The Adventures of Amos E. Frye — Part 1

Amos E. Frye led an adventurous life, but left very little record of it. He is more noted for his death than his life — he was the first man buried in the Chico Cemetery. How he came there, and speculations about where he started from, will be the subject of the next few posts.

Amos E. Frye first turns up as a member of the Bidwell-Bartleson Party, the first group of American emigrants to head to California. But he didn’t make it to California, and it seems he didn’t have any intention of going that far. When Bidwell listed the men in the company at the beginning of his journal he noted “A. E. Frye and Rogers on a pleasure excursion.” After they crossed through South Pass and were on the Green River, Bidwell recorded:

Sunday, 25th. Left the rendezvous this morning, 6 of the company, viz., John Gray, Peyton, Frye, Rogers, Jones, and Romaine, started to return to the United States.

John Gray and William “Lord” Romaine were an interesting pair and I have written about them elsewhere. Frye and the others were men who wanted to spend the summer viewing the West, hunting buffalo, and enjoying the great outdoors. According to Father Nicholas Point, a member of the missionary party that traveled with the Bidwell-Bartleson Party, a group of French Canadian trappers coming the opposite direction “painted a picture so little encouraging that many of our party thought only of taking advantage of the opportunity to turn back.” They had seen enough; time to head back to the States.

Who was Amos Frye? He was probably born in 1809, making him 32 years old on this expedition. He might have been born in Mobile, Alabama, if one notice of his death is correct. He might be the Amos E. Frye (although confusingly, there is a New Englander with the same name and the same death date) listed as a trader on this New Orleans port immigration record.

By 1841 he was in Missouri, but countless men passed through Missouri, and in 1841 almost none of them had been born there.

So in 1841 John Bidwell goes on to California, and Amos Frye returns to Missouri. What Frye did between 1841 and 1850 is unknown. But in 1850, somehow and somewhere, Bidwell and Frye meet up again. Bidwell had gone to Washington, D.C., to lobby for California statehood. He visited his family in Ohio and traveled through some of the other states. Perhaps Frye read his name in a newspaper, remembered his old trail mate, and sought him out. Maybe he was looking for a better job or a way to get to the goldfields. In any case, he returned to California with John Bidwell, steaming into San Francisco Bay on the Oregon, the ship that brought the news of California statehood.

Daily Alta California 18 October 1850

A. Frye is listed just before J. Bidwell and servant (that was Rafael, a Maidu boy) and Mrs. and Miss Crosby. Further down the list is Thos. Bidwell, John’s younger brother. Thomas’s letters will give us a glimpse of Amos Frye and life on Rancho Chico.

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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