A Black Vaquero in Butte County

Letter from John Bidwell to George McKinstry 2 Dec. 1849

Let’s begin Black History Month with a little item from early days on Rancho Chico.

What kind of men did John Bidwell hire to work on Rancho Chico? In 1849 good reliable men were hard to come by — most men were off in the hills hunting for gold. But Bidwell needed workers, and here we see him hiring a “negro man George” to tame horses. Skill was more important than color.

San Francisco  Dec. 2. 1849

Dear MacK,

            I arrived here after a passage of 12 days – I believe I omitted to say to you that, before I left the ranch, I made arrangement with a negro man George to tame the colts on the farm, and to stay there until next March, and to attend to all the various vaquero duties for one horse & one pr. of mochilas – He liked your Red ear horse & I promised I would try & get him of you – he is not very serviceable for the Ranch and I hope you will have no objection to it – I mention this so that you may not give any orders for him – I have not been able to get any more Garden Seeds for the Ranch – but will try tomorrow & write you again – I hope you did not omit to send what you had by Doct. Clinton.

            The Steamer Oregon arrived yesterday from Panama – I learned nothing new except that the cholera is at Mazatlan – 450 passengers.

                                                Yours truly, J. Bidwell

Bidwell had just been elected to the California State Senate. He was on his way to conduct business in Sacramento and San Francisco before going to San Jose to serve in the legislature. I am not quite sure who he left in charge at Rancho Chico — it may have been Alfred H. Stout.

We don’t know anything else about George. Not his surname, or where he was from, or where he went. We do know what he was paid for three months work with the colts: a “red ear” horse that he liked the looks of and a pair of mochilas.

Mochila was the Spanish word for a saddlebag. Nowadays the word is used for a backpack or knapsack, but George would have been asking for saddlebags to go with his horse.

A pair of 19th century saddlebags

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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1 Response to A Black Vaquero in Butte County

  1. Marian Ware says:

    This is so interesting . Thanks for posting.

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