If You Go to San Francisco . . . .

Be sure to go to Pioneer Hall at the Presidio. The Society of California Pioneers has a new museum location, and their opening exhibit is Circa 1849: Treasures from the ArchivesThe exhibit is only on until December 31, so make your plans to go soon.SoCP_NewExhibition_POSTCARD2-744x1024


















These are rarely-seen treasures–photographs, paintings, manuscripts and artifacts from the Gold Rush. Pick axes and shovels, pistols and rifles that the miners used, and evening clothes, even a gold toothpick, for the ones who struck it rich.  Read the San Francisco Chronicle review here.

The new museum location at the Presidio will have a changing display of materials from their collections. In January they will be showing old daguerreotypes and ambrotypes. If California history fascinates you, then put the Society of California Pioneers on your list of places to visit. And if your ancestor came to California before 1850, if you are the descendant of a true 49er, then you can join the Society. But for a Johnny-come-lately like me, I’ll just have to be a visitor.


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The Bear Flag Story

BearFlag2 Most of us know the story of how the California flag came to be. But do you know that it might have had quite a different bear on it?

In June 1846 a group of Americans banded together to take over the Sonoma garrison and arrest General M. G. Vallejo. Needing a flag as a symbol of their revolution, they quickly painted a bear on a length of fabric, added a star, a red border on the bottom, and the words “California Republic,” and sent it up the flagpole on the plaza.


Painting of a grizzly bear by Charles Nahl.

This flag became the basis of the official California flag as we know it today. California_state_flagThe bear on the flag as we see it now is based on a painting of a grizzly by Charles Nahl. But it might have been different.

John Bidwell told his story of early days in California many times. One such account appeared in the Overland Monthly magazine in May 1895.

John Bidwell was at Sutter’s Fort when “los Osos” took over Sonoma. A few days after the incident he left Sutter’s Fort to join Fremont in Sonoma.

On my arrival in Sonoma there was a flag on the old Mexican flagstaff. I paid little attention to it, nor did anyone else, as far as I know. It had a design of some kind on it, which the Mexicans called cochino (pig). The boys, however, told me at the time how it happened to be there. It was the result of mere sport or pastime of the men. . . . One of the men had suggested that they put up a flag on the old Mexican flagstaff. Another suggested that they paint something on it. . . . One said, “Paint a grizzly bear.” Another said, “Paint him standing up with his paw raised, about to crush a coyote.” But no one was artist enough for that task.

grizzly-bear-standingSo we might have had a grizzly rampant on the flag, if any of the men had been an artist. But a bear on all fours was the best that William Todd (a nephew of Mary Todd Lincoln) could manage.

A piece of common cotton cloth was found, perhaps a couple of yards long. “Bill” Todd found a part of a keg of old reddish paint and tried to paint a bear, and this was the now famous “bear flag.”

And that is how we got a walking, not a standing, bear on the California flag.

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Time Capsule Contents Revealed

DSCN3291[1] DSCN3296[1]The “time capsule” found in the base of the pioneer monument in Chico was opened today at Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park.

The box is made of copper and was sealed with lead solder. Inside was a paper scroll, yellowed and fragile, and two rolls of straw padding. I don’t think there is anything under the scroll and padding, but it is hard to tell. There might be some coins or other small artifacts in there.

The box is now on display in the Visitor’s Center, so if you would like to take a look, you can go anytime BMSHP is open, Friday-Monday, 11-5.

The contents were not taken out of the box at this time because of the fragile nature of the scroll. A curator from State Parks will be coming in December to deal with it.

Was this really a time capsule? Was it ever intended to be opened? Time capsules usually have a notice somewhere that says, “Open in 50 years” or some other time period. But nothing like that was found. Perhaps those who erected the monument intended it to remain in the base, as part of the dedication. Cornerstones of public buildings often have something similar concealed in a cavity.

Either way, it will be interesting to find out what is on the scroll. Stay tuned!


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More about the Time Capsule

DSCN3235The Gridley Herald for October 21, 1925, published an account of the pioneer monument dedication, but does not mention the time capsule hidden in the base.

With appropriate ceremonies and before hundreds of residents of Butte County, together with representative people from many part of the state, the granite monument and bronze tablet erected to commemorate General and Mrs. Bidwell and the pioneers of the state was unveiled Friday afternoon by Mrs. Lily Bidwell Collins and Miss Anne Ellicott Kennedy, direct descendents of Chico’s two most outstanding pioneers.

Mrs. Collins and Miss Kennedy were close relatives, but not direct descendents of the Bidwells, who had no children of their own. Lily Bidwell was the daughter of Thomas Bidwell, John’s brother, and his wife, America. After his brother’s death the General took financial responsibility for Lily’s upbringing and education.

Annie Ellicott Kennedy was the daughter of Joseph Kennedy and his wife Winifred Moon. Joseph was the son of Annie’s brother and thus Annie’s nephew. Born in 1907, Annie’s grand-niece would have been 18 at the dedication.

