Helping Mrs. Kelsey

After interviewing her in early 1893, Addison Powell stayed in touch with Nancy Kelsey. He was distressed by her poverty and a year after the interview he wrote to John Bidwell, seeking aid for the widowed Mrs. Kelsey.

Society of California Pioneers

Santa Maria, California  April 22, 1894

Hon. John Bidwell,

                                    Dear Sir,  I believe it is my duty to again call your attention to the beggarly condition of old Mrs. Kelsie. She is destitute and I fear she will die from hunger. I am too poor myself to do more than I have and if you can get the Pioneers to contribute $5.00 per month I will receipt for it & see that she gets it.

                                    Yours respectfully,

A.M. Powell U. S. Deputy Surveyor, Santa Maria, Santa Barbara County, Cal’a.

Why John Bidwell? He had been a leader of the 1841 Bidwell-Bartleson Party in which Nancy Kelsey came to California. In 1894 he was a prominent rancher and politician, one of the most famous men in the state. As Nancy said in her interview, “A boy by the name of John Bidwell was in our party. I understand he has grown to be a great man and ran for President.”

Bidwell forwarded the letter to the Society of California Pioneers.

Chico, Cal.  April 27, 1894

Hon. C. V. S. Gibbs, Prest.

Society Cal. Pioneers, San Francisco,

            Dear Sir,

The enclosed letter relating to Mrs. Benjamin Kelsey, the first woman to cross the plains to California – in 1841 – explains itself. I have confidence that Mr. Powell the writer of this letter is acting, and will act, in good faith should anything be confided to him for Mrs. K.

I have sent him an item for her, and would do more if I could – in such time as this. Hoping the Society may grant the needed relief asked for in this very exceptional case, I have the honor to be

                                    Yours very sincerely, John Bidwell

He sent her “an item” but we don’t know what it was. Presumably money, but he doesn’t record anything about it in his diary. Then in March 1896 Bidwell noted that he sent ten dollars to A.M. Powell for Mrs. Kelsey. In 1896 ten dollars would have had a buying power of about $250, an amount that surely would have been welcome to Nancy Kelsey in her last year of life.

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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