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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John Bidwell Arrives in California

“Saturday, 30th. We had gone about 3 miles this morning, when lo! to our great delight, we beheld a wide valley! This we had entirely overlooked between us and the high mountains which terminated our view yesterday. Rivers evidently meandered through it, for timber was seen in long extended lines as far as the eye could reach. But we were unable to reach it today, and encamped in the plains. Here grew a few white oaks. Traveled today about 20 miles. Saw many tracks of elks. The valley was wonderfully parched with heat, and had been stripped of its vegetation by fire. Wild geese, fowls, etc. , were flying in multitudes.”

Just the day before, as the men gazed from the foothills at the coastal range, “Mr. Hopper, our best and most experienced hunter, observed that, “If California lies beyond those mountains we shall never be able to reach it.”” They had no idea that they were already in California.

That morning, the 30th, they breakfasted on coyote, and all Bidwell got was the lungs and the windpipe. Then as they traveled further down through the hills, following the Stanislaus River, they came upon this glorious view. California lay before them, and it was everything they had been promised: a fertile land teeming with wild game, with a healthy climate and plenty of room for all. California at last!

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Heritage Day at John Marsh’s Rancho

John Marsh in 1852

John Marsh in 1852

John Marsh’s letters were a prime motivator in getting John Bidwell to California. Marsh, already living in California, wrote to Missouri newspapers and extolled the attractions of his new home. That, plus the tales told by Antoine Robidoux, convinced John Bidwell to start up the Western Emigration Society and gather folks to go with him to a place 2000 miles away.

At the end of their trek the Bidwell-Bartleson party of exhausted pioneers were welcomed by John Marsh himself, who fed them and told them what their next moves should be (get a passport, find a job.)  At the time Marsh was living on a Mexican land grant in an adobe house. That house is long gone, but Marsh’s later house is still standing, although in desperate needed of restoration.

The John Marsh Historic Trust has taken on the task of restoring the house, and Marsh Creek State Park is the newest state park in California. Together the trust members and state parks crews are working to renovate the house and someday open it to the public.

On Saturday, October 11, the John Marsh Historic Trust is hosting a FREE Heritage Day at the rancho with tours, booths, Native American dancing, roping and riding, speakers (including me), and lots of activities for the kids. This is a great opportunity to get a rare look at California history at a state park that is not yet open to the public (except on this one special day).

The park is located just south of Brentwood, near Mt. Diablo. Here’s a picture of the house I took about a year ago. You can find better photos at

John Marsh's Stone House

John Marsh’s Stone House

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Pity the Poor Pioneer Woman

On his 1841 trek to California, John Bidwell traveled with several members of the Kelsey family. He never forgot the trials on the trail of Mrs. Samuel Kelsey, wife of the oldest of four Kelsey brothers on the trip.

I remember Mrs. Samuel Kelsey; I pitied her. We had traveled all day and everybody was tired. It was hard work to get a fire built, but she managed to and was frying some bacon and tried to make some coffee. She had, I think, five children, the smallest of which could barely stand alone.

They were all standing about, crying at the top of their voices for something to eat. Just at that time the coffee upset and it went into the bacon and put out the fire. She threw up her hands and hollered out loud enough for the whole camp to hear:

“I wish to the Lord I had never got married!”


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