was — we don’t have all the sales records. We do know that picks were in high demand. On 10 July 1849 Bidwell wrote to McKinstry asking for:

50 Picks, these should be of the medium size, not the largest – or smallest – these if sent soon will sell well.

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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