A Parade for a Pioneer


bicentennielWe all enjoyed the Chico Pioneer Day Parade today. Grand Marshal was Butte County Sheriff Kory Honea, beloved by all for his heroic leadership during the Camp Fire. Honorary Grand Marshals were John and Annie Bidwell, in recognition of the bicentennial of John Bidwell’s birth in 1819.

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John and Annie: The Long and the Short of It

John and Annie were portrayed by Nick Anderson and Robyn Engel, who fit the roles to a T, since Nick is over 6 feet tall, like Bidwell, and Robyn is only 4 feet 8 inches tall (or should that be “short”?), just like Annie.

They rode in a lovely 1915 Motel T Ford, owned and driven by Dudley Stone. Walking along, carrying the banner and representing the Bidwell Mansion Association were Quinn, Ian, and Bodie (sorry, guys, I didn’t get your last names) and Adrienne Glatz, BMA board president, and myself, Nancy Leek.

It looked to me like the men were 49ers dressed up in their best duds and come to town to spend some of that gold dust.


Wells Fargo Bank was there with their replica Concord stagecoach, and it was a treat to climb in and try it out. The BMA also had a booth on the City Plaza, where we gave away casaba melon seeds and schedules of upcoming events. (If you would like some free seeds, they still have them to give away at the Bidwell Mansion SHP Visitor Center. It’s open Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.)

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John Bidwell Joins the Hall of Fame


bicentennielThe Oregon-California Trails Association (OCTA) has a Emigrant Hall of Fame, and John Bidwell is joining it this year.

Last year I submitted an application for him on behalf of the Bidwell Mansion Association.  I recently got the welcome news that JB is in! He joins a small and select group of trail pioneers in the Hall of Fame: Jesse Applegate, Marcus and Narcissa Whitman, and Dr. John McLoughlin. (Note that these are all Oregon pioneers. John Bidwell is the first Californian.) He will be honored at the OCTA convention in Santa Fe, New Mexico, September 4-7, 2019.

The Hall of Fame also honors preservationists, authors, philanthropists, and public officials who have worked to preserve the western trails and educate the public about the history and value of these historical resources. OCTA began the Hall of Fame in 2015.

What qualifies John Bidwell for the Emigrant Hall of Fame? He was not only a member of the first group of emigrants to set out overland for California, but it is because he kept such a detailed daily journal that we know so much about their route, their struggles, and their adventures.


The Oregon-California Trails Association is a non-profit, 501 (C) (3) Association and is the nation’s largest and most influential organization dedicated to the preservation and protection of overland emigrant trails and the emigrant experience. They publish the Overland Journal, a quarterly full of interesting articles about western history. Their website also has many valuable resources, some of which you can only access by becoming a member. It’s worth it!

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On the Banks of Deer Creek


Out there beyond the trees is Deer Creek

Yesterday I went on a treasure hunt an archeology field trip to Vina to dig around in the dirt and see what we could find. My friend Josie Smith invited me to join Dr. Eric Ritter’s Shasta College Field Archeology class, looking for any remains of Peter Lassen’s occupation of the property that is now the Abbey of New Clairvaux.

Peter Lassen’s ranch lay along Deer Creek in Tehama County. Historians only have a general idea of where his house and other buildings were located, but it was somewhere next to the creek. We were working in an area behind the current monastery buildings.

On a previous visit flags had been planted all over a field about the size of a two-car garage — each flag marked a spot where a metal detector indicated that something lay beneath the surface. It was our job to dig down and see what it was.


Josie in a field of flags

Well, most of the time it was an old square nail, or the fragment of a nail. Sometimes we couldn’t find anything at all. But once in a while something interesting turned up — the rivet for a wagon wheel rim, a hand-forged link of chain, and a bent, hand-forged door hinge. (Eric found the hinge.)


Chain, chain, chain

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Four hours of digging — door hinge, mystery piece of iron, rivet, nails

Four hours down on my knees in the dirt, chopping away at the weeds and the soil, rooting around in the dirt for a scrap of iron — what fun! I’d do it anytime!


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Bidwell Bicentennial

bicentennielThe year 2019 marks the 200th year since the birth of John Bidwell. He was born in Chautauqua County, New York, on August 5th, 1819.

In honor of General Bidwell’s Bicentennial, the Bidwell Mansion Association has lots of great activities planned for this year.

Here is what you can look forward to:

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John and Annie at the 2019 Pioneer Day Parade

Saturday, May 4th: The Pioneer Day Parade. John and Annie will be honorary grand marshals. What will they be riding on? a horse-drawn buggy? a horseless carriage (as Annie would have called an automobile)?, a hay wagon? something else? Come on down to the parade and see.

After the parade visit the BMA booth at City Plaza and plant a casaba melon seed to take home and put in your garden. It was Bidwell’s favorite!


Mmmmm – casaba melon!

Monday, May 27th: Memorial Day ceremony at Chico Cemetery, with a tribute to General John Bidwell, who served in the Mexican War and as a brigadier general in the California Militia during the Civil War.

Saturday, June 22nd: Annie’s Birthday Tea Party inside Bidwell Mansion. Two seatings at 11:30 and 2:30 for a classic tea, with tiny sandwiches, delicious scones, fresh fruit, tea and lemonade.

Wear your favorite fancy hat! Tickets will be on sale soon.


Saturday, July 13th: Annual Slice of Chico sidewalk sale downtown with free watermelon and casaba melon, in honor of John Bidwell’s business legacy.

