John Bidwell (August 5, 1819 – April 4, 1900) was known throughout California and nationally as a pioneer, farmer, soldier, statesman, politician, prohibitionist, and philanthropist. He was active in the Democratic and then Republican parties, and was elected to Congress as a Republican in 1864, serving one term.
|Member of the U.S. House of Representatives|
from California's 3rd district
March 4, 1865 – March 3, 1867
|Preceded by||Constituency established|
|Succeeded by||James Johnson|
|Member of the California Senate|
from the Sacramento district
|Preceded by||Constituency established|
|Succeeded by||Alonzo W. Adams|
|Born||August 5, 1819|
Chautauqua County, New York, U.S.
|Died||April 4, 1900 (aged 80)|
|Political party||Democratic (Before 1864)|
|Allegiance|| United States|
Bear Flag Revolt
He is noted for having led one of the first emigrant parties, known as the Bartleson–Bidwell Party, along the California Trail, and for founding Chico, California. He received Mexican land grants after becoming a Mexican citizen before the Mexican–American War, and became a wealthy rancher.
Bidwell was born in 1819 in Chautauqua County, New York. His Bidwell ancestors immigrated to North America in the colonial era. His family moved to Erie, Pennsylvania in 1829, and then to Ashtabula County, Ohio in 1831. At age 17, he attended and shortly thereafter became principal of Kingsville Academy.
In 1841, at the age of 22, Bidwell became one of the first emigrants on the California Trail. John Sutter employed Bidwell as his business manager shortly after the younger man reached California. In October 1844, Bidwell went with Sutter to Monterey, where the two learned of an insurrection by leader José Castro and ex-governor Juan Bautista Alvarado. In 1845, Bidwell and Sutter joined Governor Manuel Micheltorena and a group of Americans and Indians to fight the insurrectionists, pursuing them to Cahuenga. Micheltorena, Sutter, and Bidwell were imprisoned, and the latter two were shortly thereafter released.
Upon release, Bidwell headed north through Placerita Canyon, saw the mining operations, and was determined to search for gold on his way to Sutter's Fort, where he met James W. Marshall. Shortly after Marshall's discovery of gold at Sutter's Mill, Bidwell also discovered gold on the Feather River, establishing a productive claim at Bidwell Bar in advance of the California Gold Rush. Bidwell obtained the four square-league Rancho Los Ulpinos land grant after being naturalized as a Mexican citizen in 1844, and the two square-league Rancho Colus grant on the Sacramento River in 1845. He later sold the latter grant and bought Rancho Arroyo Chico on Chico Creek to establish a ranch and farm.
Bidwell obtained the rank of major while fighting in the Mexican–American War. He was elected to the California Senate in 1849. He supervised conducting the federal census of California in 1850 and 1860, under national direction by Joseph C. G. Kennedy. Bidwell served as a delegate to the 1860 national convention of the Democratic Party. He was appointed brigadier general of the California Militia in 1863. After switching parties, he was a delegate to the national convention of the Republican Party in 1864. That year he was elected to Congress from California, serving as a Republican member from 1865 to 1867.
In 1865, General Bidwell backed a petition from settlers at Red Bluff, California to protect Red Bluff’s trail to the Owyhee Mines of Idaho. The United States Army commissioned seven forts for this purpose. One site was near Fandango Pass at the base of the Warner Mountains, in the north end of Surprise Valley. On June 10, 1865 what was named Fort Bidwell was ordered to be built there. The fort was built amid escalating fighting with the Snake Indians of eastern Oregon and southern Idaho. It was a base for US Army operations in the Snake War, that lasted until 1868, and the later Modoc War. Although traffic dwindled on the Red Bluff route once the Central Pacific Railroad extended into Nevada in 1868, the Army staffed Fort Bidwell until 1890 to quell various uprisings and disturbances. A Paiute reservation and small community maintain the name Fort Bidwell.
In 1868 Bidwell was about 49 when he married Annie Kennedy, whom he had courted for years. She was 20 years younger and a daughter of Joseph C. G. Kennedy. Her father was socially prominent, a high-ranking Washington official who supervised the United States Census Bureau. Bidwell had met him while working on the California census. The senior Kennedy was active in the Whig party. Annie Kennedy was deeply religious, joining the Presbyterian Church, and committed to a number of moral and social causes. Kennedy Bidwell was very active in the suffrage and prohibition movements.