It was a gala day in Chico’s history. Chico schools were dismissed and the children came to attend the the exercises in a group, supervised by their teachers. There were speeches by the mayor and other notables, and music by the Chico High School band and the college chorale. Guests of honor on the platform included “Mrs. Amanda Wilson, one of Chico’s native Indians, who was a close friend of Mrs. Bidwell” and Mr. C. C. Forbes, who was instrumental in obtaining the marker.

Be sure to come on Saturday, November 29 to find out what is in the time capsule. My thanks to Ranger Kirk Coon for giving me a photocopy of the newspaper article.

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Tiime Capsule Time!

Haven’t you always wanted to see a time capsule opened? Especially if it is a mystery time capsule. with no record of who planted it or what is inside?

Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park has it’s very own mystery time capsule. It was discovered when this monument had to be moved. DSCN3233

The monument stands at the corner of the Esplanade and So-Wil-Le-No Ave., right next to Chico Creek. The city is improving the street and sidewalk, so they had to move the monument 10 feet back. When they took the upright off the base, they found inside a copper box sealed with lead solder. No inscription, no instructions.

The monument was erected in 1925 by the Pioneer Historic Association of California (which no longer exists) to honor John and Annie Bidwell and all the pioneers of California. It marks the spot where Bidwell’s adobe stood by the side of the road that led to the northern mines and Oregon.

What do you guess might be inside the box? An dry and dusty scroll commemorating the occasion? Pictures by school children? Mementos of John and Annie? A nice big gold nugget?

The way to find out is to come to the grand opening on Saturday, November 29th at 10 a.m. at Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park. Come and find out what was placed in the time capsule 89 years ago. It’a an historic occasion! DSCN3235

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“What Shall I Do?”

John Bidwell sent this letter to Annie in 1880, when he was in San Francisco and she was visiting her family in Washington, D. C.:

            SF Aug 24, 1880

My Dear Wife

By the bye. The President and General Sherman are to spend one day in Chico. So Col. Dick Hammond told me today. He saw a letter written to Gen. McDowell by Gen. Sherman, giving the programme of the Presidential party, and in it was one day in Chico! Gen. Sherman and President certainly expect you are at home. What shall I do!

They are to leave Chicago in 9 days from this date – two days after this will reach you if you are in Washington. But as the President will delay a few days at Salt Lake, one or two days at Virgina city, a few days at San Francisco, &c and then start for Oregon & Washington Ter. overland via Chico, you will have ample time to reach Chico, provided you lose no time. As soon as the President and party have gone, then you can return East and finish out your four month’s visit!!!!!!

It is now 11 P.M. must pack trunk; for I am off for home in the morning. If I have time I may add a line in the morning. But I had better make a formal close now.

But seriously, what am I to do without you when the Presidential party comes? You must solve the question. So if you are going to step across the continent, step quick!

In haste and with great love, your affectionate husband

John Bidwell

“By the bye”!  What a way to begin such a bombshell. The President is coming to visit! Isn’t it amazing how Bidwell gets the news second-hand, no one has planned this out months in advance, and no one in the presidential party has contacted him yet?

Notice also that a visit from General Sherman is pretty much equal to a visit from the President. At the time probably more people wanted to see Sherman than Hayes. The man who had conquered the South was wildly popular.

Poor General Bidwell! What is he to do without Annie? This is the biggest event in the history of Bidwell Mansion, and the hostess isn’t home. She didn’t “step across the continent” to get home before the president arrived. She sent instructions to John, and he enlisted the ladies of the town to substitute for the lady of the house.

It all went off quite nicely, but the General must have been in a tizzy without his dear Annie.

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John Marsh and John Bidwell

On Thursday, November 4th, 1875, John Bidwell wrote in his diary:

Thirty four (34) years ago today I arrive at the ranch of Dr. John Marsh near Mt. Diablo – party consisted of 32 men l woman and child.

John Bidwell didn’t often reminisce in his diary. But the events of 1841 were lastingly imprinted on his mind, and not without a touch of lingering rancor at the memory of Dr. Marsh’s character and actions.

The letters of Dr. John Marsh, widely printed in Missouri newspapers, were a prime factor in motivating John Bidwell and others to form the Western Emigration Society. Enticed by his (and fur trapper Antoine Robidoux’s) descriptions of the healthful climate and fertile soil of California, 500 people signed up to migrate to the new land. Even though many of those people dropped out, John Bidwell remained determined to head west. Along with him in the first wagon train to California were several men who had known Marsh when he lived in Missouri, including John Bartleson and Michael Nye.

Marsh had traveled to California in 1836 by way of the southern Santa Fe route. He knew of the explorations of Jedediah Smith and Bonneville, and he was able to give his readers some good information about traveling the Oregon Trail and finding Mary’s River. But he didn’t know anything about crossing the Sierra Nevada That didn’t stop him from confidently informing his Missouri readers that the mountains could easily be crossed in a day or so.

Nothing could be further from the truth, and after the group’s exhausting two-week struggle to surmount this massive barrier, they must have had a few choice words to say to Marsh about his travel suggestions.

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