Also Saturday, July 13th: Twilight Family Night at Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park. Games, stories, snacks, and a camp fire!


The Birthday Boy!

Sunday, August 4th: Bidwell Bicentennial Birthday Bash at Bidwell Mansion SHP. Celebrate Bidwell’s 200th with birthday cake and Shubert’s ice cream.

Also, music by the Chico Community Band, dramatic vignettes inside the mansion, and games on the lawn.

Much more to come throughout the year!

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What’s for Dinner Tonight?

Here is the Bill of Fare for dinner at the Pacific Hotel in downtown Sacramento on April 8th, 1870, just 149 years ago. Prices are not given, other than for the wines and beers listed at the bottom.  Anything printed on the menu was regularly available, and what is written in were that day’s specials.  For instance, under “Boiled”, you could have ham, corned beef and cabbage, corned pork, or mutton with caper sauce. Or you could order “Pig’s Jowls with Green Cabbage.”

The menu is heavy on meat. Note the vegetables — a decent variety, but I doubt that tomatoes were actually available in April, since they were not in season.

The entrees sound good — “Beef Tongue with Pickle Sauce,” anyone? Bon appetit!

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A Few Last Notes on Sarah Althea, Sharon, and Terry

I hope you have enjoyed reading the many parts of the scandalous saga of William Sharon and Sarah Althea Hill. I’d like to add just a few other notes to the story—

There is a short street in San Francisco named for William Sharon. It runs between 15th and 16th, just off of Market Street.

Sarah Althea Terry is buried next to her husband, David Terry, and his first wife Charlotte, in the Stockton Rural Cemetery. The age is wrong on her tombstone. She was not 80 at her death, but 87.


David S. Terry’s monument (from findagrave.com)


Her name is across the top, and her age is wrong.


William Sharon’s grave site

William Sharon’s rather unusual table-style tombstone can be found at at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park in Colma, California, the cemetery city of San Francisco.

I took my information from the book Sarah & the Senator, by Robert H. Kroninger (1964) and newspaper articles accessed at the California Digital Newspaper Collection. The legal case is well set out by Mr. Kroninger, himself an attorney and judge, but it had so many bizarre twists and turns, and spun off so many side actions, that my un-legally-trained mind had difficulty following it all. I stuck to the more sensational aspects of the trials — pistols in the courtroom and love potions in the coffee.


Everyone’s favorite font in 1969

This story has also been turned into a novel, The Devil’s Daughter, by Eleazar Lipsky (1969). According to a review that appeared in the ABA Journal for January 1970 (which I accessed at Google Books) it is a fictionalized treatment of the “fabulous series of cases” arising from Sarah Althea’s claim against Senator Sharon. Lipsky adheres closely to the narrative of the cases, leaving out most of the legal technicalities and changing all the names. At 633 pages, I think I can skip that one.


Sarah Althea’s story would make a great novel though. Just imagine what Tolstoy or Thomas Hardy could do with such a fascinating woman and the larger-than-life men she knew. Her brilliant beginning, her tortuous pathway through the courts of law, her tragic end.

Not to mention little Nellie Brackett behind the bureau, faithful Oriental servant Ki, the mysteriously influential Mrs. Pleasant, and a small brigade of fortune-tellers, charm-workers, attorneys (weaving their own kind of spells), and judges. And behind it all, old San Francisco in its glory days.

What a story!

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The Scandalous Saga concluded


Mrs. Terry in mourning

Legal loose-ends remained to be tied up in the various cases brought forth by Sharon v. Sharon and Sharon v. Hill. Sarah Althea was still trying to establish that she had been married to William Sharon, so as to inherit her share of the property. There was a retrial of the divorce case, but Allie lost again. Her attorneys abandoned the case and her attempts to appeal came to naught. By the end of 1890 it was all over.

For the most part Allie stayed on the ranch near Fresno, mourning the death of her husband and protector, but in February 1892 she returned to San Francisco, exhibiting signs of mental illness. Her bizarre behavior put her name in the headlines once again.

The friends she was staying with reported her disappearance after a night spent pacing her room and raving. She heard voices and communed with spirits. She slept and ate little, and her appearance had greatly aged.


San Francisco Call, 15 February 1892

After she left the Culbreth home, she was found staying with her old friend, “Mammy” Pleasant. Mrs. Pleasant had supported her throughout her courtroom trials, and she again tried to help and protect her. But Allie was too much for her. She ruined fine clothing that Mrs. Pleasant gave her by continually pouring cold water over her head or laying in a bathtub for hours fully clothed. She had to be watched constantly to keep her from wandering off. Feeling she could no longer sustain her friend, Mrs. Pleasant had her arrested on an insanity petition. Allie appeared in court for the last time on March 10, 1892, where she put up a lively defense of herself, but also betrayed the sad condition of her mental capacities.


The judge declared her insane and committed her to the state asylum. The next day she was taken to Stockton.

Sarah Althea Terry spent the next 45 years living in the state asylum. She was never considered a danger to herself or anyone else. She continued to think of herself as a grand society belle and dressed in her fine Victorian gowns and hats. She wrote checks on scraps of paper and gave them to other patients. She could talk lucidly on many topics and yet she also told delusional tales of past and present grandeur.

Sarah Althea Hill Terry died on February 14, 1937, long after all the other participants in her drama had left the stage.



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