The couple married April 16, 1868 in Washington, D.C. with President Andrew Johnson and future president Ulysses S. Grant among the guests. After he returned with her to Chico, the Bidwells used their mansion extensively for entertainment of friends and official guests. Among them were President Rutherford B. Hayes, General William T. Sherman, Susan B. Anthony, Frances Willard, Governor Leland Stanford, John Muir, Joseph Dalton Hooker, and Asa Gray.
In 1875, Bidwell ran for Governor of California on the Anti-Monopoly Party ticket. As a strong advocate of the temperance movement, he was the Prohibition candidate for governor in 1880 and presided over the Prohibition Party state convention in 1888. In 1892, Bidwell was the Prohibition Party candidate for President of the United States. The Bidwell/Cranfill ticket came in fourth place and received 271,058 votes, or 2.3 percent nationwide. It was the largest total vote and highest percentage of the vote received by any Prohibition Party national ticket.
John Bidwell’s autobiography, Echoes of the Past, was published in 1900. The Bidwell Family Papers are held at the Bancroft Library.
The actor Howard Negley (1898-1983) played Bidwell in the 1953 episode, "The Lady with the Blue Silk Umbrella" on the syndicated television anthology series, Death Valley Days, hosted by Stanley Andrews. In the story line, Helen Crosby (Kathleen Case) carries official California statehood papers in her umbrella to shield them from ruffians who want to destroy the documents. Rick Vallin played Lieutenant Bob Hastings.
- Bidwell, Edwin M. (1884). "Genealogy to the Seventh Generation of the Bidwell Family in America".
- "John Bidwell-Biography". Spartacus Education. 2006. Archived from the original on 2007-01-01. Retrieved 2006-12-11.
- "Guide to the John Bidwell Papers". content.cdlib.org. Retrieved 2017-02-27.
- Michael J. Gillis and Michael F. Magliari, John Bidwell and California: The Life and Writings of a Pioneer, 1841-1900, ISBN 0-87062-332-X, p. 31–
- Boyle, C. C. (1906). Addresses, Reminiscences, Etc. of General John Bidwell. p. 42.
- Worden, Leon (October 2005). "California's REAL First Gold". COINage magazine. Retrieved April 16, 2007.
- Pease, Robert W. (1965). Modoc County; University of California Publications in Geography, Volume 17. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. pp. 75–78, 97.
- War Department, United States; John Sheldon Moody; Calvin Duvall Cowles; Frederick Caryton Ainsworth; Robert N. Scott; Henry Martyn Lazelle; George Breckenridge Davis; Leslie J. Perry; Joseph William Kirkley (1897). The War of the Rebellion: a Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. I. L. Washington: Government Printing Office. pp. 593–594, 1125, 1214–1215.
- Durham, David L. (1998). California's Geographic Names: A Gazetteer of Historic and Modern Names of the State. Clovis, Calif.: Word Dancer Press. p. 378. ISBN 1-884995-14-4.
- "The Lady with the Blue Silk Umbrella on Death Valley Days". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved July 3, 2019.
- Michael J. Gillis and Michael F. Magliari, John Bidwell and California: The Life and Writings of a Pioneer, 1841-1900, ISBN 0-87062-332-X, p. 223-224
- "The First Emigrant Train to California" by John Bidwell
- "Bidwell-Bartleson Trail Guide" by Roy D. Tea
- Autobiography and Reminiscence of John Bidwell, San Francisco, 1904 [Transcription]. The Society of California Pioneers, via Calisphere.
- Guide to the Bidwell Family Papers at The Bancroft Library
- United States Congress. "John Bidwell (id: B000447)". Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.
|New constituency|| Member of the California Senate
from the Sacramento district
Alonzo W. Adams
|U.S. House of Representatives|
|New constituency|| Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from California's 3rd congressional district
Brutus J. Clay
| Chair of the House Agriculture Committee
Rowland E. Trowbridge
|Party political offices|
Clinton B. Fisk
| Prohibition nominee for President of the United States